M.S. Sathyu is upset. On the first of a five-day screening of his works at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Bengaluru, the 88-year-old director is aghast at the 20 rupees entry fee. He energetically marches up to the director’s office, and reports back that the officer, a recent appointment, won’t budge. He apologises to the audience.

Protest against authority has been central to his career. In 2004, Sathyu successfully fought a case in the Supreme Court after the West Bengal government refused permission to interview Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the only man to be hanged in India this century for a crime unrelated to terrorism. Sathyu’s documentary The Right to Live featured the only interview with Chatterjee. Earlier, in 1992, he successfully fought a case in the Delhi High Court after the Doordarshan tried to censor his show Kayar.  

Sathyu’s reputation was built on the success of his debut film Garm Hava. Released in 1973, it was remarkable in its sensitive depiction of a Muslim family in post-partition Agra. To release the film, he had to fight the censor board for 11 months, defy L. K. Advani and bring Bal Thackeray around. Garm Hava was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was India’s official entry to the Oscars.

Over a 55-year-long career, Sathyu has made several films, documentaries and TV serials. He continued to work in theatre—lighting and designing sets, costumes, and directing plays. With Dara Shikoh and Amrita: A sublime Love Story, he set new standards for Indian theatre. For his work, Sathyu has won two National Film Awards, a Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (Stagecraft), and  a Padma Shri.

In conversation with Fountain Ink, he speaks about shooting in crowded locations, going to court for his projects, an artist’s fight for creative freedom, Garm Hava, and communalism in today’s India.


You grew up in Mysore. It was a hub of many art forms—music, literature, etc. But, filmmaking wasn’t one of them. How did you get into that?

By working in films (laughs). I developed an interest in films when I was young; I liked films. I saw a lot of films; whatever was available in any language, which was actually not much because they were mostly in Hindi or English, with a few Kannada films and sometimes Tamil.  

When I was in Mysore in high school and in college in Bangalore, I did a little bit of theatre. I acted in very small roles in one or two productions. But, when I went to Bombay, I didn’t know the local languages—Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati or any of the languages they spoke there. So I had to do a lot of backstage work. I was interested in painting and designing; I got into art direction. And, that’s how people came to know me in Bombay.


How did you get your first job? We’ve heard a lot about the struggle in Bombay.  

The whole world has to struggle to get on in life. An artist doesn’t do anything extraordinary. He just does his job. If he’s interested in finding a place, he’ll go on. You may be unemployed for some time, but you come to know many people and somebody recommends you to somebody else in the industry. And this is how your first job comes about. Mine came through theatre. I used to do theatre in Bombay and that’s how I came in touch with people in the industry. Chetan Anand (film director) asked me to assist him on a film.


These days, there is a lot of talk about nepotism—how the film industry promotes people who are from film families.  

It is not nepotism. See, a film family is like any other. Doctors, dentists, or lawyers, they all support their own children. Why point out only the cinema people? A dentist establishes a clinic and makes a whole lot of investment in it. Then, he makes his son or daughter a dentist. It’s like that. It’s not nepotism; it is giving their children an opportunity because they are in a position to give an opportunity. It’s wrong to use the word nepotism here.


Having said that, you introduced many new artists in almost every aspect of cinema in the industry. How did that work out for you?

I had an opportunity not only in Bombay but also when I was working in the south. I’ve often taken the risk of using new talent though I’ve worked with some established talents as well and not always with fresh ones. Balraj Sahni was an established actor; I worked with him in theatre as well as in films. Among such artists sometimes new persons are introduced. Sometimes, it’s a risky job, but you have to take this risk. It is about recognising somebody in a certain role. If your casting is correct, half your job is done. If you make a mistake and take the wrong person for a role, you will have a problem. So, taking a new artist works out sometimes and fails some other times. But, that is part of the game. Failure is part of everything. As much as you get success, you have to face failures also. Even failures help you build connections and the next time you have another chance. 

In just one film Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya, we saw many firsts. It was the first time Javed Akhtar wrote songs for a film, Farah Khan choreographed for a film and Kersi Lord composed music. Also, it was Pankaj Kapoor’s and Sharon Prabhakar’s first film and Anil Kapoor’s first Hindi film.  


Which film or theatre directors’ works were you influenced by in your early days?  

Lots of people; many filmmakers and many theatre people. I can’t just name one or two; there are plenty of them. I saw many, many films. There were films by Elia Kazan, (Alfred) Hitchcock and (John Michael) Frankenheimer. I saw the films of the new wave; (Jean-Luc) Godard and (Vittorio) de Sica. I also saw people in India who did very good work; Jahnu Barua, Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand, and many more. So when there have been a lot of people whose work you have seen, appreciated them and evaluated them, you have learnt a lot of things from each of them.


The other day you were speaking about Hitchcock at length. Was there a certain style that you wanted to emulate, maybe in your own way, in your films?

I was just analysing a director. Hitchcock was known for his murder mysteries and thrillers, but without any blood or real murder being shown. There is no violence in his films. That’s an art which you can see in a person like Hitchcock; very few people have that. Or you take a person like David Lean, another great director. He did a lot of small films in early days in British cinema; black and white. He shot a whole film in the waiting room of a railway station—Brief Encounter. Later on, he went into making huge films, where nature played a role. The desert and the desert storm play a very important part in Lawrence of Arabia and snow in Doctor Zhivago. In another film sea and the storm in the sea play a very important part. In his later works, he did huge canvases like these and used nature as an element in a whole series of films. His last film—A Passage to India—which was shot in Bangalore, was not such a good film.


You have made TV serials and films on literary works in various languages. In Kayar, the original story is in Malayalam, a language you don’t speak, neither do the scriptwriter and several actors. The story is set in Kerala and you present the whole serial in Hindi. How does this process work?

You take help from a lot of people who know the language. The translation into a telescript was done by Bhaskar, a good friend who knew the language. He worked at Deccan Herald in Bangalore and has moved back to Trivandrum now. In fact, he was the one who suggested the novel and he worked on it. Then my wife (Shama Zaidi) sat with him and wrote the screenplay. Then I met Thakazhi (Sivasankara Pillai), the writer of the novel. I talked to him in his village and understood him and the setting. All the 26 episodes were shot very close to his village in Kuttanad.

You have to learn how they speak, how they dress, what kind of perceptions they have. As a director, you must understand the behaviour of each person and that varies greatly in different language groups. For example, if you take a Muslim from Kerala, he behaves very differently from a Muslim in the north. They follow the same religion, same faith—Islam but the lifestyle, clothing, food, language are very different. That comes from cultural inheritance; the region where they live.

In Kerala, Muslims and Christians wrap their mundu (sarong) right to left while Hindus wrap it left to right. And, that’s how most people figure out which community they come from. Because the temples in Kerala are very strict; they don’t allow other communities to come in. Now a lot of temples do allow, but earlier, a Muslim couldn’t and also wouldn’t enter a Hindu temple. So, you have to understand all this. For example, in Kayar, the person who used to make and supply oil to the temple was a Christian. So, we showed that he would bring the oil to the temple and keep it outside where they would measure and take it in. He never would enter the threshold of the temple but that oil was used for lighting the lamps. In Kerala, the lighting of the lamps is very important. In fact, temples have a structure—a wooden frame—where there are slots to place the lights.  


This must be a long process, considering your stories are set in backgrounds very different from each other—Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Kolkata, etc.

You have to go, study, travel around, and understand. Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya was shot entirely in Calcutta. To understand Calcutta itself takes a lot of time. But you have to visit and observe; the kind of life they lead. Different classes of people, their language; you have to understand all that. You see, if you ask a European to count numbers, he will go one (sticks out his thumb and proceeds to stick out index, middle and ring fingers) two, three four, but you will not do that. In India, you’ll never show one like that by sticking your thumb out. You will count, using your thumb, on your fingers. I mean in filmmaking or theatre, it’s part of your job. Your research is like that; you make a very important study of these things.


You have worked in both films and theatre. What is the basic difference? Do you have a preference?  

No preference, when you have worked so much in all mediums... The grammar of each is different. You have to understand the grammar of cinema, the grammar of theatre. And even the grammar of television. You have to understand it. That is the basic thing. If you know the grammar then you can become an exponent in that. If you want to speak a language, the first thing you should learn is the grammar. Without good grammar, you can’t speak good language. It’s the same thing in cinema, theatre, television.

   Each medium is different from the other. Television is more immediate while cinema has to wait for the whole process of making. In theatre, you have lots of rehearsals; a lot of time goes in preparing the artist. In theatre, you can go on making a lot of corrections even after the production is done. In the second performance, you can make a correction. But in cinema you can’t make a correction. What you shot once is shot; it’s finished; there is no scope for any change. So you have to be very careful when you finalise a film.


You have also worked in various capacities—lighting and designing the stage, art direction, costume designing, and direction. Was it a conscious effort to understand every aspect of the medium or you are just interested in all of these?

I’m a technical person myself. I understand how light plays such an important part on stage as well as in cinema because light makes everything. So you have to understand what lighting is. Why you keep a light in a particular position on the set, why the key light comes from here and a filler from somewhere else. Why? That you have to understand. That forms your perception.  


As a director does all this knowledge inform your idea of a character and setting to make it more real?  

Yes, it informs. You have to understand sound; it’s very important. You have to understand costumes. For example, you take a character of a woman in Kerala. What does she wear? She wears a sarong outside but what does she wear inside that gives her that feminine gait. Without understanding that, your character will never walk like her or look like her. She wears a special kind of undergarment, which makes her gait more attractive and very feminine. So, if you are interested in costuming then you have to find out exact details. You notice how a Kathak dancer is dressed and how an Egyptian belly dancer dresses up. The belly dancer shows off her belly because the whole movement is in the belly. But that doesn’t happen in Kathak because that’s a lot about footwork.

So, you have to know everything in detail and then use what works well for your character, for your film or play.


You don’t have good prints with good sound quality of your films. Shouldn’t we preserve or restore some of them?   

Can’t help it. Preserving the negative is very difficult. It needs a lot of money. It has to be kept under certain conditions, in air conditioned rooms, and vaults. Most studios don’t have space to keep it and you can’t keep it in your house. I have lost all my negatives.  


There was a project to restore Garm Hava at a huge cost...

We have restored the film but that is with another man. I don’t have it. It’s a different story. For a screening (at NGMA in Bangalore on December 15), I’m trying to get a new copy from somewhere else. I have a copy, which I’m not happy with. The restoration has been completed but that copy is not available with me. It’s all bizarre. Filmmaking itself is bizarre.   


When you see your films after many years, do you want to change anything in them?

That happens. You see a film after many years, that happens.

Yesterday I saw (during screening at NGMA) Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya. Many of the shots which I’ve taken, I didn’t remember. Suddenly, I said, ‘Oh God, this is how we shot it!’. They were almost a revelation to me also (laughs). It’s not that you forget but you don’t remember the details.

There is one shot, where the youngsters are all smoking pot in a house. The whole shot is a single shot. I have followed about 15 different characters, the boys and girls who are smoking. So, I just followed the cigarette. The cigarette is the thing to expose everyone. When I saw it I remembered how we had to rehearse the movement of cigarette beforehand. The cameraman had to know this is how it will move. So for him, the camera was kept absolutely loose so that he could turn it in any direction that the cigarette went and was passed on to the other character.

We had to choose a place from where we could see all the 15 people—the point of the room where we had to place the camera. We had to decide what kind of lens to use to capture this. The cigarette is always in mid close. In this film, there are at least 16 scenes which are single shots. That’s the style I adopted here.  


Are there any other instances where you’ve deliberately adopted a style of shooting?

See, everywhere you use a certain technique. I wanted Bara (Kannada film) to look like a newsreel. So the camera was always held by hand. That big camera was held by hand and taken around; in the crowds and running around everywhere. I had no trolley, crane or anything, but just a camera. So, it looked like a newsreel; newsreels have those shakes, it goes out of focus sometimes and comes back in focus because the cameraman is adjusting the camera. Like in news, he doesn’t know what is going to happen. So he’s capturing something which is happening for the first time, not a rehearsed thing.


Did you actually not rehearse these scenes?

No. No rehearsals at all.


In your works, even in TV serials, music and dance often play a very important role. Do you spend a lot of time on deciding on this?

Yes, yes, I do. For Kayar, I chose a traditional dance form of Kerala and three of our actors had to go to Kerala and learn the art. One actor, who is in the audience, gets up and starts to dance. He is not a dancer but he dances in that scene.

But, in Bara, there is no music. There is no background music either. I didn’t want a sitar or sarangi to be playing while people were starving. Background music is used normally to underline a scene.  But I avoided that in the entire film. I didn’t use any music. I used two poems and it is just recitals. It’s a very rare kind of thing because hardly any film has been made anywhere in the world which doesn’t have music. There is always some background music or song or something. Nowadays, they use a lot of songs in many scenes. For Bara, I said I wouldn’t use any music but, then, all the ambient sounds were there. The ambient sound itself was my underlying factor; underlining is done by those sounds. The sound of a rig when they’re drilling a well. In a drought-hit area, that sound itself is music.


You’ve often worked with heavy budget constraints, making low budget films. How do you manage that?   

Low budgets... What does a low budget film mean? It means that you’re taking advantage of your friends and don’t pay them enough for their jobs. That’s it. It’s wrong. It’s exploitation. I didn’t have the kind of money that they should have been paid. But they all agreed to work for much less. Now, artists are  members of the unions that have laid down certain rules as to how much you have to pay per day for an eight hour shift. But, even if you are a member, you may work for less money. That depends on your contact, your rapport. I have a lot of people prepared to work with me and who enjoy doing it because they like the kind of films that I make and the subjects that I choose.  


Balraj Sahni, despite being a celebrated actor, was paid only ₹5,000 for Garm Hava in 1973.

Yes, that’s right. I paid Farooq Sheikh, whom I introduced in that film, ₹750 as his fee and it took me many years to pay this.


You shot Garm Hava silent and added sound later. Why? Was it to save money?

 Yes, we did that because there was no other go. Agra is a very noisy city. We could hardly record on the streets. It did save me money. I didn’t have to have a recordist. I didn’t have to have recording equipment, which would have cost me higher charges. That saving was not so much but still, sometimes every penny counts in the making of a film.   


You prefer shooting in real locations...

I shoot on real locations to make the scenes look real, obviously. All my films are like that. I’m myself an art director, but I don’t like sets. I like to shoot in real locations. Art direction is not just putting up sets. Art direction is also visualising why you choose a particular  place to shoot a particular scene. That is art direction, that is designing.  You don’t just put a set, four walls and put furniture that becomes a set; that is not setting. It is not art direction. 


Such shoots are often done in crowded places, like streets in Agra (Garm Hava), Indian Coffee House in Kolkata (Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya). In many places, the crowd itself is part of the scene. Did any of these shoots turn difficult?  

These shoots are challenging because you have to know crowd behaviour. They are always inquisitive, when the camera is there and then they don’t behave naturally. They want to be seen. When you’re making the crowd a part of your scene, you have to see that they don’t see the camera, which is a technique few directors can pull off. Many directors can’t do it. Also, you should be ready to improvise when the crowd behaves in a particular fashion; you  have to take a chance. I do that; I improvise on the spot. So, my cameraman, sound recordist, everyone on my team is alert.

The lathi charge that you see in Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya is a real lathi charge—real police and real lathis. I had called the police because lathi charge is not so simple; there is a certain technique in how a policeman uses the lathi, they are trained to do it. So, I called the real police and told them they had to charge at a particular moment when they heard the instruction ‘Charge!’. And real students were shouting slogans in the scene; they were taken by surprise there. The police burst some tear gas and started lathi charge.

In Bara, we had a stone-throwing scene. I planned that only 50 people in the crowd should throw bricks. We gave them lumps of bread, dipped in red oxide to make them look like bricks. During the shoot, when they started throwing bread lumps, other people in the crowd started throwing, not bread lumps but real bricks and stones. We didn’t expect this; it suddenly happened and at that time, I couldn’t stop them. I had to continue shooting. I didn’t stop the camera. I shot the scene with the artists getting hit by stones. They got hit but continued shooting too.


In Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya, you have real shots of Indira Gandhi making a public speech. I am not sure if I have seen that in a feature film. Why did you think of doing that?  

To me, it was just a normal thing. She had come to Park Circus. I went there. In an earlier scene you hear a speech in Bengali. That was Jyoti Basu (chief minister of West Bengal) making a speech in Esplanade. I don’t show him but you hear his voice. In Gandhi’s speech, I show her.

This shot was nothing exceptional when you use real people and mix them with enacted scenes. It’s like those scenes where you take the real crowds in a street and use your actors in between. You are mixing the real people with them. That’s exactly what I have done here. The politician is available; you use their shots with other enacted ones to weave a story.

At that rally, she forgot to show the hand symbol at the end of her speech. Somebody reminded her and she came back and showed and said “Hamara chinh toh aap sab jaante hain, woh hai haath (You know our symbol; it’s hand). While she was saying this, my tape recorder died. I got the scene but no voice. Then, I had to go to All India Radio and smuggle the audio tape and put it together with the visual on the edit table.  


M.S. Sathyu. Photos: Sriram Vittalamurthy
Did she know you were there shooting?  

Yes, I was sitting right in front of her, shooting it. She saw me; I knew her a long time.  


On several occasions, you fought government, censors and went to the court to make your projects work. Could you tell us how you managed to make the documentary The Right to Live in the Dhananjoy Chatterjee case?

When you see the film, you will understand how difficult it was to make that film at that time. Prison is not a nice place in any case, especially for the camera. It is very dirty— small cubicles where convicts are kept, especially where murder or rape convicts are kept. So, the government didn’t want to expose it and give you a negative idea of their prisons.

I had to go to the Supreme Court to get permission. The law of the country is such that the media has a right to a convict and the convict has the right to the media. You can’t stop if the media wants to interview him. You cannot stop him if he is willing to speak. You have to follow this; it’s built in our constitution. But, many times, we don’t know what our laws are and what freedom we have and what kind of restrictions we have. We normally come to know about these when we face a difficult situation.

I thought I would get permission because I knew a lot of government people in West Bengal and many of them are my friends. But, then, they were government employees; they had to protect their government much more than a friend. So I suddenly faced this problem. It didn’t work out. I just left and came back. Then I said ‘we have to use the law’. And, the law favoured me. So, after six months, I went again with a court order.  


You also went to the Delhi High Court when Doordarshan censored your show. What was the problem?

That was for the show Kayar, a Doordarshan show. It dealt with the matrilineal system among Nairs in Kerala. They had extremely simple systems for weddings and divorces. Present each other with sets of clothes; that’s a wedding. For a divorce, wife just has to leave the man’s mat and pillow outside the door. The woman has great rights in this system; this the men couldn’t understand. A lot of people in Doordarshan in Delhi were Punjabis; they didn’t understand this at all.

However, it was all corruption, basically. Two days ahead of the airing of an episode, they created trouble. When they say that this particular scene cannot go on air, what do you do? The telecast has started and your timing is already given. You have sold space for advertising. Two days later, the scene has to go on air. You are committed. So, what do you do? You pay somebody in the Doordarshan, a bribe and get it through. So, it is sheer corruption. They can object to anything, even small little things.


How did Garm Hava happen?    

By accident. It happened by accident. I had given the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) the script of Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya. They did not approve it; they wanted another script. They wanted to finance me, but they said ‘no, not this one; this is a very negative kind of story’. Then, we found out about this idea for Garm Hava from Ismat Chughtai. She gave us the storyline.

We gave that script to FFC and they approved it immediately. We got the finances. It wasn’t much, just ₹2.5 lakh. The budget was much more. By the time, we completed everything, it went up to  ₹12-15 lakh. The rest was collected from friends, borrowed from Friends. All this was a long process but when you have to shoot, you have to shoot. I knew a lot of theatre people, all leftists. They all came from Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). They were ready to work for very, very small payments; not for the payment but for the idea. But, I paid everyone in any case. Even if it meant paying over many years. I took many years to pay Farooq Sheikh his fee of ₹750 because I had to return the FFC’s loan first. And only then could I pay the artists and technicians.


This was your first film as a director. The way you developed your characters, the narrative, the handling of delicate issues without much melodrama... 

There is some amount of melodrama in it. It’s a very sentimental story but the style of acting... I mean you could make the same thing with a lot of hue and cry and make them tearjerkers. Or you could handle the same subject in a different way. But I don’t like it. I go for very subtle kind of acting.

There wasn’t any film on Punjab partition then, but  there were on Bengal partition; Ritwik Ghatak had made Subarnarekha. Nemai Ghosh had done Chhinnamul, which was shot in Madras. But, the holocaust happened in the Punjab area much more.


Today, Garm Hava, probably together with Ankur, is said to have started a new wave of Hindi Cinema. While making it, did you have an inkling you were making a classic?

I didn’t. No. You just make what you want to make; that’s all. And if it happens, it happens; it doesn’t happen, no matter. And, why should every film be a classic?


Did you face any problems during the shoot of Garm Hava...

There were no problems regarding the story during the shoot. Nobody had read the story. They didn’t know what we were shooting. Crowd management was the only problem. Agra crowd was unruly, more unruly than crowds in the south. We had to shoot in silent because it is a very noisy city. Also, we had to set up some fake locations to dissuade the crowd. You make a set up, people think shooting is going on. They watch the shooting and you go somewhere else and secretly shoot your scene and come back. They wouldn’t know where you are or where the real camera is. When artists are there, people will follow them. So, you get the artists who are not working on the sequence you actually want to shoot. It’s part of  filmmaking.


Once the film was complete, it took time to release it? What problems did you have with censorship?

Censor certificate was not given for nearly 11 months after the film was completed.   


Was the story the problem?

The whole film. It is about the minority community, the Muslims. So there were a lot of apprehensions that might create trouble, it might create unrest. The censor board was not sure what would happen since this was the first time a film on this subject was made. So, I had to fight that whole thing.  Actually, I premiered the film in Paris. Then, it went to Cannes and then to the Oscars. In India, it was released in Bangalore first, where a friend of mine who passed away this August, helped me release it. There were a lot of problems.


Was there political pressure with Advani (BJP leader LK Advani) and Bal Thackeray opposing it?  

They make comments. They may comment even without seeing a film. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. Advani had not seen the film but he wrote in the party paper against it. Because, you see, something like the BJP and some of the Hindu chauvinists who are against celebrating Tipu Jayanti, they don’t know about Tipu Sultan at all. They do it because it’s the party which is doing it. They are just anti-Muslim. But they don’t realise that the first time anybody opposed British rule in India it was Tipu Sultan; not the Rani of Jhansi.


Bal Thackeray threatened to burn down the cinema where it was to be screened in Bombay…

Yes, things like that happened. Then I got him to see the film. I didn’t go for a screening but asked them to come and see it in a private theatre. Ultimately he agreed with what we were trying to say. That’s what they wanted—the Muslims to be part of the mainstream. The film shows that the problem is not only about Muslims but it is a problem of all the youth, of all the people no matter which community they belong to. When there is unemployment among the youth, it is not particular to Muslims.  


And this film went on to win the National Award on national integration (Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration).  

That’s all right; that’s a different thing. This happened later on. But, this kind of thing (opposition to the film) happened. People did it without knowing about it.


Were you hurt or angry at that point in time?

There was nothing to be angry about. This is a ridiculous situation. You have to fight, fight for the film so that it somehow gets into the market. After all, the film was made not to keep it in the cans. It was supposed to be seen by people.  


Garm Hava was about a communally charged society. Do you think...

It is about the disintegration of a family who think Pakistan is heaven for them. Ultimately, they find that they are not wanted there also. A Punjabi Muslim doesn’t want the UP Muslim to come there. Just religion doesn’t bring all the people together. The film showed what problems that family faced in India. It just favoured the underdog more.


There was the issue of communalism also. The scenes of people calling the Mirza’s haveli enemy property or a small incident of their tonga colliding with a cart turning into a near-riot. So there was some sort of enemy sentiment.  

These things happened. At that time, people were still migrating. So, yes, there was a lot of tension.


Do you think India is doing much better on that front today?

No. India has become more communal. Hindu communalism has increased much more. It’s a very dangerous situation. But this election has shown that it doesn’t work. The assembly elections (in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram). This has shown their Hindutva talk will not work; fundamentalism will not work. They’re only talking about building a temple. Who the hell wants a temple! There are thousands of temples in India. How can they make that the main issue for an election? People want more jobs, farmers’ loans to be waived. The issues are different. The country is facing so many different types of issues and they are only talking about Hindutva. That, they now have realised, doesn’t work.


So, would you make another Garm Hava set in today’s times?  

Why should I? I have made that once. I’d rather make something else.


Recently many filmmakers have faced trouble releasing their films due to protests or threats. Why is that happening?

What happened in Padmavati? Ultimately, they took money and then allowed it. One ‘i’ was removed from the title; from Padmavati, it became Padmavat and was released. Some Rajasthani group took a lot of money and then kept quiet. This is all because our law is so flexible and our courts are so lethargic including the Supreme Court; things take decades to decide.  


Where does an artist’s freedom of expression figure in this kind of an environment?

Nothing of that kind. You face it every time. You have to fight for it every time. It’s part of Indian life. There’s nothing called freedom of expression.   


You don’t act much. But you appeared in the Google reunion ad in 2013 that went viral. What made you take up this project?

I have acted in another film and a serial before. I’m not an actor. I’m not interested in projecting myself as an actor. I acted in Train to Pakistan. Pamela Rooks, (director of the film) wanted me in the blind father’s role. She thought I would look the character. Sometimes, you get forced by friends. Similarly, I was sort of persuaded to do this ad.


What are you working on currently?   

I’m looking for somebody who can put money into my films. I’ve some ideas.   


Is there a contemporary issue that you really want to make a film about?

A lot of subjects. There is a lot which you can make films on. Whether you want to make a film or you want to make a musical or something else, that depends. And a lot depends on funding.  


Have you liked any film that you have watched recently?

What was the last film I saw? Oh, I saw Manto. It’s a good film on a great poet, but it’s not a great film on a good poet.