Rendezvous with Anupama Chopra: Part 2

This one has been long overdue. I had met Anupama Chopra in the first week of June and published the first half of the interview in the first half of July. However, thanks to writing work related to Masaan promotions on MAM and the post production of my web-series, the second half got inordinately delayed. When in mid-September I finally could take out time to transcribe the interview, I decided to hold it off till MAMI, for what better occasion is there to write about the festival director of arguably India’s biggest film festival.

You can read the first half of the interview HERE.

Anupama Chopra 2Indian films, especially those made in Hindi, are not known to have great impact in the festival circuit. It’s often blamed that our song-dance mind-set is antithetical to what film connoisseurs expect. However, with two Indian films – Masaan and Chauthi Koot – featuring in Cannes this year, does she think that Indian films have come of age?

It’s definitely changing, quips Anupama, I have been going to Cannes since 1999 when there was nothing except a stall from NFDC. India was barely there. Things then started moving with Devdas, which was screened out of competition, and also marked Cannes’ love affair with Aishwarya Rai. It did put India on the cinema map but what followed strongly was the fashion, the glamour, the brand; what didn’t follow was the film till Vikram Motwane’s ‘Udaan’ came in. Udaan (2010) was the only Indian movie to enter competition in Cannes since Swaham (1994). It’s true that even today there is more focus on what Aishwarya and Sonam are wearing for the festival, but the fact that there are two films in Un Certain Regard, it’s an undeniably big step, and it’s really heartening. Cannes is amazing in the way it has managed to balance both commerce and art, but the bedrock is films, and if there are no great films it doesn’t matter how many beautiful women from your country walk the red carpet.

Anupama Chopra is possibly the only film critic with a lot of inroad / access into the film industry. She is married to one of the most established director – producers of India, Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Hence, it is fair to assume that she knows a lot of older and younger actors personally. Case in point – Sonam Kapoor or Tiger Shroff, given how close the fathers of these two actors have been close to Vinod. Thus, how difficult it is for her to keep personal ties aside while reviewing those films?

She laughs and says that she didn’t know Tiger as a child. However, she knows that it can be really difficult to take criticism on one’s kids. I am mother myself, she says, and I know that we can take any shit on ourselves and get rid of it like water off duck’s back. But when it comes to children, you want to strangle anyone who says anything against them. Yet, at the end of the day, the thing is that we have to be honest to your job. I can never knowingly lie, she adds before accepting, but yes it’s difficult. What makes it somewhat easier is possibly the fact that, in her own words, she has great professional relationship with almost everyone in the industry but barely any friend with whom she socialises on a regular basis. Had I known these kids, she adds, it would have been so much tougher. She has been interviewing Shah Rukh Khan for 17-18 years now and even wrote a book on the actor. I have spent a lot of time together for three years during the writing of the book, she explains, but if I don’t like a ‘Happy New Year’, I can’t hide my true feelings for the film.

Also, unlike most other film critics, she sees films being discussed, produced and directed from such close quarters. So, does it make her a bit more empathetic towards other films?

Absolutely, I have very real sense of how difficult it is to make a film, she says. I have seen Vinod struggle. People may think that he is the extremely successful producer of films like 3 Idiots and PK, but the first film he made after we were married is Kareeb, which is also the biggest flop of his career. So, I have seen the physical labour that goes into making a film and what it is like to complete fail in a public arena, lose a lot of money in the process and try really hard to get back. So, I am very empathetic and respectful towards anyone who makes films. But the truth is that I am giving someone three hours of my life and I am not getting it back. Forget the money, I have invested a part of my life to a film, and if I don’t enjoy that or I am not engaged, I need to say that and I cannot say that it’s not enough that the person tried. Anupama laughs out aloud when I mention Raja Sen’s brilliant quote ‘Amrita Rao plays a cow in Vivaah’ or Rajeev Masand threw an egg on the camera for ‘Ram Gopal Verma ki Aag’, but says that she would possibly not get there herself. In the same breath she adds that it may not necessarily be because she is married to a film-maker and knows how much it takes to a movie. She says that it could possibly because that’s her basic DNA – I am not confrontational, she says, even in my daily life, I am not a very combative person. So, I would not throw an egg for a film.

As an avid follower of Film Companion, I was rather intrigued how Nepotism was so sincerely discussed in the Meeting Ground between Sonam Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao. I can still recall how frustrated Rao looked when he said ‘I feel it’s unfair that somebody is so bad but still gets to do so many films just because he or she is someone’s child.’ (Of course, he wasn’t talking about Sonam Kapoor.) So, does Anupama Chopra think the Hindi film industry is so nepotistic?

JIO MAMI 2015Of course it is, she says without batting an eyelid, it is extremely nepotistic, and it is so obvious when you see this huge number of people who are all related to each other. But it’s changing for the better. When I started off, Anupama recounts, Bollywood was like a huge family of the Bhatts, the Chopras and the likes. However, in the last 15 years (post 2000) and especially when it comes to direction or other technical fields, things have progressed a lot. The entire new generation, which is post Sooraj Barjatiya, Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra, saw the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee rising and helping many others come up as well. However, when it comes to male actors, the scene is still ruled by sons of older actors and actresses. Why is it not so for female actors? She smiles and says that maybe the perception is still that women are not important as the men. Yet, the truth is, clarifies Anupama, that if you are talented, water will find its own level. One can obviously look at Nawazuddin, who had just a 3 minute scene as a petty thief in Munnabhai MBBS, and has come up such a long way from there. At the same time, one can look at careers of Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or Akshay Kumar and see how nepotism does take a backseat at some point and gives way for talent or stardom.

Fair enough, we understand that the choice of actors and especially directors have become more democratic, but what about the functioning of the industry?

Oh, there has been a huge shift and definitely in a positive way. I can’t even tell you how it was when I started off, she says. It was not organised and extremely open, as journalists we could just walk in anywhere and interview a star. Things were more like a chaotic circus, it’s surprising how things got made. It has become so much more streamlined. Add to that there were few women back then. If I used to visit a set, Anupama recollects, the only women on the set used to be the heroine, the heroine’s mother, the stylist and me. Now, there are so many women who play so many important roles in all departments of the film – it’s very heartening to see such a change.

Anupama Chopra has frequently featured in a lot of videos – including the Jana Gana Mana video. However, there have been two videos of hers that have got a lot of traction in the last few years – one for all the good reasons and the other for not-so-good reasons. The former is obviously Kangana Ranaut’s interview in ‘The Front Row’. Why does Anupama think that the video went viral?

It was all Kangana responding with so much honesty that touched a chord in people’s hearts. Anupama never gets into the risqué / scandalous zone, yet it’s a rare interview that almost everyone shared on social networking sites. But it was the frankness with which she spoke about coming from a small town and trying to over-compensate, especially being a woman in the show business. She spoke about waiting on the sets of big hero films, doing films like Double Dhamaal where she is totally interchangeable, and how she cannot get a job somewhere else because she is slightly famous – these are things that no actor has ever spoken of earlier. Though it’s not necessary that actors always portray a rose-tinted image of the industry, most of what they say is very rehearsed and sanitised.

The other video is obviously Homi Adajania’s ‘My Choice’ featuring Deepika Padukone. So, did she expect the kind of reaction the video evoked?

No way, she says, I had no clue. Truthfully, she quips, I had no clue about the script, what was coming before or after my segment. Homi just called and said ‘Babes, come and do this,’ and I said ‘Sure’. I was there for literally twenty minutes of shoot. And when it was unveiled by Vogue, most women from the commercial including Deepika were there. We all enjoyed it and went home, only to realise that the shit has hit the fan. It became really vicious, Anupama laments. Of course, one can be critical and call the video superficial, but in the end it’s someone take on something, why get personal? I can try to understand why someone did not like the video but I cannot fathom the viciousness of the attack.

By now, we had reached MET Bandra and it was a long journey from Elphinstone that went away in a whisker. I had completed my list of questions and she was about to reach home. So, I thanked Anupama for being gracious enough to take out time and do the interview. Her driver helped me get out on the busy road, as I hopped out and caught the taxi to my workplace. From everyone at MAM, we wish Anupama a lot of success with Film Companion and MAMI, and hope to see her come back to movie criticism soon.

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