‘I wish to change cinema’
   Date :18-Sep-2023

change cinema 
By Kartik Lokhande :
Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri. The name has become synonymous with the genre of cinema that tells the story of pain and pride of ‘Bharat’. His National Award winning work ‘The Kashmir Files’ has left many saying that the Indian cinema will be divided into two eras -- pre-Kashmir Files and post-Kashmir Files. Hence, when the director says, “I wish to change cinema,” one feels conviction in his voice. In Nagpur for the preview of his upcoming movie ‘The Vaccine War’ based on how India made indigenous vaccine to fight COVID-19, Agnihotri took out time to interact with select group of mediapersons on Sunday afternoon. During the free-wheeling conversation, he spoke about his deep connect with Nagpur, his conviction, making something different from Bollywood-ish cinema, getting ‘cancelled’ at an Oxford event, and critical comments of veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah. Throughout the conversation, the director came across as a man committed to nationalism and intense subjects.
A question about the choice of intense subjects like cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits; mystery shrouding the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was India’s Prime Minister; urban Naxalism, makes him the acclaimed as well as criticised director somewhat pensive. “I am doing normal cinema. The fact is that others are not doing it, and hence I am standing out as different,” he says. According to him, Indian cinema has always dealt with subjects relating to society and its problems. He cites the names of stalwarts like Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor to prove his point. “It is film-makers like Karan Johar, who started making films to cater to NRI audience. All gloss... Actually, they should be questioned as to why are they making such films that do not deal with realities of society,” Agnihotri remarks. The firebrand side of Agnihotri comes to fore as he continues, “Which movie is successful depends on people’s choice. We must respect that. What is known as Bollywood thinks that the audience is dumb. So, it has been making dumb movies. In my opinion, the audience is intelligent and hence we must make intelligent, thought-provoking movies”. During the course of conversation, he reveals that several producers have approached him to make sequel to the hugely successful ‘The Kashmir Files’. But, he adds, he does not want to get trapped. “I wish to change cinema. Hence, instead of resorting to only commerce, I have decided to deal with different subjects that have not been dealt with so far,” says Vivek Agnihotri.
Is it why he was ‘cancelled’ at an Oxford University event last year? With a hearty laugh, Agnihotri replies, “It actually proved to be a boon for me. Getting ‘cancelled’ as part of some interests resorting to ‘Cancel Culture’, gives me feeling of being independent. So, I am happy that I have been ‘cancelled’. It also speaks of the impact of my work”. Obviously, such boldness has attracted for him some scathing remarks from some veterans in the film industry. Recently, veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah calling the success of films like ‘The Kashmir Files’ and ‘Gadar-2’ as a ‘dangerous trend’. Pat come questions from the maker of ‘The Kashmir Files’ in reply to a query regarding Shah’s comment: “Why is he afraid of success of films that tell the stories, which were not told so far? Why does he feel ‘danger’ when movies are made to expose terrorists?” On a softer note, speaking about his deep connect with Nagpur, Agnihotri goes back to the era when he was a young Vivek. His father did his doctorate in Nagpur. His parents went to jail during freedom movement. At Akola in Vidarbha, his father was Principal in an educational institution. He also recalled his association with Ramgopal Maheshwari. “I used to come to Nagpur and Wardha to participate in debate competitions. Also, my sister did her job here. Nagpur has a special place in my heart,” he says with a smile and sparkle in eyes.
Agnihotri is very enthusiastic about his upcoming movie ‘The Vaccine War’, which tells the story of the massive effort of Indian scientists in making an indigenous and highly effective vaccine against COVID-19 in record time. “I wish to celebrate these real-life heroes. We do not have heroes in only cricketers or celebrities. We have our scientists too. My movie celebrates how some committed individuals won the war... Yes, it was war... launched by foreign pharmaceutical lobbies and those setting narratives that India did not have capability to develop an indigenous vaccine. ‘The Vaccine War’ is a first, non-fiction, real superhero movie. Our scientists are our superheroes,” he elaborates. On the use of ‘Nasadiya Sukta’ from ‘Rigveda’ in the movie on vaccine, the film-maker replies that it was apt. For, he asserts, India has had a long and rich tradition of combining science and spirituality. Regarding the decision of casting veteran actor Nana Patekar in the lead role of Dr Balram Bhargav, Director General of ICMR, Agnihotri says that Nana is one actor who does not compromise on acting. Showering praises, he adds that Nana is a rare actor who gives 100 per cent and nothing less to his role.
Agnihotri’s next film is ‘The Delhi Files’. According to him, it tells the hitherto untold story of the Partition. It tries to get to the root of the Hindu-Muslim clashes, by exploring details that have not been explained so far, he tells mediapersons. He has been making films in an era of web-series. So, didn’t the thought of making a web-series cross his mind? Ask this, and he answers with a broad grin, “I wish to make films only, because they have impact. You know, there are so may web-series these days that one does not remember what one has watched the previous night. But, one remembers films. A film has greater impact on minds and hearts. So, films is my love”. But, he adds, the tremendous amount of research that he had done for the award-winning movie ‘The Kashmir Files’ has been used to make a documentary series ‘The Kashmir Files: Unreported’ streaming on Zee5 platform.