Meghna Gulzar On 'Talvar' And Making A Film On Real Life Incidents!

By Nita Deshmukh. Posted on September 28, 2015

Off late, tons of filmmakers are turning to real life incidents to find inspiration for their films. Sometimes, just telling the truth is way more interesting and the audience loves a good, honest movie based on a real story. From Steven Spielberg to Anurag Kashyap, directors have time and again adapted true events to the reel.

Meghna Gulzar started her career as a freelance writer and later assisted Saeed Mirza on his National Award winning film Naseem. She also assisted her father Gulzar on his films - Maachis and Hu Tu Tu. Meghna directed her first film Filhaal in 2002 which dealt with the subject of surrogacy. Her second movie Just Married was released in 2007. In the same year she also directed a short film Pooranmasi for Sanjay Gupta's anthology film Dus Kahaniyaan.

Her upcoming film Talvar, inspired by the 2008 Aarushi Talvar-Hemraj case was screened to a rousing reception at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival. The film which stars Irrfan Khan, Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma is written by Vishal Bhardwaj and will release in India on the 2nd of October.

In our upcoming online workshop, Raj Kumar Gupta, director of the critically acclaimed No One Killed Jessica will take us through the nuances of translating a real life incident into a feature film by adding elements to the story without compromising on the core. We recently spoke to Meghna on the challenges of making a film based on a real life incident and much more.

On the selection of subject she promptly replies “Every interview starts with the same question. You know in this particular case in spite of the time that has passed, there are still niggling questions which are either unanswered or don’t have convincing answers. I think that area to explore is inviting for the film maker”.

Directing films based on real life incidents is a challenge and one has to tread carefully while doing so. This particular case itself is widely contested in terms of point of views.

About meeting this challenge, Meghna says “I hope I have balanced the views fairly. Equally I hope. See the thing is, because it is so jumbled up there is no way to make this film with any one point of view, if you intend to make an honest film. Therefore all the point of views that exist on this case need to be presented fairly. Which is what we have done with this and hopefully it will give a better perspective to the people who have preconceived ideas or notions about the case or enlighten them about the things that they didn’t know”.

The Aarushi- Talvar Hemraj case has multiple layers. One wonders how true the movie is to the case. “As far as the data of the case is concerned it has not been tampered at all. There is an element of fictionalization because you need to give characters personal tracks and more than one dimension, so that’s where fictionalization has come in. Certain screenplay tools have been used to make the film more dramatic and give a certain graph to the screenplay. But as far as the data on the case is concerned, it is as close to the bone as possible.

The research was quite in depth. I mean it took us close to two years of going through about 4000 articles on the case. Everything that is there in the film is readily available in the public domain and it was a process of trying to make sense since every piece of reporting has various versions and contradictions. So one had to kind of evaluate the information and then see what made most logical sense or which held most water along with interacting with people involved in the case. It was intensive. You cannot make a film like that without this kind of background work.” said Meghna

Unlike the prevailing trend, the actors didn't interact with the people whose characters they have portrayed in the film.

"The actors didn’t meet anybody. They were given material. We made concise versions of the material we had which would give them an overview of the case, all the possible theories on it because every character was swinging in both the directions in the film. We would have long conversations, they would have their questions and I would have to answer or explain it to them. The script in itself is extremely detailed so a lot of groundwork was already done for the actors. I’m sure the actors out of curiosity or their approach must have researched on their own as well”

For Meghna the script is most important to the film and not the personal biases. She does not intend to project any personal views in the film and thus sticks to the script which has been well researched.

“Well as a filmmaker, you tend to maintain your utmost loyalty to the script. So if the script is narrating all points of views with certain fairness and equality, you as a filmmaker will try to maintain an objectivity and not let your personal biases come in the way.  Or you don’t touch a subject like this one if you feel you will not be able to have a control over it. So that’s what I hope to. I mean I have attempted to, but the facts as they are and the data as it is you know slants in one direction and then leans towards the other, which is how the case has gone. Even when the case was unfolding the society was first believing in one story then another then finally ended up either believing or disbelieving the final theory that was put out”.

Making a real life event based movie is different from the fictional. And Meghna personally finds this genre complex.

“This is very difficult, because this is not fiction and this is reality. You have an immense sense of responsibility and there is a burden on you to make a responsible film. Keep your sensibility pure and keep your integrity intact when you make your film. Because it involves real incidents with real people, so the burden of responsibility is much higher. With specially a film like this you have to be very careful. Fortunately with Vishalji's writing and his sensibility and everyone one else attached to the film, the integrity of the film is in the right place”.

In the recent years, there has been a spurt in movies based on real life stories. Shahid by Hansal Mehta and No One Killed Jessica by Raj Kumar Gupta are some of these films that have made their mark in recent times. Meghna however explains that this phenomenon is not recent. “Films based on real events are not recent films. They have happened as far as Jallianwala Bagh, the films on partition and Bandit Queen. So these films are happening for a while”

The last time we got to see Meghna Gulzar’s work was in 2007. She is making a comeback after a long hiatus.

"You know I kind of hesitate on this word comeback, because I’m not a kind of filmmaker who has made one film a year and suddenly disappeared. I never had that track record. I took time to raise my son. I mean comeback is not the word I would use. When my son was old enough for his mother to go to work, I got back to work like most women would do. I feel film making is instinctive. It’s a craft that can be honed in a institute or in a school of learning but at the base of it, it is instinctive. So if you have it, its not like you will forget it because you have not made the film in long time.

Yes technology changes and that is something I had to learn. Everything is digitized now from the last time I made the film. That takes a little while to learn and get used to. Apart from that I was blessed with a great crew and a very, very good team. So it was wonderful process. Considering the kind of films I had made earlier this was a completely different genre. The film was screened at  TIFF and the response is extremely encouraging. Majority of our audience members were non Indians. The film has to be followed with the sub titles. Despite the hurdles they connected with the film. The questions they asked post the screening made it clear they connected with the film. They reacted at the right time, in the right manner. All this was extremely encouraging for us to experience.” concludes Meghna.

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Every month, the Jamuura Lounge (a platform where budding filmmakers can understand their craft better) conducts webinars hosted by leading filmmakers that cover various important aspects of filmmaking. Our upcoming online workshop is with Raj Kumar Gupta, director of the critically acclaimed No One Killed Jessica and the thriller Aamir, who will take us through the nuances of translating a real life incident into a feature film by adding elements to the story without compromising on the core. Click here to attend.


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