“There is a history there and an explanation. But as far as ‘Raazi’ goes, it is important to keep the time period in perspective. The story unfolds in 1971, before insurgency and fundamental forces took root in the Valley. Yes, it may be unfamiliar today to see a patriot who is a Kashmiri-Muslim but I have visited the Valley three times in the last year for recce and the shoot and then went back with my family for a vacation in December. From my interactions with the locals, I can reiterate that the ordinary Kashmiri is genuine and completely affiliated to India. They have just become helpless pawns because nobody is interested in resolving their problems. They are always defensive, constantly asking you, “I hope you are okay? Aapko kuch galat to nahin lagta yahan?” It’s so unfair!”
Many filmmakers who went to the Valley to shoot have had to grapple with disruptions and some even returned without completing the schedule. One hasn’t heard any complaints from the ‘Raazi’ unit…
“That’s because there were none, from us or the locals. Last February, we were shooting on a long road holding up the traffic and no one protested. Then, we took over a park stopping school kids from playing around while on a school picnic. They simply sat there quietly, watching us. When the vintage car’s door wouldn’t open or shut during a take, they would burst out laughing. It was like performing a play for a live audience.” “They don’t have a film industry there, so when we needed junior artistes, the location manager would call family and friends over. They didn’t need to help us but they did. Kashmiriyat is still alive in the Valley.”
Harvinder Sikka’s book, Calling Sehmat, on which the film is based, got away from you twice, before Junglee Pictures finally picked up the film rights. Tell us about your interactions with the author who had initially approached your father, Gulzar saab, to take Sehmat’s story to the screen?
“Mr Sikka revers this lady whom he calls Sehmat having met and interacted with her. He was very cautious whom he entrusted his book to. We shared our script with him and while he had a few inputs and some differences of opinion with the way we had adapted his story, he eventually told me it was my call and he trusted me with the sanctity of the contents.”
You’ve said you wouldn’t have made the film had Alia Bhatt not agreed to play the lead. Why did she feel so right?
“Even before Bhavani Iyer (who wrote the screenplay with Meghna) and I had put a word on paper, I knew that a performance was needed to take Sehmat’s journey forward on screen. Also, the way I see her, she doesn’t suddenly turn into this indestructible superhero on a mission. There’s a vulnerability inherent in her character which she retains till the end and I’ve noticed that no matter how hard-hitting the characters she plays, there is a certain softness to Alia, physically and emotionally, that I was looking for.”
Did she get stuck with any scene?
“None. Once she connected with the character, she was consumed by her. Alia worked really hard on her prep — she took language sessions, learnt the Morse code and other training. By the time we sat for the readings, she knew all her lines and was even asking what I meant by underlined script cues like ‘gives a knowing look’, wanting me to explain what I meant by the ‘knowing look’.”
Did Gulzar saab contribute with suggestions having lived on the other side of the border?
“My father was born in what is Pakistan now, but after the Partition, the family moved to Delhi and by 1971 he was living in Mumbai and making films here. I don’t share my script with him till I have finished writing but I do go to my father for lyrics. For my songs, I don’t need to go to anyone else.”
While on journeys, what has yours been like, from ‘Filhaal’ to ‘Raazi’?
“I have become a lot more patient now. I don’t know if it has to do with age, motherhood or my 18-year experience as a filmmaker, perhaps all three. Shooting is all about people management and I am getting better at that. All my five films — Filhaal, Just Married, Dus Kahaniyan, Talvar and now Raazi — have been very different and with Talvar, I discovered that I execute the darker side better than the soft, sensitive one.”
Talking about the Talwars, Rajesh and Nupur’s ordeal isn’t over yet.
“As the film showed, there can’t be a re-investigation as there is no new evidence to introduce. There can only be fresh arguments and how the information presented is processed, will depend on the mind-set of those trying the case. We have already had two different verdicts and though painful, the process of law will have to be followed right up to the highest court of the land.”
Your next two films are bigger challenges, a biopic on Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and the real story of Laxmi Agarwal, an acid attack survivor.
“(Laughs) I like making life tough for myself. Honestly, some of the current generation don’t even know who Field Marshal Manekshaw was. And in her own way, Laxmi too is a role model with a story that’s scary, horrifying and inspiring. I want to share these stories with the world but first I need a break after Raazi’s release. I’ve worked non-stop for 11 months. But even on a break I know the mind won’t sleep.”
‘Raazi’ Official Trailer | Starring Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal | Directed by Meghna Gulzar