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‘Now screenplay is become a star’ –Neeraj Ghaywan

Neeraj Ghaywan, director of the critically acclaimed movie ‘Masaan’ that won accolades at the Cannes Film Festival, 2015, believes in the power of narrative and for him script is the hero of the movie. In conversation with NT BUZZ he speaks about the movie, use of Hindi literature, changing face of the actresses on screen and why closing down of studios is a blessing in disguise
The critically acclaimed movie of 2015, ‘Masaan’ directed by Neeraj Ghaywan was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival winning two awards. This is a great feat to any first-time filmmaker and no wonder that Neeraj is elated with this achievement. But, at the same time he wants to maintain that humility and being grounded as he believes that the real hero of the movie is the narrative. Thus, any story which is told with honesty and integrity will touch people’s hearts.
‘Masaan’ which is a story of two main characters that converge eventually is set in the town of Varanasi. The movie speaks about love, loss, death and hope.
It is interesting to note that Neeraj in his narrative wanted to speak about people of Varanasi rather than the place itself. “We’ve always shown the exotic locations of a place and never understood a place from their (people’s) point of view. I wanted to understand their socialscape. Also the place is not only about the geography, but its culture, language, food and even the way they dress. It should be a part of the narrative as for me nothing is bigger than the script,” says Neeraj who won National Award in the category ‘Best Debut Film of a Director’. When asked why he chose Varanasi of all the places, given that he doesn’t hail from North India, he says: “I have a magical connection with Varanasi. I was brought up in Hyderabad to Maharashtrian parents but I feel that I am ‘dil se bhaiya’.” He further states: “When we were shooting for ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ {Neeraj assisted Anurag Kashyap on this movie}, we never got a chance to see Varanasi. The real experience of the place came during the research. You cannot define it in words. It is an experience which you can only feel.”
Another interesting and refreshing part of ‘Masaan’ is that it brought the beauty of Hindi literature back into Hindi cinema and also the old world romance. On this point Neeraj confirmed that it was indeed a conscious decision to focus on Hindi literature. “Yes, it was a conscious decision and it was writer Varun Grover’s idea, wanting to put in (Hindi literature). Also in western movies we see lot of adaptations. In fact in the Oscars there is a separate category for adaptation. And here we have so much of Hindi and other language literature and we don’t use it. Also in the movie ‘Masaan’ we wanted to pay homage to our gurus and that’s why there is mention of the author Dushyant Kumar. Also there’s a character of Pankaj Tripathi in the movie who is shown reading the Hindi book, ‘Deewar Mein Khidki Rehti Thi’ {written by Vinod Kumar Shukla} and his character is based on the character which is in this book. But, sadly it doesn’t show in the movie. For me the whole film is like a novel. Also we don’t show the process of falling in love in our movies. That’s how we have shown the process of small town love, their inhibitions and I wanted to show it to the contemporary world,” says Neeraj.
When asked whether he will make his next movie based in a small town, says: “I can’t say, as it is based on the narrative. Maybe I may go one step further and make a film on rural India. We have stopped making films on rural India. Somebody has to document this time of their life. But, I can’t say right now what it is. Sometimes the stories come from inside and they haunt you.”
About casting he said that now the female actors are more risk taking. “Deepika can do ‘Piku’ and Alia plays a migrant worker in ‘Udta Punjab’ and makes it so believable. Women have outdone the men far better. They are exploring and experimenting much more than male stars. Male actors do the stereotypical things as they don’t want to miss the three days of the weekend. Female stars are not insecure of their stardom.”
Neeraj on the point of closing down of studios said that the positive side of this is that now the script will be taken more seriously.
“It has happened because of blind faith in the star system. Now the importance will be given to the script. Now screenplay is become a star. There are now departments of script developments to counter this one. It is a very good situation for filmmaking,” says Neeraj.
Neeraj who has a background of engineering and management while speaking about his journey as a filmmaker during the interaction with Prakash Jha at Black Box on Saturday, said that it was quite filmy. When his mentor filmmaker Anurag Kashyap gave him the confidence that he can make a movie he believes in, he incidentally resigned at the same time. “Also at that same time my parents got a marriage alliance for me. But, then I told them that I resigned, I don’t want to get married and that I want to make a movie. When my father heard this on phone, there was silence for five minutes. And they then didn’t speak to me for seven months,” says Niraj.
Niraj who describes himself as a geek, but when it comes to filmmaking he doesn’t like to get into it that much. “Too much of knowledge can be detrimental. I am happy to retain my original thinking,” says Niraj who further stated that’s the reason he didn’t learn filmmaking formally and learnt on the job.
He states: “Someone once told me that passion is finite and everything fades in life, including true love. So, make a film while you are at it.”
On a concluding note when asked about facing pressure to make his second film, he confirms that the pressure is tremendous and it is internal. “For the first movie the pressure is external and for the second film it is internal. I want to forget about ‘Masaan’ and the baggage and start afresh and that internal struggle is a challenge.”

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