BOI: What kind of reaction have you been getting to the trailer?
Raveena Tandon (RT): The response has been overwhelming because we did not expect the kind of hits we are getting. It’s a small film made from the heart. We don’t have any big daddy or anyone pushing this film. We believe in this film because we believe the situation in the country needs to be addressed. You won’t believe it but people have been sending me links (to the Internet) from all over the world, from the UK, from here and there, and obviously from India too.
The film has actually started a conversation, a debate. At any given time, there are four to five people discussing situations and commenting on different cases and about what needs to be done. I believe it has reached out to the youth and has drawn an amazing response. Ultimately, these guys are going to be the voice and the noise that needs to nudge our lawmakers and leaders into taking more stringent action.
BOI: When you read the script, what about it appealed to you most?
RT: Honestly, the reality of it all. It was not a fake script or trying to create something unreal. There are no songs and dances in this film. There are no club sequences, there is no… like, we are suddenly on a slope of a beautiful valley, or dream sequences. There is nothing like that at all. It’s a very real film and this is what actually happens with a middle class family and how it completely falls apart. And the very fact that criminals walk free after a while and the family is actually given a life sentence of this brutish nightmare that has unfolded upon them. They have to live with it. That is what we talk about in the film.
BOI: Was it emotionally draining to play a role like this?
RT: Very emotionally draining. I was sort of prepared for it but not for something so intense. When I heard the script, I was in tears and it gave me goosebumps. I have three daughters and I was able to identify with the character, and then when we actually shot it, was very disturbing. After shooting the film, sadly, I had to dub it… just some parts as most of the film had been shot in sync sound, but I had to dub a couple of scenes. That also left me sobbing uncontrollably. It was a very moving and disturbing experience.
BOI: Was it equally tough to get out of the character?
RT: A mother is a mother, is a mother. Once you are a mother, you don’t know how easy it is to get in or jump out of the character. Like I said, I could identify with what was happening. But what was difficult to get out of were those disturbing thoughts.
Unfortunately, what happens in our country is that when a horrific case like this happens, everyone talks about it, it is reported in the newspapers, on TV channels and there are debates about it. But on the fifth day, everything returns to normal, until the next horrible thing happens.
You guys are youngsters and experiencing a progressive new India. We are all educated and we feel we are liberated in our minds. So why are the statistics climbing every day, even though the laws have changed? Have they changed and become stringent enough to become a deterrent to a crime like this that is unfolding every day? That’s the big question.
The law was changed for juvenile delinquents after the Nirbhaya case. But unfortunately even though the case was on the fast track, the 17-year-old, who according to me is the most horrific, brutal, inhuman, sadistic, cold-blooded murderer, walked free after a year and a half and has now completely disappeared too.
He was given an incentive, a sewing machine, and told to start life afresh. Clearly, the lawmakers did not understand the brutality of the crime. Are we giving incentives to juvenile, unemployed youth? ‘Oh, do whatever you want to, the government will let you go scot free, and you might even get a sarkari naukri!’
Where are we headed, as a society? What is the precedent we are setting for future generations? So it’s high time we start… You know, it was reported that in one of our states, there were 57,000 crimes against women committed in 2014. A year later, the number had shot up to 59,000. Imagine a jump of 2,000 cases a year. With 60,000 cases reported in that state, imagine how many go unreported.
Coming back to this film, it has a strong message and we thought it was high time it needed to go out without any sugar-coating. So we would like to tell the censor board that showing the audience a heavily edited version of the film doesn’t get the message across. Enough sugar-coating.
BOI: Generally, do actors have social responsibilities with the films they do?
RT: To a certain extent, I believe we do. There is no doubt that we set a moral example. There are so many fans who idolise actors and look up to them, so I know that, somewhere, my behavior counts, the way I am and the way I live my life counts because there are so many people who look up to me.
I was offered many films, very good films, which went on to become big hits. But those are not the kind of films I want to do. I thought when the time comes for me to get back in touch with the audience and my fans, I should do that with something strong, something I believe in. And that’s why Maatr.
BOI: You have done masala, entertaining roles as well as serious roles. What is your calling?
RT: My calling was… it was my dream and my goal to achieve something that a lot of my colleagues haven’t probably been able to, which is to strike a balance between realistic cinema and commercial cinema. I am lucky that my fans… and I have also got critical acclaim, so if I did a film called Dulhe Raja I also did Daman alongside. If I did a film like Shool, I also did Bade Miyan Chote Miyaan. I did a film like Aks and then came Ziddi or there was Andaz Apna Apna. So I have always tried to strike a balance in my work. There was Satta, which was critically acclaimed. I didn’t want to get stuck doing only commercial, song-and-dance kind of roles.
BOI: Was it difficult to do a balancing act?
RT: Initially, it was. I think Shool was my first film, it was even difficult to convince Ram Gopal Varma that I could do something like that. But the minute that went through, it was easy for me to move on and break into this.
BOI: What kind of numbers do you expect from the box office?
RT: Ok, now let’s talk hard facts. I’m a very practical person. For me, the message going through is important. I do not deny that box-office commercials are not important; it is very essential for an actor. But I have been there, done that; I have seen the lows and highs of the industry. I have been around for quite a while now. So it is sone pe suhagha that if more people see, the more the message will reach out to people. But given that my husband (Anil Thadani) himself is the distributor… He knows the mathematics of it all.
I believe that sometimes realistic films don’t really do good business at the box office but that does not mean we should stop making meaningful cinema. So there is always an attempt to push for films like this, and I have been very lucky that I have a great team, who believes in the film.
It has been written by Michael Pellico directed by Ashtar Sayed and produced by Pugmark films. It’s been an awesome experience working with all of them. These were very dedicated and serious guys and the issue of respect for women was very deeply set in their hearts. That was something that gave me the power, that here were three men – Ashtar Sayed, Anjum Rizvi and Michael Pellico – who strongly believed in this. They believed it mirrored the situation of our country and that the story needed to be told.
BOI: As a distributor, did your husband offer any inputs for this film?
RT: Well, he always gives me his inputs and was hoping he would distribute this film. However, when we got married, we made a pact – that each one of us would stand on our own feet. Also, Anil is very emotional and sensitive at heart, our daughters are very special to him, and I know he will be extremely disturbed after he watches this film. He is always there for me, and will tell me what to do and what no to do.
BOI: As a mother, as a woman and as an actor, how proud are you of this film?
RT: Women, especially Indian women, have immense strength. And that is why, in ancient India, they were literally worshipped as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali, Chandi, Durga and Sita, in various other avatars. That got lost somewhere down the line, with the fusion of cultures.
It is very important for a woman to be able to show her inner strength. So, as a woman, I am very proud of this film because it shows the inner strength that we women have within us. We can be what we choose to be, and being strong is one of the many choices we have. This film is all about that. Maatr is not about the transformation of a woman and her life but it talks about how our society is today…. the situations we are in and what the lawmakers are saying, and the kind of comments we get after a horrific incident like this. We are looking to change mindsets with our film.
Maatr does not offer solutions but it does show you the failure of the judicial system, failure of the law enforcers to provide security and support, or else incidents like this would not have taken place again. It is the frustration of the common man that we have tried to bring out in this film. I tell everybody that this film is fiction but, tomorrow, it could be someone’s story.