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"The audience today wants real cinema"

Tigmanshu Dhulia’s last film, Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster, earned him many compliments. He has also directed Haasil, Charas and Shagird. Now, he is busy promoting his upcoming film, the much-awaited Paan Singh Tomar. Here’s what the director has to say about the film…

Why are you releasing the film so late, when it was shot and ready two years ago?

The film was not stuck at all. It was actually strategy. We took the film to many festivals around the world and some festivals only accept unreleased films. So ours went to the Abu Dhabi festival, the London film festival. We could have released it in 2011, but it wouldn’t have made any sense to release it with so many other films, so we decided to wait till 2012. Though the film London, Paris, New York is releasing at the same time as us, we will have a totally different audience.

What kind of response did you get after the trailer was launched?

Everyone liked it. Today’s audiences want to watch real cinema rather than crap movies. My film trailer holds the audience’s attention; it’s about a man whom many people will relate to, and yet my promo doesn’t show the whole story. I believe audiences will love this film. Many of my friends have already been calling to say they loved it.

So tell us about Paan Singh Tomar?

Paan Singh Tomar is a man I read about while in the Chambal, shooting for Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen. He was an athlete who became a soldier, and then a dacoit. So what would make an ex-soldier become a dacoit? I wanted to answer that question, so I started doing some research on him.

So how did Tomar become a dacoit?

Tomar opted for retirement from the Army and returned to his village near Morena in Madhya Pradesh, but here he had to fight for his own land. He approached the panchayat, which didn’t support him. He turned to the police, but they too looked away. So he decided to take the law into his own hands and turned dacoit. That’s how many poor people in MP and UP turn dacoits.

Was it easy to meet the family of Tomar?

No. They no longer lived in the same village. But I did get hold of his brother. Like all the poor people in the village, he too wanted money in exchange for information. Eventually, he helped me communicate with the family and learn more about Tomar’s life and what made him turn dacoit.

Was it easy to shoot a film in the Chambal?

Frankly speaking, there was the threat of dacoits, so it was not easy. But when we got there, I fell in love with the region. The Chambal river is so clean, you can actually drink the water. In terms of safety, we were given police protection, but we decided to also hire ex-dacoits as private guards. They knew the Chambal valley, they knew which the safe zones and danger zones were. The ex-dacoits were very honest and loyal as employees.

What made you sign Irrfan Khan for this film?

I wanted an actor who would do the hard work, who could act and whom audiences could relate to as a dacoit. Irrfan struck me as the perfect choice. He didn’t even listen to the whole script before saying yes, and he worked really hard to get into character. Irrfan is an actor who has made a name for himself. When you hear it’s an Irrfan Khan movie, audiences come and watch because he only does quality films.

You are releasing your film on March 2, during exam time. Do you think this will affect your film’s fortunes at the box office?

The film has received a UA certificate, so kids can’t watch it anyway. As for the rest, I believe they will come because the content is so good. I have full faith in my film.

What’s happening with Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 2? Neil Nitin Mukesh was supposed to star in it?

We have finalised Irrfan Khan for the sequel, along with Jimmy Shergill, Mahi Gill and Randeep Hooda. The script is underway but we will soon start shootiong and will release by Eid this year. I had never signed Neil, it was Neil who said he wanted to do the sequel. I said ok. But when we were finalising the script, the character that emerged needed an old man, and Irrfan is best suited as he is an actor who can play any role. I can’t help it that Neil went and announced his role to the media before it was confirmed. Perhaps I will do another film with Neil.

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