Returning to direction after 12 long years, the man who makes Indian war films come alive, JP Dutta, is back with Paltan. Here he is in conversation with Bhakti Mehta
After 12 years, you got back into direction with Paltan. What was the motivation behind this story?
It was a story that had not been told before. Nobody was aware of what had actually happened. This was a truth that had been buried. It was not even mentioned in our history books. It was buried deep in the files of the Ministry of Defence. It was a positive chapter for our country, of our history, so it had to be told.
We have seen a small glimpse of the film with the trailer. Can you tell us more about the concept of Paltan?
It is about the 1967 incident, which was not a war but a skirmish between India and China. This incident was responsible for Sikkim being with us today. Otherwise, we would have lost it to China, like we lost Tibet. And now they are also eying Arunachal Pradesh.
Like your other successful films, this one too has a huge cast. How have you always managed this feat?
For me, it has always been the easiest thing to get the cast together. Even though my films have ensemble casts, it is somehow quite easy to get everyone together. I have made multi-starrers all my life and I think they are the easiest to make. All my actors have been a great support to me. They have blind trust in me, why, I don’t know. They will be able to answer that question better. But there is faith that comes into play here and that is something that is very beautiful. God is kind and I have been very lucky.
So many of your films have been shot at real locations. Are there any logistical challenges you face while trying to shoot?
I am a director who shoots in the naked places of the Earth. Yes, there have been many logistical issues that we have faced. Permissions are also an issue when you have to get clearance from the Ministry of Defence. That takes time. But they have been very helpful. To manage the 500-1,000 troops that we require to shoot, pull them out from whatever they are doing, just for me, just for those two months that I shoot, is a big deal.
I read somewhere that you have included men from the Indian army in the film.
I have always had real-life army personnel in my team, working with my cast. There is real ammunition, real guns, real men and real soldiers. Only the actors are not real (Laughs).
As you said, this incident was not even a part of our history books. How do you research subjects like these?
Subjects like these require a lot of research. I have to meet the people, the real soldiers who have survived those situations, those wars. I seek them out, I speak to them. They live in the interiors of this country. I have to find them so I get in touch with their regiments, and from there I get in touch with their battalion heads who help me get their addresses. Then I locate, find out whether they are alive, whether they are okay to talk, mentally and physically stable to relive those days.
And when you write the story of a sensitive subject like war, is there anything you have to keep in mind?
You have to be careful that you don’t damage the image of the army. That is the most important thing because it is the only institution left that is not corrupted.
From your first directorial, Ghulami to Paltan in 2018, how do you think the industry has changed over the years?
A lot has changed over the years. The only change that I find extremely disturbing is that the interaction between filmmakers, actors, musicians and all of us has become very false. It’s very cold-blooded now and creativity only grows when there is warmth. With corporates coming into the industry and the big money involved, everything has become saleable and everything is being marketed, kahin Saraswati Maa jaa chuki hai.
Also, marketing and promotions have grown so much. When I made my last film, the promotions were not so much. Now they have become huge. This is the first time I am encountering the promotions of a film. I have made my film and now I am done with it. Now I am not bothered about anything else. That’s just how I am.
What do you think about the trend of making 100-, 200- and 300-crore movies?
As I said before, there is a saying that we have, jab Saraswati Laxmi ko dekhti hai, tab woh bhaag jaati hai. We have lost our creativity, looking at this 200-300 crore trend. So, whatever the audience is watching and filmmakers are making, if people like it, then it’s very good. God bless you all. But I come from a different era, where directors were directors, actors were actors and music was music. That’s all gone now.
How important is it to show an emotional side in a war film?
I think emotion is very important in every war film. There is a line in my film which says that a soldier does not fight because he hates the enemy; he fights because of whom he has left behind at home. So, it will be his loss if he doesn’t fight. That is true emotion and the telling of that is very important. At the end of the day, my caption for the film says it all, ‘Brother to my right. Brother to my left. Together we stand. Together we fight.’ Ultimately, they fight for their Paltan more than they fight for their country.
The lines between cinema and digital platforms are blurring.
I think that’s a good change. Revenues and viewership have increased. Digital has its own advantages. It has opened more avenues for revenue. But, yes, the cinema format will always stay. Cinema has fought everything that has come in its way, whether radio, television or now digital. That will never change.