It’s a film that tackles the issue of caste which have been there for millennials in India and yet underrepresented in Hindi cinema. There aren’t too many films that have got into those issues quite so directly and purposefully as Article 15.
No, Not in the mainstream. That was actually the bigger fight. You can’t make this film for people who already agree with you. This film has been made for people who don’t agree with you. This has to be made for people who have been running this show for the longest time. Strangely most of them, not knowingly. It has become a part of our DNA. We just keep doing it. We don’t question it ourselves. It’s a balance that society has which is very, very cruel. It was time that we spoke about it and I hope that will confront those questions in a very healthy manner. It is very easy to change it. Only if we decide to.
What was the spark the genesis for you? I know that the story was very loosely inspired by some true events in India. Can you elaborate on when the idea came to you?
This has been bothering me for decades. Twenty years or so, maybe more. The past five, six years there have been a lot of reported incidents where Dalit girls were raped and killed and sometimes burnt alive, sometimes buried, thrown away. One such incident got quite a lot of attention. When I started researching. I found that it was not investigated. Just that it was reported. It was reported widely. It is based on that. If you are from India, If you have been reading the newspapers there are a lot of other things that are there that have been woven together. Yes, you can say that it is inspired by a lot of true incidents not just one.
Does caste play a role in the Indian film industry? Have you heard of scenarios where it has been a factor on film sets for instance?
No. Not at all. Not in Mumbai. Not that I know. We can’t afford to, as film making is such an expensive process.
Recently we wrote a small ad capsule for the Cricket World Cup. The India Pakistan match was coming up and the whole country was India – India – India! We made a small capsule that was played and appreciated a lot. We said that when India plays Pakistan Article 15 gets used in the country like never before. That means we know how to do it; we just don’t do it every day. So, similarly making a movie is such a capital-intensive process, you are running against time, things have to be delivered that you forget it. It means you can afford to not do it. We just chose not to because it is more convenient.
We have to talk about the star of the show Ayushmann, who has become a very big star in Indian cinema and in China I understand. I gather that when he was talking about him doing the film for the first time you had some reservations about him in this role. Can you please explain how he overcame those for you?
I have had the script for Article 15 since 2017. There was no actor around me that I could think of playing this part. That is why I was not making this film. I was just postponing it. Even when I was shooting Mulk, I was thinking that this would be my next, but then I couldn’t think of an actor. Ayushmann and I met for an intense relationship film. He had seen Mulk and he was a big fan of the film and wanted to work with me, so he said okay let’s do this, but he said why don’t you do something issue based with me, intense? I started laughing and I said I have a fantastic story, but you don’t fit in it. I ended up telling him the story and he asked do you mind if I read it. I gave him the script to read – I don’t know why. Before he left, he said this is fantastic! I would love to do this! He was going to get very busy. I said I wanted to make it now or never. He said I will look after all the schedules, just do it with me. I told him I don’t see you in it and then he left. Three to four days later, we met again. He pursued it. He persevered. I bought into his conviction. The guy was so convinced of this subject matter. I jokingly tell everyone that I didn’t cast Ayushmann, he cast himself.
Can you talk a little bit about the look of the film. It is a very striking looking film and I just want you to talk about the conversations you had in terms of how you wanted to represent this world visually?
So, Ewan [Mulligan – cinematographer] and I were the only people who knew what the film was going to look like. We were going around these villages and we would stop somewhere and we would look at this bit of grass and I would say that this is going to be a stunning looking film. Members of the team would look at me and go ‘yeah right’.
We started shooting, and Ewan created a new torture plan where for two or three weeks we would start shooting and by shooting I mean, the camera would start rolling at 5:30 am, which meant that the actors would arrive at 2:30 am get ready do the rehearsal, camera would roll at 5:30, we would shoot till 10:30 am and then we would retire for the rest of the day. We would then start shooting at 5pm again, until 6:15, 6:20. So this was our schedule.
Half the time I was hoping that we would finish the film. Ayushmann was working with me for the first time. He was surprised. During the day we would play cricket. I would ask for all types of red meat from all over Lucknow. We would have this heavy, spicy, oily lunches. We would then crash. Around 3:30 one person would wake up and say let’s go, then the second one would get up. This was the way we shot for the first three weeks. I realised in about the first seven days that we were doing fine. Ayushmann was very worried, that these are aliens. They told me a good story, and they are doing something else. Those were tough days.
I remember a conversation we had when we were leaving where I asked Ewan, have we got everything, and he laughed saying yes we have, we finished the film on schedule, we made a good film, we made a very good looking film. This is all thanks to Ewan, who encouraged me to make a better film. He is a great collaborator. He has shot Mulk also. He has shot four films with me. He understands Hindi, he eats spices like nobody else.
Just out of interest, when you were on the bus at 2/3 in the morning with the actors and they are grumpy that they got dragged out of bed, who got the blame? Was it you or was it Ewan?
It was Ewan. I am always right.
I wanted to ask about the score, as it another very interesting way of setting the tone of the movie. Before we get into that, there is some Bob Dylan at the very beginning, which again sets the tone in a slightly different way. Can you talk a little bit about the difficulties in getting or the ease in getting the rights to Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”?
When I was writing the script, I very happily wrote Bob Dylan playing, even though I knew I won’t get it.
So it’s in the script is it?
Yes. I wrote it in the script. I love that line – “How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” For that line I wanted the song. I wrote it. I was not going to try and acquire rights. During the shooting, I would keep playing it on the PA system. It then started staying with me. Then I would start saying I will get this song. It got to that stage. Everyone made fun of me because of it.
I came back and I called the Head of Sony in India who is a friend. I said I want a song. He asked which song? I said do you have Bob Dylan’s songs, he said yeah, which song, not “Blowing in the Wind”? I said yeah. He went into this is not happening, they will ask for so much money, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. In the end he told me to write him an email, so I wrote him an email. Something was happening, but it was not going anywhere.
I then wrote to a very dear friend Ginger Shankar, who is a musician in LA, and I asked, ‘Do you know someone who can help me? She said let me try. She forwarded it to someone, they never responded to that mail but they forwarded it to Bob Dylan’s manager. By the time I work up the next morning, I had an email from Dylan’s management saying done. How much do you have? Give me whatever you have. That is how I got the song.
I needed the song so badly, that the whole universe transpired so that it could happen.
Were you thinking of an alternative plan?
I was composing a song. I was talking to other musicians and I would say this is the brief, but then obviously people would not turn up for three weeks. Who gets a brief of blowing in the wind and comes back with a composition.
It’s a very entertaining film, but it obviously covers some very serious issues that are close to your heart. I know that you are keen that the right people watch it. For the people here tonight that have watched the film who don’t know much about the situations and issues regarding Dalits, is there something that you can recommend to them?
Just go on to You Tube. Type in what is happening to Dalits and it will all come up and you will feel shocked. It is that simple.
Article 15 is releasing in Cinemas on the 28th of June. Stay tuned for our review!