Talking movies with Tigmanshu Dhulia

The filmmaker opens up on the universe of Milan Talkies and his space, amidst the changing ethos of Hindi cinema

At a time when Hindi cinema is pushing aside the cotton-candy sweet and is exploring shades of grey instead, Tigmanshu Dhulia look to romance and celebrating the secular ethos of Allahabad, the city he grew up in. He is inspired by the golden age of Hindi cinema when the moral centre of the protagonist was intact and films delivered poetic justice in three hours.

Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster is an exception in my filmography. I find myself close to this kind of cinema. Somehow, I find we are not rooted or real when we depict sex or use cuss words in our films. I see a Western influence in their depiction. I might use cuss words in real life, but I don’t use them in my films. My characters always have the language and an indigenous idiom to express their emotion.”

Many summers ago, he told me that it was hard to set love stories in big cities because there were hardly any obstacles left in the meeting of a boy and girl. That in small towns, young love still has to cross many barriers. As it turned out, it is his story that had to wait to the see the light of the projector. Finally, Milan Talkies is here and Tigmanshu opens up on its universe where anti-Romeo squads and cheating mafia are part of everyday reality.

Tigmanshu Dhulia

Tigmanshu Dhulia

Edited excerpts from the conversation:

Milan Talkies has been in the works for a long time now…

I started writing it when I was shooting Pan Singh Tomar. It took a long time to unravel. First UTV came on board. It was supposed to be my second film with them after Pan Singh. But when that got delayed, they lost interest in Milan Talkies as well. For four-five years, Ekta (Kapoor) showed interest. However, for some reason, the planets were not getting aligned. But somehow the story didn’t leave me and I didn’t let it fade from my memory either.

What element of it didn’t you let fade away?

These days love has also become like fast food. In times of Tinder, I am talking about the purity of love and the struggle to achieve it. Filmmakers are making biopics because they are unable to find heroes in society. Boys are languishing in coffee shops and love is happening on dating apps. I had to put in a lot of effort to find my hero.

Who is your hero?

My definition of a hero is one who has a moral centre somewhere; somebody who puts in effort to find his way amidst obstacles. He could have flaws. From Krishna to Ram, every hero is flawed in some way.

Tell us about the significance of the title.

It is about love for cinema and the love for your beloved. It is set in my hometown, Allahabad, between 2010-2013. There is a Milan Talkies in the city. In my time, it was called Plaza. In fact, Milan Talkies is a common name of single-screen theatres. In Mumbai, there used to be one. In Mathura, there is still one functioning. I named the film thus because it is the meeting place for the boy and the girl. The boy and his friends make films by jugaad.

It is like in Malegaon, where they have a parallel film industry where they make spoofs of Sholay and Spiderman. I guess Meerut also has something similar. The projection room of the theatre is their office and also the place where love takes root. And then comes the conflict. Eventually, how he makes his real-life film is the story. These days communication seems very easy, but they somehow fail to communicate.

The city is called Pryagraj. Do you see any change in the cultural ethos of the city?

That’s why I set it in 2010-2013 when Allahabad was Allahabad, when it still had elements of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. The change hasn’t essentially surfaced after the BJP government came to power. As I often say, it started in the ’90s when Pryagraj Express started. Till then, Delhi seemed like a far-off city. After the launch of the train, suddenly people realised that an overnight journey is all it takes to reach the capital of the country. Allahabad is a city of lawyers. They started sending kids to Delhi for studies.

The culturally inclined elite also moved to Delhi. It created a kind of vacuum which was filled by people who didn’t understand the cosmopolitan ethos of the city. Allahabad was a place where Rock Street Journal and the poetry of Sumitranandan Pant and Mahadevi Verma coexisted. Gradually, it became kitschy. The worst part was the rise in intolerance which I faced when I shot my first film Haasil there. That is why I shot a major chunk of Milan Talkies in Mathura and Lucknow.

You also play an important character in the film…

I had to, because the actors I approached for the role of the father of the boy could not do it for some reason or the other. A failed actor, the father is more filmy than the son. He is inspired by Dharmendra’s character in Loafer and keeps singing “Aaj mausam bada beimaan hai.”

A Muslim friend is an important character…

Yes, we have Usman bhai (Sanjay Mishra), the ‘in-charge’ of the projection room. Unlike my character in Gangs of Wasseypur, cinema has made a positive impact on Usman bhai. He swears by the Amar Akbar Anthony template. He says he could not betray anybody, or else he would become a villain himself.

Your good friend Irrfan is back home…

He is much better than before. It seems like he is on the road to recovery. The kind of medication he is on, he is not required to stay in London anymore. There is a positive change. Let’s hope for the best.

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