• Friday, April 12, 2024


Meghna Gulzar: ‘Every film finds its audience’

Meghna Gulzar

By: Mohnish Singh

IN AN industry dominated by men, Meghna Gulzar stands out as one of the few female filmmakers whose work transcends mere entertainment.

She delves deep into the human experience to unearth riveting tales of resilience, sacrifice, and triumph.

The daughter of legendary writer Gulzar and veteran actress Raakhee, Meghna has proven her directorial prowess with acclaimed films such as Talvar, Raazi and Chhapaak.

Her recent film, Sam Bahadur, a biopic chronicling the extraordinary life of war veteran Sam Manekshaw, is another testament to her cinematic excellence.

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, the writer-director discusses her latest movie, its much-publicised box-office clash with Ranbir Kapoor’s Animal and how her upbringing in Bollywood influenced her approach to storytelling.

Pakistan Weekly
Gulzar with Vicky Kaushal

She also reflects on how the broadcast of Sam Bahadur on ZEE5 Global opens up a new chapter for her army drama.

What was your initial inspiration and motivation behind making the film, Sam Bahadur?

Producer Ronnie Screwvala approached me with the idea for this film. I am eternally grateful to him for thinking of me. He trusted me enough to suggest the subject. And then, once you get to know and start reading about the man Sam Manekshaw was, you wonder why this (biopic) was not done earlier.

How difficult is it to work on an idea that has been brought to you by somebody else versus one you conceive from scratch?

But I have written this film along with my co-writers. It was just the idea of the subject that was presented to me by someone else.

But I eventually get involved in the writing process of the films that I make.

Was Vicky Kaushal always your first choice for the character of Sam Manekshaw?

Yes, he was my first and only choice for the character of Sam Manekshaw and fortunately for me, he said yes. So, I didn’t have to think of a second choice.

What was the most difficult part of making Sam Bahadur for you?

The most challenging part was getting the authenticity and factual details right. So, there was a lot of research that went on for two to three years to get all the factual details of his life right, along with all the uniforms, ribbons, medals, weapons and vehicles. Sam Manekshaw is such a revered figure for our defence forces that you can’t afford to make mistakes on a film based on his life.

Do you think Sam Bahadur has been your most challenging film?

So far, yes, it has been one because it is such a huge responsibility. He is a hero for our army. Even the present generation of soldiers reveres him. So, telling his story is such a huge responsibility. And you need to do it correctly. You need to ensure there is not even a slight dent in his dignity, personality or the way he lived his life. It’s a huge responsibility because his life has been deeply intertwined with many historical milestones in our country.

Getting those facts right and executing them correctly was very challenging.

Sam Bahadur received three technical awards at the recent Filmfare Awards. How does it feel?

It feels wonderful. There is nothing more gratifying than the hard work of your team being appreciated. I know these three departments – sound design, costume design and production design – were very critical in our film and for them to be appreciated by peers is even nicer.

Your film clashed with Ranbir Kapoor’s super hit film Animal at the box-office. Do you think Sam Bahadur would have benefited more from a solo release?

Look, there is really no way of predicting this. All I know is that whatever Sam Bahadur achieved was more than what we expected it to earn. The producer is very happy with the way the film has performed. He was very confident and hence the decision about the release date. See, I really feel that every film finds its audience, so I have no regrets.

After a great theatrical run, your film has broken several viewership records on ZEE5 Global. How do you feel?

It’s very exciting because I really feel that an OTT release opens up a whole new life cycle and vista for the film. It brings new, as well as repeat viewership. I am sure people who have seen the film in theatres will watch it again on the platform. New audiences will watch it because of the kind of penetration that ZEE5 Global has worldwide. So, it’s going to be even more beneficial for the film and, eventually, it is going to stay there for posterity.

Do you think streaming sites pose a threat to cinema?

We have been hearing about this threat to cinema-viewing since the days of television. When colour TVs were available in every household, satellite television broadcasts began and a few foreign channels started airing over here in India. Since then, we have been hearing that it’s going to be the end of cinema. Videos were also considered a threat, but cinemas are still around.

How do you think cinema withstood that competition? Film viewing is a community experience. Sitting in a theatre with 200 other people is very different from seeing it at home on a streaming platform. But both are unique in their own way. One is not going to replace the other. They complement each other because if you liked a film in the cinema, it’s always wonderful to have it accessible again at home. A film will not run in cinemas for five years, but on a streaming platform, it will remain there for whenever you want to see it again.

As the daughter of cinema legends Gulzar and Raakhee, how has your upbringing in the film industry influenced your approach to movie-making?

I was not exposed to the film industry environment when I was growing up. I had a very normal childhood. I went to school and then college (university). I was not on film sets or shoots and didn’t have any friends from the film industry.

Pakistan Weekly
A scene from ‘Sam Bahadur’

Eventually, how did you find your path to creativity?

It was only in university when I was in my final year that I decided, yeah, the creative field is something I want to look into. I started working from scratch on documentaries, music videos and short films. Then I assisted (filmmaker) Saeed Mirza. So, I don’t think it’s the influence of my parents that has had anything to do with my career choices.

What are your earliest memories about cinema?

As a child, I would be taken along for outdoor shoots when my parents would be travelling. I spent most of my childhood in Kashmir because most films were shot there during that period. I have wonderful memories of that. So, I have an affinity for Kashmir due to this reason.

Did you aspire to become an actress like other star kids?

No, I am too introverted a person.

What is your message to those who haven’t yet seen Sam Bahadur?

The message is that Field Marshal Manekshaw lived an immense life, so inspiring and uplifting, that it is just beneficial to know his story.

I think younger and future generations who don’t know about him, really should, because he truly is an inspiration and a life well lived, as it says on his gravestone.

What are you working on next?

Nothing, right now. I am just taking a little break, enjoying my downtime. So, yeah, it is too soon to talk about anything right now. I have just come off a film that has taken seven years of my life.

Sam Bahadur is available to stream on ZEE5 Global .


Pakistan Weekly

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