“For the longest time, I too used Kumar as my last name as I didn’t want my caste to be known,” says Neeraj Ghaywan, who directed the episode in Made in Heaven Season 2 which has got everyone talking. Episode 5 features a Dalit academic, named Pallavi Menke, insisting on a Buddhist Dalit wedding when it is suggested to her that a court marriage be followed by a traditional Brahmin wedding. Amidst much praise, it also got writer Yashica Dutt wondering on social media about why her life story was not given credit. Ghaywan responded by saying that the story of the episode was an amalgamation of several stories, including his own “coming out” as a Dalit. “Like Pallavi’s brother in the episode, even members of my family were opposed to being outed, with what they felt was without their consent. Even I, like Pallavi, have wondered sometimes whether I went too far.” The response to the episode has made it worthwhile though. “A very prominent upper caste person called me the other day and said how he would like to apologise to my ancestors on behalf of his ancestors,” he says. When the idea was first suggested, Ghaywan says he spent a day talking to the writers, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava. “It was like therapy,” he says. Ghaywan, a graduate of Chaitanya Bharathi Institute of Technology and an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, has always made deeply political films, whether it is Masaan (2015), Juice (2017), or the short Geeli Pucchi from Netflix’s Ajeeb Daastaans (2021). With Made in Heaven, he has reiterated his claim as an exciting and audacious filmmaker.
The Problem of Silence
So, what happens when a movie is being criticised before its release? And the cast and crew cannot talk about it because it would just add to the controversy? That’s precisely what happened to Yami Gautam when she was waiting for the release of OMG 2. “Details of the issues we were facing with the Central Board of Film Certification were being relayed in real time to the media, yet we couldn’t say anything about our movie. I understand the curiosity but what about the sanctity of the organisation?” she told me recently. “But we had to stay silent and trust the process. You don’t want to create more trouble for the director and producer,” she says. But she believes the box-office success of OMG 2 indicates the progressive mindset of the audience. Which brings one to the issue of promotions. Hindi films usually follow a set pattern: the stars visit malls and colleges in various cities; do a round of the reality shows; and then do blink-and-miss press conferences in a few cities. “But we know that the crowds who turn up to see us don’t always translate into ticket sales. It’s great for actors as it keeps them in the public eye but does nothing for the film,” she says. There’s huge scope to introspect and rewire the system of promoting a film, she adds. OMG 2, despite apprehensions on the part of some that it would insult the Hindu faith, has made `115 crore and counting at the box office in the first 10 days. Up next for her, a caper comedy, Dhoom Dhaam, with Prateek Gandhi, written by her husband Aditya Dhar. “I will continue to follow my gut in choosing films, not projects. It’s the script, the role and the director. It doesn’t matter who the co-star is.”
Scene and Heard
Among the many shoutouts to the late ’80s and early ’90s in the Netflix series Guns & Gulaabs are the following: English songs played on cassettes, lending libraries with Ayn Rand and Irving Wallace bestsellers, Gulshan Devaiah’s hair (a hat tip to Undertaker, the wrestler), and STD booths. The boy who writes love letters for his friends is writer Suman Kumar, who did that while growing up in Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh. He also misheard a lot of the lyrics to American pop songs and would go to Chennai to buy cassettes that had lyrics booklets attached to them so he could follow the words. Describing the series as Satya meets Malgudi Days, Suman says the story has been with him and creators Raj & DK for the longest time. And the trigger for it? A news item he read about India’s oldest opium factory in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh. For good measure, he and DK even made cameos in the first episode, something of a cheeky convention now with the filmmakers.