January 23 2020
I am a believer as well as a seeker, says 'Kedarnath' filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor
22 November 2018

Ahead of the release of Kedarnath, director Abhishek Kapoor delves into the deeper layers of the love story

In the trailer of Kedarnath, when somebody asks Mansoor, the local porter who takes pilgrims to the shrine, how come he is here, he casually answers that they were always there...nobody noticed them. As a section of society is trying hard to make us forget how closely knit Hindus and Muslims are, writer-director Abhishek Kapoor has noticed the Mansoors of our world to tell us a love story set around the Uttarakhand floods of 2013 which threatened to destroy one of the char dhams of the Hindu faith.

“When I was a child, my parents used to take me to Vaishno Devi every year. At that time, I didn’t understand the value of a pilgrimage. As time passed, I realised how all our gods represent the khoobyian, the qualities, the good things that we all have. Finding these qualities in ourselves is like finding god. When I realised this, I started looking at pilgrim spots and the yatras in a different light,” says Abhishek. “Now, as a filmmaker having a worldview, I could see a whole new world there. These porters take them to the shrine. In a world where we talk of the divide, here a person of one religion helps the person of another religion in completing his pilgrimage.”

Though pilgrimage is important to Hindu thought, we seldom find its reflection in mainstream Hindi films. Abhishek says he doesn’t remember anything beyond the Aasha (1980) song, ‘Tune Mujhe Bulaya Sherawaliye’. Around the same time, there was one in Avtaar as well. In recent times, Tanu Weds Manu had a few scenes around a pilgrimage centre. Perhaps, filmmakers feel that the multiplex-going audience will not be able to relate to the idea. “Maybe, but I wanted to capture this fulfilling process which leads to a spiritual experience. And I believe the film will ring a bell.”

Torch of humanity

But it is the bigger idea where the love story of a Muslim porter and a Hindu pilgrim becomes a metaphor for the existing social fissures in the country that defines his film. The trailer suggests that if the two are not allowed to meet, it will lead to an apocalyptic situation. “I am a believer as well as a seeker. After the catastrophe of 2013, people need healing. And this country needs to realise that we have gone through so much that only a torch of humanity can see us through this darkness.” It is a liberal thought planted in a religious place. “When a natural calamity strikes, all the boundaries of caste and religion go away. What remains is humanity, and that is our one true religion.”

Independent spirit

Mainstream Hindi cinema has its own unwritten rules and one of them is a Muslim boy can’t fall in love with a Hindu girl. “I see Kedarnath as an independent film. We haven’t cast big names and the budget is not huge. I think it will touch the hearts even of those who turn everything into a meme.”

However, there is a section which is already feeling offended by the theme and the location. “We are living in times when two men are allowed to kiss each other. So, what’s the harm in showing a boy kissing a girl. See, if somebody has decided that he has to feel offended, then I can’t do much. Let the CBFC watch the film. My experience of Kai Po Che, which dealt with communal riots, gives me confidence that things will settle down once people watch the film. I have not made it to titillate. And, if your intention is pure, it permeates the screen,”reasons Abhishek.

His previous two films were adaptations of novels, and this time he has collaborated with novelist and screenwriter Kanika Dhillon. “I like to write back stories of my characters. Even if all of it doesn’t make it to the screen, you can feel its undercurrent in the performances. That’s why the characters of Rock On!! made such an impact. It gives a certain richness and depth to the screenplay.”

Here he is launching Sara Ali Khan, the pilgrim who sweeps Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput) off his feet. “I didn’t have time to wait for an established actor. I had heard Sara is interested. I met her and found her confident. As the film relies heavily on her performance, we did workshops so that she looks a natural performer on screen.”

The roadblocks

His last effort Fitoor failed to realise the ‘great expectations’ at the box office“I was trying to create a visual experience but the story and the budget didn’t match. It was essentially a story of a damaged old woman but the market forced us to sell it as a Katrina Kaif love story. Had it been made in a smaller budget, we didn’t need to make this compromise,” he argues.

The journey of Kedarnath had its share of roadblocks as Abhishek had to part ways with co-producer KriArj Entertainment. “It was another gruelling yaatra,” sighs Arjun. “But the film hasn’t got delayed and hasn’t gone over budget. Thankfully, producer Ronnie Screwvala, with whom I have worked before, bought the film.” Then Sara got ambitious! “There was a time when it seemed that the film will be delayed. She started getting anxious about Simmba. I called Rohit (Shetty) to have a look at the rushes of Kedarnath. He liked her and she was cast. But then her management company gave the dates that she had committed to us to Simmba. We went to the court and the issue was resolved in two days.”

The film, he says, also hints at the delicate ecosystem of the region where haphazard growth led to the natural calamity. “You can’t ask a river in spate to shift two-three metres. The planning has to be done keeping the topography in mind. During the shooting, we kept in mind that we don’t litter the space with plastic waste,” says Abhishek who had four shooting schedules in Kedarnath with a crew of about 150 people. “For live action, we created a water tank in Mumbai and then added the special effects.”

From Aryan to Kedarnath, no one can accuse Abhishek of repeating himself. “I don’t believe in safety net as I would get bored. I want to learn with each film. This constant search for a new idea keeps you humble.”



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