Very few filmmakers make a well-reasoned decision to work with pigs. They are neither as obedient as dogs nor as well-mannered as horses. They don’t have much of a screen presence, like elephants. Plus, most cultures have social and religious biases against them. To quote from Chris Noonan’s 1995 Oscar-winning Australian film Babe, “There was a time not so long ago when pigs were afforded no respect; except by other pigs”.
So when I expressed my desire to work with pigs in Chauranga, my well-meaning producers tried their best to explain the hazards to me. My over-enthusiasm, which I mistook for artistic integrity, prevailed, and I ended up working with quite a few of them – male, female, pregnant, piglet.
Though Chauranga is primarily a tale of humankind, it also deals with pigs. My casting director did a great job but when it came to casting pigs, she flatly refused. I took it as a challenge, since first-time directors find great thrills in challenges. Little did I know what I was setting myself up for.
Our extremely helpful line producer also underestimated the challenges involved in casting pigs. He handed over the job to the local coordinator, who again underestimated the task at hand. He said, “You will find them all around once you reach the location.” He was right. I ended up dealing with far too many of them, but I still couldn’t find the one that would fit the role.
When I insisted on seeing pictures first so that I could choose the right pig for the part, he was dumbfounded: “Why do you need to see their pictures, they all taste the same!”
Wait, I need them alive, to act in the film, not to eat them.
When I said I needed piglets too, he burst out laughing. “Shuerer bacha!” He clarified, “It’s a cuss word in Bengali”. There is a cuss word in every language for them, for instance, suar ki aulad in Hindi.
But casting is only one part of the challenge of working with pigs. The next step is animal consultants, who obtain clearances from the Animal Welfare Board of India. The consultant was aghast at a scene in the script. “Why do you want the pig to die?” he asked.
Well, because I’m the director and this is my film. I can kill anybody I want.
“No, but you can’t kill a pig!”
Wait, isn’t that pork momo on your plate?
“You can kill them to eat, but not in a movie.”
That’s some logic. Try applying it.
“So you think everything you do in life can be done in movies?” he said to me, as if throwing a challenge. “Are you married, sir?” he winked, “You know what I mean, sir.”
I thought it used to be the other way round. You can’t go to Mars in real life, but you can go there in a movie.
“That’s Hollywood, their moral fabric is torn to shreds.”
I know. That is why the Central Board of Film Certification needs to remind us about the right duration of a kiss, I think. But what does the pig have to do with the moral fabric of the nation? He just smiled.
It’s not just the pig that dies in my movie. Humans die as well. I treat the pigs as well or as badly as my actors.
But they won’t pass that. “Kill a man or two more if your story needs it, but dare not kill the pig if you want your film to release,” the consultant said.
Wait, are you thinking I will actually kill the pig during the shoot? I won’t. I will edit it in such a way that people will think it got killed.
“You can’t show them dead, period.”
But how do I tell my story then?
“Be creative. Why are you stuck with pigs?” He smiled like a Zen master, and I saw an aura appear behind his head. The green screen behind him was transformed into the snow-clad Mount Everest.
So, the pig doesn’t die, humans do, and nobody utters “cuss words” in my film. Despite that, it’s not a family entertainer, because we got an “A” certificate. So the sweet little 14-year old kid (Soham Maitra, a delightful actor), whom the film is about, can’t watch the film in a theatre.
The censors also asked me to delete what I considered a love-making scene. They labeled it “intercourse”, and the reason given behind the removal was, “Scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented.” Yes, I get it. Having sex denigrates women even if it’s consensual because they carry the burden of our honour.
Aren’t films over-regulated in our country? Every single body of the government wants to have a say. The Health ministry insists on ugly anti-smoking videos and disclaimers as part of the movie. The Animal Welfare Board of India needs to read scripts. The Censors Board, of course, prescribes what not to show or speak in them. To add to the list is the Maharashtra government-stipulated obligatory rendition of the national anthem before every single film screening.
Well, that’s for another day.
Bikas Mishra’s award-winning feature film Chauranga opens on January 8. Follow him @bikas and the film @Chauranga.