Scroll interview

‘Mastizaade’ producer: ‘We’ve not objectified Sunny Leone in the movie’

Rangita Pritish Nandy, producer of the sex comedy with the no holds-barred trailer, defends her choices.

If the trailer of Mastizaade is anything to go by, producer Rangita Pritish Nandy has possibly taken on the biggest challenge of her career. The sex comedy, produced by her banner Pritish Nandy Communications and directed by Milap Milan Zaveri, stars Sunny Leone, genre specialist Tusshar Kapoor and comedian Vir Das. The January 29 release is a raunch romp whose decidedly crude humour is a big departure for PNC, which has released such films in the past as Chameli, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Pyaar Ke Side Effects. A closer look suggests a carefully thought-out gamble designed to test the maturity of audiences. The Central Board of Film Certification initially denied Mastizaade a certificate, and it has taken five months of negotiations for the movie to be acceptable for a release.

In a conversation with Scroll.in, Nandy talks about the pangs of dealing with the Censor Board, the “subtle” difference between an adult comedy and a pornographic comedy or a porn com, and the decision to cast adult film star Sunny Leone.

Why did you want to make a film like Mastizaade?

Why not? We have all grown up on films like American Pie. We had been hunting for scripts and I was talking to Milap Zaveri, who said he had a script but it was an adult comedy. I was willing to hear him out but I was sure that 10 minutes into the narration, I would walk out of the room. But less than eight minutes into the narration – and Milap is a fantastic narrator – I knew I wanted to do the film. Milap was actually shocked at what followed – I wanted him to direct the film. Now his last film was such a dud that no one has picked up the phone on him since then. But I could see that he was quite involved with the script and no one else could justice to the vision he had for the film. I called up my father and asked him to come over for the narration all over again, and we decided to put everything else on hold and go ahead and do this film.

The trailer is out and the film appears to be sexist because adult comedies do reduce women to their assets. As a woman, were you comfortable going out on a limb for the film?

It’s a movie. An adult comedy at that. And adult comedies as a genre depend largely on physical humour. There are plenty of jokes on the male anatomy in that trailer but, and I hardly blame you, you noticed the bits about the female anatomy. That’s conditioning. Strip a man, nobody notices. Put a willing woman in a bikini and everybody screams murder. As for me, I’m a professional. It’s my job to make what has the potential to be successful. I’ve done my job.

A lot has happened between the time you started Mastizaade and its release now. The AIB Roast pushed the envelope of what was acceptable and paid a price for it. There is a constant debate over obscenity and permissiveness. Did you anticipate any trouble before taking up the film?

No one gets into a film’s making thinking of the CBFC guidelines. You make a film for passion, business and success. As for the CBFC guidelines, the rule book is clear. But every rule in every book is open to the individual’s interpretation. As for us, we took the CBFC’s suggestions and, I’m willing to stick my neck out and say this, we have a better film for it.

Why do you say that?

As film-makers, sometimes we become too close to our passion projects. The CBFC’s objectivity helped us make our film more acceptable as well as grew our film’s audience from that of an adult comedy watching audience to that of a general grown-up comedy watching audience. You’ll understand what I’m saying when you watch the film. It’s far more mainstream today.

One of the strangest parts is that all of our Sunny scenes remain intact. Perhaps it helped to have a woman producer, perhaps it was PNC’s brand that helped in setting that right. But this effectively means that we, as a film, have not objectified Sunny. That would have been easy. But we’ve not done the easy. We’ve presented her as a mainstream actor. Not an actor in an adult comedy. She’s glamourous, sexy and insanely hot. But she’s not a commodity or object. We’ve not objectified her.

How do you explain that? She is a former porn star top-lining an adult comedy. Isn’t that somewhat of a red herring?

No, it is not. Once you see the film, you will know. The reason she agreed to do the project was because she was probably comfortable with the idea that we were not interested in objectifying her and that, this is not a porn com. She has always had a bad experience with filmmakers who signed her on some premise but was made to do things she was not comfortable with. In Mastizaade, she plays a double role. One of a sexy woman and other is this shy, geeky, bespectacled person. Initially we tried to cast another actor for the second role, but eventually we decided to go with Sunny and she enjoyed playing this character because it is closer to what she really is.

Whose idea was it to cast Leone?

We signed on Sunny because of the massive viewership she carries with her. It was actually my father’s idea. We knew we wanted to cast Tusshar Kapoor and Vir Das. Tusshar and Riteish Deshmukh (who appears in the trailer to introduce the film) are quite like the Jai-Veeru of this genre. We weren’t sure of Vir would agree, but once he read the script he was on board. To reach Sunny, we had to get past her giant of a husband, Daniel Weber. It helped that both Milap and Tusshar put in a word for us. Initially, Daniel laughed us off, I still remember his “ha ha ha adult comedy” response to my initial message. But we finally managed to get some time with him for a meeting. A little into the narration, he called Sunny over and asked us to start the narration all over again. And that’s how she was on board with a bound script.

How has it been living with Mastizaade for all these months?

Tough. The toughest time of my life. For the five months that the film was doing the rounds of the CBFC, it took a toll on everyone. People working on the project had not been paid. Those who didn’t want to wait – since the process was taking so long – walked out. Once the distributors got to know of the censorship issues, they all backed out. No one ever believed that the film would see the light of day. We did not have to face this kind of a situation ever with any of our films. But once they saw the film, they all came back and were willing to pay more than what they had initially offered. That was also a first for PNC.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.