The proposed memorial to Shivaji in the form of the world’s tallest statue will be built off the Mumbai coast for a heart-stopping Rs 3,600 crore. When Marathi filmmaker Hemant Dhome began writing the script for Baghtos Kay... Mujra Kar!, the project was priced at a relatively modest Rs 100 crore.
Dhome, the writer of the 2016 movie Poshter Girl, has not been able to keep up with the Maharashtra government’s profligacy over the four years spent on his first feature. “When the film went into production, the cost had become Rs 600 crore,” he told Scroll.in. “In my film, it is Rs 1,600 crore. As it nears the release date, the cost has become Rs 3,600 crore. I’m sure it will become Rs 7,000-8,000 crore within a year’s time.”
The Everest Talkies production will be released by Eros International on February 3. While Baghtos Kay... Mujra Kar! does not oppose the memorial, Dhome argues that the hundreds of forts built by Shivaji across Maharashtra should be better conserved and maintained.
What inspired ‘Baghtos Kay...Mujra Kar!’?
While pursuing a masters in wildlife conservation in the United Kingdom, I visited Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen’s bedroom, which is from 1236, almost 400 years before Chhatrapati Shivaji. That is when I began thinking about the subject. There are 375 forts in Maharashtra and not a single one of them, not even the main one in Raigad, is properly maintained. And then there was the issue of the memorial. Is it really necessary today? Make that memorial, but before that, shouldn’t we develop and maintain the existing hill forts? So the statue should be made, but the forts should be developed. That is my stand.
No one has time these days to sit through a two-and-a-half-hour long film and get a lecture at the same time. So our first goal was to be entertaining. Some might forget the message the moment they step out of the cinema. Others might think that they will respect public monuments more. Yet others might get inspired to launch a clean-up drive themselves.
What is the significance of the title?
“Baghtos Kay...Mujra Kar!” is a catchphrase used across Maharashtra. One often sees it on cars. Here, it is used to signify an attitude, which means that instead of waiting and watching, it’s time to show Shivaji what the real deal is.
Did you easily get permissions to shoot at the actual locations?
Most of the film was shot at the fort in Pratapgarh, and because it belongs to a former king and is not under government authority, the trust promptly gave us permission after we explained what we for trying to do.
The most difficult part of the shoot was carrying all the equipment to the top and having crew members climb up and down. While we were at the top, we realised that the government has not installed a single dustbin or constructed a toilet at the venue. We tried our utmost to not litter or do any damage, but if one wants to pee while at the forts, where should one go?
Since you were dealing with a contemporary issue, why did you create a new name for the village depicted in the film?
If you name a specific village, people might think it is only about that area and forget about the larger picture. We didn’t want to tie the film down to any location. This could be any village in Maharashtra. I have mentioned the district as Satara because that area takes the most pride in Shivaji’s legacy, since it was his capital.
How challenging was it to include all viewpoints and not only echo your argument? There are many people who feel that rather than building a memorial or conserving forts, public money should be spent on improving infrastructure.
The village sarpanch, who is the main character and played by Jitendra Joshi, does not only want to develop the fort in his area. He has a blueprint that seeks to enrich the entire community around the fort. He wants to green the area, build solar panels, and create water reservoirs near the forts. Not only will this be good for the environment, but it will also create job opportunities for the locals. And the tourism will boost Maharashtra’s economy.
Shivaji was known as a king of the people. So only if these forts become for the people and by the people can Joshi’s dream be a real tribute to his legacy.
Did you face any hurdles because you were dealing with a contentious issue?
Only three out of a hundred text messages I got were negative. The messages asked me why I was opposing the memorial, and only when it was being inaugurated.
But debate always helps convince them. When I explained my viewpoint to them, they got what I was saying. When you are in a plane, you will see the statue but as soon as it lands, you will see Dharavi. So from the sky, you see Shivaji, but what have you created on his land? Even tourists who admire the memorial but wish to know more about the man and decide to visit the forts will think to themselves, ‘It’s okay. He was not that great a man. It’s only rocks.’ They should be able to look at the forts and admire his legacy. We only want to use Shivaji’s image during rallies, but whether we really feel anything about him is the real question.
You have acted in movies and written screenplays in the past. Was the transition to direction difficult?
Often, when it comes to writer-directors, the scripts are strong but they are not trying enough with the direction. While writing this script, I was trying to change the writer within me based on how I imagined certain scenes should be shot. As a director, one needs to be aloof from the screenplay, and do things that the writer might have imagined. Otherwise, since I had been on film sets before, the technical aspects were easier to handle.
‘Poshter Girl’ was also about a contemporary issue – female infanticide. Are you particularly drawn to causes?
If there isn’t a cause behind the film, there is no point in doing it. My inspiration is Raju Hirani, whose films are entertaining but they also convey something. I know it’s an entertainment industry, but if there is some thought in the film, that’s when people remember it, instead of it being just another thing they have seen.
Nowadays, anything passes for comedy. Even in rural films, the humour is below the belt and vulgar and the way the areas are depicted, it’s almost as if we are degrading rural communities and villages. We show that they are in a terrible condition, but the actual situation is not like that. Kids in villages too have iPhone 7s. So I am drawn to a contemporary take on rural life.