INTERVIEW

Want to protect Shivaji’s legacy? Preserve his forts, says ‘Baghtos Kay... Mujra Kar!’ director

Hemant Dhome’s Marathi movie on the poor condition of the Maratha king’s forts in Maharashtra will hit theatres on February 3.

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.

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Baghtos Kay... Mujra Kar!

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.

Jitendra Joshi (middle) in Baghtos Kay... Mujra Kar!
Jitendra Joshi (middle) in Baghtos Kay... Mujra Kar!

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.

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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.