Abhishek Srivastava - 50 weeks ago
Daughter of a retired UNDP director father and a professor mother, Shilpi Dasgupta makes her directorial debut with Khandaani Shafakhana which is slated to hit theatres this week. The FTII graduate has opted for an extremely taboo subject for her debut film which has been conveyed through the tool of comedy. In a freewheeling conversation with The Film Hashery, she reveals more about her background, how her mother planted the seed of FTII during a conversation with Mohan Agashe and if given a chance which filmmaker she would like to assist.
(Behind the scene image from the set of Khandaani Shafakhana featuring Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Shilpi Dasgupta)
What is the core subject of Khandaani Shafakhana?
People are normally hesitant in talking about subjects that pertain to sex. We have to accept the fact that it’s a very normal thing. There was a time when India was a progressive country, but in the process of making these things comprehensible to people, conservative thoughts got added to the entire discourse and the main issue got relegated to the background. Perversion crept into the society because of this and a number of other ills, too, made their way in, which eventually got out of control. I don’t know if you are aware of this or not but sex education is banned in seven states in this country and they include states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. This has its own repercussions. Whatever is happening around us is a reflection of these things. If parents are unable to guide their children, then the only recourse for him/her is to go to Google and type ‘sex’ in the search bar. Whatever comes in front of him is something which is beyond a parent’s control. The film stresses on the fact that communication is very important and one should talk freely on such taboo topics. If a girl or a boy is entering puberty then to explain all the physiological changes, the onus falls on the family rather than a third party.
It’s evident that you have walked a thin line in conveying your thoughts in this film. What were the precautions you took while dealing with such a sensitive subject matter?
We took extra precaution in ensuring the correct tone for the film. We were extra cautious in ensuring that the content is not vulgar or is not attacking any specific community or sect. We took care of all these things in a very fundamental way. We have tried to say things about a very serious subject in a very humorous manner which has turned out to be very clean. It’s a film which the entire family can watch. There are no suggestive or double meaning dialogues in the film. In the current context, the subject matter of the film is very important.
We saw The Supreme Court decriminalizing section 377, and then we have states where sex education is banned. Don’t you see a contradiction?
There is definitely a contradiction but I surely see a way ahead. I am of the view that if the entire country is motivated for a thing, then change is inevitable. If you observe things closely then the government does not allow a single father to adopt a child but single mothers are allowed to adopt. These are very fundamental issues that we need to tackle. A gay couple can’t adopt kids but a married couple can. A progressive change is required in a country which has so many orphans and I can see the change is on its way. I cannot deny this because if it had not been the case, this film would not have been made. Cinema is the mirror to the society and whatever is happening in the society will find its reflection in films and vice versa.
(Sonakshi Sinha, Nadira Babbar and Shilpi Dasgupta on the set of Khandaani Shafakhana)
Tell us a bit about your background and how you landed the opportunity to direct Khandaani Shafakhana?
I learnt filmmaking from FTII and graduated from the institute in 2003. My professional introduction to Bollywood was through Black & White in which I was an assistant. I also assisted in Yuvvraaj but both the films happened long back. Then I took to writing and later wrote the Hindi bit of Finding Fanny. After that, I started my own company and started writing scripts for films and then Khandaani Shafakhana happened.
You assisted for Black & White and Yuvvraaj in 2007 and landed your debut film in 2019. Why this long gap?
Well, I always had a script in mind but there are also other aspects that need to come together to make a project happen. For a first timer, it’s always an amalgamation of a lot of things. You need to have an actor, producer, script and then arrive at a point – the right time when everything that is required to make a film actually falls into place and I guess, it took me that much of time to, sort of, be in the middle of this arrangement. It all fell into place when the cosmos decided.
How old is the script of Khandaani Shafakhana?
Three years. We took almost two years in making it into a script.
How difficult or easy was it for you to present an extremely tough subject in a humorous manner?
Comedy is always difficult but at the same time comedy is also a great tool to say difficult things. Right from Shakespeare to other great writers - they have always incorporated characters like witches or jokers for their ballads or stories to say things. They set a tone for the stories and, like a narrator, take it forward. Humour is a fantastic way of putting any kind of subject without hurting anyone. Through laughs, they put their point forward and people often accept it.
(Shilpi Dasgupta explaining a scene to Annu Kapoor on the set of Khandaani Shafakhana)
Why did you opt a female as the protagonist of your subject?
I strictly believe that the role of a girl in the house or lady in society, are first step towards a fundamental change in the society. History has shown whenever women are not given their due importance, society has suffered. An educated woman is the precursor to an educated child. The future of a family is dependent on the the importance that a woman enjoys in the house. As far as the plot of Khandaani Shafakhana is concerned, as a writer, I realized that if one were to compare the merits of a story of a man running a sex clinic versus a woman running a sex clinic in a small town – the latter appealed to me much more. The puzzle was automatically solved.
What was Sonakshi Sinha’s reaction when you narrated the subject matter to her?
Sonakshi’s reaction was very encouraging. I had approached Sonakshi in the capacity of a first time director and, for me, there was no other way beyond Sonakshi. I just walked in and, in fact, her mother Poonam Sinha, too, was present during the narration. Poonam Ji had realized that the subject matter was slightly off tangent and, thus, had kept her ‘soldiers’ to listen attentively to the narration (laughs). But it all went well and immediately after the narration, she conveyed to us that she is doing the film.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I am from Bhopal and my mother is a retired professor but still active in Bhopal theatre circuit while my father is a retired UNDP director. I finished my 12th from Bhopal and then came to Pune for higher studies. My parents were not interested in sending me to Delhi or Mumbai for my college and wanted me to pursue my college from a small city which has an artistic environment. After my classes got over on the first day of my college, my mother took me to FTII. She introduced me to Mohan Agashe, who was then the director of the institute. It was during the meeting, she whispered in my ears, "Gudiya tumko yaha par aana hai. Iski taiyaari dimaag mein rakhna." I did not understand her madness towards FTII and she only planted that seed in me. Later it so happened that I started going there on weekends and watched films at NFAI. I had no clue when I developed a fascination towards films. I wanted to study literature but I slowly drifted towards films. It was also the year when FTII was observing zero year because of strike then, I decided that I will stay back in Pune and till the time admission is regularized I will pursue some other course. I did my mass communication in the intermittent phase and later appeared for the entrance at FTII and got through.
Why did you opt for direction and not acting?
I never wanted to become an actress. There was this keeda of doing theatre but nothing beyond that. Film was never a career option for me, but thank God cinema got into my consciousness. I often assisted my senior and from very early on, I had got an idea that it would be direction.
You opted for direction, who were the directors who influenced you?
I love films of Krzysztof Kieślowski. I like sensitive cinema and am a great fan of comedies and love stories that are full of wit. I love watching films which make me cry. I love cinema of Kundan Shah and then there is Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I am a hard core Hollywood and Bollywood junkie.
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