‘The world that we live in today has no space for nuance or conversation or debate.’
‘So how does a small film that’s not made for the sole reason of earning back your money and which is actually trying to say something that’s fragile find its way?’
IMAGE: A scene from Agra.
Kanu Behl‘s new film Agra received a five-minute standing ovation when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 24.
Agra is Behl’s second film to have its world premiere at Cannes after his debut film Titli in 2014.
“Culturally, as people, we were one of the leading lights of human beings on the planet who understood nuance,” Kanu tells Mayur Sanap/Rediff.com.’ Sadly, the presence of nuance in our world, in our country, is shrinking very fast. It is a question for us to ask themselves, why are we not fighting for the presence of more nuance in our popular culture?”
Agra has an interesting mix of actors. How did you assemble the cast?
They pretty much chose themselves.
We were looking at various people for Daddy’s part (Rahul Roy’s character).
I felt that Rahul, in his own personal life, was at a similar point to the character that he was about to play. He was able to feel things that Daddy would be feeling. I felt to tap into those feelings and go from there might help the film.
Mohit (Agarwal), who plays Guru, is the complete opposite of the character he’s playing.
Guru was such a difficult character, I needed certain softness on the face.
We auditioned a lot of people and eventually we felt that not only was Mohit a great performer but physically, he was absolutely right for the part.
Priyanka Bose, again, is a complete metamorphosis. She was excited to do a part that was completely unlike anything she had done before. She was really comfortable with doing a film about sexuality. And, of course, there is no questioning her pedigree as an actor.
IMAGE: Rahul Roy in Agra.
Your films do not cater to the mainstream audience. Do you not think about the commercial outcome while making films?
I don’t even subscribe to the idea of a mainstream audience.
I think this idea of a mainstream audience or art-house audience is a construction of the gatekeepers, who are responsible for making sure which film reaches the ‘mainstream audience’ as you’re saying.
I don’t think there’s a mainstream audience.
I think there is one audience and they want to watch every kind of film.
My films are for everyone. I would even hazard to say that they probably would like to watch something I make more than your usual fare, which treats them as a dumb audience.
Some of the best reactions I’ve had to Titli have been a normal person walking on the street, an autorickshaw-wallah.
Because they identify with the film, they identify with the truth, they identify with the feelings, and they connected way better than, let’s say, a multiplex audience, who will look at it from a slightly exotic view.
IMAGE: Kanu Behl, fourth from left, with other members of the Agra team at the Cannes film festival.
You don’t shy away from showing violence in your films. Titli had some really uncomfortable scenes.
There is no violence in Agra at all.
The level of violence or, in this case, sexuality, will drop in my films the day we stop seeing it around us in our daily lives.
My interest in violence and sexuality is not any more than the culture or the country or the world that we live in.
I always wondered how you managed Aditya Chopra’s backing for Titli.
He read the screenplay and loved it.
He said this film needs to get made and it should be made exactly the way this boy wants it.
IMAGE: Director Kanu Behl. Photograph: Kind courtesy Kanu Behl/Instagram
Do you think the festival route is easier to fetch attention for your films?
It is not getting any easier because there is no structural support left for a certain kind of cinema in our country.
The last bastion to a degree was the NFDC (National Film Development Corporation of India) but it also has come to the state that it is in now.
The world that we live in today has no space for nuance or conversation or debate. So how does a small film that’s not made for the sole reason of earning back your money and which is actually trying to say something that’s fragile find its way?
I haven’t made this film for myself, it is for the people and it should eventually reach the people.
There is no other way left apart from the festivals where you can be noticed.
Lastly, is it getting difficult to find a theatrical release for niche films?
I think this question needs to be posed to a much bigger audience.
We, as a society, should stop talking about just money and box office numbers, and understand the importance of art in our world.
The most important thing about us as a country is that we are a very tolerant people.
Culturally, as people, we were one of the leading lights of human beings on the planet who understood nuance.
Sadly, the presence of nuance in our world, in our country, is shrinking very fast.
It is a question for us to ask themselves, why are we not fighting for the presence of more nuance in our popular culture?