It’s a great time to be Sudhir Mishra. In 2019, he directed the Hindi remake of the Israeli series Hostages for Disney+ Hotstar. The following year, his Netflix film Serious Men drew critical acclaim. He is back with another series, Tanaav. The remake of Fauda. co-directed with Sachin Mamta Krishn, will be premiered on SonyLIV on November 11.
Fauda follows an Israeli counter-terrorism officer chasing a Hamas militant. Tanaav (Tension) is set in Kashmir and stars Manav Vij, Sumit Kaul, Shashank Arora, Danish Husain, Rajat Kapoor and Arbaaz Khan.
Tanaav happened when Applause Entertainment’s Sameer Nair brought the project to Mishra. “I liked the original series, which showed a balanced view of both sides,” Mishra told Scroll.in. “Our story is not one country versus another. It’s all one country if you accept Kashmir to be an integral part of India. All characters are Muslims. Most of the actors playing Kashmiris are Kashmiris.”
Fauda’s portrayal of the Israel-Palestine conflict has divided viewers. Mishra is tight-lipped about Tanaav’s treatment of the Kashmir struggle: “Watch the series first.”
Also slated for release is the thriller Afwaah, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bhumi Pednekar. Afwah is about “rumours that trigger a wild night of terror”. Mishra has directed a short film starring Taapsee Pannu for an Anubhav Sinha-produced anthology. He is also working on other projects with Sinha, Applause Entertainment and Sony LIV.
Mishra’s productivity is in stark contrast to the 1980s and 1990s, when he rolled out two films per decade. The streaming revolution has been good to the 63-year-old director, who got his break as a screenwriter for Kundan Shah’s comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983).
“None of us who worked on the movie then got any work at the time,” Mishra said. “The industry rejected us. Today, their children call it a cult film, but getting films off the ground was very difficult for years. I have been one of the few lucky ones who has lasted and continued to make films.” Excerpts from an interview.
Is this your busiest time as a director?
Producing is an act of grace. Someone is spending money on your dreams. Sometimes, you get lucky, like finding Sameer Nair, Anubhav Sinha or Netflix. The times are good now. I count my blessings.
But a film is never made until it’s made. I have experiences where I was doing two-three things and suddenly they didn’t happen. After Yeh Saali Zindagi, I had a four-five-year patch where nothing was happening. Mehrunissa didn’t happen. Daas Dev got made with difficulty.
You never know what happens. So if you’re a filmmaker, have 20 stories ready. Ultimately the film that a producer wants to make will get made.
There were maverick producers back then too. You could make a film if a producer simply liked you. Now, a whole set of people will vet your script. Opinions will be had until its greenlit.
The transition from a socialist India to a neoliberal India and the failure of the Left haunts several of your films, including ‘Yeh Woh Manzil Toh Nahin’ and ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’.
I am not interested in the evening or the night of the revolution but the morning after. The morning after is kind of a compromise. What is the morning after the JP Narayan revolution?
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is about the vestiges of beauty left when idealism fades. The establishment does accept some ideas of socialism eventually, and you move on. But I’ve never been an elementary Marxist. I am not believer in woh subah kabhi to ayegi [Someday the morning will arrive].
I have kind of remade Yeh Woh Manzil Toh Nahin in my short film in Anubhav Sinha’s anthology. At least some of these ideas, like the fact that we are doomed to some kind of dead ends, and victory is often small, have returned. You will have to endure and some change might happen. Every generation has its heartbreaks.
Right now, it feels like you are taking two steps forward and four steps backward. I think the world needs to change faster, but I am very suspicious of human nature and its ability to allow or grasp change, or unify for those struggles.
What role did your family play? Your maternal grandfather, Dwarka Prasad Mishra, was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Your father was a Nehruvian.
And my maternal uncle was Brajesh Mishra, who was the National Security Advisor and Principal Secretary during the Vajpayee government. He told me stories that frankly broke my heart. He said, do you what you want, stick to your principles, just don’t expect others to stand by you.
I think human beings are fallible. Most male stars don’t do my films because my heroes are not perfect, they make mistakes. Perfection is a fascist idea. I am not enamoured with ideology. I wasn’t disappointed with the Berlin Wall falling.
Why did you become a filmmaker?
I could have joined politics but not doing that was a conscious decision. My father [DN Mishra], a mathematician, was the founder of the Lucknow Film Society. I watched many films my mother didn’t approve of. Perhaps he wanted to be a filmmaker, so I became one.
While pursuing my MPhil degree in Delhi, I worked with Badal Sircar. He opened up my head. His later plays are very cinematic, Godardian, not the proscenium kind of classical theatre. We formed a theatre workshop there, of which Bina Paul, Anamika Haksar and Mira Nair were a part.
Badal da taught me that every system attempts to control you. The potential of mankind is often held back by systems that many claim will liberate you. Badal da’s theatre was quite different from the Marxist party line. I learned that while being in a collective, you have to stay an individual.
Around this time in Delhi, Vidhu Vinod Chopra asked me to assist him. I came to Bombay and Kundan Shah asked me to write scripts. What does a 22-year-old know about writing scripts?
I have been very lucky. All these people – Shekhar Kapur, Shabana Azmi, Saeed Akhtar Mirza – adopted me. Meanwhile, my brother, Sudhanshu Mishra, got into FTII Pune. My father couldn’t afford to send both of us, so we taught each other.
Your heroes are often proudly individualistic, such as Raj Karan in ‘Dharavi’, Vikram in ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’, or Ayyan in ‘Serious Men’.
But that’s also their fatal flaw. I did see a lot of Raj Karan in Ayyan. I don’t think individualism and entrepreneurial spirit are wrong. Of course, unbridled accumulation of wealth and power is dangerous. The government should stand by the smaller guy. I believe in social democracy.
The film ‘Serious Men’ is more moral and realistic than Manu Joseph’s source novel.
In a film, one story stops you from telling other stories inside that film. In a two-hour feature film, I could only tell one story. Manu was very happy with the film and always gently shared his view when we asked for it. I am a better filmmaker for having interacted with him. His mind rejuvenated me as a filmmaker.
Like ‘Dharavi’ and ‘Serious Men’, ‘Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin’ and ‘Yeh Saali Zindagi’ also appear to be complementary films.
Is Raat was a reaction to gangsterism in Bombay back then, when an extra-constitutional authority hung over your head and you could be dead without any reason. I was also going through a divorce at the time, so the film became autobiographical. It’s based on an incident that happened to my brother who had slapped a gangster’s brother in Pune. They surrounded FTII after that. It’s terrifying when an individual is trapped like that.
I also played with the idea of a hero. Is Aditya a hero? He is accused by the gangster of infidelity and he accuses the gangster of wanton murder. The question is who is dirtier.
Yeh Saali Zindagi was more of a fun film where the idea was that love could kill and rejuvenate you at the same time. Love can often have you screwed, you escape by the skin of your teeth.