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Seeing is believing: A racy new movie set in the brothels of Mumbai has a Manto connection

Samit Kakkad’s ‘Ascharya Fuck It!’, inspired by the writings of Sadat Hasan Manto, stars Priyanka Bose and Santosh Juvekar.

The trailer for Samit Kakkad’s upcoming adult drama Ascharya Fuck It! begins with a disclaimer borrowed from one of the subcontinent’s most revered writers, Sadat Hasan Manto: “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth.”

In the trailer, sex worker Kanta (Priyanka Bose), dragging on her beedi, lists out four sexual parts of a woman’s body. “What else will a prostitute talk about?” she asks, looking into the camera. A bottle of champagne pops and Kakkad introduces the people in Kanta’s life: her pimp Khushiya (Santosh Juvekar), film star Karan (Ankit Raaj), and taxi driver Raju (Vaibhav Raaj Gupta). The high-decibel trailer, peppered with explicit moments, indicates a no-holds-barred approach. The movie will be released digitally through Yoodlee Films, the production division of the music company Saregama.

“If you have to understand Ascharya Fuck It!, you have to really understand the inspiration behind it,” Kakkad told Scroll.in. “And that is Sadat Hasan Manto who wrote about the city of Bombay in the 1930s and the ‘40s and in particular about the lives of those who were considered unwanted by society. He gave readers characters they rarely thought about – prostitutes and pimps, for instance – and added layers to them. These were deeply candid tales and Manto emphasised the humanness of these characters. My purpose with this film was to bring some of those characters of Manto to life but in the context of the Bombay of 2018.”

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Ascharya Fuck It! (2018).

The idea to make a film inspired by Manto’s writings came from Yoodlee Films. Kakkad had just finished his second Marathi feature Half Ticket (2016), an official remake of M Manikandan’s Tamil movie Kaaka Muttai (2015). Kakkad has co-written the movie with Amar Tipnis. “I wanted to bring Manto’s complex characters to the screen but also wanted to tell a story that will keep the audience of today engaged,” Kakkad said. “That explains the pace you see in the trailer. We came up with this idea of desire and greed intertwining in the life of a Bollywood star, his chauffeur, his prostitute and her pimp. There’s an unlikely love story and it is this idea of love that binds everything in the film. Ascharya Fuck It! is about the Bombay of today, about the reality of Bombay and the people who live in it.”

Yoodlee Films liked what they heard about the story treatment, said Kakkad, who made his debut with the Marathi film Aayna Ka Bayna in 2012. “The film is actually based on several true incidents,” the director said. “I’m from this city. I’ve heard about film parties, been to a few too. For me, it was interesting to show that world inside out. This film is about exposing the truth that underlines the shiny veneer of the film industry.”

Tipnis is from Washington, DC, and Kakkad took him to a few brothels in Mumbai when they began their research on the film. “We’d eat mutton seekh kababs outside the brothel just so that we could stand there, watch people and take down notes,” Kakkad said. “Our aim was to get all the details perfectly right – how a prostitute talks or a pimp talks, their posture, stance, everything.”

Ascharya Fuck It! Image credit: Yoodlee Films.
Ascharya Fuck It! Image credit: Yoodlee Films.

Kakkad recounted a specific instance involving the sound team, which had been dispatched to Mumbai’s red-light area Kamathipura. “I had asked them to go to a specific location and told them that they would get everything there,” Kakkad recalled. “Unfortunately, a pimp caught them, locked them in a room and took all their money. One of them messaged me asking for help and we immediately sent cars and people to get them out of there. When they came back to the studio, they changed the entire sound design. That’s how much the experience affected and educated them. They also said that the pimp they met was exactly like the one in our film.”

The provocative title is a play on the phrase ashcharya chakit, meaning wonderstruck. “We are not showing something that doesn’t happen or is not the truth,” Kakkad declared. “This is what happens and we are not scared to both talk about it and film it. Ashcharya chakit aankhon se hota hai. The title is a spin on that.”

Kakkad had Priyanka Bose in mind for the role of Kanta right from the time he began working on the script. “She is an incredible performer and I’ve worked with her in Half Ticket too,” he said. “Her range as a performer is remarkable.” The other actor he had already cast in his head was Santosh Juvekar. For the roles of the film star and the driver, Kakkad conducted auditions.

“What’s wonderful about the actors in this film is they all loved the script and said they had no inhibitions – if this is what you want, we are giving it to you,” he said. “I make my actors read the script once. Sometimes I don’t even let them take the script home. I make them read their scenes in front of me and go home. I don’t like actors coming to the sets too rehearsed.”

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Half Ticket (2016).

For Kakkad, Ascharya Fuck It! is a step towards new territory. Aayna Ka Bayna told the story of teenagers in a juvenile justice home and their passion for dance. Half Ticket was also a children’s film.

“I wanted to break my mould as a filmmaker,” Kakkad said. “I want to do different stories. They give me new wings to fly.”

Since Ascharya Fuck It! has been planned for digital distribution, Kakkad had the freedom to tell his story without the fear of censorship. But he hopes that the movie will also be released in theatres. “It was initially planned for the digital and festival circuit, but now that it has shaped out nicely, with wonderful colours, textures and dynamics and a very realistic tone, I think it can be watched in a theatre too,” he said. “Producers like Yoodlee Films are a boon for filmmakers who want to tell different stories. As for audiences, they have evolved tastes. Moreover, we are not going the sleazy way. We are telling a true story in an honest manner. Some may relate to it, some may not. But there is a deeper meaning to the film.”

Samit Kakkad.
Samit Kakkad.
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