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Vikramaditya Motwane on ‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero’: ‘There’s always hope that there’s a better world’

The vigilante drama starring Harshvardhan Kapoor will be released on June 1.

Vikramaditya Motwane’s new film Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is a vigilante drama about a masked avenger who comes to the rescue of Mumbai residents in their never-ending battle against corruption. The June 1 release stars Harshvardhan Kapoor in the lead role. What the nation wants to know is this: where was this superhero when company executive Shaurya got locked into an apartment in Motwane’s 2016 survival movie Trapped?

Be that as it may. Both films reflect Motwane’s love-hate relationship with Mumbai, the city in which he was born and raised. If Trapped was shot through with dread and cynicism, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero remains hopeful, the director said in an interview.

This city is funny – on the one hand, there’s this love for the city because it’s your birthplace and it is where you grew up and so on, and on the other hand, there’s this huge cynicism where you’re wondering and lamenting about what is happening to it,” Motwane said. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to one question: who does the city belong to? It has become everyone’s bastard child, in a way.”

The metropolis that both endears and repels is also the subject of the Netflix series Sacred Games, which Motwane has co-directed with Anurag Kashyap. Based on Vikram Chandra’s novel of the same name, the series revolves around Mumbai police officer Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) whose investigation into the death of gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) uncovers a conspiracy that involves politicians, gurus and a nuclear bomb.

“I feel that at this point, I’ve made three cousin films between Trapped, Sacred Games and Bhavesh Joshi,” the 41-year-old filmmaker said. “I feel like I’ve been shooting on the streets of Bombay for a long time.”

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Bhavesh Joshi (2018).

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero stems from a host of factors – Motwane’s love for comic book characters (Batman and Superman in particular), Mumbai’s steady decline over the past few decades, and the possibilities offered by the vigilante genre.

“When there’s so much wrong around you, you need someone, at least in your fantasy or pop culture or literature, to go out there and do the right thing,” Motwane said. “That’s how Batman and Superman were born. That’s how the angry young man was born. And today, I’m trying to do the same as well because there’s a need for such a hero.”

For Motwane, a turning point was 1995, when Bombay was renamed Mumbai by the ruling Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. “Especially with the name change, one felt that the city that once belonged to us suddenly did not belong to anybody,” Motwane observed. “Things would get to me as I travelled around the city – the way people would drive, throw garbage on the streets. Some of my anger and cynicism came from there. At the end of the day, Mumbai belongs to nobody and it’s going to become everybody’s money-making machine in a way, which is sad.”

Motwane’s script was initially about “one guy on the street”, which then evolved into something “bigger, cinematic and more popcorny in a sense.” One version of the screenplay that was written between 2010 and 2011 was about land grabbing and the hold that builders have over development plans. “As time passed, the film, for whatever reason, got delayed, and when I revisited it in 2014, I realised those problems are not relevant anymore and we’ve got used to them,” Motwane said. “There are many corrupt builders and politicians in Bombay, it is part of life, and people have moved on. So I had to tweak the script a bit.”

Other developments had taken place in between – the Anna Hazare-led movement against corruption in 2010, in particular. “There was a lot of talk about uprooting corruption and the protests were widespread,” he said. “So, while there was anger, there was also a lot of hope – that okay, this world can change too. In fact, that spirit of the idea of change drove this film.”

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Hum Hain Insaaf, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018).

The co-production between Phantom Films, of which Motwane is a founder-member, and Eros International also owes its existence to Motwane’s interest in the vigilante movies of the 1970s and ’80s. “My film is half-way between a superhero film and an angry young man film,” he said. “It’s got one leg in the Salim- Javed films of the 1970s and the Sunny Deol films of the 1980s, Shahenshah and others too, and one leg in the comic book culture. It takes its inspiration from everything – even reality.”

The allure of vigilante films stems from the universal desire for that one hero to come out and save the day when all else is failing. The genre isn’t realistic and is escapist, Motwane concurs, but also speaks to the times.

“Sometimes the easier thing to do is to take a stick or a gun and just solve the problem,” he explained. “It is the dream of every single writer of the vigilante film, whether it is Bob Kane with Batman or Salim-Javed with Amitabh Bachchan. The vigilante is a dream, a fantasy, about having someone who is going to do the right thing. That’s not a solution in the real world at all. In the real world, you need a justice system. It is because the justice system is broken that you have vigilantes in the first place. [There is the belief] that when everything is broken, one man will come to fix it.”

Harshvardhan Kapoor fit the director’s conception of the vigilante because of the similarities between the actor and the character. “Harshvardhan has that whole vibe of being a lost boy who finds his feet and calling,” Motwane said. “The film too is about a man trying to find himself.”

Bhavesh Joshi Superstar will clash on June 1 with another movie featuring Kapoor’s sisters, Rhea and Sonam. Veere Di Wedding, co-produced by Rhea Kapoor, directed by Shashanka Ghosh, and starring Soman Kapoor Ahuja, Kareena Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania, is a female buddy comedy centred on a wedding.

“I don’t know if it can be called a clash, really,” Motwane said. “They are two entirely different films, and June 1 is a big enough date. Historically, it has been a date that has hosted some of the biggest hits of a year: Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani, Rowdy Rathore, to name a few.”

Bhavesh Joshi (2018). Image credit: Phantom Films/Eros International.
Bhavesh Joshi (2018). Image credit: Phantom Films/Eros International.

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero also stars Priyanshu Painyuli, Nishikant Kamat, Ashish Verma and Shreiyah Sabarwal. Apart from talking the actors through their specific scenes, Motwane was heavily involved with production designer Aditya Kanwar and cinematographer Siddharth Diwan.

“We had to address questions about whether we wanted the city to look super realistic or make a little more cinematic – a kind of graphic novel sort of space,” he explained. “Bombay anyway has a very graphic novel-y vibe to it. When you watch the film, you will get the feeling that it looks a little like a graphic novel, but not in an obvious way.”

In its mood, tone and treatment, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero differs from Motwane’s previous films. He made his debut with the coming-of-age drama Udaan in 2010 and followed it up with the period romance Lootera (2013). The least optimistic film of the lot is Trapped, in which Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao) gets locked into an apartment that he wants to rent for himself and his girlfriend.

“Every film I’ve made has been, in one way or the other, about hope, but Trapped is the bleakest of the lot,” Motwane said. “But if you take Udaan or Lootera, they’ve all been about hope. And that’s how it should be. Till the point that you don’t get old and cynical, you’re waiting for a resolution and a revolution. There’s always hope that there’s a better world.”

Motwane says that he realised during the process of writing and directing Bhavesh Joshi Superhero that hope and cynicism are part of the same continuum. “The key is to find hope in cynicism,” he said. “With the Anna Hazare movement, there was a moment of hope which was then completely destroyed – whether because of internal or external factors. Then the Lokpal bill failed but still, one stuck on to some hope – yes these guys have formed their own party and this is going to be something good. In 2014, there was a new government and there was a lot of hope. But now people have started to become cynical about it again. This cycle is part of life.”

Vikramaditya Motwane.
Vikramaditya Motwane.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.