Hindi filmmaker Anubhav Sinha has toyed with different genres since his debut in 2001. There’s the romantic hit Tum Bin (2001), the high-octane action fare of Dus (2005) and Cash (2007) and the superhero film Ra. One (2011), starring Shah Rukh Khan.
With his upcoming eighth film, Sinha tries his hand at a socio-political drama. Sinha has described Mulk, centred on a family fighting to reclaim its honour, as the most important film of his career.
“Mulk is about a family trying to defend its pride after a stigma and their fight against all odds,” Sinha told Scroll.in at his Mumbai office on Saturday. “But we were very clear that it was not a typical Bollywood potboiler.” Starring Rishi Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu, Prateik Babbar, Ashutosh Rana, Rajat Kapoor and Neena Gupta, the film will be released on July 27.
Sinha said the film is set in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, but kept additional details close to his chest. “Mulk is a story that happened to me one afternoon here in the office in May last year,” Sinha said. “I just had a one-line idea and I shared it with my friends and they loved it too. But we felt very strongly about the film and knew it was going to be tough to set the film up in terms of casting it and in terms of raising finances.”
The filmmaker said he wrote the script with Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu in mind. “Rishiji normally ends up doing slice of life and comedy films,” he said. “This film was drama and tragedy. I thought that would be a surprising casting,” he said. “And I had been wanting to work with Taapsee for sometime now.”
Sinha, an engineer by education, changed course in 1991 and came to Mumbai to become a filmmaker. He made his big screen debut with Tum Bin, predominantly starring newcomers. The film traced the unconventional love story of a businessman and the fiance of the man he had accidentally killed. After Mulk, Sinha will take on the political satire genre with Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai , featuring an ensemble cast that includes Saurabh Shukla, Pankaj Tripathi and Richa Chadha.
“A veteran director once asked me what were the kinds of films I wanted to make,” Sinha said. “I responded saying I did not know. He told me that as a director I must exactly know what kind of films I want to make. Now when I look back, I see that what I told him that day was right.
He said the films he makes are dependent on his age and state of mind at the time. “Right now I am known best for Ra One, Tum Bin and Dus, which are completely different from one another.”
Sinha has also produced some of his directorial ventures, including Cash (2007) and Tum Bin 2 (2016). He has bankrolled films of other directors as well including Soumik Sen’s Gulaab Gang (2014) and Vivek Agnihotri’s Zid (2014).
But his first production venture, Kabootar (2008), remains unreleased. Directed by Maqbool Khan, the film was based on four teenagers who are hired as contract killers. The film travelled to a few film festivals, but did not make it to theatres.
“We made that film with very little money,” Sinha said. “The film was co-produced by Percept [Picture Company] and I think they ran into some financial trouble or something, and it never released. That remains a sore point in my career. We all worked very hard, but we could not release it. I had just turned a producer. I was not equipped to fight it out and make sure that it released.”
Reflecting on the Hindi film industry, Sinha said he has noticed both good and some bad changes over the years. “We used to make unofficial remakes of Hollywood films and did not feel ashamed about that,” he said. “Similarly, now we have gone on to copying the culture of Hollywood. We have agents. And with an actor, now comes the paraphernalia of 15 people. That to me is not a very welcome change.”
However, he commended the evolving content in the industry. “Strangely most of us hate the term Bollywood. But I don’t,” Sinha said. “I think we have earned it. There is another offshoot of the Bollywood industry, which is not making Bollywood films. And I must say that this new generation of non-Bollywood started with Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia. They started making films, not caring about the Bollywood recipes. That segment is getting bigger and bigger, which is a fantastic thing to happen.”
Before his Bollywood debut, Sinha had directed the popular 1997 Doordarshan Metro show Sea Hawks, starring R Madhavan, Milind Soman, Om Puri and Manoj Pahwa, about the fictional adventures of the Indian Coast Guard.
“It was an impossible serial to do at that time,” Sinha recalled. “I was 30 years of age and did not have the experience of controlling three helicopters and five ships all by myself. They [the Coast Guard] had given us all the support that they could.”
The show generated high television rating points, but Sinha believes it would not do well today. “I have had people calling me and telling me to make a Sea Hawks-like web series for them,” Sinha said. “I told them that I have made it already. I do not know if Sea Hawks will do well today on TV. Because people who watched Sea Hawks then have moved on to their digital devices.”