Q. Calendar Girls! As usual, we don't really need to ask you what that could possibly be about, but why don't you take us through it anyway?
A. Calendar Girls deals with a subject and world that really intrigues me. My movies are always centred around women in some way or the other — I like to give people a peek into both their psyche and the different worlds that they live in. I've covered the corporate world, the world of fashion, the world of cinema...it's all very glamourous, whatever the field. The life of a calendar girl is something that is completely new to me. With my fetish for realistic cinema, when I first started thinking about it, I was very interested to explore it further. If you think about it, becoming a calendar girl is the first step to becoming a bigger star, which in this country means Bollywood. I have always worked on concepts, and this made sense to me conceptually. People have not seen the life of a calendar girl at all — what goes into making a calendar girl, and what happens to them after they achieve that success.
Q. You're always attempting to expose some truth or the other. Rumour has it that this time you've got your eye on Mr Vijay Mallya and his Kingfisher calendar girls?
A. I feel like people should see the film before they draw any parallels. People always think there are real stories hidden in my movies. Yes, I definitely draw from real stories, which upsets a lot of people, but I have always gone ahead and made the film that I have to make, and it's usually one that mirrors society and/or our culture at that time. I know, for instance, that everyone was very upset with me about Heroine — they initially thought I'd go easy on my own fraternity, maybe take a kinder look at the industry I myself am a part of, but I had to go that extra mile for my audience — I want that old lady at the airport to come up to me and say "Wow, you really understand a woman's psyche" or the kids in college to say "What next? Kya khullassa karega ab?"
Q. Is that reputation something you've grown proud of?
A. I'm self-made. I've created and built my own brand, my own kind of cinema. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about me and my films, but the truth is that they have all been a success at the box office, won awards and, most of all, people have identified with the story or characters in some way. People have also started expecting this of me — I recently went to visit a friend's father at the hospital. While I was waiting at the reception, I had doctors and patients alike coming to me to ask if I'm making a film on hospitals next. It's just something people have come to expect. What expose is Madhur Bhandarkar going to carry out now? Basically, I'm an investigative journalist on celluloid.Score Card
Q. What might the audience not be expecting from Calendar Girls?
A. The first thing is that usually I work with one female protagonist and the rest of the movie revolves around her; this time it's five girls, five different stories, all together in a film. Also, none of the faces are familiar; I could have gone with a mid-level cast, but I chose to go with new faces because I didn't want the audience to be distracted with any pre-conceived notions of anyone, or any associated image. This way, it's easier to identify with each of the girls, and their journey. Also, it keeps my budget lower, which gives me the freedom to experiment with things like bringing five stories together in one film, which I have not done before. It has been very interesting for me to explore the aftermath of such a journey — how far ambition takes you, and then what happens when it all starts to crumble and slip away. It's been a quick movie also, we finished it in 40 days and it clocks in at two hours and eight minutes.
Q. You're always talking about how your films are 70% realism. How did you go about your research for this one?
A. Calendar Girls chamak dhamak kiis at least 80% real, if not more. I met a lot of people I can't name to get the stories to make this one. I interacted with a lot of girls who shared their stories with me. Some of them have opted out of this world, some are still struggling, some have moved out of the country, some have married and changed track completely. Lots of photographers also spoke to me, coordinators, casting agents, people from the industry in general. They were all candid about it, and gave me a lot about the "chamak dhamak ki industry" that I had to then process and compress into a two-hour film. I urge especially the youth to watch this film, because besides giving an inside look into this world, it offers a larger perspective of the world in general — how to thrive, how to hold yourself, how to be strong.... there's a bigger message in this film, life lessons, that will appeal to everyone.
Q. We haven't really seen you around much since Heroine. Where have you been hiding? What have you been up to?
A. Travelling the world! I have worked hard day in and day out for the last 12 years without a break. I really wanted to travel abroad, so I was in a bit of a zone all this time — I travelled all over with friends and family — Egypt, Australia, the US, Spain... if you stay in Mumbai, your travel is pretty much restricted to going from Bandra to Lokhandwala. But I'm back and working hard now. I love what I saw on Twitter the other day — there was a guy who said "I have no idea what this Maggi controversy is all about, I guess I'll just have to wait for Madhur Bhandarkar to make a film about it to understand it." That's the best kind of compliment ever.
Calendar Girls is slated for an August release. For the complete interview, visit www.sunday-guardian.com