Celebrity Interview: Pankuj Parashar, 'Banaras' Director ...

By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service

imageMumbai, April 10 (IANS) Director Pankuj Parashar denies his latest release "Banaras" is a comeback film.

"It's all in people's mind," says the director of the 1980s hit films "Jalwa" and "Chaalbaaz".

"If you go through my CV there's 2,000 things that I've done besides 'Jalwa' and "Chaalbaaz'. It genuinely does not bother me, what I'm known for, or not known for.

"I am getting fabulous feedback for 'Banaras'. We recently screened the film for 75 foreigners including the Dalai Lama's personal physician. They came out with tears," Parashar told IANS.

"'Banaras' was always simmering within me. When I was at the FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), I made two films... one was a story-based fiction film, which was a comedy. It got me the gold medal. The other was a documentary on mental illness. I made it only when I was 21.

"Yes, I could have taken the serious route as a filmmaker then and there. But I was too sad a person... jobless, broke, misunderstood. I didn't want to make solemn films. 'Banaras' has happened when I'm ready for it. It had to happen when I was ready for it.

"Producer L.C. Singh walked into my life with a great budget and let me do what I wanted. I was given total freedom. We chose Javed Siddiqui to write the dialogues because we knew the atmosphere would be argumentative. We wanted that.
It took me a while to get here," said the director.

For "Banaras" he has teamed up with "Jalwa" hero Naseeruddin Shah once again.

Pankaj is frank about his friend.

"Naseer has become more sarcastic over the years. At times it borders on being hurtful. But I give it back to him. Because he is become a director now, Naseer is becoming defensive. He thinks we're all going to pounce on him. He has promised to hold one show for all his directors... But I think, I am his closest friend," Parashar said.

"When I called him to offer a role in 'Banaras', I said there's bad news and good news. Bad news is that I am making a film. Good news is that Naseer is playing god in 'Banaras'! I told him it was a 10-day role. He never asked about the money, never went through the script, just landed up in Banaras for the shooting."

Parashar's precursor for "Banaras" was a documentary that he made, called "Enlightened Man".

"What do you mean no one has seen that? 300,000 people saw it. We cannot base perceptions of success on one section of the audience alone. How can you say that a film, which gets appreciation in the multiplexes, is more important than one that's seen by thousands and thousands of people all over the world?

"If you say my Tetra-pack ad with Tabu isn't important, I'll agree with you. But it keeps my kitchen fires going. I shot 14 ads with Tabu in three days."

So Parashar has worked with one of the best actresses today. "Or you could say she had worked with one of the best directors," Parashar shot back.

And now Urmila Matondkar is in "Banaras"!

"She was my first and only choice. Please don't slot her in a non-glamorous image for 'Banaras'. Urmila is very, very glamorous in 70 percent of 'Banaras'. And what is your definition of glamour? I think a woman without makeup in a white sari is extremely glamorous.

"But I chose Urmila for her acting. We had two or three others in mind. But we needed someone with a high emotional quotient. Urmila was perfect. One could never say from her initial films that she'd be where she is today.

"Urmila never tried to over-intellectualise her performance. There were lots of depths and dimensions to her character. Another type of actress would have just questioned and questioned... After the first day we sent her a bouquet... she was that good.

"Urmila's response, 'Why are you sending me a bouquet now for my performance? You'll have to do it every evening.' I called the producer L.C. Singh and he wondered if she was an egoist. The next day Urmila explained, there were so many wonderful scenes in 'Banaras' and such a pleasure to enact them. In 'Banaras' she goes into unexplored area."

"Banaras" which stars Urmila, Ashmit Patel in the lead roles focuses on inter-caste relationship that still disturbs the society.

Recent experiences in filmmaking haven't been too pleasant for Parashar.

"There were several reasons for that. I can tell you off the record why 'Tumko Na Bhool Paayenge' didn't work. To make a film - comedy or serious - you need like-minded people. I need room to flower as a creator. I am too sensitive and shy to go to a producer and say, this is what I want to make. Maybe I wasn't pursuing success as hard as I should have."