‘What can you do about termites?’ Anubhav Sinha talks cinema and trolls
The attacks on social media are constant, Sinha says, after the release of his film, Article 15. He’s decided to respond with humour, or not at all.
He’s received death threats on Twitter; been told there is a price on his head; and got rave reviews for both the films causing all that hubbub.
Last year, Anubhav Sinha’s film Mulk followed a Muslim family under siege and ostracised after one member is convicted in a terror case. This year, his Article 15 has opened to rave reviews. The title comes from the clause in the Indian Constitution that guarantees protection from discrimination based on caste, religion, sex, race or place of birth.
Article 15 the movie has its roots in the Badaun case, where two Dalit girls were found hanging from a tree; the plot follows one police officer’s attempt to figure out what happened and why.
Sinha’s films were not always in this vein. His first, Tum Bin (2001), was a formulaic romance. He was a producer on Gulaab Gang (2014), a film set in Bundelkhand. With Mulk, he hit his stride and now, Article 15 establishes the 54-year-old as a filmmaker with a social voice.
“I make films about stories that I get interested in,” he says. “But, yes, events from around the world affect me and, together with elements from my own experience, they crystallise over time and the imprint of that can be seen in my work. Whether it is the image of a boy lying dead on the shores of Turkey or girls hanging from a tree in Uttar Pradesh, it has an effect on me and impacts the stories I want to tell.”
He likes telling stories about what he knows best, he adds, which is partly why both Mulk and Article 15 are set in Uttar Pradesh. The filmmaker was born in Allahabad, went to school and college there. So whether it is communities living together in harmony, families living amid tension, or the use of surnames to establish caste identity, he’s grown up living the realities and the patterns that play out in Uttar Pradesh — a massive state where most elections still unfold with caste as the most pivotal factor.
Sinha says the response to Article 15 has been overwhelming already, with reviews offering unbridled praise. The critical acclaim has been accompanied by vicious attacks on social media, though.
“Just last week a man tweeted to say that he had put a price on my head,” Sinha says. “I am now one of those people for whom the trolling never ends.” On Twitter particularly, he is routinely shrieked at for being, among other things, ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-Brahmin’, and those are the relatively peaceable comments.
Sinha says he doesn’t let the noise get to him. “It would be impossible to function if I did. I just go through these posts and only rarely respond. After all, what can you do about termites? They come with the season.”
Humour is his weapon of choice. “Deepika Padukone retained her nose [after the film Padmaavat]. I have not met Sanjay Leela Bhansali for a while but I hear he has retained his head too,” he says, laughing.
What about funds? Is it easy to get people on board for stories that don’t adhere to a formula? Sinha says it has been. “Ayushman Khurrana practically snatched the script from me when I went to discuss the story with him. He was very excited about it. Likewise for Mulk, Tapsee Pannu was eager to be a part of the film as soon as I approached her. Later, Rishi Kapoor too responded promptly with interest,” he says.
Up next? Another project with Pannu, but that’s all he’ll say for now.