Critically acclaimed director Shonali Bose is a storyteller with a difference. From winning a National Film Award for 'Amu' that dealt with the 1984 anti-Sikh Riot, to showing the real-life story of her sister who is suffering from cerebral palsy in 'Margarita with a Straw’ starring Kalki Koechlin, to presenting Priyanka Chopra in a never seen before role in ‘The Sky is Pink’, Bose's strong narratives got acclaim at International film festivals.
However, working on projects that are not considered mainstream, was not an easy ride for the filmmaker.
“The journey of making all three of my films – ‘Amu’, ‘Margarita with a Straw’ and ‘The Sky is Pink’ -- is actually equally tortuous and oppressive and incredibly hard because all three films were on tough subjects,” Bose told Opoyi.
She is one of the key speakers at the National Ability Summit to be spearheaded by Varija Life, a Not for Profit Organisation under the fashion and lifestyle brand Varija Bajaj on December 2 and 3. The event will see acclaimed names from media, films, fashion, and lifestyle, speaking on the need to create awareness on disability and creating an environment for them where they feel welcomed.
Bose says that it’s usually hard to get funding right for films dealing with disabilities.
“I find that when you are taking a difficult subject in India or globally, it's really hard to find financing and support and that just makes the whole process of making the film really hard as an independent filmmaker. It doesn’t matter how beautiful and inspiring the stories maybe when they come out as to how an audience receives them, the journey is not necessarily inspiring but perspiring … (laughs),” she added.
However, all these aspects didn’t deter her from taking up such projects. “…it’s because I felt so driven personally with these three films, because of my personal connection with them and the issues at hand, that it didn’t matter how tough the obstacles were or the hurdles were. I was ready to go out there all the way to take on the challenges of getting these films made,” she said.
Recalling the time when ‘Margarita…’ was released, she said that she was confident of the great theatrical response but it was a box office failure.
“…It actually shows that people don’t want to come out and support the film in which a character is on a wheelchair or character is with a disability. I, in fact spoke with a lot of people afterward and they say things like we just felt like the story of a protagonist with a disability would be too sad and takes one's mood down and even if we heard good things about it, we didn’t want to take that risk.”
When asked if A-list stars like Kalki and Priyanka helped give due recognition to such films, Bose says, “it's extremely hard to get a film funded as well as distributed and released in theaters when it is to do with the subject of disability so getting a big star definitely makes a big difference on both fronts.”
“ (Also) Kalki is not considered an A-list star so getting funding even after she was confirmed as the lead, didn’t make a difference so ‘Margarita with a Straw’ was an enormous struggle for me as a producer. Priyanka made all the difference to ‘Sky Is Pink’ so definitely getting a major star makes the difference not just to do with stories with disabilities, to do with story on any subject that is little bit off of the mainstream,” said Bose.
Her film “Margarita…” was appreciated a lot at international film festivals. However, Bose says that there was a time when distributors came up with shocking revelations when she thought of planning to release it in France.
“The film did really well in France (film festivals) but yet when I tried to release the film there, couple of distributors came back to me and revealed that truth where they said that people like to see perfect bodies having sex, really beautiful bodies having sex so for them to see a disabled person having sex like that is not okay. I am sure this is not how French people look at it but this is how distributors think that the French audience would react so they decided that they can’t distribute a film on sexuality which has a disabled person being the sexual being that was really shocking,” said the filmmaker.
She also feels that more films should be made on real stories- plots that depict classes. “I am huge on the issues of class and it’s very important for me. Right now during the pandemic, I wrote a script where the lead character is a working-class Maharashtrian domestic help in an upper-class women's house. It’s an absolutely wonderful story and I wrote that script based on the book that I had read. However, disappointingly the attitude of Netflix to that is we want things that are light, and young and they won't be interested in this kind of story.
“I feel there should be tons of films on the working class. If you look at Hindi cinema in the 1970s, even in big films of Amitabh Bachchan, he was depicted as working-class. It’s a phenomenon from the 1980s onwards. (Now) Karan Johar kind of films in which rich elite families living in castles get to be the protagonist of our cinema and I think it is really unfortunate that the lives of regular people are not portrayed more in cinema,” she said.
She feels that government help can give backing to difficult projects.
“It’s really unfortunate now that NFDC (The National Film Development Corporation) has faced such budget cuts and this is the same case in America because I have also been a filmmaker in America for a very long time, so there are huge budget cuts not just in higher education but also in the arts overall and in filmmaking coming from the government.
“This definitely makes it harder to make a difficult film. Institutional support to the art has been important and has been cut worldwide and most unfortunate,” she concluded.