‘Raat Rani’: A tale of self-acceptance
In conversation with director Shonali Bose, writer Nilesh Maniyar and actor Bhupendra Jadawat about their film Raat Rani, which is a part of the Modern Love: Mumbai anthology
When filmmaker Shonali Bose was still a student at UCLA’s film school, she would feel that she was the odd one out, because whenever the class was required to “envision” a script, she couldn’t visualise what the scenes might look like. She’d often question herself.
Visualising a script before she gets on the sets is still a challenge for her, but has that stopped her from creating cinematic masterpieces? Not one bit. With her latest Raat Rani, which is a part of the Modern Love: Mumbai anthology, Bose has come to realise that she’s an actor’s director. “For me, it starts coming together when the actors are cast, and the locations are scouted,” says she.
Bose credits her DoP and her team of production designers for the kind of visual storytelling that she has been able to achieve in the film. Whether it was shooting on the BKC flyover, or the Nana Chowk, or the Seven Wonders Park, Bose believes all of it fit perfectly in the narrative that she was trying to portray. She laughs as she says, “At Nana Chowk, there's a subway going around at the top, five roads coming in and there's only one small triangle in the middle. Nobody in their right senses would sell tea there. But visually and cinematically, it works.”
For Nilesh Maniyar, the writer, working on Raat Rani was as bittersweet as his relationship with Bombay, because though he met some of the best people in the industry, the pandemic took a bit of joy out of it. Ask Bose how her experience was, and she says with a big smile, “It was like crossing the flyover.” The pandemic, hiccups on the shoot, a brilliant script to live up to planted seeds of doubt, says Bose, but none of it compared to the feeling of what she saw at the premiere. “Maine flyover cross kar liya,” she grins.
Bhupendra Jadawat, who plays Lutfi, agrees with the two of them. He feels he had a “soothing experience” and learnt a lot on the sets of Modern Love, developing a sense of empathy and responsibility within him. For him, Modern Love was no less than a mela, which he adds, was a paradigm shift for the industry as well as for the audiences.
Working on an anthology comes with its own set of challenges, the biggest one of them being the comparison that follows. However, for Bose, the most challenging part was making a short film under “really tight conditions, in eight days, but on very ambitious sets and locations”.
A little scary and overwhelming for Maniyar, this was the first time that he wrote for an anthology where he knew he’d be compared with the likes of Vishal Bharadwaj, who he’s previously worked for. “But it was very exciting because it was collaborative and it's always exciting to write for Shonali because I know that she will bring out the best in the actors and the story will have that fragrance that one is imagining on paper,” says he.
A tale of self-love and self-acceptance, Maniyar says that the New York Times blog spoke to him and resonated with him on a level that “so many life experiences flashed in front of my eyes,” and he knew it could become a medium to talk about a lot more than just self-love. What he realised through the course of his writing process was how beautiful the world of adaptation is. Says the writer, “You can do so much in adapting lives from New York to Bombay, from the middle class to a working-class reimagination and yet, keeping the essence of the characters and the emergence of their journey intact.” For him, it’s been rewarding to put his own understanding of the world towards refining the characters, and trying to add elements in between the lines for the audiences to cherish.
Jadawat remembers how when he read the script for the first time at the audition, he instantly knew it wasn’t as simple as the words written on that piece of paper. Over multiple discussions with Bose, Maniyar, the associate casting directors, and his co-actors, he began understanding Lutfi. “There was something lost in Lutfi, and it was important for me as an actor to find that,” says Jadawat.
Having given both the characters a Kashmiri background, Bose wanted to portray how for some, going back is not as simple as it may sound. Says Bose, “We wanted (Lalzari) to be stranded, left by her husband at her most vulnerable, lowest point.” Bose emphasises on how they wanted access to remote areas to be a background theme to the story.
“How absolutely exciting and fantastic is it to tell the story of two Kashmiris when your film has nothing to do with terrorism, Kashmir or Islam! It's like a profound political statement in a very subtle way,” says the director.
Modern Love: Mumbai is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)