NO GUTS, NO GLORY
Writer par excellence, Rajashree is a fresh new addition to Indian English literature. Her debut novel, Trust Me, is the latest bestseller from Rupa. It is selling like hot cakes. Set against the backdrop of the Hindi film industry, Trust Me is a romantic comedy. It is a warm, funny story about love, heart-break and friendship.
A versatile lady, Rajashree has been a Hindi film buff since she was a kid — she once stood in a line for five hours to get tickets for Sholay. She has been working in Mumbai after studying direction at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. A film she wrote and directed, The Rebel, won a National Award and was screened at many film festivals.
It also won the Golden Ten Award at the SMTV International Film Festival in January 2007. Another film called The Connection which deals with communal violence, is also from her cradle. In a recent candid interview, she shares her thoughts. Excerpts:
What messages do you want to convey through ‘Trust Me’?
‘Trust Me’ is basically meant to be enjoyed – I don’t want people to get very serious and thoughtful after reading it. 🙂 Though it does talk about some serious issues, it deals with them in a lighthearted way.
The novel revolves around a young woman who’s had such a bad experience with men, that she’s started taking this joke rather literally: ‘What does “trust me” mean in Polish?’ ‘F. U.’
It’s a story of this girl’s journey from bitterness to trust, a story of emotional healing. About trust, I feel that when in doubt, it’s important to ‘trust smart’. Rather than thinking, ‘Can I trust this person?’ it might be better to think, ‘Can I trust this person to do this?’ When we don’t make value judgments and blanket statements, we are more likely to find the right answers.
Your book also deals with the casting couch – what are your personal views about it?
A lot of people in the Hindi film industry give you this line when you ask them about the casting couch: ‘It’s the newcomer’s choice. Nobody forces anybody into anything.’
As if that makes everything OK! The casting couch is sexual harassment at the workplace, plain and simple. How is it different from the manager saying to a would-be-secretary or a contractor to a construction worker, ‘I’ll give you this job if you sleep with me’? It’s legally termed as ‘quid pro quo sexual harassment’. In the landmark Vishakha judgement of August 1997, the Supreme Court of India recognized sexual harassment at the workplace as not only personal injury to the affected woman, but also a violation of fundamental rights.
What should be done to check the harassment of women, especially aspiring young girls in the film industry?
Look, the casting couch does exist, but it’s not as though everybody has to face it. Most of the people I know in the industry don’t use it. But I feel that it’s important for industrywalas to come forward and work proactively against it, to not have a ‘chalta hai’ attitude. I attended a screenwriter’s conference in which a lot of writers spoke against ‘DVD scriptwriting’ – being ‘inspired’ by Hollywood films. It would be great if established people in the industry – producers, directors, actors, technicians – who aren’t in favour of the casting couch created a movement against it.
At the individual level, I’d advice a newcomer – could be either, a guy or a girl – who wants to fight against the casting couch to take recourse to the law. It’s crucial that the media supports people who raise their voices against sexual harassment.
How do you look at the present trend of Bollywood?
As a film-maker, I think it’s a great time to be in the Hindi film industry. So many offbeat films are being made – and succeeding. Even the big-budget mainstream films – it’s great, the way Rajkumar Hirani has reinvented Gandhism and made it easy to relate to. I love Gandhiji – he’s one person I respect from the bottom of my heart – and I’m truly grateful to Hirani for keeping his thoughts alive.
Oh yes, a Gandhigiri twist to the sexual harassment issue would be to send ‘Get Well Soon’ cards to a lecherous producer and organizing a dharna outside his or her house…
Please share some tips for aspiring actors hoping to get a break in Bollywood.
There are no sure-shot paths to making it in tinsel town, but if a teenager with stars in his/her eyes and no contacts in the industry were to ask me for advice, I’d probably tell them to learn the craft of acting. (Or become a beauty queen!) Join a theatre group, study at the National School of Drama if you can get admission. The Film and Television Institute of India, where I’ve studied film direction, has re-started the acting course. This course had produced stalwarts like Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Shatrughan Sinha in the 70’s.
Once you hit Bombay, get your portfolio done by the best photographer you can afford, make the rounds of producers’ and directors’ offices. And persevere, persevere, persevere. There’s one word that sums up trying to get a break in Hindi films – ‘struggle’. But then, no guts, no glory.
Being a woman, what do you think needs to be done for empowerment of women across the country?
Lots! I feel very disturbed by female foeticide. I think it’s an indicator of the position of women in Indian society. It shows that patriarchy is not benevolent and that the system is not working. It’s a question of women’s rights as well as duties. If women supported their parents economically in their old age, people might discriminate less against daughters.
Talking of literature, where does Indian English Literature stand today in the world map?
Indian English authors are being read all over the world today. Including India. 🙂 Just look at the number of Indian English titles in the bookshops. The fact there is a readership encourages new authors – so many new books are being written!
You seem to be superbly crazy about Hindi films. Do other subjects appeal to you for writing?
‘Superbly crazy?’ That makes me feel like a Shahrukh Khan fan who sends him letters written in blood! 🙂
I have written and directed a film called ‘The Rebel’, which won the National Award and the Golden Ten Award. This is about a sixteen-year-old boy who’s very angry with his mother because she’s remarried and he doesn’t feel part of the new family she’s formed. Another film called ‘The Connection’ deals with communal violence in an intimate setting. What I love the most about this film that it ends with a Sufi-style song, ‘He Ram’ sung like an azaan.
Do you have any plan to venture out into filmmaking?
I am working on a script for a feature film and am looking for a producer. Producerji, producerji, whereforth art thou, producerji?
– Rajkumar Sushan Singh