Madhur Bhandarkar has always had a passion for films. He first indulged it by putting together a video library shop. But, when the itch grew unbearable, he signed on as assistant to ace film-maker Ramgopal Varma.
Five years later, he thought he was ready to direct his first film. But Trishakti -- which starred Milind Gunaji, Sharad Kapoor and Arshad Warsi -- sank without a trace.
Bhandarkar was not dettered. He quietly began work on his second film, Chandni Bar, based on the life of a bar girl. In what is considered quite a coup by the industry, he has signed Tabu for the lead role.
The young director does not expect his film to be an out-an-out commercial success; all he wants, he tells Sharmila Taliculam, is for his effort to be appreciated.
Why did you name your film Chandni Bar?
The story of my film revolves around the life a girl who works in a beer bar. This character is being played by Tabu.
We did think of other titles too, but we realised this title suits the film perfectly. I know it is going to raise a lot of eyebrows and make people wonder about the kind of film I'm making. I've been getting all kinds of vibes -- both positive and negative -- about the title, but we decided to retain it because both my producer and I thought it was a good one.
What compelled you to make a film about a bar girl?
Well, this is a subject that has neven been dealt with in a movie. A bar dancer has always part of a song or a sequence -- she was never the subject of a film. In my movie too, the bar is a backdrop around which the story unfolds -- the story of a girl who works there and the problems she has to face.
I'm not trying to glorify bar girls by making this film, nor am I trying to prove a point. I actually got the idea of making a film on this subject when I once accompanied a friend to these bars. I was fascinated by the ambience, the way the girls danced -- their movements were so artificial.
I thought it would be an interesting subject for a film. And then I thought -- if I felt like this, what about the man who never visited such a bar? The idea started growing in my mind. So I did extensive research -- I met the girls who worked in these places, the owner, the customers and the cops. And I realised I had a great story on my hands -- that's when I wrote the script.
What made you zero in on Tabu for the lead?
When I started developing the character of Mumtaz -- who is the film's protagonist -- I wanted someone who would do the role sincerely. And, believe me, Tabu was the only actress who came to mind. Though I did not even know her then, I believed she was the only one who could do justice to this role. I visualised the whole film with her in mind. Somehow, though, I was confident about convincing her to do the role.
R Mohan (the producer) too was thrilled with the subject. We thought we would sign absolute newcomers for the film. I wanted to make a realistic film and we felt a 'big name' would hamper the role. People would identify with the star instead of the character. But I just couldnít forget the fact that I had conceived this film with Tabu in mind.
When I suggested her name, R Mohan agreed immediately. He knew her well since they had worked together earlier. We fixed up a meeting. She was so excited by the story that, midway through the narration, she agreed to do the film. That's how things started rolling.
Don't you think Tabu is the main reason why the film is getting so much attention?
Yes, maybe. Actors do matter. Fortunately for me, Tabu has never been trapped in a particular image. She has experimented with roles and is a versatile and successful actress. The fact that Tabu is in Chandni Bar is a highlight of my film. Even the media discussed her decision to do the role.
Tabu's involvement in her films is amazing. She has done whatever I have asked of her. I told her how bar girls work, how they live... We went to bars to get a feel of the place and the people. I really respect her because she believed in me. She also takes an interest in the rest of the cast, which is very nice.
Don't you need a good dancer for the role? According to Tabu herself, she is not a good dancer.
I think she is wrong. She has done a good job in songs like Ruk ruk ruk or Dhol bhajne laga. And then, bar girls donít really know how to dance. Of the eight or nine who dance at the same time, only one or two are good. The rest just move to the rhythm of the music or the songs that are playing.
Their only objective is make the customers throw money at them, so that they earn enough. Which is why I did not need a good dancer for the role; I needed a good performer. Tabu hasnít disappointed me at all. She has done the role exactly as I visualised it.
You don't have any original songs in the film.
I wanted the film to retain its authentic flavour. I could have put in two or three original numbers. But I wanted it to be realistic. The people who frequent beer bars have their favourite numbers which they keep asking for. And when the girls oblige, they shower them with money. In the film, we decided to play those numbers that are a favourite with beer bar customers.
Does this mean you don't have a music director for the film?
Not as yet. But we will have one. After all, the background score needs to be done. It will be another highlight of the film.
Did you shoot on real locations for Chandni Bar?
Yeah, I shot the film on real locations. When you make a film like this and put your characters against the backdrop of real locations, the film is enhanced. You can identify with it well. After all, the details of a real location cannot be replicated on a set.
Though my subject is very Bombay-based, I am sure the film will be appreciated universally because this story is universal.
Tabu works in a beer bar and is married to a gangster. This is the story of her life. The film explores her traumas -- at her job, of being married to a gangster and of being, under the circumstances, a mother. Both the characters -- that of Tabu and her husband -- are volatile. The film explores how they interact, how they live.
Atul Kulkarni, who plays Tabu's husband, is relatively unknown. Was that deliberate?
You cannot say he is unknown. He has acted in films and been appreciated for his work. He got the National Award for Best Supporting Actor in Hey! Ram. I had seen about 40 guys for the role before I saw Hey! Ram. That's when I decided Atul was going to be my hero. My assistants were not sure if he would fit the bill but I knew he could do the character of Potiya Sawant.
What are your expectations from Chandni Bar?
Chandni Bar is not really a commercial film, though its story and content might make it seem like that. But that does not mean it is a slow film. Chandni Bar doesnít have a big male star like Hrithik Roshan or Shah Rukh Khan. Tabu is our only star. Which makes it obvious that we are targetting a different kind of audience -- people living in the cities, people going to film festivals.
We are not looking at an all-India audience. We are not making a film like Mohabattein or Mission Kashmir. One has Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, the other has Sanjay Dutt and Hrithik Roshan. One is Yash Chopra film directed by his son; the other has been directed Vidhu Vinod Chopra. These films are going to be watched by the whole world. That crowd is bound to happen.
Chandni Bar is a small film -- it is made on a budget of Rs one and half crore. So, if my producer gets Rs 20 lakhs over and above his investment, he has made his profit. We think our film will be a hit. We refuse to worry about box office collections. We will be satisfied if our film is appreciated.
When are you planning on releasing Chandni Bar?
It is 70 per cent complete and should be released in February, next year.