Nishi Tiwari in Mumbai
Shoojit Sircar's Madras Cafe, which will be in theatres on August 23, marks the cinematic debut of one of Indian television's most recognised faces.
Dibang, who first grabbed national attention at Aaj Tak and later at NDTV India, plays a retired RAW agent in the film.
Dibang tells Rediff.com's Nishi Tiwari why Madras Cafe is an important film, why banning films is unconstitutional and why he wants to watch Chennai Express.
You make your acting debut with Madras Cafe. What was the experience like?
It was a very different experience. Unlike in the newsroom, where we have 50-odd people on the set, Madras Cafe sets had close to 200, 300 people.
On television we shoot the story and come back to edit it, but in a film it's more elaborate.
'Madras Cafe looks so sleek, it doesn't look like a Bollywood film'
Tell us about your role in the film.
I play a retired RAW agent in Bangkok who provides info to foreign correspondents. John Abraham is one of them. I shot for four days in Bangkok.
How did you come on board?
It happened through Shubendu Bhattacharya, who wrote this film, and Shoojit, who I knew from my NDTV days.
He had directed a short film on elderly people and how they need to be taken care of. It was a very interesting film.
After that, I've been watching his films -- Yahaan and, of course, Vicky Donor, which is a very breezy and humorous film about sperm donors that everybody in the family can see and enjoy. I think it sets a benchmark in Hindi cinema.
That's why I decided to do this film.
What's the film about?
Shoojit Sircar is known for staying off the beaten track of formula films. Madras Cafe talks about events that changed the course of our history.
It's based on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. It is a very bold subject and required a director who would keep his eyes open and observe everything. Shoojit is a director who does not blink.
As a filmmaker, his grasp of the medium is tremendous.
If you see the trailers, it looks so sleek; it doesn't look like a Bollywood film.
'John Abraham doesn't behave like a superstar'
What is John Abraham like to work with?
He doesn't behave like a superstar on the set. He makes you comfortable, always reports on time. He interacts with everybody. He knew it was my first time acting and made me feel comfortable.
I remember the time when we were shooting on a street and I forgot my dialogue. It was really embarrassing.
John took me aside and said, "Hota hai aisa (It happens at times)."
I didn't have any scenes with Nargis (Fakhri) but I've seen the film and can say that she has done a great job.
Her character is based on award-winning journalist Anita Pratap, who was the first journalist to interview LTTE chief Prabhakaran.
Several Tamil outfits want a ban on the film. The film presents the Sri Lankan civil war story incorrectly according to them.
I have a very clear stand on this: The film has been cleared by the censor board, and I don't think anybody should make any noise about banning it.
We have freedom of expression and Article 191(A) in our Constitution to deal with that.
Everybody who is outraged about the film hasn't even seen it yet.
It is absolutely disgusting that people should ask for a ban on art, be it books or films.
We have a large population of young, educated people who want to explore new things, stay with the times and then there is a vast section of uneducated people who politicians try to exploit.
I think that is what is happening here in the name of Tamil pride.
The state government and police should make sure that even if there is just one viewer at the theatre to watch the film, s/he should be able to do so.
'Madras Cafe is going to be a cult film'
What sets Madras Cafe apart from other Hindi political thrillers we've seen so far?
Firstly, it tells a story that has never been told before. So in that sense, it opens up a path for films that should be made.
Madras Cafe's story is a worthy subject with powerful performances and handled in a very sensitive way.
It's a very powerful film, but there's no drama. It doesn't have a RAW agent who fights off 30 Tamilians at once.
The RAW agent in this film is like anybody else -- in real life it could be one of us.
I think Madras Cafe is going to be a cult film; it'll set a new benchmark.
Did you get film offers before this?
I did get a few offers before Madras Cafe, but I never dared to make that transition to the big screen. I was happy with my small screen.
I think I managed to do this because Shoojit was there to guide me.
I once got an offer for a Malayalam film from National Award-winning filmmaker Jayaraj, he was on the awards jury this year.
He said he wanted to cast me because I looked like Danny (Denzongpa). It was many years ago.
So you got stereotyped even before you started acting?
Yeah, but I refused to do it. In fact, I also got an offer to participate in a reality dance show and another one where participants were supposed to stay on an island. I think they had tentatively named it Survivors.
I've done a small part in Italian director Italo Spinelli's film Gangor that was based on Mahasweta Devi's short story, Choli Ke Peeche.
It screened in competition at the Rome Film Festival in 2010 and won more than a dozen awards, but hasn't released in India.
I played a journalist; Adil Hussain (who played Sridevi's husband in English Vinglish) played a reporter.
'Madras Cafe is not a stupid Bollywood film'
Were you always interested in acting?
No, I wasn't, otherwise I' have been in Mumbai!
I've always had an interest in cinema -- I watch a lot of world movies.
What are your favourite films?
I watch a lot of Iranian films -- I've seen almost all Majid Majidi's films. I also like Wong Kar-wai's films, and Pedro Almodovar's, among others.
The great thing about Hindi cinema is that we have a lot of exciting filmmakers now -- Shoojit, Anurag (Kashyap), Sujoy Ghosh, Tigmanshu Dhulia -- these people are doing great work.
Madras Cafe is a step further in that direction. It's not a stupid Bollywood film, you know, the kind that implore you to leave your brain at home while watching it.
Madras Cafe dekhne ke liye aap dimaag le kar aao aur phir film dekho (To watch Madras Cafe you'll have to bring your brain with you and then watch it).
Speaking of films that don't require much thinking, have you watched Chennai Express yet?
(Chuckles) I've been meaning to watch it, but everybody I know has dissuaded me from doing so.
It is not really the kind of film I like to watch, but if it makes more than Rs 200 crore, you'll need to be aware of what it's about.