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'Konkona did not want to do Traffic'

Madhur Bhandarkar
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January 31, 2007

After the glitter and gloss of Page 3 and Corporate, director Madhur Bhandarkar completes his trilogy with Traffic Signal, a film about the seamy life of Mumbai's streets.

Very different from his earlier two films, Madhur showcases here, a world we choose to ignore.

He chats with Priyanka Jain about the film and how he had to convince the actors to do it. Excerpts:

What is the film about?

This film is a slice of life which people encounter everyday at intersections when the traffic lights turn red. It shows two views of the world we live in -- those looking out from the comfort of their cars and those looking in. It is a film about the people on the streets and how they get by.

Where did the idea come from?

I have been walking barefoot to Siddhivinayak temple for a long time. People go to the temple to get their blessings. I got my blessing during the journey itself in the form of a story idea. On the way back, I got a chance to observe people on the streets closely. I started from there and did some research while writing the story.

Kunal KhemuYour films usually have a female protagonist. Will it be the same this time too?

No. Kunal Khemu, who plays Silsila, is my protagonist in Traffic Signal. I wanted an established actor initially, but as we progressed with scriptwriting, we were clear that we would require someone new, someone without an image or an action or romantic hero tag.

In the film, Kunal looks like someone who hasn't had a bath in weeks. He is a street boy who collects money from people. He is their leader. His role is very subtle. He is not an action hero beating up people.

What role do the women in the film have?

Neetu Chandra (who earlier starred in Priyadarshan's Garam Masala) plays a Gujarati-kanthiyawadi character who comes to Mumbai to make a living. She sells pieces of embroidery on the streets. Neetu and Kunal fight a lot but there is a subtle romance going on between them.

Konkona Sen Sharma has the hard-hitting role of a prostitute. She depicts the nightlife at the intersection. She is romantically involved with Ranvir Shorey, who plays a drug addict.

Konkona Sen SharmaIs it true that Konkona was reluctant to do this role?

Yes, she had reservations about the role. She did not like the protagonist's language and get-up. She could not identify with the character. But I convinced her to play Noorie and she has done a commendable job.

How difficult is it for you to convince people to do roles they don't want to do?

Very difficult. For example, Konkona had her reservations about the role. It was only after I heard her out and convinced her to do the film that she relented. You have to believe in yourself and make them believe in you.

Konkona was not the only one. Sudhir Mishra, who debuts as an actor here, was very reluctant to play the role of a mafia chieftain, Baba Shaikh/Bhaijaan. He did not want to act. He told me he was a very bad actor and suggested some names for the role. But I was clear that I wanted an actor who looks the character.

Sudhir has big eyes, a bass voice and his dialogue delivery is very natural. But it was difficult to get him to wear the costume (pathani kurta) and make up.

A still from Traffic SignalTell us about the music in your film.

Shamir Tandon, who has given some very good music for my earlier films, has composed some songs that are sure to touch some hearts. There is Yeh Zindagi hai and Kya zindagi hai sung by Kunal Ganjawala and a Maharastra folk song Lavni - Aai Ga sung by Vaishali Sawant.

What are your expectations from the film?

I am not a commercial filmmaker. None of my films have done Rs 100 crore or Rs 150 crore business. I make my films in a limited budget. If Chandni Bar had not worked, I could not have made Corporate. Satta, which was my favourite film, got only critical acclaim but no box office success. But my producer got his money back from that film too.

People sometimes call me a mad filmmaker, sometimes a metro-centric filmmaker or a hard-hitting filmmaker. I think I am an experimental filmmaker. All I want is that people enjoy the film and my producer gets his money back and maybe even make profit.

What's next?

There is a film based on the fashion world for which is in the scripting stage. UTV is producing it, so the budget will be bigger. We're at the casting stage right now.

Besides that, I am going to spend more time with my wife and our four-month-old baby.

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