Interview with Shekhar Kapur: “Relationship between Indian media and society is schizophrenic”

In a wide-ranging interview with Chitra Subramanian, Kapur talks about trade, good governance and broadband connectivity, why he made Bandit Queen, Indian media and why men become rapists.
Interview with Shekhar Kapur: “Relationship between Indian media and society is schizophrenic”
Interview with Shekhar Kapur: “Relationship between Indian media and society is schizophrenic”
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Shekhar Kapur’s films – Bandit Queen, Mr. India, Queen Elisabeth, Elisabeth the Golden Age – to name a few have been critically acclaimed and won several awards in India and abroad. Kapur’s lesser-known side perhaps is his ambition for India, its women and its communities. In a wide-ranging interview with The News Minute’s Editor-in-Chief Chitra Subramanian, Kapur talks about trade, good governance and broadband connectivity, why he made Bandit Queen, Indian media and why men become rapists. Excerpts.

Beginning tomorrow, if you were the Prime Minister of India, what are three things you would do immediately and why?

The first thing I would do is to push for a connected India. As far as possible I would provide high-speed broadband connections to as many citizens of India as soon as possible.

I would do this because we have got our growth models wrong. There is a feudal mindset to all our growth models - that growth has to be thrust down from top to bottom, that huge ‘Yojana’s’ need to be created and controlled from the top. And only those at the top are capable of knowing what the best models and systems are.

Culturally India is not tuned like that. Even Mahatma Gandhi said that India has to grow from bottom up. In a digitally connected India, people will talk to each other, create trade and flow of goods and services and work together to develop growth models amongst each other.  Innovation will happen at a much deeper level, and be far closer to the needs of that community. And from there a more innovative India will emerge.

This will happen not only in trade, but also in social services like health care and water conservation which will emerge locally. The idea of local will gradually become nation-wide because a digital India will finally become more than just an idea born of throwing out the British. It will truly become one India.  Here, I am talking of a nation of communities belonging to larger communities that are constantly interacting with each other. When internal barriers to trade in India drop, we will become one of the world’s largest markets – it is very important for the GST bill to pass.

The second thing derives from the first.  Once India becomes digitally connected, governance can go from ‘Intrusive Governance to Inclusive Governance’.  Because through connectivity and the access it enables, the government will be able to understand the needs a particular local community.  The government's job then, will be to shepherd growth rather than push growth and the possibility of less government and more governance could become a reality.

Third I would amend the Constitution to ensure that the Cabinet and Ministers do what they are supposed to do- legislate, create and amend policy. I would also take away executive powers from Ministers and let professionals run the Ministry like the system in the United States (US). The ability to win an election does not automatically translate inti the capacity of people to efficiently run the Railways, the national power grid or national health services, for example. 

Inclusive Democracy seems to be a phrase coined for India. A concept that goes far beyond the idea of one-person-one-vote. The Indian Nation exists only as an idea. It is formed of communities within communities within communities. And none of the communities are static. People belong to several communities at once - therefore Inclusive Governance.

You were born in Lahore. Sixty-eight years after partition, wounds remain open and bloody. What is the way forward?

I used to dream of Pakistan and India reuniting into a single entity. But it was a fantasy. It’s not going to happen.  The greatest bulwark against fundamentalism is stability, growth and prosperity. A stable Pakistan with prosperity that goes down to what we call the bottom of the pyramid is a Pakistan we would want as a neighbor.  The way forward is more trade, more cultural exchange and we must include Pakistan into India’s growth ideals. Greater economic exchange would lead to greater political exchange.

How would you describe the relationship between Indian media including films and the society that nurtures it?

Schizophrenic. Indian media nurtures itself and creates its own hype both in terms of its content and its value. It stands on a flimsy house of cards. It’s like a political candidate who keeps turning up the volume of the loudspeaker as he fears that the audience will walk away if he does not do that. It’s noise with little content. It is nurtured by itself, not by the society. The system creates its own hype and perpetuates its own myths, and lives with the incest. But it is flimsy and it can fall anytime.

Take films. We call it entertainment for the masses. We quote huge box office figures.  But let us look at the reality.  At an average price of Rs. 300 in Mumbai, how many families can really afford to go to a movie? Rupees 1,200 for a ‘Hum do hamare do’ family, plus transport and popcorn/ice cream is a minimum of Rs. 2,000 per film. Is this cinema for the masses? Not likely.

It's cinema for the elite who hide their scorn for themselves behind laughing at what they themselves nurture. This is a particular section of Indian society that is fast losing any sense of self-worth.  Thankfully it’s less than 5% of India who like to hide behind the mask of ‘cinema for the masses”

So, I don’t agree.  The Indian Society by large does not nurture our Media as it is now. I found that in one TV show I did called ‘Pradhan Mantri’ I was amazed how popular a narrated show on Indian political history became. 

What inspires you to make a film about a particular subject or person?

It has to create a moral conflict in me. It has to create an emotional conflict. For example in Bandit Queen I needed to know if I could be the rapist.

When not based on women, your films have strong women characters. Why did you make the critically acclaimed Bandit Queen and what did you learn in the process?

Honestly I made it because it was there to make and I took it on. A film emerges as you make it. You discover who you are as you approach the filming day by day. Like an artist discovers his painting brush stroke by brush stroke and finally looks back and discovers himself in the painting.

What did I learn? That a false sense of masculinity was a terrible burden that is imposed upon the male in society, and the misunderstandings of that weight they carry leads to terrible consequences. I learnt that society is largely to blame for hard-wiring ideas of ‘masculine strength’ and ‘feminine weaknesses’ into our brains, and it would take generations to let go of that.  This includes ideas of virginity of women as keepers of morality, of families or communities.

I learnt that rape is an act of domination - an act of trying to redeem your own lack of self-worth.

Phoolan Devi’s struggle was caste-based. She was raped because of it and when she surrendered, politicians lined up to woo her. What is you view on caste-based reservations?

I believe that reservations should have achieved what they were set out to do by now. And if they have not, then the implementation of the law/system is flawed.  However I believe in a digitally connected India the need for reservations will fall away as in a seamlessly connected world, divisions fall away. 

The December 16, 2012 rape tragedy in Delhi is widely reported as the day India woke up to reality. Did we?

We did in the sense that ‘Thou shalt not rape’ became a mantra.  I am sure that the awareness, both in us, and the potential rapists, is strong.  But we need to go a long, long way to start believing intrinsically that women are not property. Their vagina is not a place of sin, nor is it a place where we can off-load our own lack of self-worth and the confusion or the burdens of our own misplaced sense of male sexuality.

You have been a jury member in Cannes. How are Indian films selected to enter the competition?

We have lost the plot.  Once heralded as a nation of great cinema, of a great cinematic tradition, we now turn out cinemas which mostly pale into insignificance when compared to Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, European, Australian, and African cinema, which are far more respected than ours. There are however a few exceptions. 

What is the personage of Mogambo in 2015 and what would he say?

Oh - Mogambo would definitely say ‘MogamboAur Kush Hua’.

The interview was conducted over email.

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