Decoding Article 15 with screenwriter Gaurav Solanki


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Comment(s) Later, I read in the newspaper an incident in Gohana (Haryana) where two-three Dalits were beaten to death by a mob in the name of cow vigilantism. But Nishad was very important. What all went into its research? But that conversation does not go outside that room. I hope at least some do because that should be the aim. I brought in Gaura (Sayani Gupta), Nishad (Zeeshan Ayyub) and Jatav (Kumud Mishra) and all of them are really dear to me. What Ayan is feeling is such a first world problem. In his mind, she was a little scared. I discuss these parts with my female friends. So, how do you react to the criticism that the film suffers from Brahmin-saviour complex? I am a male writing female characters and I have this concern that I don’t end up doing what other Bollywood films have done with our female roles. Maaf mat karna.’ That apology is from all of us. That moment stayed with me. In some ways, he was more important than Ayan. Zeeshan and I talked a lot about the character. Honor killings used to affect me a lot and that started coming in my stories. What was her back story? That says a lot. Because otherwise the audience it is catering to becomes limited. So, we used a few lines from his letter. Kind of. Why so? No, this was never there. The scene you mentioned of Ayan carrying the third girl did not set right with me. But this was Anubhav’s directorial call to keep that scene that way. So, I thought we should have a third girl who goes missing, and the story also becomes about finding her, which gives a sense of hope. There was one incident where kids refused to eat mid-day meal cooked by a Dalit worker. Ayan is an upper caste, north Indian privileged man, who has a nice heart, but is ignorant about the umpteen privileges he enjoys. But we were making the film for him only! I was clear on this and Anubhav was with me that we needed to take the film to a larger audience and thankfully, thrillers come naturally to me. With caste in focus, the film has tried to cover a range of issues, from English elitism to politics in UP. Anubhav had written a rough draft under the title Kanpur Dehat. Otherwise, he could have been any other Bollywood villain. I would also request people to look at what we have done with Nishad’s character. He didn’t find much problem in that scene. Then we began creating characters. Popular Photos

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Article 15 tackles caste-based discrimination in the country and stars Ayushmann Khurrana in the lead role. So, we felt that if we have less of him, the loss would be felt more. So, we had a chance there. Both of us really like Pash. My first attempt was to make it a thriller because I felt it couldn’t afford to be a preachy social drama. But I want to say that was never our intention. So, we wanted to connect to that guy, that maybe he is not a bad person but his ignorance is problematic. I pay extra attention to what women in the crew and the actresses playing these parts have to say because a lot of times we make mistake even if unintentionally. Q. That scene where he says, ‘I am an insider. And it’s funny how everyone finds it weird in a film but in real life they find it normal. I understand the space they are saying that from. I respectfully disagree with it. Did you ever feel that the story should be told through Nishad’s perspective? Kumud Mishra suggested us that we should add a positive shade to the character. The film’s first 15-20 minutes are from his draft, whose dialogues we re-wrote, but rest of the story was totally changed. Anubhav spoke to a few people, all of whom might not be Dalits, but they are the people who have been working on this issue for the past 20 years. The one scene, where he carries the third missing girl in his arms, or the one where Gaura folds her hands to thank him. Q. With Jatav’s character, you walked a thin line. When did the journey of Article 15 begin? That drawing room becomes bigger with a film but still such a film remains niche only. More Explained

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Q. They never get 10 million followers or are talked about on prime time news. So, you realise that this has seeped into children too, and we are talking about the 21st century. My work has had regular mentions of caste. Ayan did nothing out of this world. So, despite the feedback, we didn’t remove those portions, rather included his story in the script. The audience, whom we wanted to speak to, was precisely that. I hear people’s concern and won’t dismiss it or say that they don’t understand. I wanted to say much more but we couldn’t. His scenes are mostly written by me. He tries to justify it by saying, ‘People expect a Singham of me. Some people asked us why we needed to do that but we knew we wanted conversations around it and that because of the film, people talk about Rohith too. And I am proud of it. I didn’t speak to any Dalit activist, though I had read a lot. Indirectly, it started when I was growing up. He just did his job. We read about them in newspapers or magazines but also move on quickly. Q. He has a lot of pent up anger because of this but he has also given justification for it to himself. That’s a way of showing to the audience what they are up to in real life. We used references from Rohith Vemula. He doesn’t want to invite attention to himself. Q. So, what Sayani has played is definitely Anubhav’s Gaura. Q. Everyone’s equal and there’s no discrimination.” So, the journalist asks him if he has any Dalit friend or he knows someone from SC/ST and he says no. The juxtaposition of this scene with that of Nishad and Gaura where he regrets they could never afford even a few moments together is another example of the privilege that upper caste enjoys. Advertising

I hope so. If upper caste feels this, it would be great. Advertising

I met Anubhav during Mulk’s post production. Do you feel the upper caste will come out of the film feeling guilty? I know the problem of SC/ST,’ is very important because he talks how upper caste talks about it. The conversation that’s happening around Nishad right now, we wanted that to happen. In Anubhav’s draft, Ayan (Ayushmann) and Brahmadatt (Manoj Pahwa) were already there. Regarding the scene about English elitism, upper caste uses this as a tool to discriminate against Dalits. I told him that Gaura should carry her because she is her sister and Ayan should be in the background because even with this one change, we would convey a lot. Just before we began writing the screenplay, we seriously considered if the protagonist could be a girl. I don’t remember a mainstream Hindi film, where a Dalit character’s voice has been so strong. But I told him, ‘If you want me on board, then I want to bring a lot of new things and I would like to change 80 per cent of it.’ He was open to that. You will have that one room only where intellectuals, who read editorials, are sitting. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub plays a Dalit leader named Nishad in Article 15. Our intention was to start a conversation and make the story reach maximum number of people. Did it ever feel risky touching too many things in one go? That’s how we started writing this film last year around August. You will feel incomplete because even in real, the same happens with these people. So, why was Ayan made the protagonist? There was not much scope of showing caste bias in urban setting so we tried with a few things here and there. So, I told Ayushmann that he should say it in a way that it doesn’t look like that, and he should add a line to it, “Maybe I lacked something.”
Q. So, his presence makes no difference. I remember some incidents from my ancestral village in western UP. First, maybe it was a way to connect with masses because you have a big star in the film so that scene would work for the larger audience. Also, the Gaura in my mind was far more fierce and angry than what Anubhav thought. Did that include speaking to Dalit writers or activists? We discussed contemporary Dalit politics and what the Dalit youth thinks. Isha Talwar’s Aditi and her equation with Ayan is definitely one of the most progressive one has seen on screen in Bollywood lately. He is one of those people in the system who would do neither good nor bad. Also read: ‘Article 15’ highlights once again the need for more diversity within Bollywood
Q. Jatav’s character is really interesting. I wanted people to miss him. English is today’s Sanskrit. Nishad was so important for me that there was a fear a lot of times that we might deviate from the story because of him. For both, Anubhav and me, it was important to show Ayan’s privilege because whether he says it or not, whatever is happening in the system, people like Ayan are guilty of it. Subconsciously, there might have been two reasons for him to do this. So, if via Ayan, they understand the world, they might get sensitised. Like how he tells his girlfriend, ‘countryside India is so beautiful,’ and the way he is dressed and how he stands. (Laughs). While for most part of the film the focus is on Ayan’s entitlement, the last key moments in the story makes a hero out of him, which has invited criticism. And because he is a Dalit, he also tries to stay low-key. And I was concerned that it would look like a complaint, putting the onus of his feelings on her as if she is guilty of doing that. In all my work, I am conscious about my female characters. I had confidence in our dialogue writing and Kumud that we would be able to portray his transformation. But I cannot because only I know how I have made a place for myself.’
I had his back story in my mind that perhaps after studying and finding himself a job, he must have tried to help others in his community, who of course looked up to him, but slowly the system made it difficult for him to live with his identity. Through Nishad we could say a lot, thankfully. Anubhav and I had a lot of discussion over this. Q. Another reason for it was this added another shade to his character. There was another scene with hand-folding and I told Anubhav during editing to remove it and he also agreed to it. Q. Whatever he says in the film, that’s what we were making the film for. While internalisation of caste bias exists in Dalits because of the discrimination and atrocities they have been subjected to over the years, showing a Dalit man shying away from his identity and referring to people from his community as others can validate the prejudice of ‘us and them’ that upper caste has always held on to. With a girl, even if she is from upper caste, that wouldn’t have been possible because she would still be more gender sensitive and aware than a man. If those scenes make you feel that way, please forgive us. That suddenly made the story really interesting. Brahmadatt, who is a rapist and a murderer, is shown to be a dog lover. Advertising

In an interview with indianexpress.com, Gaurav opens up on the journey of Article 15, which he co-wrote with director Anubhav Sinha, the scenes he wished were shot differently and what he wants upper caste to learn from the film. Mine would have never folded her hands in front of anyone. The difference between how he treats people around him and the love he showers on pets is glaring. He was so important to tell this story. These incidents happen across the country and it angered me every time. There’s a scene where Ashish Verma’s character tells Gaura, ‘Hum maafi maangenge, baar baar maangenge. We were getting such a feedback from the team. If I get a chance, I would love to write a separate story of Nishad because he has a very interesting story. But the project that we met for didn’t work out. I liked its soul and what he wanted to say about caste. These were among the small disagreements that we had but the final call is always taken by the director. Like the scene in school with Nishad, we were told not to put that because that looked out of the story. Sudhir Mishra had told me that Anubhav was looking for someone, who could write the screenplay and lyrics. Even a scene before that when Ayan finds the girl and Gaura is behind him, I wanted Gaura to instead pick her in her arms. Also, before Mulk, he has made films with stars so there is some reflection of that in this scene. Anubhav and Ayushmann also read it during the film. We spoke to a lot of journalists who have worked on caste-based violence. I saw a documentary some time ago, where a guy is extremely angry about reservation and he says, “There’s no casteism left in the country. There’s a dialogue where Ayan tells Aditi that she doesn’t look at him the way Gaura looks at Nishad. Was she part of the original draft? We knew there is already an aware and converted part of the audience but the one, who is apathetic, which includes a huge male audience, we wanted to speak to it through our protagonist because most of the times, people feel what the protagonist feels. It ostracises you because you belong to this caste and hence, in trying to fit in, you start running away from your identity. I was excited about it but as we started developing the story, it became extremely important to establish Ayan’s privilege early on. Q. I have an old female friend, whom I often show my female characters to make sure I am not doing something wrong. The character existed since the beginning but it was developed over time. The ones who retweet each other’s posts. We never reached a conclusion on this debate. Was this aspect picked from what the country has been witnessing over the last few years. Q. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Q. He is comparing his love story to that of two people, who aren’t even certain if they will get to see each other again! A strong influence for this was Jhoothan by Om Prakash Valmiki, which I read a few years ago. It felt weird that two men in their 40s insulted someone and that worker was apologising to them. I think I was 11 or 12 when I saw my relative slapping a Dalit worker.