It takes guts to make a Bollywood film on a sobering topic like COVID-19 crisis in India in black and white, but director Anubhav Sinha took that unconventional leap of stripping his film off colour in ‘Bheed’, out in the UAE cinemas on March 24.
But the choice of grey canvas got a lot of ground support. His biggest cheerleaders were his immensely talented lead pair, Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar. They are compelling actors in their own right.
“It was very liberating,” said Pednekar in a joint interview with Rao over video.
Pednekar, 33, even goes to the extent of saying that her mettle as a performer was put to test because the conventional crutches available to an actor weren’t around for her to lean on. Perhaps, ‘Bheed’ could even be her first and last black-and-white film of her career.
“It’s also extremely challenging because there are no distractions. It’s just you and your eyes do most of the talking. You’re just naked. And honestly, such an opportunity happens only once in a lifetime … But for ‘Bheed’ there couldn’t have been a better visual narrative,” said Pednekar.
Bollywood films are notorious for being flashy and colourful, but Sinha who has directed hard-hitting films such as ‘Article 13’ and ‘Mulk’ has never shied away from taking on bold topics and giving it his own sensible spin.
‘Bheed’, a tale of a ‘crisis within a crisis’, is no different. This ensemble drama, also boasting talents like Kritika Kamra, Dia Mirza, Pankaj Kapur, and Ashutosh Rana, is a searing look into the migrant labour crisis triggered by the sudden lockdown in 2020 in India owing to the global pandemic.
Millions of labourers, who were suddenly rendered jobless, were stranded in Indian metropolises when COVID-19 struck and the daily wage earners were forced to flee on foot to their villages.
Sealing of borders amplified this well-documented humanitarian crisis which resulted in mass exodus of those fleeing cities in panic.
“I have my fingers crossed for this one. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when you get to be a part of something which is so artistic and in black and white. After ten years, we can look back and say that we both did a film which was entirely black and white … It’s also very [magical] to see yourself in black and white frame on a big screen,” said Rao.
While the topic is grim, both actors claim there’s more to the movie than chronicling the pandemic-induced ills.
“The movie also talks about hope. I think you would come out of ‘Bheed’ thinking positive about life and human race,” added Rao. It isn’t a scathing indictment of their society or government, a charge that has been levelled against the makers of ‘Bheed’. We believe them.
Both these actors have a solid body of work between them. If Pednekar impressed us with her turn as this endearing plus-size bride in the romance ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’, the National Award-winning actor Rao has been in top form in films such as ‘Shahid’ and ‘Queen’. So was it exhausting to be a part of a film that tapped into intense themes like caste/class divides and social inequities that are highlighted during a contagion?
“As actors when we are in front of the camera, we give our 100 per cent rather than think about the kind of an effect we will have on our mental health … You are reacting to the situation and Anubhav sir keeps the atmosphere on a shooting set light. The moment you get out of the scene, he would cheer you up … He cracks stupid jokes … But we all understood the responsibility towards the material that was given to us,” said Rao.
“Anubhav Sir is such a dear friend and he’s a cool person to work with. He’s brilliant too. We were all aware that he made films like ‘Mulk’ and ‘Article 15’. He’s so genuine and full of life. He always inspires you. He’s got a whacky sense of humour too.”
While the trailer of the film gave birth to trolls with many calling it anti-establishment, the film has been cleared for release in India with cuts.
In this film, Rao plays a disillusioned police officer who’s in charge of law and order when millions of migrants in India hit the roads to reach home before state borders were sealed, while Pednekar is the voice of humanity and concern. For Rao and Pednekar, this was a dream role.
“When you take on a project like this, there’s a certain responsibility on you as a performer to do utmost justice to it. The harshness and heaviness in our roles is something that we can embrace as actors… We thrive with material that we have in ‘Bheed’ because you get to break the boundaries… I want to be a part of stories that are disruptive,” said Pednekar. Both believe it’s made by people who love cinema. This film is a fine example of the triumph of the human spirit and their never ending resilience.
“The film talks about many things … It talks about how we as humans came together in those trying times and how we all react to differently to situation,” said Rao.
“Films like these are very difficult both in terms of their making and their subsequent release but it’s our responsibility to make such films and more than that it’s important that the audience watches such films... As an audience, your responsibility is to watch the film and tell us if you liked it or not. If you liked it, then tell other people about it, if you didn’t like it, please share your feedback with us as our sole motive is to make a film that touches your heart. ‘Bheed’ is a story of human relationships, of the people, it’s your story and mine. Help the film travel to its audience and support such films. Thank You,” he said, as he presented his trailer.