Meghna Gulzar on why the Chhapaak story needs to be told

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Meghna Gulzar on why the Chhapaak story needs to be told
Meghna Gulzar with Deepika Padukone

The filmmaker explains how the protagonist in her upcoming movie, based on the real-life story of an acid-attack survivor, is a role model for today's world

By Michael Gomes

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Published: Mon 6 Jan 2020, 2:49 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Jan 2020, 5:26 PM

Filmmaker Meghna Gulzar's instinct to find stories that impact the world we live in is what distinguishes her from other auteurs.

"I choose my stories purely by instinct. If there's something that grabs my attention and if that connect happens in me, then I immediately know that this is a story I need to tell to the world," explains Meghna - daughter of noted writer, lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar and yesteryear actress Rakhee - about why she chose to bring the story of an acid attack victim to the big screen.

In her upcoming movie, Chhapaak, she brings acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal's story to the big screen. "It's a special story. A very important one that needs to be told, particularly in today's climate (in India). We are keeping our fingers crossed that people too will appreciate our efforts," she told City Times ahead of the movie's release this weekend.

So what attracted Meghna to Laxmi's true-life tale? "Two things," she says.
"Firstly, it's a very significant story and secondly, it's an immense story of spirit and hope. The character, in many ways, is a role model. She has gone through much trauma. But all that made her positive. She viewed the whole experience as a stepping stone to move upward and forward, which I truly found inspiring. As a matter of fact, we need more such role models inspiring us in our world today."

Deepika Padukone plays the acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, while Vikrant Massey plays her partner. Meghna is convinced that Deepika has delivered one of her best Bollywood performances yet in Chhapaak. "She did the role (of Laxmi) with a flourish and I believe that everyone will be truly overwhelmed with her performance in this movie."

It wasn't an easy job for Deepika who had to work diligently to get her character right, explains Meghna. "She had to undergo two levels of transformation. The first one was at a physical level and the other one was emotional. She had to immerse herself deep into the role and the story to flesh out her character."

Many true-to-life stories lose touch with reality when they are adapted for the big screen, so how much of Chhapaak is true and how much is fiction as it was a very sensitive case? "Well, it's really difficult to answer this question, but what I can say is that we have represented her face (acid-scarred) exactly the way it was presented to us. We had orders from the court, so we had to represent the court proceedings exactly the way they were. We were constantly in touch with her (Laxmi's) lawyers during the entire scripting process. Even the police investigations and procedures are represented as per the case. The main purpose behind making a movie based on a true-life incident is to keep it as authentic as possible," explains the director of the critically-acclaimed film, Raazi.

What's next for Meghna?
Though Meghna feels deeply about social issues, she says her work doesn't allow her the liberty or the time to indulge in humanitarian activities. "But I'm doing my bit for human rights issues through my movies," she retorts.

"It (moviemaking) consumes me so much that it leaves me little time for anything else, including my family. So I'm hoping that the work that I do through my films gives some kind of meaning to society and the world we live in."

Once Chhapaak is out, Meghna says she is going to take a well-deserved break, but only for a short while, since she has enough work in the pipeline to keep her busy in the new year. "I'm starting work on my next movie which is based on the late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. It is a biopic starring Vicky Kaushal. I need a year of prep on it and it'll go into production only in 2021. I have to do immense research for a film of this magnitude as it's inspired by a real story. Who I'm going to portray on screen is an immense figure, so there's a lot of work that will go behind that."

Meghna is also working on a web series based on the life and case files handled by Rakesh Maria, the former Commissioner of Mumbai Police. Maria cracked the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case and solved the 2003 Mumbai twin blasts case. He was also in charge of investigating the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008 and was involved in the interrogation of one of the attackers, Ajmal Kasab.

"I'm working on a series on the life of retired police officer and former Commissioner of Mumbai Police, Rakesh Maria whose case files I'm currently studying. I'm developing them into a web series. Content on streaming services is much longer in format than films, so it needs more time (to produce), we are into the early stages of development of the series."

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