Anshul Chaturvedi (BOMBAY TIMES; February 24, 2017)

Rangoon tells the story of many hanging loyalties - some of your characters see their loyalty chang ing from one person to another, some from a cause to another, some see an overlap of both. As a storyteller, what do you find stronger - the bond with a person, or with a cause? Which love is stronger?
I think ishq with a philosophy is always bigger than ishq with a person. Because when you are in love with a philosophy, or a cause, or a thought, it is not basis reciprocation from the other side. Woh ishq sufiana ho jaata hai... That is more difficult to accept, for others also, and often they are like 'Saala bada ishq tha, ab pata chala?'

So the magnitude of an ideological break-up is bigger than that of an inter-personal break-up?
Of course. Inter-personal mein toh phir bhi doosre taraf ki galti ho sakti hai. Ismein toh doosre taraf ki galti hai nahin, philosophy toh change nahin hui, aap change huye. When you fall out of love with a person, you can always say that person changed. But when you fall out of love for a philosophy, it has not changed, you have. And that's totally justified. People can change. You can evolve and think differently.

Where did this story start off in your mind?
I happened to meet Matthew Robbins, who is now a friend, at a film school Mira Nair had started. We were all there as mentors. He has written for Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino. We thought we should work on a film together. And he researched and came up with this part of World War II - Indians fighting each other...

What gave him the idea that it stopped after the war?
(Laughs) True. But this story started there. We don't read much about India's engagement with the world.

We are not really very aware of what happened in the world in those years. Is it because for us, the 1940s sort of are all about what happened in 1947? The magnitude of what happened across the globe is some what lost to us. Our sole moment of military valour in the line of national pride in a very long time, the INA, becomes a romantic peg for our memories...
That's perhaps true. We have not been a very belligerent nation, for a long time, agar dekha jai. Bashir Badr sahab ka sher hai, 'Dil ki basti purani Dilli hai, jo bhi guzra hai usne loota hai'. Everyone who came this side... Spiritually, we talk about the transience of the body, of the soul being immortal, but we have not been so forthcoming about laying down the body in defence of the country. And we sometimes explain it as this was a land of peace, of the Buddha. We will hesitate to say that well, this is how it was, we did not manage to do very well militarily and all these invaders, up to the British, did defeat us and thereby ruled this land. We don't reconcile with history.

Or we look to rewrite it - as we are perhaps trying to do with Haldighati currently?
But that way, we will never evolve as a nation. We can't say that hum khud nahin badlenge, apni history badal denge!

If you had to summarise the larger picture - keep aside the personalities of your key characters - what is the conflict within this story you are narrating?
The one deep question, I think, which stays, is - which philosophy was better: Gandhi or Bose? And it isn't as simple as non-violence and violence. I have raised the point in the film - I question myself also. My enemy's enemy is my friend, perhaps, but on that account, was it right, in retrospect, to shake hands with Hitler? Having said that, everyone spoke about the brutalities of the Germans but it is not as if the British were not brutal in how they ruled us. Was Jallianwala Bagh not equally brutal as killing someone in a gas chamber? Did people know of the concentration camps when we were reaching out to Germany? Some writers are of the view that resorting to a fast unto death to press for any political point is also a form of violence. What we call passive-aggressive now, perhaps. When we do that in a family, we describe it as emotional blackmail. I also heard Osho talking about this once, that the Gandhian way of protesting was not necessarily non-violent.

Some British historians have spoken of Imphal-Kohima as being the decisive battle of WWII, ahead of even Stalingrad, given that the expansion of the Japanese westwards stopped at this point geographically. If it had gone the other way, if the INA had been more than a romantic story and part of an actual military success - there are many who say that a Bose-led India would have been a more structured, disciplined, militaristic state after independence than what we became. You have a point of view on that after your re search for Rangoon?
Yes, this is what people say... But when any military-controlled system has taken power here, it has not given it up easily, as you can see from the subcontinent. The point I think is not that, of a more militarised India. The point is what Bose was - in the romanticised, charismatic way he had a dream and he worked to wards that dream. And it was quite possible at the time when he was trying to work with the Germans and the Japanese that they may win the war. Those possibilities and Bose's charisma make this a story that still engages us. If just a harder state was aspirational, even the Emergency would have been something people are nostalgic about.

Gandhiji advocated non-violence as a primary philosophy; Bose thought of that as passivity and advocated the use of violence when necessary. The question of which ideology is -or was -correct, and which is relevant to India, hasn't been a debate resolved conclusively to this day, has it? Are you taking a position or are you also going to play it safe? At the point when Haider was releasing, you had made the point that we are so touchy about our leaders that any attempt to make a realistic movie about anyone is bound to get the filmmaker beaten up. Is that why, even in placing a movie in the pre-independence INA phase, you're barely talking about Gandhi or Bose, neither in the movie nor in your interactions?
We take everything personally, you know. Hum retrospective mein jaa kar bhi evolve nahin hote hai. Yeh nahin ki mud ke dekhein ki woh cheez sahi thi ya galat thi, as a nation, accept karein, ya open discussion karein. We can agree to disagree. But that doesn't happen. Our attitude is that either you agree with me or I kill you. This is a major problem with how we handle things as a society. This is really frustrating for us filmmakers.

So what you want to say, and what you say on screen - there's always going to be a gap there?
Haan, because you always have to be cautious. Freedom of expression ki baat is always questionable. Aap itna keh sakte hain or itna nahi keh sakte hain.

Kitna keh sakte hain?
Aap utna keh sakte hain jitne mein aap zinda reh sakein. Nahi toh aap ko patak denge. Dekhiye what happened with Bhansali. People get in and beat you over an imaginary sequence about perhaps an imaginary person. We see people as Gods. A leader, a king is also a human being and will also have human weaknesses. But we will believe ki woh idols hain, woh galat ho hi nahin sakte hain.

When do we get to see strong, incisive, probing movies on Nehru, Bose, Patel? Why don't we have a definite biographical movie on almost anyone of political consequence for this country?
You can't show them as humans. You can't show them falling in love. The problem is not that we can't make movies on our leaders. We can. The problem is that the state doesn't give us protection. There are many platforms today, or you can choose not release a film in India, not even need to raise funds in India. The simple problem is that physically, I am not given protection by the state. I am not saying give me Z category security because I made a film. But I am not willing to lose my sense of freedom. I am not ready for that, and so I will not pay that price to make a movie.

What will you do then?
I don't want to be a political voice. I don't want to change the world. I want to change myself first. As you grow older and you mature, you realise that you have so many flaws. I would rather work to change myself, internally . Why do I need to change the world?