An interview with 72 Hoorain director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan on the struggles in making the movie

An interview with 72 Hoorain director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan on the struggles in making the movie

The film ‘72 Hoorain‘, made on the problem of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, was released today. Produced by Gulab Singh Tanwar and directed by Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan, the movie actually premiered in 2019, at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa under the Indian Panorama section, where the movie won the ICFT-UNESCO GANDHI MEDAL Special Mention. After that, director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan won the Swarna Kamal award for best direction for the movie 72 Hoorain, also known as Bahattar Horain, at the 2021 National Film Awards.

Despite such critical acclaim, the makers of the film had to go through many rounds of struggles in the 11 years since they started making it. Now the film has reached the theatres today and it is getting good reviews as well as love from the audience. OpIndia spoke to ’72 Hoorain’ director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan on the issues and challenges he faced while making the film.

Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan is a film director as well as a screenwriter. He is known for the 2010 film ‘Lahore’, for which he won the National Award for Best Debut Film Director. He won the Best Adapted Story award at IIFA for the film ’83’ in 2022, which was made on India’s cricket World Cup victory in 1983. He has also been a member of the jury of national awards and IFFI.

Here is the transcript of the interview with Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan.

Question 1: The film ’72 Hoorain’ took 11 years to be made and released. After all, what is the reason for this? For more than a decade, you had to go through a period of struggle.

Answer: We have been working on it for a long time – from the idea to the writing of the story, the process took a long time. It often happens that when we do some non-conventional work, there is a problem with funds. Our producers were working on something like this for the first time. Gulab Singh was producing this film, and then Ashoke Pandit came and joined it.

Gulab Singh was funding this film. During this time, the work stopped for some reason or other. At times, actors would also back down because they feared that they would be opposed, they would face problems because, after all, they will be the face of the film. It happened a couple of times.

We thought of completing it quickly, but it took time even in that hurry. After this, we went to actor Pawan Malhotra. He was busy with other things at that time. He said that he wants to work in this film, but will have to wait a bit. It must have been around 2014-15. Pawan Malhotra was busy with films he had already confirmed.

The film’s shooting could not be completed in time, we will shoot some parts, then some problem will appear. But, more than shooting, the main problem appeared in post-production. The film was ready. There were a lot of challenges. It took a long time to deal with them.

Gulab Singh was making the film with his own money, there was no backing of any studio etc. The big production houses do not put their hands on this kind of hard-hitting content. We were running the business by outsourcing various jobs to different people.

Finally, in 2019, our film was ready and was to be screened at the Indian Panorama Film Festival as well. We were ready by July 2019, but unfortunately, when we were ready, the Covid-19 pandemic engulfed the world. We had to go to many film festivals around the world. During and even after Covid-19, people were so upset for some time that they were not ready for such a hard-hitting film.

Then when theatres reopened and the number of moviegoers began to grow, we started looking for distributors and exhibitors. But we did not find any. Then we decided to distribute it on a small scale ourselves. That’s when Vipul Amrutlal Shah, the producer of ‘The Kerala Story’, came forward and took the lead in distribution. His company and his office got involved in it. They want such films to reach the audience.

After this, Ashok Pandit also joined us, who helped us a lot in taking the post-production forward. They used their contacts. Since the beginning of this year, we have been thinking of releasing it, but experts are consulted on when to release a film. All this took so much time.

Question 2: You said that many actors backed out of this film. Who are the so-called A-lister actors of Bollywood, or whether sometimes the script is written keeping special actors in mind? What these challenges were like?

Answer: One thing was clear, those who are called the top actors of the film industry will not do such films. They have their own thinking and they do a certain kind of cinema, commercial films. They have an image, according to which they choose projects. Then comes the better actors, who play the character in a great way and leave an impression on the people, but many of them were not ready to do this film, because they felt the threat to their careers. Some of those who even got ready backed out at the end minute. They started saying that they are not comfortable doing this film, their family not comfortable, etc. They said that if some untoward incidents happen, they will start getting threats.

Question 3: The government changed in the country after 2014. Did you feel any difference between the two periods while making your film? Has the atmosphere changed?

Answer: We started work on ’72 Hoorain’ long ago, much before 2014. But, it took us time. Our struggle continued unabated, lasting more than a decade. After 2014, there has been a slight difference, which benefited ‘The Kashmir Files’ or ‘The Kerala Story’. It also made a difference that people showed enthusiasm, people started going to see such a film. Conventional production houses or studios do not back such films by calling them non-commercial, nor do they want to make films on these issues. However, people said that if you show the truth, we will come to see your film. This has given us distributors and they also have confidence that people will come to see this film.

Question 4: The discussion about the film ’72 Hoorain’ will continue, but during this time people will also want to know when you started making this film and during the struggle of 11 years so far, did the family received threats etc. or did someone in the family express some fear?

Answer: I live with my wife in Mumbai, my parents have passed away. At first, no one knew what was happening in this film. As soon as it came to be released, the threats started. My wife didn’t know much about the film in detail. Now when threats are coming, it is natural to have trouble, there is always concern.

Question 5: What is the reason for keeping the film black and white? This does not seem to be an ordinary thing, it seems that there must have been some intellectual discussion behind it. We would like to know more about this.

Answer: This is the way to tell the story or narrative of the film. 2 souls, 2 dead people who don’t have a body… To see the world and colour, the eyes and the body are needed. You need skin to feel rain or something like that. But, when you do not have a biological body and you are moving around without it, then you are not able to see anything. Colours are gone from your life, feelings are gone. Because this world is very beautiful and you know it when you open your eyes, paradise is here, not when you close your eyes.

For those who don’t have a body, Black and White tries to say it from their perspective to those who have no colour left in their lives.

Question 6: There have been many such films about Hinduism, in which different types of messages are given. Reformist films are made and good and bad things are told about religion. The special thing is that most Hindu producers and directors have made such films. But why doesn’t a Muslim producer or director try to make a film on the evils in Islam? That too when many Muslim directors are at the top in Bollywood.

Answer: I also had a discussion with Ashoke Pandit and Gulab Singh on this. Both of them also said that when evils happen in society, over time, films are made, discussions are held, and people talk about them. If this is the problem in my country, of terrorism, why can’t I talk about it? How can you stop me from doing this? Our own filmmakers have spoken about a lot of things from child marriage to sati and caste system.

But, what kind of a different law have you made that it cannot be talked about? It is repeated time and again that terrorism has no religion, and then suddenly they start talking about targeting religion. We are clear from the beginning that we are only talking about terrorism, you watch the film and react to it. We are not experts in your affairs. You get 32, you get 72, you get 94, we have no objection. But this method is wrong for what you are doing. This is what has been shown in this film, humanity has been talked about. This film is about the country’s interests. There is a national problem, it has been talked about.

Question 7: The spread of radicalisation among the youth is a major problem. The trailer of the film ’72 Hoorain’ also shows that this problem has been touched upon in it. What do you think is the cause and diagnosis of the problem of radicalisation of youth? You have done a lot of research while making the film, so we would like to know your experience.

Answer: I feel that when you mislead someone, deceive someone, by making excuses for any situation in society, some people use a conspiracy to fulfil their intentions, and manipulate them. Before an AK-47 comes into anyone’s hands, an idea is put in his mind. The concepts of Jannat and Shahadat are planted in them. There have been many people who have been Kasabs or other terrorists, during interrogation it is revealed that many terrorists mentioned ’72 Hoors’. They are given special training, in which they are told what they will get after death. They themselves have told about this in the interrogations.

Question 8: The trailer of the film ’72 Hoorain’ had a lot of trouble in getting a certificate from the Censor Board and during this time some scenes of the film were asked to be removed. What would you like to say about this controversy?

Answer: In fact, the film was passed by the Censor Board in 2019 and we got an A certificate. After making some changes and trimming the film, everything was done under a certain process. We had to go to film festivals, that’s why we got it passed by the censor. I think the job was over. At that time, we were not ready for release, so the trailer was not made.

Now that the release was planned, work on the trailer started. We made a good trailer. Then we applied to pass it in the Censor Board in Delhi on June 18, 2023, because the film was also censored from Delhi. Then we were told that the film has been screened. Trailers are usually released a month before the release of the film, 10 days is very short. That’s why, we had to change the release date of the trailer.

It was to be released in PVR on June 26, but then it was decided to do it on June 28. This news also appeared in the media. That afternoon, the censor board sent us a letter saying we will pass it on to you, but you have to cut off these scenes (like a scene with a corpse’s foot and the Quranic words). Our argument was that the trailer has the same scenes which have already been passed in the film by the censor board. Then why we were asked to remove them?

Secondly, when the trailer was ready for release, why we were told this at the last minute, could have been told earlier also. We already had less time. If you say 1 day in advance, then how can it be edited and submitted in a day? There are many processes involved. In order to complete these, the release date of the film would have been missed. So, we released the trailer on digital and we couldn’t take it to theatres. This shows that some things should be done in such a way that it causes the least trouble for the people. There is already a lot of struggles in making a film, if the problems are increased above it, then it is not right.

Question 9: What project will you work on after the film ’72 Hoorain’? What’s the next project on your mind, what preparations are on?

Answer: I am working on a few things, but I have not yet finalised which project will be taken ahead. As soon as something is finalised, I will talk about it myself.

In the trailer of the film ’72 Hoorain’, it was shown how a Maulana is saying that ‘you have chosen the path of righteousness and jihad, it will lead you to paradise’. As the film’s director Sanjay Puran Singh told, the film talks about the problem of terrorism. It is not new that in many speeches, maulanas have often provoked people and said that if they adopt the path of ‘jihad’ for Islam, they will get ’72 Hoors’. Many are lured by revealing the characteristics of these Hoors, or Houris, the mythical women who live in the paradise as per Islam.

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