After “Mulk” (2018), “Article 15” (2019), “Thappad” (2020) and “Anek” (2022), filmmaker Anubhav Sinha is back with “Bheed,” another hard-hitting film that shines a light on the fabric of Indian society.
The film is set during the 2020 Indian pandemic lockdown and tells the poignant story of migrant workers stranded without basic necessities while trying to go home to their villages. Shot in black and white, it is deliberately evocative of the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan when people were uprooted from their homes in the largest migration in history.
“When the pandemic hit, people were seeking help on Twitter. Everybody had different strengths so we were helping each other and, and I really got sucked into it. And that was the time when I felt that this film had to be made, this period of time has to be recorded, and I didn’t want it to be just a Coronavirus film,” Sinha told Variety. “I’ve put in a Bob Marley quote in the beginning of the film, ‘If you know your history, then you would know where you coming from’.”
Sinha says that India has seen some trying times but the country somehow ends up sticking together. “At a time where we were betraying each other in India, people were firing their house help, factory workers were being fired, the exodus started like that and people started walking to their homes,” Sinha said. “A whole lot of good things happened in that process, people were distributing food and whatnot. And a whole lot of fault lines within our society got really exposed. And this is something that that needs to be reiterated again and again, and maybe then some percentage of the younger generation will pick it up. And they’ll see it and they’ll start correcting it.”
“Bheed” is from Sinha’s Benaras Mediaworks, which is backed by Bhushan Kumar’s T-Series and has an overseas distribution deal with Reliance Entertainment. Benaras’ thriller film “Afwah,” starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bhumi Pednekar and directed by Sudhir Mishra (“Tanaav”) is ready for release.
In the works is a small town love story “Bachpan Ka Pyar” by Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann (“Chaman Bahaar”) and a love story from Mishra titled “Swaha.” Sri Lal Shukla’s political satire novel “Raag Darbari,” a classic of Indian literature, is being adapted as a series by Mishra and Sinha. The novel was previously adapted for Indian state channel Doordarshan in 1986.
Anthology film “Be Positive” has segments by Hansal Mehta, Sinha and Mishra, all of which are complete, with a fourth, by Ketan Mehta, in the works.
There are also plans to make films with Anurag Kashyap and Subhash Kapoor. And, between October 2023 and December 2024, Sinha will direct three films.
The period beginning with “Mulk” marks a new phase in Sinha’s career. The filmmaker previously directed music videos and Bollywood blockbusters including “Tum Bin” (2001), “Dus” (2005) and “Ra.One” (2011), a big budget sci-fi extravaganza headlined by Shah Rukh Khan.
“Today, ‘Ra.One’ is a hit, but when it released, they called it a flop. That was a time when the industry wanted Shah Rukh to fail, because they couldn’t deal with this size. Then ‘Tum Bin 2’ failed,” Sinha said. “Then I said, ‘No. I’ll make films for the man that I was.’ And then I could revert to that individual. This is roughly the time the Indian political landscape was changing quite dramatically. This is also the time that I started reading again, after like, at least 20 years.”
The combination of these circumstances and also reconnecting with his core group of friends, including Hansal Mehta, Mishra, Kashyap and Vishal Bhardwaj, who he had lost touch with during his years in mainstream Bollywood, led Sinha to reinvent himself. Mehta’s “Shahid” (2012), about crusading human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi, was a source of inspiration for Sinha.
On the ethos of Benaras, Sinha said: “Benaras is not about excel sheets, Benaras is about pure love – I love the individual, I want to make a film with them. If they are desperately wanting to make that film and I more than reasonably liked the story or the script, I will go all out to make sure that the film gets converted into reality.”
“Bheed,” which stars Rajkummar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, Pankaj Kapur, Ashutosh Rana, Dia Mirza, Virendra Saxena, Aditya Shrivastava, Kritika Kamra and Karan Pandit, releases theatrically on March 24.
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