Filmmaker Leena Yadav who’s known for her directorial ventures with unconventional storylines – Shabd (2005) and Teen Patti (2010) – has been creating ripples across the globe with her yet another unconventional film Parched. The film, which revolves around the lives of four rural women and their struggles, has been appreciated by the audience and critics alike in international film festivals in London, Miami and Toronto. While Parched, which releases in India on September 23, is all about women emancipation, Leena is not comfortable being tagged as a woman director. “No male director is called a ‘male director,’ so why call me a ‘woman director?” she asks. Here’s Leena Yadav unplugged in an exclusive interview with Nation Next…
Being an economics graduate from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi, how did you divert to a creative field like filmmaking?
After my graduation in economics from Lady Shri Ram College, I was supposed to pursue my MBA. While I was in college, I didn’t really enjoy studying economics. I was involved in a lot of curricular activities. Just before, I was supposed to take my MBA entrance exam, I suddenly realised that I didn’t want to be stuck in a ‘9 to 5’ job! I wanted to do something else. I wanted to try my hands in the field of media. I came to Mumbai and enrolled myself in a mass communication course at Sophia College. Gradually, I entered the world of filmmaking.
Your film Parched is releasing on September 23 but you have been screening your film across international film festivals for more than a year. Is it a marketing strategy to make the film known internationally before releasing it in India?
There was no strategy involved. We wanted to screen our film at various festivals first because it’s difficult for a film like Parchedto get a commercial release outside India. Also, this is a film that we made to initiate an international debate on women issues. The world premier happened at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and since then, the international journey of the film began. We got many invitations from various international film festivals.
What should the audience expect from the film? Is it an entertainer or a film with a social message?
It’s a film that everybody would relate to. The reason why I now can say this with confidence is because Parched has been recognised worldwide. The movie will make them laugh, cry and angry. It will be like a roller coaster ride full of emotions.
Ajay Devgn is co-producing the film with your husband Aseem Bajaj. As he’s famous for being a big-hearted producer, how was working with him? Is he a director’s delight?
Ajay, more than anything, has been an immense support to the film. He’s not hands on produced the film. Despite knowing the fact that it would be a difficult film, he supported us the moment he came to know Aseem and I were doing this project. At every step, he’s guided, supported and helped us. He’s extremely large-hearted.
Nagpur based businessman Rohan Jagdale has also co-produced the film. How was your experience working with him?
Ajay (Devgn) was the first one to come and support the film. We then started raising finance. The film absolutely wouldn’t have been possible without Rohan Jagdale and Gulab Singh Tanwar too. They have been extremely supportive and have traveled to as many film festivals as possible with me. Parched was never a project.
Since there are four producers for the film Parched, did it increase your accountability as a director?
No, because all our producers came on board for this film in support of the vision. They left all the producing part actively onto Aseem. I had to deal with just one producer – Aseem. Our producers, except for him, provided us with support and made sure that nothing stops the project.
The two prominent actresses of Parched – Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla –have garnering a lot of popularity as Bollywood bombshells. Is it their image makeover of sorts because of the rural setting of the movie?
I actually never approached Radhika or Surveen for their image makeover. Both of them are brilliant actresses. Third actress in the film is Tannistha Chatterjee. We chose these three actresses because they act great.I don’t think an actress has a particular image. They are actors for a reason and they can be made to look the way you like and need.
You have done a lot of TV shows – fictional and non-fictional both. As a director, what do you enjoy more – films or TV shows?
Story telling is my job. Whether it’s television, silver screen, radio, theatre, etc, I don’t differentiate among the mediums.
Out of your three films, Shabd and Parched can be called women centric films but you don’t like to be tagged as a woman director. What is your idea of feminism?
My idea of feminism or humanism is being an individual, and being recognised as an individual only irrespective of the gender, caste, creed or religion. I’m a woman and I’m proud of it! No male director is called a ‘male director’, so why call me a ‘woman director’? Why to put me in a box?
Your films look aesthetically perfect. How much do you attribute it to your husband – ace cinematographer Aseem Bajaj?
Not just my husband, I attribute it to every artist I work with in my films because filmmaking is a collaborative art. It’s not a one-man-show. A director just has a vision, which she/he communicates with the team members.
How was working with your husband Aseem Bajaj?
Working with him hasn’t been a new thing for me. We met each other at work. He’s shot my first two earlier films too.