Anubhav Sinha THUNDERS The Censor Experience of Bheed And Afwaah hasn’t been great

Anubhav Sinha THUNDERS “The censor experience of Bheed and Afwaah hasn’t been great. It was almost UNFAIR. The only option to seek justice is to go to the courts But that is an expensive and time consuming process”

In the first five months of 2023, Anubhav Sinha managed to release as many as three films in cinemas. Faraaz, directed by Hansal Mehta, was the first release. This was followed by his directorial venture, Bheed, based on the sufferings of the migrants in the lockdown. Afwaah, directed by Sudhir Mishra, was recently released. These films didn’t click at the box office but got massive acclaim from most moviegoers and critics. Anubhav Sinha was in a relaxed mood as he spoke exclusively, being one of the few brave voices in the industry and a lot more.

Your film, Afwaah, directed by Sudhir Mishra, was released on May 5. Interestingly, I have not come across a single person who has not liked the film. It got a unanimous positive response…
It’s beautiful to know. I wish more people had gone to the theatres to see it. But people are not going to the cinemas. What to do?

Do you feel Afwaah’s release in cinemas was too limited?
Yes, it was less than what should have ideally been. But then releasing a film has become so expensive, which is a discussion for another day. So yes, it wasn’t as many shows and as many screens as I would have liked. I guess, every film has its economics.

Also, it’s not like the shows were running packed on the first day of release. If there was an encouraging response from people on the release day, then increasing the number of shows would have been a phone call away. Unlike the good old days when we had to send physical prints, now it’s easier. Sadly, the theatrical response, whether it is for Afwaah or Bheed, wasn’t as encouraging that shows could be increased from Saturday onwards.

I guess it takes time for word to spread…
That’s not practical. If a film is running with three shows on a Friday and if those films are not doing well, the exhibitor doesn’t even ask you. He’ll simply reduce the show count. It’s beyond my control.

Faraaz also didn’t do well in cinemas but got a new lease of life on Netflix. Do you think that the same would happen with Bheed and Afwaah?
I hope so, with my fingers crossed. There was so much conversation around Bheed. It received fantastic reviews and response from those who saw it. So, I am hoping it gets viewership (on OTT).

Post-pandemic, do you feel the box-office scenario has changed? Thappad (2020) was released just before the lockdown and it collected Rs. 30 crores, despite the conventional subject. Do you feel Bheed and Afwaah would have fared better at the box office before 2020?

I don’t know. I keep asking other people these days, ‘If we release Article 15 (2019) now, will it work the way it did in 2019?’ Nobody has the answer. No one knows what’s going on!

2 years ago, you said in an interview that the Censor Board has been kind to you…
Not lately though!

I went through the cut list of both Afwaah and Bheed. Afwaah suffered innumerable cuts. As for Bheed, its list of cuts was shocking. Words like ‘Tablighi Jamaat’, ‘Corona Jihad’ etc. were deleted though they were important to the film’s narrative. Your thoughts?
The censor experience of Bheed and Afwaah hasn’t been great. It was almost unfair.

And now you cannot even go to the FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal) aka the tribunal…
…Because there’s no tribunal. The biggest tragedy behind removing the tribunal is that now the only option to seek justice is to go to the courts. But going to court is so expensive and time-consuming. You have no control over when the hearing will be done or when the decision will be given. Even Faraaz went through its own journey of court cases. We never used it to publicize our film. And it was awfully expensive.

Was Afwaah delayed because of the Censor process? It was supposed to be released in March…
Yes. Afwaah and Bheed were almost together at the CBFC. We had to finish one battle first and then proceed to the other.

Do these experiences stress you out? Going forward, will you still make the film you want to make?
Oh yes. I’ve been like this for 9 years!

It is said that there’s a lot of emphasis on the box office. If a film doesn’t work, it doesn’t get the respect…
I don’t agree. On the contrary, a little later in time, it absolutely ceases to matter ki film ne box office pe kitna kiya tha. Uske baad film ki izzat zinda rehti hai. Do you know how much my first film Tum Bin (2001) collected? It ran in cinemas only for a week.

Maybe that was a different time. I am talking about the present-day scenario…
No. During those days, films would run for 15-20 weeks. There were no theatres for us. Also, Sholay (1975) did not do well in the first week. But those were the days when the exhibitors would hold on to the film. They would wait for the audience to get a whiff of what the film is. Nowadays, it’s very instant. If the 6 o’clock show doesn’t work, the theatre might cancel the 9 o’clock show. So, the exhibition sector has to reinvent itself. We have said enough about the kinds of films being made. But we haven’t talked about the exhibition, the cost of releasing a film, the method of the exhibition and some sort of monopoly in the exhibition sector.

Recently, there were reports of challenges in the exhibition sector and PVR and Inox shutting down around 50 cinemas…
Yes. The exhibition sector will have to work with the production sector. We cannot not hold hands. We will have to hold hands.

Do you know Mulk (2018) didn’t go great at the box office? It did just about fine. But in the life of a film, the box office is the most minuscule factor that people remember. People would remember a film for its dialogue more than the box office. I have seen people say, ‘Yaar, who film mein kya dialogue tha’ or ‘Woh film mein kya gaana tha’ and not ‘Woh film ka kya box office tha’! So a little later in the life of a film, the weekend is immaterial. What’s important is how long the people will continue to relate to that film. That timelessness of an art is what matters.

What next?
I don’t know. I am working on some stories. I have been so busy. I just released Afwaah and now I will sit out and figure out

You have an anthology coming up. Will it be out in cinemas or on OTT?
Yes. It’s called Be Positive. It’ll be out on digital. It was never meant to be a theatrical release.

When will it be released?
We are figuring it out.

Do you think that in the days to come, it’ll be more difficult for filmmakers like you to have your own voice?
We’ll see. We’ll take it as it comes. Every time we move from one film to another, these talks come up. But then you can’t pre-empt a tragedy. You can only keep guessing and cross the bridge when we get there. Will I change my route to avoid the bridge? No. I would cross that bridge and then we’ll see.