Meghna Gulzar is a Mumbai-based film writer and director. She began her career as chief assistant director to Saeed Akhtar Mirza on the National Award-winning Hindi feature film “Naseem” before turning director with “Filhaal” in 2002. She’s a published poet and has dabbled in documentaries as well. “Guilty” is her third feature film. (Press materials)
“Guilty,” or “Talvar,” will premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 14.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
MG: The film is a fictional dramatization of true-life events in India: A murder case that had the nation and the media riveted for years because of its changing theories, suspects and murder weapons by the various teams that investigated it. And finally a trial and verdict — the parents of the murdered girl were sentenced to life in prison.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
MG: The story of parents accused of killing their only daughter [got me interested]. Another theory pointed to domestic workers as culprits. Eventually, the parents of the murdered girl were pronounced guilty, but strangely, there remained a lack of closure and many questions were left unanswered. I was drawn to the story because I wanted to explore these grey areas.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
MG: This film is not a biopic. It is based on real-life events and is about people who are still alive. Therefore, a certain sensitivity was necessary when approaching the film.
Secondly, the case and its various investigations have differing versions.
We — Vishal Bhardwaj, who has written the film, and I — were very sure that we would keep our objectivity intact and not lead the viewer in any one particular direction.
Keeping neutrality intact — and treating the story as just a screenplay and the people as just characters — was a challenging task. Reality would have compromised my emotions. This for me was what was most challenging about this film. And what made it most exciting for me to make as well.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?
MG: I just want as many people [as possible] to see this film because it is a story that needs to be known. Besides that, l would like the viewer to arrive at their own conclusions based on all that we have presented before them.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
MG: To keep their sensitivity intact — because it is actually a strength for filmmakers, both male and female. But leave gender out of play when making a film.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
MG: If I knew, I would correct it. Ha ha. But yes, so far I’ve been associated with soft, relationship-based films. This film may break that misconception!
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
MG: My film is a studio film produced by Junglee Pictures in association with Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures.
It was not an easy path to get this film made, due to the sensitivity of the subject and the legal issues. But I guess faith and conviction helped us out — and that is what the producers had an abundance of!
Other than that, the biggest challenge was keeping it authentic, real. And for that to happen, the detailing had to be on the dot. My production design team, costume designer and most of all my cinematographer are a big reason why the visual quality of the film is what it is. For my [attention to detail], I got labelled an OCD. But it worked for the film, so I’m okay with it!
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
MG: Aparna Sen’s “Paroma,” which features my mother, Raakhee Gulzar. It’s about an ordinary housewife who falls for a visiting house guest and the repercussions of her choices. A very forward film for the ’80s. This is one of my favorites for emotional reasons as well.
Other women filmmakers I like to watch include Nora Ephron, Kathryn Bigelow, Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and all the exciting female filmmakers in the Indian film industry today: Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar and Gauri Shinde among others.