Was Aishwarya at any point of time a little wary to do the film considering your sleazy filmmaker image created by the media?
Fortunately for me, Aishwarya had seen Bawandar on TV and liked it. I am sure many of her so called well wishers must have warned her of my "unsavoury" reputation, but she stood by her conviction and never questioned my authority as director. She had also met me in person before saying yes and hopefully that dispelled some of her doubts as it did when I met Nandita for Bawandar who gave me quite a run around before saying yes because of my so called 'sleazy' image created by the media. I thought Nandita winning the Best Actress Award in Santa Monica and Bawandar getting Best Picture Award in 15 film festivals worldwide would put an end to that perception; but alas, some members of the media still want to harp on the same thing. Deepti's award winning performance in Kamla; Nandita's award winning performance in Bawandar and now (from the reaction at all festival screenings) Aishwarya's award worthy performance in Provoked will hopefully finally convince the skeptics once for all that these are no flukes directed by a 'sleazy' filmmaker.
Give us a gist of the story of Provoked
It is a multi-layered story. First part is a story of love and betrayal when a young girl, Kiranjit, from a village in Punjab comes to London after an arranged marriage looking forward to being cherished, loved and respected by her husband only to find brutality and abuse - physical, verbal and emotional. Ten years of this betrayal eventually snaps her mentally and she sets him on fire while he is asleep. Second part is a story of female bonding when serving a life sentence for murder in a women's prison in London, she finds a mentor in her English cell mate who nurtures her, heals her, guides her and makes her blossom as a human being. The third part is a story of triumph when a small motley group of under-funded idealist social workers called Southall Black Sisters appeal the case of Kiranjit in Royal Court and succeed in changing the British law with the help of a senior British Queen's Counsel. These three parts are intertwined in a multi-layered drama which unfolds on the screen like a thriller.
Don't you think Naveen Andrews is an underrated actor with immense talent?
I agree. Naveen's restrained yet menacing performance as a brutally abusive spouse sends chills down your spine. Even though of Indian descent, he has grown up in England and learned his craft of acting in the western schools and is now finally getting his due with the immense popularity of his character in the popular American TV series, LOST.
What role does Nandita Das play in the film?
She plays a character called Radha Dalal, leader of the Southall Black Sisters; who is a firebrand outspoken feminist; an idealist who wears her heart on her sleeves. In Bawandar, she was the victim; in Provoked, she is the saviour.
Tell us about the foreign actors in the cast and their characterization.
Miranda Richardson plays Ronnie, Aishwarya's cell mate in prison who after some initial apprehension takes her under her wings and mentors her education and growth. Their bonding and love is what gives the story a whole different dimension. Rebecca Pidgeon plays the solicitor who argues her case in crown court and loses. Robbie Coltrane plays Miranda's step-brother and a well known Queen's counsel who argues Aishwarya's case in appeals court and succeeds in getting her conviction changed from Murder to Manslaughter, in the process changing the definition of Provocation in British law. Steve Mcfadden plays a racist detective who interrogates Aishwarya bullying her to confession; Nicholas Irons plays a sympathetic constable and Deborah Moore plays a prison mate.
To what extent has Provoked stuck to the real life story?
The film is factually accurate. All the dates, the incidents, the legal points are taken from court documents and Kiranjit's own recollections as described in her book. Where the film takes cinematic liberty is in compositing characters, inventing dialogue and in physical resemblance of actors with real people. Since the film is not a documentary but a feature and since what is important is to capture the spirit of Kiranjit and not replicate her looks and mannerisms; those liberties are taken to tell the story in a forceful and dramatic manner. In the ultimate analysis, the film has to represent all Kiranjits who have suffered silently in the name of family honour and who have been subjected to domestic violence at the hands of their spouses.
What scope does a film like this have for music, esp. when A.R.Rahman is composing?
Music plays a very significant role in a film like this because it becomes the unspoken language of emotion. The mental state of the protagonist who is not in a position to verbalize it, gets an expression through subtle appropriate underscore. Its presence or lack of it, manipulates the emotions of the audience at a sub-conscious level and is a very important tool for a film maker to effectively tell his or her story. In our cinema in Bollywood, we equate music with songs which are items which punctuate a story and are primarily used as promotional tools for TV spots. A catchy tune with foot tapping rhythm, along with saucy lyrics and a well choreographed dance number is what we consider the scope for music. In a film like Provoked, such a treatment will disrupt and dilute the drama. I have used an English song composed by Rahman, written and sung by Karen David on the end credit scroll, as it sums up the feelings of a victim of abuse searching for hope. I have shot a music video of it to wrap it around some dramatic clips from the film for TV promotion. AR Rahman's background has greatly enhanced the impact of my film as he has organically created it from the underlying themes of the story.