Tahaan, Santosh Sivan knows better. "We refer to people with a dim intellect or to people whom we want to insult as a gadhaa. But the donkey is an intelligent creature. I think our society and our movies have been terribly unfair to the donkey. While horses, dogs and even snakes are eulogized in our movies, donkeys are always ridiculed."
And now Santosh wants to make another film where the donkey could be seen as more than the stereotypical beast of burden. "I found my donkey Birbal in Tahaan to be as intelligent as some of my human actors. I want to write a film revolving around him." Speaking even as the glowing reviews for Tahaan pour in, Santosh says, "Believe me, it wasn't hard directing the child Purav Bhandare or the donkey. I don't think we've had a film where a donkey plays a pivotal part. We've had donkeys, snakes and elephants. Donkeys have always been the underdogs. People use gadhaa as a derogatory term when they're intelligent creatures. I've directed animals before, a poodle in Halo for example." Sivan says getting the donkey was the hard part, and not directing it.
"There're no donkeys in Kashmir except in one village called Sirhome. Once we got this observant donkey, I handed it over to Purav. Children love to shoulder responsibilities and they take them very seriously. Have you seen little girls how they mother their dolls?" To Purav Birbal was his personal project. "The donkey would react only to Purav's commands. Since that's what the film required, it worked to our advantage."
The donkey according to Santosh is a metaphor for the reality of Kashmir. "Donkeys have eyesight that sees in a circumference of 360 degrees. I wanted to make Birbal the mute spectator of all that is happening in the Valley."
Santosh says he didn't want to make a grim film about militancy. "I wanted to keep the tone light. That's why even when we hear guns and bomb blasts the narrative doesn't lose its innocence. The militants are not your typical extremists. The ones you are see are ambivalent in personality and motives. I didn't want the story to get heavy-hearted." Miraculously, Tahaan looks big-budgeted when it is relatively a smaller film. "That's because being behind the camera, I can see the frames in the most advantageous light possible. Maybe that's why people say my films look opulent when the budget is not that high. Even Asoka with Shahrukh Khan was made to look epic in scale from behind the camera."