Director Madhur Bhandarkar talks about casting Prateik Babbar in India Lockdown and more

The movie, looks back at the turmoil that people went through worldwide during the pandemic. Madhur was in Kolkata for a special screening and we caught up with him for a quick chat.
A still from the shoot of India Lockdown
A still from the shoot of India Lockdown

Inspired by true events, Madhur Bhandarkar’s India Lockdown is ready to share four parallel stories of lives, people, emotions and livelihoods from when India had its first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Not an anthology, the movie, which releases today, looks back at the turmoil that people went through worldwide during the pandemic. Madhur was in Kolkata for a special screening and we caught
up with him for a quick chat.

India Lockdown, as the name suggests, is a film based on experiences during the lockdown. Why did you choose this concept?
I thought about the movie during the first lockdown in 2020, when I was observing how things were in India and globally. When India was locked down, everything happened very suddenly, and there was chaos all over. During that time I came up with 12 stories from different strata of society. But obviously, we couldn’t fit 12 stories into a film. So we kept eliminating and finally zeroed down to four stories which include one about a senior citizen (Prakash Belawadi) longing to meet his pregnant daughter in Hyderabad; a pilot (Aahana Kumra) confined to her home; a sex worker (Shweta Basu Prasad) strug-
gling to make a living and a migrant worker couple (Prateik Babbar and Sai Tamhankar) wanting to leave Mumbai and return to their village. As a filmmaker, I wanted to document what happened during the first 15-20 days of the lockdown.

Madhur Bhandarkar
Madhur Bhandarkar

Was the shoot an interesting one?

The movie was shot during February-March 2021 in just 25 days. We were just following the government protocols, shooting in a bubble, with very few hands. Every day we took COVID-19 tests, and just prayed that nobody gets infected, otherwise the shoot would have been stopped. So, we had to be very careful. And the feelings from being in a lockdown were very fresh, which helped everyone play the characters. I am happy to have been able to document some of the most beautiful and some of the most horrid things that occurred during the many subsequent lockdowns.

What made you cast a Bandra boy (Prateik Babbar) for the role of a migrant worker?
A lot of people told me that Prateik won’t be the right fit, as he is too urban, but I somehow found the character in him. Even our writer and the team were very reluctant about him. But I was convinced and that just clicked. I am so happy with the love that people are showering on him. I usually think about the character first and then the actor. Even Prateik wasn’t sure about this role and took this up as a challenge. I had cast Konkona for Page 3 at a time when nobody knew her and the same was true about Priyanka Chopra in Fashion.

Shweta Basu Prasad and Madhur
Shweta Basu Prasad and Madhur

What is your favourite genre of films?
A filmmaker should make all kinds of movies, be it horror, comedy, romantic or any other type of genre.
If you ask, I won’t be able to choose. All 15 films I have made belong to different genres, and I believe, all are my genres. I watch and explore all kinds of movies and I recently watched Kantara, Pushpa, Kashmir Files, KGF and RRR.

Most films you mentioned are from the South. Is Bollywood lagging somewhere?
For me, these are Indian films, since they represent our culture and heritage. Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu movies have strong content just like French, Italian , Spanish and Iranian films. They create
beautiful cinema. We have to consider the type of content that world cinema is creating and Bollywood
needs to work more on the content and the script. We have to understand that we are no longer competing with ourselves, but with international cinema too, thanks to OTT platforms.

(L-R) Prateik, Aahana, Madhur, Shweta and Sai
(L-R) Prateik, Aahana, Madhur, Shweta and Sai

Regional cinema often delves deep into rural India, but most Hindi movies talk about an urban
society with a focus on middle-class families. Why is that?

Filmmakers are targeting only the multiplexes and have forgotten about the interiors, where there is the mass of India. It is very necessary. In my last film Babli Bouncer and India Lockdown, I tried to portray the contrast between the two societies. Social media is very city-centric but we should not forget that the heart of India lies in our villages and that should be tapped.

Any plans to work again in Bengal?
If I get another script or story like Avijatrik, I would love to.

India Lockdown releases today on Zee5.

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