Madhur Bhandarkar's penchant for realism resurfaces in "Traffic Signal" again, which has opened to mix reviews. He shot a traditional Marathi 'lavani' song with all 60 characters of the film.
What's more, the special song was shot with real practitioners of the art and not the usual item girls from Bollywood.
"I keep remembering all those fabulous lavanis in V. Shantaram's cinema. It's been ages since we had a lavani dance in our films. I think the last truly remarkable lavani was 'Main mirchi kolhapur ki' in Umesh Mehra's 'Ashanti' where Zeenat Aman, Shabana Azmi and Parveen Babi danced.
"It was also the last song that Lataji (Mangeshkar) and Ashaji (Bhosle) sang together. I wanted that excitement to surge forward in my lavani," Bhandarkar told IANS.
He was nervous before the release, but confident the film will appeal to moviegoers.
"I've given my best to 'Traffic Signal'. There are more characters in this film than all my films put together. It comes in the gritty category of 'Chandni Bar' and 'Page 3'. Unlike 'Corporate', which had an urban appeal, I think 'Traffic Signal' appeals across the line.
"And," he added shyly, "It's also my first release after the birth of my baby girl. Hence the most special."
In what could be a career-turning point, Bhandarkar decided to cast "Kalyug"'s Kunal Khemu as tough street-wise hoodlum in "Traffic Signal".
"Kunal's role is as powerful as Tabu's 'Chandni Bar'. It has as many shades. He plays a hoodlum who collects money from beggars and eunuchs," he said.
Kunal has been put through a workshop to prepare for the role. Bhandarkar had the entire schedule, including the running time of the film, which is two hours and 10 minutes, worked out from the outset.
"The entire film was shot in Karjat on a set representing a signal. Obviously we can't shoot on a real traffic signal."
The director and his writers observed any number of traffic signals in Mumbai before penning down the story.
"Just as we went to numerous beer bars for 'Chandni Bar'. A good story always works. If 'Page 3' just spoofed the characters it wouldn't have worked. The emotional journey of the characters was what worked for 'Page 3'."
The director never expected 'Page 3' to work in such a big way.
"People laughed at me. They never believed I could pull it off. After 'Chandni Bar' I made 'Satta' and 'Aan', which flopped. Though I'm proud of 'Satta', I was written off.
"Tomorrow two other films of mine may flop and they'll bury me and put a cross over my career. But I don't care," he said.
"I've made my trilogy.... the first about the cocktail circuit, the second about the business world and the last about the signal culture in Mumbai."
" 'Page 3' was the underdog of 2005. It was the first hit of the year. I was anxious to prove myself. Would the page 3 circuits come to see 'Page 3' after attending all the New Year parties? They did! I made the film with my heart and soul. My 'Aan' was as honest as 'Corporate'. At least I've the honesty to make the films I want to."
"Chandni Bar" and "Page 3", films close to reality, are Bhandarkar's forte.
"People see me as a hard-hitting filmmaker. But I'd love to make an out-and-out hardcore commercial film like 'Amar Akbar Anthony'. I'd also like to make a comedy like Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Chupke Chupke'."
"I may or may not be successful. But I'll make the films I believe in."
After "Traffic Signal" Bhandarkar will start his next film "Fashion", which is completely different in nature.
"'Fashion' for UTV is going to take me very far away from the street people of Mumbai in 'Traffic Signal'. 'Fashion' is about the ramp-walkers. It will be my first film to be shot abroad."