Rubaru Roshni tells three stories through interviews with the people – one, the assassination of politician Lalit Maken; second, the murder of Sister Rani Maria Vattalil; and third, the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai. The film, produced by Aamir Khan, follows the story of three individuals coming to terms with the death of their loved ones and eventually getting healed after forgiving them.
In the exclusive interview with Deccan Chronicle, director Svati Chakravarty Bhatkal talked about her experience of the film, her journey as creative person, producer Aamir Khan's involvement in the film and more. Excerpts:
Rubaru Roshni is a rare documentation of humaneness - that revolves around a virtue of forgiveness. Is that one of your core belief too?
It is very much my core belief, which has grown over the time. It is not that I started with this belief but somewhere I had been struggling for some time now to understand that there is such a cycle of violence and counter-violence going on in the world; even small things spark off, a simple thing like road-rage - a cycle will scratch a car and somebody gets killed. I was thinking how we, as human race, can find the exit from all of these because I am a peace-loving person, but I never thought about the link between peace and forgiveness. I hadn’t actually understood it. Then I came across an article in the newspaper which spoke about the story of Avnatika and there was a mention about Samundar as well and I was very struck by it and I really wanted to understand more.
At that time, I myself was not necessarily a very forgiving person but when I read that article I wondered if this can be true then this is a road or possibility or a path that we have to explore and understand. Through the journey of the film, I actually changed. I could not be the person that I was. I had been carrying a huge grudge against somebody because of something which hurt me very much. I realised that I was wrong to hold that anger and desire for attribution. And I let it go.
You have played different roles in your career – from a journalist, into publishing, television and now directing a film. Tell us about your journey as a creative person.
I started my professional life a journalist. I started as a trainee reporter with Free Press Journal, and I started pretty early when I was in the final year of my graduation. I had some disagreements with my parents during this time over my career. I asked a college friend to find me a job and he referred me to Free Press. They told me to write something and come back. So, there was some student agitation going on at that time. I wrote about it and my friend helped me to edit the copy. I went back to Free Press and they published that piece and hired me. And that’s how my journey as journalist started. I wasn’t very keen on doing journalism because I was studying Economics. But I was extremely happy doing journalism, as I learnt so much.
Later when I became a mother, I could not sustain journalistic career on field. Then I got into publishing which allowed me a little more flexibility in my career. My life has actually taken me in different directions and that’s really a good thing because there’s fluidity and freedom in my creative work. I have found that as long as my work is substantial and my output is meaningful, I am very happy in any medium.
You were creatively involved with Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate. You had earlier said that the confidence you gained from that show helped you for Rubaru Roshni. Tell us more about it.
Satyamev Jayate was one of the most enriching things to my life. I was the head of field research and also co-directed the show. When Aamir Khan was considering the idea, he asked Satya, my husband, to help him shape the show. The idea was to see what the reality throws at us rather than going out with a format. We were handful of people. Satya asked me to join the team as I was on the break from my job at that time. We all took one-one topic to research with 2-3 of us. I was given the topic of female feticide. I picked up the camera and started travelling around India. I started moving around and talking with the women at many informal places such as temple, marketplace, social gathering or wherever I got the opportunity to speak with these women. I being a woman and a mother, it was very heartbreaking to hear what all they are going through.
During all this while, I learnt how to use a camera with my cameraman Shanti Bhushan Roy. He has now also collaborated with me on Rubaru Roshni as DOP. We both travelled across India for 40 days and I had no clue about shooting but I learnt quite a lot. We came back with our material and shaped into a kind of documentation and that became the basis for the first episode of Satyameva Jayate.
When the show went on-air, I strongly realised the power of audio-visual medium in changing mindsets. For next four years, I was doing lot of shooting and I also learned technicalities of the medium. When I was gathering stories for Rubaru Roshni, I decided to make it in documentary style because people would not believe the authenticity of the stories otherwise.
What propelled you to make this film?
When I first read these stories in the newspaper, I wanted to meet these people, know their truth and find out more about their lives. Once I met them, there was no stopping. I just knew that I must do it.
Aamir had said that he find this film very introspective in nature. Were you always intended to do so?
I think whatever the film has turned out into, the major credit for it goes to the people who have spoken in the film. If they had not spoken the way they spoke, the film would not be introspective. It became introspective because they have been introspective. It mainly because of the nature of the conversations we had that have guided the tone of the film. I never set out to make an introspective film, I just wanted to tell these stories with complete honesty. The people in the film have actually shaped the film.
What kind of inputs Aamir Khan gave to the project?
Aamir was a solid support. I was feeling that these stories are really important to tell and both Aamir and Kiran felt the same way. That worked as a great confidence boost for me. I was able to refer to both of them at various point of time on creative decisions. Wherever I felt stuck or wherever I needed their help, I relied on them. My editor Hemanti Sarkar had multiple ideas about how to cut the material. She is very experienced and extremely good at her job. We used to discuss our ideas with Aamir and Kiran, and get their inputs in so many things. It was really amazing to know that there is such proactive team behind you.
The film is steer clear of making any sort of political commentary on the political events. Was that a conscious decision?
The film is about the stories of these people. It is mainly about human lives. Sure, there are certain political events in the stories and they are very much present in the film. If I had to inject political commentary into the narrative, the film would be little artificial. All I wanted to do is to tell their stories with conviction. I am nobody to make any political commentary.
What is the single most gratifying aspect of doing a film like this?
I got to meet some really amazing people. I have become friends with all the people I met during the making of this film. It is such a privilege to be able to get a deep glimpse into anyone’s life. It is an honour for me when somebody shares their stories. Secondly, I started the journey of this film when I was 50 year old and the film has come out when I am 54. So, to have a debut at this age with a piece of work which is receiving so much of love is just incredible. I am full of gratitude. Everyday I am getting lots of messages, e-mails, reading articles where people are saying positive things. One person found sister Selmi’s convent and went to meet her to tell how her story impacted on his life. All this is really wonderful.
What message you would like the viewers to take away from Rubaru Roshni?
I just want every viewer to take away exactly what they feel. I have been very clear about one thing that there is no hammering of any single message. Every life is different; every single human being’s experience is different. Say when I read a book or you read a book, something different will strike each one of us. That’s the beauty of life that there so many shades to it. I have no desire that you take away this and you take away that. As long as you go away with feeling that you got something, I am satisfied.