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Azamgarh Maker Kamlesh K Mishra Refutes Pankaj Tripathi’s Claim About His Film, ‘To Say, He Plays A Cameo Is….’

Kamlesh K Mishra came into limelight when his documentary short ‘Madhubani-The Station Of Colours’ won the National Award in 2019. In addition to that, his fictional short film Kitaab had won several laurels across film-festivals in India as well as abroad. Now, Kamlesh has channeled all his creativity into his debut feature film Azamgarh that stars Pankaj Tripathi.

However, the road hasn’t been easy for Kamlesh. Earlier this year, Pankaj Tripathi objected over the usage of his face in the promotional poster. Not only that, the Mimu actor had sent a legal notice to Kamlesh over alleged claims that he played a cameo and the film was promoted with the perspective that Pankaj plays a pivotal role. Kamlesh K Mishra has clarified about this controversy in an exclusive interview with News18 Showsha. Read through the excerpts to know more:

Tell us about the journey of Azamgarh, how did you conceptualize the story?

If you remember, there was a Batla encounter in Delhi. During the investigation of that encounter, Delhi police had nabbed a Maulvi for suspicious activities. It was said that this Maulvi was brainwashing young guys from UP and Bihar who had come to Delhi to prepare for medical and engineering entrance test. He’ll bring them to Delhi by luring then with coaching opportunities. And those whol’ll get radicalised by him, he’ll send them forward to train in Kashmir. I had read this news and I had also read another piece of news that said A young Muslim guy from Azamgarh had scored good numbers in his boards and aspires to become big in his career. So the seeds of my movie was derived from these two news stories. I remember the terror activities those days were on an all time high and those who used to get caught were either from Azamgarh or had some connection to that city. And if you take into cognizance the 9/11 incident and 26/11 incident, everyone was scared and anxious about terrorism. I had completed the script in 2010.

What are your thoughts on the controversy that took place with Pankaj Tripathi in the aftermath?

When we had narrated the script to Pankaj Tripathi, he was still in his struggle phase. I was also struggling. But my struggle is still going on whereas he has established himself as a talented film-star. So it could be that he thought that since he was working with such big names, big directors, if he get associated with Kamlesh Mishra, his stature will dramatically reduce. Otherwise, like you can see in the film, his role is a major one and he appears 1/3 of the film. And since the story revolves around a ‘maulvi’ and an ‘unsuspecting kid’, Pankaj Tripathi plays the role of the former. To say I play a cameo is misguiding people, To say I have a small role is absolutely wrong. It was an attempt to malign my film that he shouldn’t have done.

Did you try to resolve this with him? If yes, how did it go?

When he gave me a call regarding this as to why he has been shown as a prominent face in the Azamgarh poster, I clearly told him Pankaj Bhai(I refer to him as bhai even though he is younger than me and we belong from the same village, same district. His grandfather had taught me). I told him that the poster and hoardings have been put up by those whom I have given the film’s rights. If he has any issue with it then we can sit and talk things out. But if you say that you are playing a cameo, you should ask yourself whether it’s really just a cameo? He couldn’t answer that and yet he sent me a legal notice, he started giving statements to the media. I remained silent for a long time. But after a week or so, I came forward and explained my side on social media that I am upset about this development. Imagine Pankaj Tripathi who plays a lawyer in a legal drama like Criminal Justice, his lawyer sent us a legal notice. When I said that I am not bound to answer the said notice, he corrected it and sent me another one. Love, respect and familiarity on one side but if things take a legal turn then even we are entitled to come forward and take reactionary steps. We have the right to create a poster and no law restricts us from including or excluding a film’s character. We asked them to respond to questions posed by us or we’ll be compelled to send legal notice from our end and we’ll take legal actions. But we didn’t hear anything from him. We tried our best to molify this situation but now that the film has released, media reporters are telling me that they have been told not to give coverage to my film. If this is true, it’s affecting our film. I might not be as prominent as him or anyone else but I have a good history with this medium. It might be that the production value of Azamgarh is not that great, people are still praising the story it tells. Had it been supported by Pankaj Tripathi, it would have made me really happy.

Why was Azamgarh not selected for any major streaming platforms? Was it the controversy or something else that led to that?

I tried my best to pitch my films with many leading OTT platforms but they all wanted Pankaj Tripathi to be part of the film’s promotion. And I used to tell him that he won’t come. The reason being that Pankaj Tripathi had kept me on hold for dubbing for three long years. He kept delaying it for over three years. And finally around the beginning of 2019, Pankaj Tripathi clearly said that he won’t dub for the film. If you wish to get it dubbed by someone else then you can go ahead but I don’t want to be associated with this project. It doesn’t quite match the standards of the kind of films or projects I am doing these days. I got the signal that Pankaj Tripathi had severed all ties with this film.

I know how a fiction story is told cinematically. My documentary short had won the National Award in 2019 but if you scan through my filmography, I made a short-film called Kitaab that was widely appreciated all around the world including by Pankaj Tripathi. Azamgarh was made even before my two documentaries and Kitaab. So I want to do fiction only and going forward, my focus would be fiction. I assure that the audience that I am not going to break their trust and confidence in me. I won’t let that dwindle.

‘Elephant Whisperers’ has ignited people’s inclination towards documentary, what’s the reason behind that?

I can recall back in the days, documentaries were equally popular in comparison to mainstream, fictional movies and channels like Doordarshan used to carry them religiously. But then came some film-makers who started depicting realistic stories through fictional gaze. People accepted that trend. And then the documentary artform started fading amid big-budgeted cinema. But due to the pandemic, people have started to show their interest in this art form again and The Elephant Whisperers is a good example of that. It’s well deserved that it won Oscars this year.

When you are making a documentary on sensitive topic like Delhi Riots, how important and challenging it is to stay objective?

When you are making a documentary on a sensitive topic, you have to be very cautious. It shouldn’t have your personal biases or opinions. Because that can clearly be seen in the way yoy are narrating something. That can give a perception to people that this is perhaps the POV of the film-maker. So when I make a film like this, I don’t include the narration bit. I want to show the story or events through the perspective of the individual who has been directly involved in it. So I followed that rule with my documentary on Delhi Riots. One has to be very carefully.

Vivek Agnihotri would be making a fictional film on Delhi Riots. Do you think a fictional film on sensitive subjects end up sensationalize the topic and create divide?

When you give a fictional mould to a film, people might question the factuality of things that you are trying to portray. And it becomes challenging for any film-maker helming a project. I was reading somewhere that some documentary film-makers even start moulding facts according to their opinions. Lastly it depends on the filmmaker perspective and amount of research they have done and how they present them to the public. The audience knows it all and they can sense if someone has a particular inclination and if they are straying away from the middle path.

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