Vivek Agnihotri: I don't like the arrogance in Bollywood
With The Vaccine War releasing on Thursday, the National-award winning filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri talks about making a film on the achievements of India, his disdain for Bollywood, and more
Is there a more controversial filmmaker than Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri in today's India? His previous directorial, The Kashmir Files, might have made a lot of money at the box office, and even won the National Award for Best Film on National Integration, but it is equally criticised for painting a biased look at the facts, and hate-mongering. But Vivek continues to soldier on and has now come up with yet another version of his representation of India's history... The Vaccine War, which hits screens today. "My film's audience is the small-town Indian middle-class families. These trade analysts don't really know my audience, and that is why they are unable to predict my audience," says Vivek, throwing a fresh salvo at people he believes are against him and his kind of cinema.
Unlike your previous two films (The Tashkent Files and The Kashmir Files), the premise of The Vaccine War is very contemporary. Why did you want to tell this story right now?
After 30 years, if there is another Vivek Agnihotri who wants to make a film on vaccines, no one should call him a propaganda filmmaker (laughs). It was important to make it now. Actually, this film is not about COVID-19. It is about how some scientists, mostly women, made this vaccine. 90 percent of the people are not aware of the science of virology. They might even know rocket science, but they are not aware of a science that saves lives.
Considering you seem to believe your audience and Bollywood's mainstream audience aren't the same... do you always see the world in such binaries?
I am not saying one shouldn't watch any other film, but there are people who say my film shouldn't be watched. They are the ones creating binaries. In fact, right from the moment, I announced my film's release date, people were trolling and abusing me for clashing with Salaar. They asked me to drop my film and run away. But who ran away eventually? I strongly believe films need to be successful for the industry to thrive. There is no point in making films in a dead industry. I want to challenge this system that writes things like my film will only appease my target audience. Also, everyone who has taken the vaccine is my target audience.
You don't really like Bollywood, right?
Bollywood is a corrupt, old, and dead system, which believes the audience is dumb. It is a fascist system that believes in star value, and nothing else. That is why I call it Indian cinema. It is different in cinema. They love and respect the audience. Look at how a Rajinikanth or Chiranjeevi moves around. There is so much simplicity and no pretense. I like that. I don't like the arrogance in Bollywood where the stars believe they are kings.
Coming back to The Kashmir Files, you once said many Muslim women reached out and thanked you for making that film...
Absolutely. I have scores of Muslim fans, and even when I land in airports they come and talk to me with so much fondness. Unfortunately, they can't appreciate me in public.
Do you see that happening if you keep silent about what's happening to Muslims in the country?
What is happening to Muslims in the country? You tell me...
Take, for instance, the recent happenings in the Lok Sabha...
Yes, it was very sad. Very sad. But then, what's the point in pointing fingers when such statements come from all sides? On social media, everyone wants fame. Everyone says things to come into the limelight.
But people actively use your film to say ill about Muslims...
They are weaponising it, not me...
But do you feel you should take a stance and ask people not to do that?
Now, I don't want to say. What can I do? Take, for instance, The Vaccine War. Some are loving it, and some are saying it is propaganda. Why should I care about the ones abusing and trolling me?
Unlike the West where science-based films are normal, it is quite rare in India to have such films...
I have made a film on the achievements of India. We have recorded India's 'can do' attitude in history. There are voices that are asking us to feel bad because people died during COVID. I am not into funeral pornography.
What kind of responses are you expecting from The Vaccine War?
From the various public shows we have conducted in the past few weeks, I can see that women and young children are loving it. While the children see this film as a means of discovering things, women see it as empowerment. The Vaccine War will celebrate Indic feminism.