It is often said that every young North Indian male in the 1990s considered reading Mastram a rite of passage. Two decades and several speculations later, the writer’s true identity remains a mystery. One that Akhilesh Jaiswal, writer of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, attempts to resolve in his directorial debut, Mastram, a fictional biography of one of the most well-known writers of Hindi erotica.
On the eve of the screening of the film at the Mumbai Film Festival, Jaiswal tells Aradhna Wal why it is challenging to make a film on a famous writer who does not seem to exist in real life. Excerpts from an interview:
How did Mastram, the film, come about?
The idea for Mastram came many years ago when I was in school. In the 1990s, every home did not have a TV set. There was no Internet. We had just a few ways of entertaining ourselves. Also, that was the age when we were all curious about sex. That’s how I started reading Mastram. Reading the books, I often wondered, what does this man tell his family? Many years later, when Gangs of Wasseypur was in post-production, I came back to this idea. After much research, however, I found nothing on the man himself. So we made a fictional account of his life. I approached Ajay Rai, the producer of the film, whom I knew since the Gangs of Wasseypur days. He liked the script. All the crew members are friends who’ve come aboard without any personal fee. If the film does well, they’ll get paid.
Considering there is very little information available on the man himself, what sort of research went into the making of the film?
I tried researching Mastram first in Bhopal, then in Delhi, places where I had contacts. We went hunting for small, old-time publishers. However, most haven’t survived. And so we tried reverse tracing the books from the market, but only got to the wholesale dealers. Beyond that, either no one knew who the writer was or no one wanted to tell us. We couldn’t even find out where the books were printed. The idea was to produce a fictional account, but it was impossible to get even a few facts to add to our story.
Did his writing help you construct the character?
It was a very difficult process. Perhaps once people watch the film, they will disagree with my interpretation of the writer. But for me, Mastram was not a bad guy. So what if he wrote porn? I have shown him as a good man, a good family man who wants to be a writer. He tries to follow his dreams, but with financial burdens and people rejecting his other writings, he eventually starts writing porn.
Mastram’s depiction of sex was vivid, even believed to be crude. How did you deal with it?
The original Mastrams were quite artistic. Later, as others began to use that name, the writing turned vulgar; it became a business. We spoke to the older readers of Mastram, who remembered how good the writing was. In the film, we have shown what he writes visually, with a voiceover reading his works out loud. It’s been done aesthetically. In the original Mastram, there is erotica, not filth.
Do you think the titillating factor will help draw crowds?
Well, I’m not making a porn film, am I? Some might be disappointed with the movie, but I have not kept the audience in mind while making the film. However, I think even they will find something to like in this movie.
You wrote Gangs of Wasseypur. Has that experience helped you while making Mastram?
I always wanted to make films. As a child, I would steal Rs 20 every Friday to watch movies. Cinema was everyone’s pastime in Bhopal. Soon, I was able to pinpoint mistakes in the scripts of other movies. But after moving to Mumbai, working backstage in theatre groups and making small Marathi ad films, my big break was writing Gangs of Wasseypur. Being on the sets of that film was my learning experience. I saw how a film is made and what all the director is responsible for. (Courtesy Tehelka)
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