Director Shakun Batra says he has now embraced "the good, the bad and the criticism" around "Gehraiyaan", which has become one of the most polarised and debated films of this year.
The 39-year-old director admits that the conversation around the film went out of his control and it was initially overwhelming to sift through starkly varying opinions about the movie that begins as an infidelity drama but actually explores themes of "generational trauma" and "choices versus destiny".
"I was hoping for a conversation when we were putting the movie out. I obviously didn't expect such a huge polarised debate and discussion around it... I was surprised by the sheer amount of it," Batra told PTI in a Zoom interview.
'Gehraiyaan' revolves around Deepika Padukone's 30-something yoga instructor Alisha, whose six-year-old relationship with Karan (Dhairya Karwa) has grown monotonous. Alisha, who is estranged from her father and grappling with childhood trauma, is drawn to her cousin Tia’s (Ananya Pandey) fiance Zain (Sidhant Chaturvedi).
Talking about the first couple of days after the film's February 11 release on Amazon Prime Video, Batra said he realised the debate around it had gone "out of my control". Now that some dust has settled, the director behind films such as "Ekk Main Aur Ek Tu" and "Kapoor & Sons", said the criticism is welcome and easy to understand.
"It's the noise that's hard, but when you zero in, people are accepting that the truth of this film is more than just one thing. I don't think it's a perfect film. I've managed to kind of embrace both sides of it. The good, the bad, the criticism, the appreciation because there's so much of everything." Batra believes that while surprises in "Kapoor & Sons", a film about sibling rivalry and dysfunctional family, worked, a certain segment of the audience and critics hated those in "Gehraiyaan".
Asked why he often returns to the dysfunctional family setting, which is central to the plot of his films including his debut 'Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu', the director said it comes from a "subconscious level".
"Families and the dynamics between people are interesting because they're so close, but so much is unsaid. These are people who've spent so much of their childhood together and I enjoy that people who share similar histories, don't connect."
Surprises in "Gehraiyaan" may not have worked for some but the director is glad that people are connecting to the indie themes, which are close to his heart. Batra said it was a challenge to fit these issues into a mainstream film, backed by a banner like Dharma Productions and fronted by a star like Deepika.
Asked whether the film should have been marketed in a different way, the director admitted that a section of the audience had different expectations from the film, and the hype around it had him worried.
"It's not a film that walks down chartered territory. When you come to that unfamiliar space, it's not necessarily going to agree with you in that way. It is a movie that is a bit unsettling. It's not your comfort zone of mainstream cinema.
"(But) I feel thankful that I managed to experiment within the mainstream in a certain way. It may land for some and may not for others but I don't like the status quo. I don't enjoy the familiar."
Batra said marketing a film like "Gehraiyaan" is challenging because one has to be careful about not alienating the audiences by talking about complex themes.
"It was trying to find a more universal thing that can be spoken about in a promo. I wasn't even sure how many people would get to the layers of choice, destiny, cyclical generational trauma, etc.
"You always market a film for a bigger audience and with the familiar but the film is not going in the familiar place."
Almost two weeks after its arrival on the streamer, Batra said he has drawn some marketing lessons through the film.
There was also this criticism that some of the key points were similar to "Match Point", a film by Woody Allen who is accused by his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow of having sexually abused her when she was seven.
Batra said he has no qualms about admitting the impact that the film or Allen's filmography have had on his cinema. "I'm a student of Woody Allen films. Of course, there's a lot of controversy that surrounds the man today but I have seen so much of his cinema in my early days. I'll be a hypocrite to say that those things don't stay with me.
"Of course, the tropes of 'Match Point' or any other infidelity thriller, I have homaged to all those things, even 'Fatal Attraction' and 'Unfaithful'."
He may have used familiar tropes of an infidelity thriller but his film is executed differently. "'Match Point' is about luck, my film is about choices and destiny. 'Fatal Attraction' is about lust and how that ruins a family. So the tropes are familiar, but what to do with it as a writer and director is where the thin line between plagiarism and inspiration lies."
Another criticism the film faced was that there should have been a trauma warning for the suicide scene that appears in the film. Batra said they are in the process of implementing it. Amid all the judgement, a scene that has stood out for its beauty is the conversation between Deepika and Naseeruddin Shah's characters as daughter and father, whose distant relationship finds a resolution in the final moments of the film.
Batra, who initially had a shorter version of the scene, wanted to create the distance between the father and daughter and slowly close it. "The way they come and sit next to each other and what they're saying to each other is very important... Honestly, a lot of credit goes to Naseer and Deepika for just doing it with such grace."