The daughter of Bollywood star Raakhee and Oscar-winning songwriter mono-monikered Gulzar, she directed music videos before breaking through with 2015’s “Talvar.” Her next film 2018’s “Raazi,” grossed $29 million worldwide.
“Chhapaak,” starring Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, is based on the real-life case of Laxmi Agarwal, who at age 15 was splashed with acid by a man whose romantic overtures she had refused. The film follows Malti as she goes through court cases, surgeries and becomes an activist for other acid attack victims.
“I felt this is a subject that is not as much in the forefront of public consciousness as much as it should be, particularly because of how rampant it is in our society, not only in India but also internationally,” the director said.
Agarwal also spearheaded a movement to ban acid sales in the country, going all the way to the Supreme Court to get the government to act on the issue.
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“So for many reasons hers is a landmark case,” Gulzar said. “More than anything else, the way she has lived her life, the way she has overcome her trauma and basically resurged from an unfortunate incident and used it to strengthen herself and used it positively as an example for other survivors is extremely inspiring.”
“It took a while to earn her trust,” Gulzar said of getting Agarwal’s OK to make the film a few years ago. The activist was not so “extroverted” at the time, she added.
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Her main concern was that her story would not get trivialized. So although there are songs (some with lyrics by her father, Gulzar) in the film and a love interest, as is the case in most Hindi films, this is not a Bollywood picture.
When Gulzar pitched Padukone, the performer was not only willing to act in the film, but also took on a producing role. “I saw a very striking resemblance between her and Laxmi before the attack, I had seen those pictures [of the activist]. So for me, that was my primary reason to approach Deepika from the start. It just so happened that she also was so touched by the power of the story. She was looking to become a producer. We had a conversation whether it would be OK for her to come on board as a producer and for me it was a validation on two levels, one as an actor agreeing to do your film and then as a co-producer.”
Fox Studios India is widely releasing “Chhapaak” (Splash) at 100 sites in North America, day and date with its India release on Friday, as well as in theaters in the U.K., UAE, Australia and Germany.