‘I fought cancer to make Bhakshak’

“I was in a lot of pain in 2019, hooked to IVs in a hospital, fighting a demon called cancer.’

IMAGE: Pulkit explains the scene to Bhumi Pednekar on the sets of Bhakshak. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pulkit/Instagram

Bhumi Pednekar’s latest film Bhakshak hopes to create awareness about the horrors of child abuse in shelters, and Pulkit, the talented director behind it, felt it was a difficult topic that need a voice.

“I believe once we start a conversation around it, we can save many lives from being scarred. I feel making a film, inspired by real stories, becomes a huge responsibility,” Pulkit tells Subhash K Jha.

From the start, Pulkit was determined not to let the crime of child abuse scare away the audience.

“On the first day, when we started writing, we made up our mind that we don’t want people to move away with disgust. We want them to watch and feel for it. We made a point, we want to make a relevant film but without dropping the screenplay. So the balance is quite a conscious effort we took on the writing table itself.”

IMAGE: Pulkit with wife and Bhakshak co-writer, Jyotsana Nath. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pulkit/Instagram

Pulkit was fighting for his life when he decided to make Bhakshak.

“I was in a lot of pain in 2019, hooked to IVs in a hospital, fighting a demon called cancer. My wife Jyotsana, who is also my co-writer, suggested that to come out of the bad times, we need to write.

“We started looking out for stories through which we can reflect on pain and suffering. We came to know about a shelter home mishap in Deoria. We started digging further, (and found that) a lot of shelter home cases, across the country, were having the same story.

“We were curious, so we went deeper. A lot of shelter homes, across the globe, were having the same story!

“We were broke, but suddenly we felt that our pain was nothing. That was the moment, when we started writing this film.”

Bhakshak, says Pulkit, is not only inspired by the grisly case in Bihar.

“A lot of other shelter home cases across the globe have inspired me to make this,” he says.

“Yes, I am from Bihar, and I feel yes, that my socio-cultural background gives me a better perspective to tell this story in a better form. But if it was not set in Bihar and was in some other state, I would have made the film with the same sense of responsibility.”

IMAGE: Bhumi Pednekar in Bhakshak. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pulkit/Instagram

Pulkit’s research was deep and disturbing.

“We were clear that to get this story right, we had to go beyond the newspaper articles. Through the help of my lawyer friends in Delhi, we learnt more about the sexual abuse of the children and the Act (POCSO). We read up on real cases and interviewed people, including lawyers, news reporters and police personnel.

“The deeper we went, the more disturbing it became. We were not inspired from a single case, hence we didn’t want to put a name to it. For a film like this, it doesn’t matter whether you name the city. What matter is, this is inspired from a real story and is still happening in your neighbourhood.”

IMAGE: Bhumi Pednekar and Sanjay Mishra in Bhakshak. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pulkit/Instagram

About his cast in Bhakshak, Pulkit says, “I was aware that to tell a story like this, you need actors who can play the outer as well as the inner conflict. Also, to play these characters, an actor needs to feel the pain, as I did. On every character, we made our checklists and then approached the actor.

“Bhumi Pednekar was my first choice. We narrated the film to Bhumi and then she disappeared. There was no response for the next six months. Then one day, she called and said the script was haunting her. She wanted to be Vaishali (her character in the film).

“I feel blessed to have an ensemble like this: Bhumi, Sanjay Mishra, Aditya Shrivastava, Surya Sharma, Sai Tamhankar… Thanks to my casting director, Mukesh Chhabra, even actors who have just one scene in the film were brilliant.”