Dushman: Breaking Barriers in Thriller Cinema

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In 1998, the psychological revenge thriller “Dushman” emerged as a groundbreaking film in an era where female protagonists were scarce, and women directors were a rarity. As the movie celebrates its 25th anniversary, filmmaker Tanuja Chandra reflects on the significant impact it had on Indian cinema and the challenges it overcame.

“Dushman” marked Chandra’s directorial debut, and she attributes its success to the support of producers Pooja Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt, the talented cast including Kajol, Ashutosh Rana, and Sanjay Dutt, and the highly receptive audiences of the time. The film achieved cult status, surprising industry insiders who believed that women directors were more inclined towards love stories or emotional dramas.

Chandra reminisces about the pure intent and love for cinema that characterized the making of “Dushman.” Despite the limited presence of female filmmakers during that period, she embraced the opportunity to helm a psychological thriller, defying stereotypes and challenging expectations. Many distributors and industry officials found it hard to believe that a woman directed such a bold and intense film.

Centered around twin sisters Sonia and Naina, portrayed by Kajol, and a psychopathic postman played by Ashutosh Rana, “Dushman” delved into the dark themes of sexual assault and murder. The film also featured stellar performances by Sanjay Dutt, Jas Arora, Tanvi Azmi, and Pramod Muthu. With a screenplay by Mahesh Bhatt, the film became an organic shift for Chandra from television to the feature film format.

Chandra’s passion for stories revolving around women led her to choose “Dushman” as her directorial debut. The film served as a turning point in Kajol’s career, established Ashutosh Rana as a formidable actor, and gave Sanjay Dutt’s on-screen action hero image a makeover.

Chandra’s superpower as a director lies in her ability to recognize actors with depth, evident in her selection of Kajol for the lead role. Kajol’s portrayal of Sonia displayed her remarkable talent and innate ability to bring honesty and authenticity to her characters.

Looking back, Kajol regards “Dushman” as one of the scariest films she has ever acted in or watched. She expressed gratitude to Pooja Bhatt, Tanuja Chandra, and the entire team for making her feel comfortable while exploring such uncomfortable subject matter.

Ashutosh Rana, who played the chilling character Gokul Pandit, expressed his fortune in working with Kajol, Chandra, and Pooja Bhatt early in his career. His performance earned him the Best Villain Filmfare Award.

Pooja Bhatt commended Chandra for her audacious choice of tackling the sensitive and challenging topic of rape and violence against women in her directorial debut. She acknowledged the film’s significance in a male-dominated Bollywood industry of that time.

Chandra recalls the difficulty in casting the role of the major, who appears halfway through the film. However, Sanjay Dutt’s adventurous spirit and his strong rapport with Mahesh Bhatt led to his enthusiastic acceptance of the role, which he hadn’t explored before.

“Dushman” proved to be the seventh highest-grossing film of 1998 and left a lasting impact on Indian cinema. Its success paved the way for more diverse narratives and opened doors for female directors to venture into uncharted territories.

As “Dushman” celebrates its 25th anniversary, it continues to be remembered as a groundbreaking psychological revenge thriller that defied stereotypes, pushed boundaries, and showcased the immense talent of its female director and cast. It remains a testament to the power of storytelling

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