About Closet Land:
In an unnamed country, in unspecified times,
a man purporting to be the government’s representative interrogates
a female author of children’s fiction, on the grounds that her harmless
story of children and farm animals, Closet Land, is politically subversive.
This begins Radha Bharadwaj’s powerful
and terrifying film that ultimately links political, state-sponsored violence
with intimate, personal abuse, asserting that both forms of violence stem
from the self-same root.
The film captures the psychological landscape
of those who engage in torture and aggression, while also defining the nature
of courage and resistance. Its gripping, unflinching scrutiny of both, and
its sweep and power, has earned the film the status of a cult classic.
Bharadwaj won special kudos for capturing
the nature of violence, and violence against a woman, in particular, without
resorting to exploitative gore. She trusts the viewer’s imagination
to fill in the blanks, and the viewer is, in turn, left with a deeper understanding
of why some human beings violate others—and why some manage to soar
above the abuse.
Radha Bharadwaj on Closet Land:
While it is my fondest hope that a work ultimately
speaks for itself, the experiences behind the making and the release of Closet
Land, and the years that followed my film’s release, have taught
me that the voice of the creator of a work cannot get lost in the mix. Without
the creator’s intention on record, everything becomes a matter of third
party interpretation, speculation, and, at times, even distortion. This is
to set the record straight.
Closet Land is not based on a play
or a book. It is my original work. From the get-go, I conceived of it as a
film, and I wrote it as a screenplay. I fully intended it to debut as a film—not
as theatre or as a book. Because film is the only medium fully equipped to
take the audience directly into intense emotional states—be they of
pain, or of joy. Closet Land, which indeed deals with torture and
physical abuse, deals with pain. What my best viewers have also understood
is that my film, despite being about torture, also deals with the exhilaration
of freedom and the power of human imagination—because my film is not
only about torture.
My back-up plan was to fund my film on my
own, using credit cards, if necessary. I was a film graduate fresh out of
school, and a foreigner to boot. I was repeatedly told that newcomers with
no track record had no chance whatsoever of obtaining financing to direct
their screenplays. “Very well,” I told myself. “I shall
fund this film myself, shoot it in my house with unknown stage actors.”
I submitted the screenplay to the Nicoll
Screenwriting Fellowship, which is sponsored by the Academy of Motion
Picture arts & Sciences. The screenplay was one of the winners in 1990.
The late Julian Blaustein, a legendary producer, and the late Dan Taradash,
an Oscar-winning screenwriter, were on the selection committee, and became
staunch supporters of my work. Greg Beal, who currently runs the Nicoll Fellowship,
became a supporter as well.
That same year, the screenplay was selected
to participate in the prestigious Sundance Screenwriting Lab, and the Sundance Institute’s tenacious Michelle
Satter threw her weight behind my project. At Sundance, I met director Alan
Rudolph, who encouraged me enormously, pushing me to not compromise or give
up in my fight to make my film on my own terms.
I put in a cold call to director Oliver Stone’s
office. To my amazement, he not only read the script himself but also called
me in for a meeting. He became a powerful supporter of my work. On the strength
of his generous recommendations, I started to pass the screenplay to talent
agents. Very soon, I was meeting with actors and actresses who were interested
in playing the roles. The very same Hollywood that was once out-of-reach soon
came a-calling. I took far too many meetings to count, with producers and
financiers who wanted the script but wanted me out of the way as director—they
wanted someone famous directing my script. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s
Imagine Entertainment gave me what I wanted: myself as director, with full
creative control. I did my film with Imagine Entertainment.
If I were to pick my top choices for role
of the interrogator in Closet Land, I would still unhesitatingly
go with my first choices then: Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ian Holm and Peter
O’Toole. All three can capture not only the interrogator’s violence
and villainy—which is the easy part—but, more critically, his
humanity. Evil does not come wearing horns and a tail, nor does it announce
itself with flamboyant bombast and grandiose posturing. All too often, evil
comes in a deceptively human package—it is quiet and inscrutable, complete
with a tenderness and warmth that seem real. The seeming genuineness is our
trap—this is why we repeatedly are snared by evil, why its pull is so
strong. The three actors I just mentioned have the ability to capture true
villainy, in all its all-too frail and human wrappings.
I was, and remain opposed, to the Amnesty
International quotes and commercials that tag my film in both its theatrical
and video release. This is despite the fact that I personally support human
rights organizations. But the Amnesty International quotes and commercials
made it easy for those who did not understand my film to dismiss it as mere
human rights propaganda. And those who did understand my film were irritated
and disappointed by the quotes, wondering why a film that ultimately has such
far-reaching scope needed to limit itself to an organization and its message.
When plastered on a film, these quotes and commercials ended up subjugating
the voice of the artist to the voice of a cause. Ironically, isn’t that
what Closet Land is about? The voice of a lone individual pitted
against a cause?
It has provided me quiet satisfaction that
my small film, which, at the time of its release, was so misunderstood by
even some well-meaning critics and people who pride themselves on being connoisseurs
of the medium, has endured steadily—purely by word-of-mouth. One viewer
seeing it and recommending it to his/her friends. Democracy in action. Not
a week goes by without my receiving letters from people from all over the
world who have just seen the film, and who are moved by its power and its
intensity. Everyone out there working hard to do something original, something
new, something bold and innovative, should take heart from the story of my
film: good work will endure, no matter what the odds. No matter.
I undertook to adapt my screenplay to stage
when I started to receive offers from stage groups all over the world, who
had seen my film and were moved by it, and who wanted to perform it on stage.
The play version has now been performed almost everywhere in the world. On
stage, the words have a lyrical force and sway. The film experience is, however,
vastly different: hugely emotional and personal, with her pain and his madness
intimately felt; a dream world where imagination is king.
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