Monday, May 27, 2013


“I love the fact that I’m again a newcomer”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the May 18, 2013 issue of Super Cinema)

Being a superstar down south, with 70-80 films and then starting from scratch in Hindi cinema, yet displaying a child-like glee while at it, is probably what makes Prithviraj what he is today. The man has done such notable films, and the confidence he exudes is a testament of that. Prithviraj though, has no qualms about being called a newcomer. Perhaps, if anything, beginning all over again and exploring various roles gives him an adrenaline rush. While his debut vehicle, ‘Aiyyaa’, failed to generate box office numbers, he says he kind of anticipated it. Having said that, one cannot deny that Prithviraj has got his share of accolades from the audience and the industry; not to forget women seem in awe of him. But ask him how he’s dealing with the female attention and he turns shy. His second film, ‘Aurangzeb’ just saw a release, and while he’s completely kicked about this one, we get talking about several other things. There’s a sense of calm in his husky voice, which is appealing enough for you to know that he must be singing, even if you weren’t aware that he sings. Sipping on some coffee, Prithviraj opens up about shedding his stardom to start afresh as a debutant, his journey and all what comes with being an actor. I also discover few other things about him, during the rendezvous:

You obviously must have got offers for Hindi films before ‘Aiyyaa’ as well?
I did get offers from Hindi, but I was not really looking for work, I still am not someone who’s looking for work. The kind of offers that came my way didn’t excite me. The thing about ‘Aiyyaa’ was that I thought it was something out of the way, and not ‘very done before’ sorts. I knew that there was a possibility that people might not understand what the film was about or they may not relate to that brand of humour. But I knew for sure, that it’s not going to be ignored. Either people will love it, or hate it, but it definitely wouldn’t be ignored. So, I did the film and I’m pretty okay with the fact that it turned out that people didn’t relate to the film, and they didn’t quite get the brand of humour which the film had. But like I said, that’s okay. We always knew that there was a chance of that happening. As a debutant, I can’t be complaining because I seem to have got noticed, you know a lot of people told me that they liked me in the film, a lot of filmmakers came forward and wanted to make films with me, and well, I’m already talking to you about my next film, so I can’t complain. I guess it did work for me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

Being someone who’s a superstar down south with 70-80 films, and then to start as a newcomer in Hindi films. How do you manage that, without bringing in the starry baggage?
Yes but for me that is the most exciting part, that I come here and I’m on a clean slate. People look at me as a newcomer. When you see ‘Aurangzeb’, you don’t know that it’s my seventeenth cop film so that’s really exciting. How many people get the opportunity of debuting with 80 films behind them? That’s the most exciting part. But I also understand what you’re trying to say, because I have friends down south who have done films in Hindi, who tell me, ‘you know I really don’t want to be going through the grind again, we’ve been through that, now we are where we are today. Why should we start all over again?’, but, for me that’s very exciting. I love the fact that I’m again a newcomer. Every film I do down south now, I do it because of who I am, and every film I do in Hindi, I do it because of how good I am. Because, people here don’t really know how I am, or what I can do. So, that’s a big kick. It’s a big adrenaline rush to realise that even today on a level playing ground, you’re good enough, so that’s nice.  

So, you’re the kind of person who just wants to re-invent himself every now and then, just for the fun of it?
For me it seems like the most natural thing that someone would do. What can I do down south now? Yes, I can hope for different kind of films or great out-of-the-way characters, but how much more can I grow? I can keep doing films, keep doing good films, giving hits or flops or whatever, the excitement for me is right now here. Because, you know, right now, I don’t know where I’m going to be or what I’ll become, it’s just one very unpredictable playing field for me. That’s very exciting. That really draws me. It’s like moments before the roller-coaster kicks off.

Apart from being an actor, you sing and also produce films. Producing of course, might be demanding a lot of your time too.
As far as producing is concerned, once you have your company and system in place, it’s not a very complicated affair. A film produces itself, once you have a company and network in place, which I do have now. I really don’t need to be present there to physically produce a film. We have systems in place where the films will fund for themselves, I just have to be the intermediary. So, that will happen, and that’s what I want to do from now on. Down south, I don’t want to be doing more than two films a year, and then maybe produce two films where I’m not involved as an actor. The rest of the time I want to see what I can try and do in Hindi. I want to invest my time in Hindi cinema. Now does Hindi cinema need that much time from me, is another question, which I hopefully should discover very soon. But as I said, I can’t be complaining. I’m what, a year old in the Hindi Film Industry, and I have two films already, so what better could I ask for?

That explains why you aren’t complaining, despite shuffling between both the industries, and doing ten other things…. 
I take a break once in a while. Every year, for a month, I take off. End of the year, usually I take off. When I was dating, I used to travel with my girlfriend, and now with my wife. And it happens to be the same girl (laughs). Then for me, actually the whole thing of relax and unwind, I don’t understand, because for me, making a film is quite relaxing. I’m quite chilled out on sets. For me, making a film is not really stressful. Plus, whenever I’m anywhere near Kerela, I make it a point to go and spend some time at home, because I’ve moved into this new house and I’ve hardly got any time to spend there. So, right now, I’m really looking forward to spending time at home, and enjoy the new house.

Like every other actor, you might have also had your share of ups and downs… 
I decided I wanted to be an actor only after having done five or six films. Till then I was just fighting. I was studying in Australia so I wanted to go back there and work. I used to tell myself, ‘Just this one last film, after that I’m going back.’ After about 4-5 films, I realised that this is what I really want to do. There’s no going back, this is it now. Then I started enjoying myself, and this whole process of filmmaking and. It’s not been a smooth ride. I’ve always maintained that I’m somebody who didn’t have to go through a struggle to get my first film. My first film came my way. So, all the struggle I had to undergo was after I got my first film. I got my first film, purely because of my surname. But, your surname will only get you your first film. From there on, it’s purely based on how good you are. So from there on, I’ve faced a lot of glitches. I had phases in my career where four films back-to-back have not worked. Then, I’ve had great phases, like right now, I’m sitting on four consecutive hits. All of that happens to actors. There’s no full-proof way to make sure that you only do films that work. If that was the case then no actor would have been a part of an unsuccessful film ever.

Any plans of singing for a Hindi film or producing a Hindi film? 
Singing will completely depend on music directors and producers. And producing, I’m yet not rich enough to be producing a Hindi film.

Have you gotten used to all the female attention, post ‘Aiyyaa’? Women seem smitten by the intimidating, mysterious Prithviraj, as seen in the film. How much are you like him?
(Laughs) I don’t know about the female attention because I don’t really spend that much time in Mumbai. But I’m nothing like Surya of ‘Aiyyaa’, or Arya of ‘Aurangzeb’. I’m not that kind of a guy. I’m not really mysterious or mystic. I’m actually quite a boringly normal guy. In fact, if anything, I’m a little bit of an anti-social, because I’m not someone who will go out and party. I’m an introvert. If there’s anything about me which is worth mentioning, it’s just that. Apart from that, I’m just like anything other 30-year-old.

Having done so many films, which genre do you enjoy the most?
I’ve done everything – from action to comedy to romcoms to love stories, everything. I find, these days, if it’s not a film that’s worthy of having an actor in it, then I find it boring because unfortunately, you’ve been through that so many times. Starting your film, shooting it, finishing it, dubbing it, promoting it, you’ve been through it so many times that after a point, if it’s not a film that’s genuinely exciting, you find it a little boring. So, it doesn’t matter what the film is about, but it should be exciting for me.

And does your approach differ from character to character, or it remains the same?
I really can’t categorise acting. For me, it’s just a character. The character in ‘Aiyyaa’ didn’t speak. So, the biggest compliment for me came when people came and told me, we really wanted to hear you speak more. Because the whole point was to make Meenakshi feel that. The girl had to feel, ‘I wish he spoke more, I wish he spoke to me.’ So if people felt that in the theatre too, then obviously the character has worked. It rather remain that way, than people saying ‘Oh we wish there was less of you.’ For me, when I get a script, I really comprehend the script, I learn the script, but I stop there. I don’t really construct a methodology where I think this is how I would do it. I think the way you try and understand the script, somewhere in your subconscious level, you already construct a behavioral pattern, which you don’t realise. Then you end up on the set, the film starts, you just fall into place. And obviously, if you’ve not gotten it right, there’s a director who would tell you, it’s not right. For me, the idea is to make it remain instinctive.

Any other Hindi films that you’ve signed?
There’s nothing concrete as of now. I’ve already heard 3-4 scripts out of which in the next one month, I should say yes to maybe one of them. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shraddha Kapoor

“There are a lot of things in life that are mediocre; love shouldn’t be one of them”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the April 27, 2013 issue of Super Cinema)

Shraddha Kapoor loves meeting and observing various kinds of people. Hence, she observes me too. Then, we just strike a conversation, and get talking about everything else, forgetting about the interview, while the self-confessed foodie relishes her sandwich. But, we eventually get down to ‘Aashiqui 2’. While this is Shraddha’s third film, post ‘Teen Patti’, and ‘Luv Ka The End’, you can call it her quintessential debut, as it’s only with this film that she got that ‘heroine wali’ feeling. Interestingly, while she loves looking all glamorous on-screen, off-screen she’s simple, and too lazy to dress up. In fact, she doesn’t like wearing make-up, if she’s not shooting. Her appearance, along with her persona, will make you want to call her ‘bubbly’, but just so you know, she hates the term. She’s petite and delicate, but loves all kinds of adventures, and is an advanced scuba diver. For now though, all her love is bestowed on ‘Aashiqui 2’. So, she talks about the film and other things, in a candid chat:

While 'Aashiqui 2' has just released, the music and the promos of the film has got some great response. How did that feel? 
I’m very happy. It’s madness! And what a feeling that is. It’s an amazing feeling. When ‘Tum Hi Ho’ was released online, it became a rage and it’s my first ever song that has become such a huge hit. It’s really good that people have loved the promos and the songs. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback; people are talking about our chemistry and have been saying that the film is looking interesting. I was really small when I saw ‘Aashiqui’, and yet, it made a huge impact on me since it was such a sweet story and the music was so soulful. Hence, I’m so glad people are finding the music of ‘Aashiqui 2’ soulful too.

It wouldn’t be wrong to call this your quintessential debut film, would it be?
Yes, you’re right! This is my quintessential debut film. I finally got that ‘heroine wali’ feeling in this film. And people are also telling me that you’re looking like a proper heroine. This film was more of that. I was waiting for a good script after ‘Luv Ka The End’ and then this film happened. I felt it was perfect for me.

And how has the whole journey on this film been?
It’s been a very emotionally enriching experience, because it’s been a film that was emotionally driven. Mohit was very close to the film so he made sure we understood that, and we were at that same level that he was. He’s very connected to this film. For us to understand that level of madness and love, to understand that degree of love was difficult but he directed us in a way that we understood it. And only because of him, we were able to translate that on-screen, because ‘Aashiqui 2’ is filled with love and a lot of love. There are so many things I’ve realised about myself during this film. It’s such an intense story because Mohit directed us in a way that he took us deep into those emotions. I could really feel each emotion that I had to portray.

Over the years of growing up, you’ve seen your father be a part of films. Is that what drove you towards being an actor?
I used to go on my dad’s sets and I used to find the whole atmosphere, and the whole process very interesting and intriguing. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be an actor. I don’t even remember when did I start thinking about it. So, even as a child, I used to drape my mother’s saree, or wear my dad’s jacket, stand in front of the mirror and dance, or do something. And then, automatically, I started doing things in life which were propelling me towards acting, for instance I used to take part in annual day functions, do theatre, or dance on stage, in school. So, all these things further propelled me towards acting. And when I saw actresses in Hindi films, I always wanted to be portrayed like that. ‘Aashiqui 2’ is that kind of a film which does portray me the way I always wanted. But you know when I see these posters of the film, I feel it’s not me, I feel it’s someone else only. I’m not all ‘actressy actressy’! 

And why would you say that?
I’m very simple. Being a girl, it takes a lot of time to get ready, and do your hair and make-up. I don’t mind doing that for my film, but sometimes, I really get lazy to dress up and look pretty and all that. Off-screen I don’t like wearing much make-up. But then, I also enjoy wearing all the nice clothes and look pretty on-screen. On-screen it’s fun, because it’s something I’ve grown up thinking about.

So, ‘Aashiqui 2’ is all about love and romance. What’s your take on love, for real?
I’m a romantic at heart. My idea of love is the fairy tale kind of love. And I think love should only be mad. It should not be mediocre. It should be crazy, and ‘pagalpan se bhara hua’, or else it shouldn’t be there. There are a lot of things in life that are mediocre; love shouldn’t be one of them.

You were quite young when you shot for ‘Teen Patti’. From there to now…so far so good?
‘Teen Patti’ didn’t do well and then ‘Luv Ka The End’ happened. But I had a great time working on ‘Teen Patti’ because I was working with such legendary actors. Who gets the opportunity to do that with their first film? But it was really upsetting that ‘Teen Patti’ didn’t do well. I was quite heartbroken, because obviously, I was so young when it happened. So, I really took it to heart. Then, my family told me to brush it off. They were like, ‘It’s just the beginning. Come on! It’s just your first film.’ And then when I got to do ‘Luv Ka The End’, I thought it was a perfect script for me. I felt, I fit into it like a glove. What an experience that was! And now I’m doing a film like ‘Aashiqui 2’. I’ve always wanted to be a part of a romantic film, ever since I was a child. So, my journey has been amazing so far. Of course, it does hurt when your film doesn’t do well. But from here on too, I want to do all kinds of roles, and experience the entire spectrum of emotions. I want to be a part of films that are challenging, interesting and stimulating!

You’re an actor, an actor’s daughter, young and beautiful. What else? 
I’m an advanced scuba-diver. I love scuba diving. I’m someone who loves animals and wants to have a farm of her own, but can’t have a farm of her own because her parents won’t allow her. I love doing adventurous things. I love travelling, reading and I’m a massive food lover. But whether I like it or not, I have to go to the gym. I love working out, but sometimes I’m like, ‘Why did I eat so much!? Now I’ll have to work out.’ But what I love the most is meeting people. I love meeting different types of people and observing them. That’s quite an interesting thing to do. 

You must be taking advice from your family….
Yes, my parents advice me all the time. Even when I don’t want them to advice, they advice me (laughs). The thing is because they’ve seen so much in life, they’ve done so much, and because they’re who they are, I would obviously want to take advice from them. Who wouldn’t? They always give me feedback for my work. If they don’t like something, they tell me. My dad criticises me, he will always tell me the truth. My mother is still lenient with me. But that’s how all mothers are. They will never say anything bad about their children. But my dad totally scolds me when he has to.

At this point of time, when you’re relatively new, what matters more? Good stories or good banners?
It depends. The story is of prime importance, and then everything else follows. It’s great to have a good banner to work with, because generally the good banners are the ones that pick interesting stories. But also a good director matters. And lately, we’ve been having such talented new directors.

What next post ‘Aashiqui 2’?
I’m doing ‘Gori Tere Pyaar Mein’, but apart from that, nothing that I’ve signed for now. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kunal Khemu

“I’m way more involved as an actor now because now it’s not my hobby, it’s my profession”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the May 11, 2013 issue of Super Cinema) 

You still somewhere cannot get over the fact that the little kid of ‘Hum Hai Rahi Pyaar Ke’, ‘Raja Hindustani’ and ‘Zakhm’, is now a grown man, and a lead actor. That’s the kind of impact Kunal Khemu made with his performances even as a child. And while his debut film as a lead, ‘Kalyug’ came in easily to him, the real struggle began post that. The fact that he’s been on a film set for so many years justifies his knowledge and passion when it comes to films. And I come across that side of his, while I catch up with him for a chat. Kunal gets talking about the recently released ‘Go Goa Gone’, and his journey from being a child artist to lead actor in Hindi cinema:

While ‘Go Goa Gone’ is such a unique concept, even the promos got some great response. That must have felt good?
The energies are so positive right now, because it all changed when the trailer came online, everybody responded so well to it. We’ve always been pepped up with the film because from day one, we knew that this film is just going to be the first of its kind. To be very honest, I always expected a reaction like this, at least from the youth. I knew that because it was new, young and so different, at least the youth will pick it up and they would talk about it. But it’s one thing to imagine it and another thing to actually see that happening. So, it was happiness all over again, when I saw everyone was talking about it. But in all honesty, I did hope for this to happen, and I’m glad it happened.

We’re guessing, the idea of ‘Go Goa Gone’ originated quite some time back while you worked on ‘99’ with Raj and DK…
Post ‘99’ and ‘Shor In the City’, we used to meet quite a lot, because we’re friends also. We initially were thinking of a crime comedy set in Goa, we wanted to do a slacker film. And then one day, from America, Raj called me up and said, how about we think slightly different, something like zombies. It took me ten seconds to kind of understand what he meant, because I love zombie films but I had never once thought that we would make a zombie film. I realised that the space we had set up for the film we wanted to do, it was very easy to bring zombies there, and take it further. So, we started two years ago with that thought, and then we spent endless hours, at my house, at their house, at coffee shops, thinking what we could do and how we could do it, and that’s how the process began. I kind of became a part of their core writing team and we wrote this. In fact, I actually ended up getting credits also for the dialogues, because Raj and DK speak in English, and they’re not very good with Hindi. Since I was spending each and every day while they were writing this film, I didn’t really even have to prepare. I think we’re very lucky that we got the right people associated with the film. At some point we had realised that nobody will make this. So much so, that I was considering leasing some of the stuff that I own to raise money to make this film, because it was a film I believed in and it was a genre that I was thrilled to do, despite the fact that it wasn’t a solo hero film. Luckily, Illuminati Films and Saif got involved, they liked the script and decided to back it.

You’ve done comedy films, but ‘Go Goa Gone’ must be a different style of comedy for you?
I really enjoy doing different kinds of cinema, and comedy is one genre which is slightly tougher to do. It’s not about trying to make someone cry or laugh. It’s also that you can emote sadness slightly easily, but if you’re asked to laugh in front of the camera for a minute, that to do well is tough, and in the same line, to get it right is difficult. Comedy has a very thin line, if you get it right people will laugh, if you don’t get it right, they won’t. This film has a totally different kind of humour, but with Raj and DK, they have a different take on humour; this is more casual humour, it’s not even slapstick, or situational. It’s just about two characters who aren’t trying to be funny, but it turns out to be funny which is what I like, personally, I like this kind of humour a lot more, where there is no set up made for it to be funny, it just ends up being funny.

When you started out, what were the kind of films that you wished you’d do?
For every actor today who’s ever watched Hindi films and wanted to be an actor, it must have started out 90 per cent of times with a Bachchan film. You wanted to be like Amitabh Bachchan, and just beat the bad guys with people whistling for you. For me, I also remember when I saw films like ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’ or Ram Gopal Verma’s film ‘Shiva’, I wanted to do films like that, but as and when you grow up, things keep changing and you realise there are so many different kinds of films being made, and how everything has changed. Even my film ‘Zakhm’, to when I visited a film set five years later, I saw things which were not there when I was working as a child actor, everything was different. There were no multiplexes when I was a child actor, and then the whole art film world became a commercial world. It changed in a lot of ways. But I’m happy that we belong to this time and phase now where there is so much more that you can do. Earlier there were only four genres, and I don’t think lead actors ever did comedy. We had people like Mehmood, Johnny Lever and all who specialise in comedy. Otherwise there was action, there was drama, love stories and horror. But now there’s realistic cinema, we’re making zombie films, we’re making biopics, and over the years, we’ve kept breaking the norms of a typical Bollywood film.

You started working since the time you were a child, and got exposed to the outside world at an early age. Not to forget all the popularity you got as a child actor. Did that ever deprive you of a normal childhood?
You know when you’re a kid, it’s on the parents to bring you up right. I think parenting is what plays the most important part, not just when you’re an actor, but even when you do something else as a kid, whether you’re an athlete or any other talent that you’ve got, it’s the parenting which comes into play because you’re moulding yourself at that point of time. I owe it to my parents for bringing me up right and I know this because as a kid, cinema was always a hobby for me. My profession was studying. So we made sure we only did films in the time and space that I had, which would be the vacations or Saturday-Sundays, or post-school. All the decisions were mine whether I wanted to do a film or not. My father had told me that, ‘you can do whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean it excuses you from getting bad grades or failing.’ I never failed any class in my life. That’s why I did limited work even as a kid. So on sets it was a different world, but I knew it was another world, and my actual world was back home and in school with my friends and family. So it didn’t change me in any way. I think I had a very normal childhood. The only thing I remember is, only once in my whole school life did I have to miss a picnic because I had committed dates for a film. That also, Bhatt Saab bribed me with a video game, so I missed my picnic. My father was like, ‘this is the first ever business deal you’ve made in your life, so you better value it.’ I don’t think I’ve missed out on any childhood fun or childhood life because of my work.

But when you do a film, like say, ‘Zakhm’ at a tender age, doesn’t it somewhere affect you emotionally?
It didn’t and that surprises me as well. But you perform the best when you don’t over-think it. Honestly, most of the times, I did not know what I was doing. I was just taking instructions from Bhatt Saab. He would come and talk to me, and I would just try to understand what he meant, and do it. I would be lying if I said that I connected to it, and there was a big thought process behind it. Which is why, ‘Zakhm’ became an important part of my life because that’s when I decided I wanted to be an actor when I grow up. That’s the time I thought that there is something that I like doing, and it does turn out to be well. So, maybe I should take it up seriously. But at that time, I was just taking instructions from my director.

Today, obviously you must be more involved as an actor…
It’s different now. It’s a different ball game when you’re a child actor. When you’re a lead actor, the whole film is around you, and you know everything else also that is happening in the film. So, of course, I’m way more involved as an actor now because now it’s not my hobby, it’s my profession. Even with the character, I like to know my character in and out so that it’s easier not to spend that time on set when you’re actually filming, and do that earlier. That’s why I like to spend time with the directors before we start shooting in order to understand how they imagine the character to be and how I think of the character so that we are in sink.

Your transition from being a child artist to a lead actor in Hindi films has been a smooth journey?
I actually didn’t give it so much thought. I consider myself lucky that it wasn’t so difficult for me to get my first film as I thought it would have been. It’s so tough for a lot of other people, but because I knew somebody like Bhatt Saab who wanted to work with me it was easy, and when he knew I wanted to take a sabbatical from acting, for the reason that I wanted to try and become a lead actor, he had promised me that ‘whenever you want to be an actor, I hope I’m around making films then, I would like to meet you and see what we can do.’ So when I finished my graduation, I met him, he kept his word, and within six months of me finishing my graduation, he offered me ‘Kalyug’. I don’t come from a film family per say, so I don’t know the business, I didn’t know the business so I took everything first hand, and I didn’t know what to expect.

And post ‘Kalyug’, there have been ups and downs…
I think it got tougher after my first film. You get your first film and you don’t know what happens after that. After that is when you have to understand and live the business. And with Bhatt Saab also, that’s like home for me so I was protected, I knew that they’ll take care of me, he’ll advice me and we’ll do this and that. But post that, I didn’t know. And as long as your films are doing well, it’s all great but when your first film doesn’t do well is when you learn to deal with that. It’s like life. It’s when you flunk a subject is when you know that you’ve done something wrong. But as oppose to education where you can study hard and get better, unfortunately, our box office only goes by the box office. And it’s not necessary that only good films make money and only bad films flop. You have to learn to deal with the fact that sometimes you’re flooded with offers, films, interviews, and everything and then there might be a phase when all of this wouldn’t be there. So you need to keep yourself together and not lose it. We have examples in front of us of people who were nobody, and then they became stars. And then we have examples of people who started out big and then disappeared. You just live your own life, take your decisions and live by them.

So you must have always felt like a star, isn’t it?
I don’t take myself too seriously, like I said. I don’t get attached to success. I enjoy while it’s happening, but I don’t get attached to it because nothing is permanent in life, and I know that. I’m aware of the fact that it’s good to be recognised, it’s good to be slightly popular. I think it’s going to be the scariest day when you walk and nobody recognises you, and nobody wants a picture with you because that’s a part and parcel of the job that you’re in. So having said that, I don’t really know if there is any particular point of time when I felt stardom has sunk in. But I know that there was a phase between ‘Zakhm’ getting over and me just being an ordinary kid for six years, then again when it started off again with ‘Kalyug’. I can say, that was the first time I was made aware that I’m a good looking guy, because I never thought of me being one. I remember I was going out promoting ‘Kalyug’, I saw girls shouting out my name and wanting to click a picture with me, so I was like, ‘This is nice!’ to get female attention.

Tell us about your upcoming projects.
There’s ‘Bhaag Johnny’ that T-series and Vikram Bhatt are producing and Shivam Nair is directing. That’s an action thriller and it should be ready for release by the end of this year. There are also two other films but that we’ll have to wait for the official announcement. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Vir Das

“I work in three different industries and I don’t really fit in any of those industries”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the May 4, 2013 issue of Super Cinema)

Now, this man seems to have done it all. While he can tickle your funny bone with his acts on stage, he woos you with his band too. And then, he has an acting career which is moving at a good pace as well. If you still think he hasn’t really done it all, you have to know that he has just finished writing four scripts that would be converted into films soon, and he intends to direct and produce. That is, Vir Das for you. Sense of humour, intelligence, wit, sensitivity, and looks that women find cute – now that is quite an impressive combination and Vir is certainly all of that. We’ve not seen him on-screen for quite some time, but this year, we’ll see a lot of this man, as he has a long line-up of films releasing, starting with, ‘Go Goa Gone’ that releases the coming week. It’s been interesting chatting with him, and getting to know the other aspects of his personality. In a freewheeling chat, Vir talks about ‘Go Goa Gone’, other upcoming films, and the different roles that he plays, on-screen and off it:

‘Delhi Belly’, and ‘Badmaash Company’ did well, but it’s been a while since we saw you on-screen. Are you being choosy?
After ‘Delhi Belly’, I had this flood of scripts. I have eight releases lined up now, and you’ll see me in a film every seven weeks starting from May 10. I had 40 scripts lying around, and because of ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘Badmaash Company’, I had not done stand-up comedy in a long time. So I sat back and said, forget everything, I’m going to do only stand-up for the next four months and shall see later what I want to do. Because, after ‘Delhi Belly’, I got offered 10 ‘Delhi Belly’s’, you know what I mean? So, then I starting thinking what have I not done. I started signing films based on what I’ve not done. I’d not done a romcom, so I signed a film called ‘Amit Sahni Ki List’, it’s about a guy who has obsessive compulsive disorder looking for love. Then I thought I haven’t really done a commercial love story, so I signed a film called ‘Super Se Upar’ with Reliance, which is with me and Kirti Kulhari, then I did a kids’ film with Kunaal Roy Kapur called ‘Golu and Pappu’, then there’s this film which is slightly dark called ‘Revolver Rani’, so while I was signing all of this, I met Raj and DK. I had seen ‘Shor In The City’, and I knew they were making something but didn’t know what it was. Then, they started coming for all of my shows. There was this four-month period where I was signing films, and wasn’t doing anything, so they came for my shows, and for my band performances, and they kept making notes all the time, so I was anticipating an offer. They sent a script to my house at 10 am, I signed the film by 4pm. I read it, and by 4pm I committed everything. I’ve been gone from films for a year and a half, but now hopefully will be back with bang.

‘Go Goa Gone’ is a unique concept all together. Is that what made you sign it?
It’s a one of a kind film and at that point of time, I had signed five films, so I thought I’ve got five things on my plate that I’ve not done before, now let me do one film that I’ll really have fun doing, so that was this. What I liked about my character is that he is very mellow and very chilled, slow and in his own pace in life. I’ve played the high energy guy with the lines in my films, and this is the opposite of that. What was also nice is that it’s a genre where the audience knows as little as the characters. Zomcoms don’t exist, but this film is about three guys who’ve never seen a zombie, don’t know how to deal with a zombie, don’t know how to kill a zombie and are trying to escape from a zombie. So, I know nothing, Kunal knows nothing, Anand knows nothing. And the audience watching it doesn’t know anything about zombies either, largely. When I learn something about a zombie, you watching it at the same time learn something about a zombie. At all times, we’re on the same page with each other. And if you saw ‘99’ and ‘Shor In the City’, you obviously would say yes to Raj and DK, they’re fantastic. The whole experience on this film was really nice. I’m a heavily improvisational actor, I develop a system with my director whereby I say, let’s do one take for you and one take for me. And I just play, and the nice thing is that Kunal and Aanand are heavily improvisational as well. So, you can really play and improvise. Raj and DK, are technically good enough to improvise with you as well. It was a very organic film.

Before you took up acting, did you have a set agenda as to the kind of films you want to be a part of?
To me, it’s really more about what I’ve not done, rather than what I want to do. I’ve been steadily getting offered films for a very long time, a lot of people don’t know this, I was getting offered films in 2005 as well, but I was happy doing stand-up comedy. I have a very large audience on my own, without any film, that’s a good thing. And then I saw ‘Rang De Basanti’, and that was the first time I really sat back and said, ‘Okay now what I want to do is being done’, so that really began the process and I decided that now I will go and meet people, now I will audition, and in 2 months, I had ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘Badmaash Company’. So that was kind of the turning point for me, when I saw ‘Rang De Basanti’. It’s a nice space where India doesn’t have an Adam Sandler or a Ben Stiller, and that’s a wide open gap in the market, and I’m trying to be that guy, and I’m trying to fill that gap. It’s a great space to be in. It’s a high-concept zone. If you’re smart about your economics, you can make a film about anything, without feeling any pressure. You can make the kind of content that you want. That’s the mandate of my career. I’m not looking to make huge budget films, I’m doing this for the love of it, and I do things that make me laugh. I do films for myself.

Does being a stand-up comedian help you as an actor?
I think it helps you in the sense of I’m not afraid to do anything because I’ve already made such an ass of myself on stage, for so many years, and stand-up comedy is such a terrifying thing to do that you’re not scared to make an ass of yourself, or you’re not scared to play the anti-hero. You’re not very limited as a performer.

You’ve got the hang of being spontaneous being a stand-up comedian, so do you apply that when you act?
I like to prepare, rehearse, I like to know what I’m thinking. If you ever look at my script, it’s just what I’m thinking. My school of acting is very simple: find a way to believe that what is happening to your character is actually happening and then do what you like. So I have a tough time replicating takes, because I just kind of do something, and I’m different every time. But, at least, what I’m believing is the same. That’s the one thing I keep consistent all the time. I’m at least thinking the same thing.

So, in case of ‘Go Goa Gone’, did you have to prepare?
With this film, it’s not that hard to act, because it comes naturally, when you see a guy like that in blood and everything, and you’ve never seen a zombie. Kunal and I, because the film is primararily about these two friends, so we got down to a point where we could take each other’s food or finish each other’s lines. We got into a good space with each other and that’s important to do. I had that with Kunaal and Imran in ‘Delhi Belly’, so we just got into that space. Even till now, we have that space. Like Imran and I, we recently did MTV Music awards, hosted them, and we met after almost a year, because we’ve both been so busy shooting, but then once you get that it doesn’t go away.

Because of where you come from, the audience might only expect you to be funny in films all the time. Does that bother you in any way?
I have a very interesting problem, and a lot of pressure comes with it. If an actor does a bad film or an actor does something that is not funny, you will simply say, ‘that wasn’t funny.’ If I do something that is not funny, you’d say, ‘I expected better’. That’s the difference between me and any other actor. Any other actor has one audience, I have three audiences – Music audience, stand-up comedy audience and a film audience. And all audiences consume all the content, and every audience expects the same standard. So, I’m upheld to that standard, I’m accountable to that standard which is why, like you said, I’m choosy, and I also have to be very careful about films because my longitivity  of my career is not going to come from six packs and that’s not going to be my thing, it has to come from intelligence, wit and humour. And to me, that’s a longer game. Today’s chocolate boy sometimes doesn’t last till tomorrow. But, today’s funny guy can last till day after tomorrow. That’s my vision. So, I try and maintain my standard. That’s something I’ve learnt from Aamir Khan. Aamir comes once a year with a film, but you expect an Aamir Khan film to be something. And the one thing I learnt from Aamir is to know your audience and keep that connect with the audience. So, every time Aamir does something, whether it’s television or this or that, he maintains that standard that his audience expects from him. That’s something I’ve learnt.

So how well do you know your audience?
I think I know my audience pretty well because I’m not alienated from my audience. That’s a very dangerous thing for celebrities where you lock yourself in a car with tinted glasses and hide behind dark glasses and don’t have connect. You can see me in ‘Go Goa Gone’ on Friday, and you can come to Tata theatre on Sunday and see me do ‘History Of India’, and come to Blue Frog and see my band play on the next Friday. So, you can keep in contact with me. I’m there to shake your hand, and connect with you on twitter, and that helps. By virtue of that, you will spend 250 bucks to see an actor in a movie, but you’ll spend 2000 bucks on my stand-up comedy show, so your willingness to purchase my content increases that much because of our connect.

But you may have a thought that the audience may not accept you in other serious genres...
I’ve tried serious roles. ‘Revolver Rani’ is very dark film. It’s a love story between two psychotic obsessive people, ‘Raakh’ which I’ve done with Tanuja Chandra is again very dark and supernatural. But I think that audience would also express to me when they’re bored, or if they saw me do the same thing, so I’ve tried not to do the same thing in my career. I think the only thing that is expected of me is intelligence, a sensible film and intelligent film. Having said that, I’m doing ‘Santa and Banta’, the movie, from next month, which is stupid, but the audience will expect that to be ‘me’ stupid. As in they would expect me to bring in my own individuality to it, and make it my kind. So I have to make it slapstick, and the audience will expect that.

While you did receive appreciation for ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘Badmaash Company’, don’t you wish to be a part of solo hero films?
As long as I’m getting a good role, it doesn’t matter. I wanted to go leading man for a while, which I was sort of, in ‘Delhi Belly’. I wouldn’t lie and say that I was okay with playing supporting roles, I wanted to play leading roles which I am playing. I just want to do it my way. So, if I spread out my arms, and be shirtless and stand on a rooftop or peak, it still has to have my flavour on that, and my take on that. I don’t know, maybe my six pack has to be a seven pack or something. I think I am where I am today because I have a niche, because I’m offbeat in a way. I work in three different industries and I don’t really fit in any of those industries. I’m an outsider in films, because I’m a comedian. I’m an outsider in comedy because I’m an actor. I’m an outsider in the rock scene because I’m a comedian and an actor.

But how do you manage to do so many things together?
It’s fun actually. That’s what I love doing. I’m a Gemini, so I love doing ten different things at the same time. I have good management, that’s really half the battle won. There are films, and promotions, and so many other things but you somehow manage, because at the end of the day, this could sound very filmy, but I was washing dishes in 2002, I was a dishwasher in 2002, in Chicago, and today I’m here. I would be damned if I don’t enjoy it. I want to do everything, because it could be gone tomorrow, or it could be triple tomorrow.

You’re this ultimate funny man, witty and all of that, and probably, that’s the only thing people perceive about you. But...what else?
I’m very sensitive, I’m very over-emotional, I’m serious also in real life. I’m very connected to myself, is what I’d say. I take pride in my sense of right and wrong. I’m very sure about what is right and wrong. I’m very connected to myself so I don’t convince myself of things that are not there. I’m not tempted by money, I’m not tempted by any of those things. I know what I’m feeling, 100 per cent when I’m feeling it. So, when I feel something is right, I’ll do it, but if I feel something is wrong, I’ll never do it. I’m at peace.

Establishing yourself in one industry, and then beginning something else from scratch, now that isn’t easy.
My mandate is to always do something where I’m at the bottom of the ladder, and I have to climb up. There were no comedians when I came here, but there are now. I want to try and build my own space as an actor. It’s all from scratch, but it’s there. I’ve written about four films, and all of them will go on floors soon. I’m going to direct, I’m going to produce, I want to do everything. That’s the aim.

And when you’re up to so many things at one go, do you manage to find time for yourself?
I get some time off. I have a girlfriend who’s not from the industry at all, so that makes you feel normal. I’m happy I have a wonderful dog, I play the guitar, I read excessively. I get enough time for me (smiles). 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Rohan Sippy

“I always believe in the positive aspect of the unpredictability of life”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the April 13, 2013 issue of Super Cinema)

Rohan Sippy has created his own niche with the kind of films he’s made so far, be it in terms of the subject or its treatment. Few years back, with ‘Bluffmaster’ he introduced this whole new style of comedy, which is more sarcastic, deadpan and subtle, yet it makes you chuckle. His films may not have produced those humongous numbers at the box office (which now apparently is the only criteria to judge a film), you can’t deny the fact that over the years, we still have people talking about his films. That also explains why, everyone has been talking about the ‘Bluffmaster’ sequel. As I catch up with the filmmaker at his office in Lokhandwala, he doesn’t divulge if there would be a ‘Bluffmaster’ sequel; he bluffs me. But, what he does talk about, is his latest offering, ‘Nautanki Saala’, the Friday blues, and all what it takes to be a director. And I also realise that his films reflect how he is. Chuckmaster (as he is called by buddy Abhishek Bachchan) is quite cool, and subtly funny: 

You finished shooting ‘Nautanki Saala’ in 34 days, that’s quite quick! 
All thanks to preparations, we were able to do a lot of rehearsals and workshops. I always wanted it to be a very modestly budgeted film, so I said the best way to do that is to rehearse well. It’s cheaper to do three weeks of rehearsals, saving three days on set, but it more than pays for it. With good script, good performances, you can make it work at a reasonable budget, and still entertain people. So, that was always the ambition from the beginning. And, each film teaches me a little bit so with a little more confidence, you can work at a certain speed, because you have some kind of judgement. But, a lot of it is from rehearsals. Rehearsals, really give you that confidence, and then you can go out and really focus on execution.

And how did you zero in on the cast? 
I should be a brand ambassador of that coffee brand that says, ‘a lot can happen over coffee’, because literally, that’s how I cast Ayushmann for the film. I saw ‘Vicky Donor’ a week or ten days after it released and I just messaged Ayushmann, that ‘you’ve done a wonderful job, I’ll just like to have coffee with you’. I like it when I see a newcomer doing such a good job. I thoroughly enjoyed the film. So, we met, and I had not met him with the intension of doing any film with him. I always believe in the positive aspect of the unpredictability of life. It’s one of those things. The next day, he was on board. It was as organic as that.

There’s always an all together different tone of comedy in all your films. Even a film like ‘Dum Maro Dum’ based on drugs, had elements of humour, tell us about that. 
I work with smart and sarcastic writers. I enjoy comedy in a film in a lighter treatment, even if it’s about a cop. So, in Abhishek’s case that was the kind of humour we went forward in ‘Dum Maro Dum’, smart one-liners. He’s violent, he’s tough, but he’s also got these fun one-liners that you keep chuckling at. I think humour is a great way to connect to the audience. I also think comedy is a very serious business, especially in a film like ‘Nautanki Saala’, so we had to do these rehearsals. Because comedy is something that may look good while you’re reading it, but while doing it, it may not come across that well. There are small things you can do to make it work, and that also you’ll understand only during the rehearsals and workshops. Personally, I’m also a fan of that kind of humour. During ‘Bluffmaster’, there was a new kind of comedy, which was deadpan, sarcastic, and then the way Riteish talks, giving filmy references, that was relatively new; even Nana’s character was very tongue-in-cheek. Shridhar and Rajat wrote it and I liked it, and I was like, let’s do it ‘Nautanki Saala’ is quirky in the sense that a lot of humour in this film is out of tension. What Kunaal is doing in the film, you’re cringing seeing him. And wonder, ‘how can a man do something like that’. He’s not finding it funny, he’s in pain, and he’s tortured but you’re cringing and finding it funny.

Usually, directors try and get something from their personal experiences, into their films. Do you do that with your films too? 
The most personal thing I’ve got in a film would be in ‘Kuch Na Kaho’, because I’m a very private person. Two of my films are titled ‘Bluffmaster’ and ‘Nautanki Saala’, that tells you a lot about me (laughs). Yes, we’re all conmen. A conman is an actor, an actor is a conman. A conman if he’s good, he has to be a great actor to convince you and an actor is coning you to believe what he’s saying, and you believe him for that second. We’re all ‘nautankis’.

What’s your fettish with old songs? It’s quite interesting though that an old familiar song plays in the background during a scene. 
I work with talented music directors and I realise how difficult it is to make a good song. Old songs are good, so why not use them? In western films, you’ll often see old songs being used to convey an emotion, to create a mood, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it. I think the first person to do it in ‘Bluffmaster’ was me with ‘Sabse Bada Rupaiyya’. Before that nobody had come up with the idea of doing that. Since then we’re seeing a lot of people doing it. The reason people do it is because it evokes something beyond what a new song can. It can take you back in time; it can set you in that mood. There’s some connect that the old songs bring in. So, why not use brilliant parts of our culture when you’re doing something new, only if, you find a right song apt for a situation and a new way to present it.

‘Bluffmaster’ didn’t do that well at the box office, though today people still talk about it. In fact, people want a ‘Bluffmaster’ sequel. Does it affect you when any of your film doesn’t work wonders at the box office?
‘Bluffmaster’ got below average reviews. Today, it survived better than most films from that year, which for me is a great sense of satisfaction actually. Because, Friday to Friday, you react at a different level, and then you get a little perspective, after a year or two, At the end of the day, you make films in your career that you’re happy to see at that DVD shelf. You’re satisfied. I put as much as effort I can in every film. One of the nicest things I heard, David Dhawan called me after seeing ‘Dum Maro Dum’ and he was like, you’ve put in so much effort in the film, it’s like you’ve worked on three films. So, for me, nice words coming from a director means more than anything else, because they know the job, they know what goes into it, and to get encouragement from a senior like that is worth everything. Those are the things that you enjoy. And finally, I’m not a great salesman of my work, and neither do I think a director should be. I think, let the media speak or the film speak for itself, and finally, hopefully, it will be recognised. I’m not saying, my films had no shortcomings, they had shortcomings and they could have been better films. You must have all humility when you make a film, accept the result, and reception, and then do better next time. The nicest thing to hear is someone saying something so positive after so many years, it makes you believe that at least your conviction wasn’t wrong when you set out on that. Even if that Friday shakes you, and a part of the trade doesn’t like a film, or doesn’t have very high opinion about it, it’s okay. That passes. That is not remembered. What is remembered is people from the audience telling you something nice about a film even after so many years. That is what endures more than anything.

So, when you’re making a film, what do you look for? 
Actually what I look for, is the process. One of the huge parts of a director’s job is choosing a team around you. So, if I can do that correctly, I know that from the point where I start the film, to the point where it releases, I’ll enjoy that whole chain. I’ll learn 500 different things, about everything, about human nature, about acting, about technique, everything, with these colleagues. A lot of times, a director is the face of a team. So, that’s what I have control over. I don’t really make a film thinking that I want this film to be the biggest hit of all time. Of course, when a film doesn’t do well at the box office, it does affect you, you’re human. But at least I know that all this while, I’ve learnt a lot of things, and that journey has been satisfying. That’s my personal thing. I can’t calculate that if I do this, the film will be a super hit on Friday. And therefore…I have to get excited, and get up in the morning, and look forward to working. You want to feel like a kid in a candy store. You notice things around you, people that will push you to work harder, you’ll push them, and they’ll help you tell a story. At the end of the day, you need to witness a story.

What do you love the most about being a director?
Genuinely the best part is, choosing the team, because I know, that team will be a huge part of my waking life for the next 6 months or one year. And I should be like, ‘Chal ab mazaa aaega, inn logon ke saath kaam karne mein.’ Also, for me, the best part is rehearsals, because then there’s no pressure, and we can try, do this do that, we can fool around, play. People have to watch the film and get entertained, so the idea is, let us also watch each other and get entertained. While shooting, there’s a lot of pressure so I don’t really enjoy it. You just shoot, and do your best, but you’re not in the relaxed state of mind. After that, editing is always fun when you see the film finally shaping up. And of course the music, it’s fun when you’re working with so many talented singers, composers, music writers, it’s great to see another whole creative process where I have no talent in, but it’s lovely to be a part of it.

And what’s the most challenging part of a director’s job?
The challenging thing is again, I would say the pressure of shooting. I find it taxing, because there are so many people around, so much to do, you’re into another mode, it’s like being in a war situation; you have to get from here to there. There are hundred things you keep going through. And I like to go fast, so in 34 days, there’s too much I have to do. That’s the toughest part.

Before you made your directorial debut, was there any pressure of sort? Because you’re Ramesh Sippy’s son, and people have the tendency to get into comparisons. 
More than that pressure, he’s still a part of the company, he’s still the producer, our company’s name is Ramesh Sippy entertainment, so that is what you have to live up to, the values and the kind of films he made. That’s what is important for me, to keep a valuable association with a name like that. Pressure definitely, before you start you feel a certain kind of pressure, but you realise there’s very little you can do about that pressure, so you might as well get on with your job and concentrate on that. Directing – the media and the public perception of it is very different, you see a film in 2-3 hours, but there’s so much that a director has to do. You wake up in the morning, work for 12-15 hours, take 6-7 shots in a day, so there’s so much work to do. May be that will strike you once if this script is proper, but that thought of pressure doesn’t occur to you. 99 per cent of times, what you have in mind is making that blue print into a reality. Building a great wall of china, you have to do your job to the best of your ability, and my father while he was making his films did not think that ‘ohh this would be a great film’, so same thing applies here. You forget about it, do your work to your best. If it’s genuinely good, it will be enjoyed, if it’s not you’ll work harder the next time, simple as that.

You portray Mumbai so beautifully in your films… 
Luckily I grew up in a beautiful part of Mumbai, I think I love the fantasy of Mombay being all open and a city where you can just walk around. That’s what I love to do, to be able to walk around in the city, it’s a beautiful city. And it comes from the love for the city. My grandfather moved in here in 1947, my dad is very much a son of this city, and the city gave him a lot, he gave a lot to the city. It’s the heart of our industry, it’s synonymous with Hindi cinema, so subconsciously, you try to make Mumbai movies. It’s one of the greatest cities in India, and we have to remind ourselves of it. We’re losing the point of what Mumbai was, that anybody could come from anywhere, let us keep those values alive in our films, that is Mumbai spirit, what you do is what matters, not who you are or where you come from.

Is the ‘Bluffmaster’ sequel on cards?
The beauty of it is the title, which is called ‘Bluffmaster’, so if I say yes, you don’t know if I’m saying the truth, if I say no, you don’t know if I’m lying. So, no matter what I say, you know nothing, till you actually see the shooting happening, and that also could be that you’re being bluffed. You never know (Laughs)

What next post ‘Nautanki Saala’? 
Immediately after release of ‘Nautanki Saala’ is a very wonderful script that we shall produce, it is directed by Charudutt Acharya. It is very much about the spirit of Mumbai and a group of teenagers who take on the system. ‘Mumbai mein degree nahi, dum chahiye’, that’s the spirit of the film. Then there are 5-6 different projects in different stages, where we’ll see which one is ready, and we can start.