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.

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