Wednesday, December 31, 2014


“Our experiments are an honest interpretation of what as youngsters we would like to hear”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the December 27, 2014 issue of Super Cinema)

Go to music composers Sachin-Jigar’s studio, and they'll always be engaged in a banter on some or the other song. The duo is currently working on Remo D’souza’s ‘ABCD 2’ while giving final touches to the ‘Badlapur’ album. While they have this constant hunger to come up with something unique each time, there’s also immense effort with mad hours of work. With the music of films like ‘Entertainment’, ‘Finding Fanny’ and ‘Happy Ending’ getting popular, 2014 has indeed been a great year for them. In a candid chat at their new studio, Sachin Sanghvi and Jigar Saraiya talk about all things music!

As composers, what’s your say on belief that music plays an important role in a film’s success? Though, there have also been times when the music has got a good response but the film failed, take for instance, ‘Happy Ending’.
Sachin: Fortunately or unfortunately, we are the first people thrown out of the curtain and expected to create buzz about a film. Now producers don’t look at music sales as a part of the revenue at all, but we take the responsibility of going out first, and whatever people will know about the film is through these songs. If you’re saying that the music of ‘Happy Ending’ was well-appreciated, and it has been able to transcend beyond the movie faring well then it feels that much better. But, I think there are also times when the success of a film carries a song. For example, ‘Krrish 3’ was a successful film, and so that song ‘Raghupati Raghav’ was a big hit among kids. These things do go hand in hand, sometimes we do better and sometimes the film does better.

Is it a conscious effort from the two of you, to make sure your music is edgy and unique each time?
Jigar: It comes naturally through the script. To give you a very simple example, when you go to a certain kind of place, you wear certain kind of clothes. Similarly, a film’s script gives you an idea of the genre of music. If you’re going to Switzerland, you’ll obviously need warm clothes, so our job is to decide what would be the colour and type of those clothes, metaphorically! But if we’ve got an offbeat film, like ‘Go Goa Gone’ or ‘Happy Ending’, we make sure we do a song which nobody has done, because only these are the kind of films where we can sort of experiment. Every year, so many romcoms are made, and the scope to do something different and stand out in a romcom is very rare. So, that’s the conscious effort to do something not done before. Having said that, it’s not a desperate attempt to do something which the audience may not accept, we do not want to challenge anyone’s taste. Eventually, what we are serving has to be dal-chawal only which everyone can eat. But just the amount of tadka is different (smiles).

A lot of times writers face a writer’s block…don’t you face something similar as composers, especially when expected to create a new tune each time?
Sachin: I think we face the situation more often. A writer may write one book a year, or one script a year, while we probably end up doing 20 songs. We work between several creative blocks. I think songs come out of thin air. They come in the bathroom or the parking lot or on a divider thinking whether to cross the road or not. There’s no formula about when a song can come. But until a song doesn’t come to our mind, Mr. Saraiya doesn’t live peacefully and doesn’t let anyone live peacefully. So, he is continuously chasing that one element in a song which makes us feel like ‘okay we’ve got the song!’Unless and until we have that, we cannot make a tune. Let’s say we have a ‘mukhda’ but we don’t have a hook-line, then we don’t consider that as having cracked a tune. Plus I think when Jigar was born, the way the stars were, he has only believed in challenging himself (laughs). Sometimes he goes to the extent that I tell him ‘ab zyada ho raha hai. Now you’ve mixed pasta with Thai curry. Alag hone ke chakkar mein we’ve made it weird.’ So we have that chemistry where I try to pull him back and bring that convention. Basically, I bring the practical check, while he’s the challenger among us. We go through blocks, we go through fights, we go through days of not speaking to each other and we go through tremendous torture on the lyric writer.
Jigar: Yes, my wife (lyric-writer Priya Saraiya) was on the urge of leaving me now (laughs).

Are you both always satisfied with the songs you’ll make?
Jigar: We think all our songs could have been better if we had more time…but you know there’s this person called as ‘the producer’. He wouldn’t worry about how far you’ve gone creatively or how far you can go. There’s a certain deadline, which needs to be met, and so, we’ll always be cribbing. But we’ve learnt certain things over a period of time. We won’t be able to do certain kind of cinema because it has nothing for films in which music is just for the sake of it. Sachin: We come from a theatre background. And no matter who says what, the script is the driving force for anything in a film. Anybody who does it in any other way is cheating basically. Jigar and I get scared when people come with a menu card – ‘Ek-do hit item song chahiye, ek love song dedo.’ That doesn’t excite us at all. Who wants to make flop songs? Everyone gives their best but eventually, the audience decides if a song is a hit or flop. Producers come to us and say things like, ‘Ek dance song chahiye like Badtameez Dil.’ But that is already done. We have not made another song like ‘chaar baj gaye lekin party abhi baaki hai’. How can we make someone else’s song. It’s not practical to take a song as brief and make a better song to that. These are the kind of films we are scared of, so we have learnt to say no to the producers.
Jigar: Yes, because if we honour those demands right now for the fear of not getting any more work, what will happen is that automatically we won’t get work after those songs have released.

So, now you’ll are only comfortable working with people who give you that space and creative liberty?
Somewhere during our initial 2-3 films, we were honouring certain obvious obligations because we were new to the industry. We thought we would come across as rude and arrogant.  
But we’ve also come across so many nice producers who’ve said that, ‘I’m going to hire you, but if you don’t want to do my film and do it just out of obligation and it doesn’t go well, then we are not going to come back to you anyway. So be sure about what you want to do.’
That’s when it dawned upon us that we cannot say yes to a project, out of obligation and do things half heartedly. Jigar and I are director’s boys, and we see the director’s requirement and the script’s demand. There are some producers like Dinesh Vijan at Illumanati who have a great taste in music by themselves. But, when there’s lack of conviction in the production, we won’t be able to do a film, and I won’t feel sorry about saying it. It’s a team effort, we have to push each other. That sort of synergy works well with the way we work.

Can you’ll pick one of your favourite songs and tell me the process behind it?
There’s a series of our best songs, but I think we’ve been able to beat ourselves. We never thought we can do anything better than ‘Char Baj Gaye’, but we did ‘Saibo’, then ‘Babaji Ki Booti’. ‘Mileya’ is our latest favourite. But when I look back, I realise that all these songs have a common factor. ‘Char Baj Gaye’ was rejected by five people except the director who liked it. ‘Saibo’ was rejected by everyone else, but the director liked it. ‘Babaji Ki Booti’ was only made between us and the directors. ‘Mileya’ was only three people’s conviction – the producer, director and us and apart from that nobody had the vibe of the song. So, what we’ve learnt is that, our first instinct is the instinct we should go with. Now I think we are going to open our songs which we shut down because the producers rejected it. We also saw that there was one song which we weren’t convinced about but the producer got made from us with a lot of conviction and it hasn’t worked.
Sachin: Sometimes we take as many as four narrations because narrations do something to us. I say this each time that ‘narrations make us pregnant’. Each time we walk out of a narration, I think we have a tune. And each time we’ve tried to cheat the script and do something just because 
someone else wants that, it hasn’t worked.

The duo with Saif Ali Khan in 'Paaji tussi such a pussy cat' from 'Happy Ending'
So, it’s the script that you’ll go by always?
Jigar: For instance, we weren’t able to crack the climax of ‘ABCD’, until the last day on the set. We had to go on the set to see what’s happening to crack the tune. But a lot of things come into play here like, Remo sir had the conviction that we’ll deliver even if late. Similarly for ‘ABCD 2’…we are working on it till the last minute. We went to him, took the narration for every song. It’s re-assessment of sort.
Sachin: Yes, it’s not like old days when you get a narration, take twenty days, come up with four songs and then you are rehearsing and recording all four songs in one go. We’ve been working on ‘ABCD 2’ for the past eight months. Sometimes, getting another narration just helps you put the jigsaw puzzle back into its place. I think it’s just going back to what was asked.

On an average, how much time does it take to complete one song from start-to-finish?
I have institutionalised this whole process and I can tell you that without exaggerating, that every five-minute song on which people skip and say they don’t like it, takes 700 man hours to complete from the time it is conceived to the final mix. These seven hundred hours are complete over a period of six months or 1-2 years. When I say 700 hours, it might seem a bit too much but imagine, sometimes we work 10-14 hours a day, so in terms of that 700 hours isn’t anything.
Jigar: But there are exceptions. There have been songs which have been done in seven hours also. Like ‘Saibo’, we had the thought in the morning, we had the song by evening, and that’s what got finalised. After that, the time went in convincing the music companies and producers. In fact, all the four songs I mentioned earlier, have been conceived in about 6-7 hours.
Sachin: What Jigar is talking about is when we have a song at hand already. But because we also arrange and program our music, record all the live dubs it takes time. We don’t have any assistants, so we get it mixed also and mastered also, everything under happens under our eye, because we were music arrangers first. We arranged music for everyone in the industry right from Rehman to Anu Malik. I think our whole learning also has come from there. Now we’re very particular about what we are looking for in terms of the sound. There’s always a process. I think songs are like babies. When we use the word pregnant, we literally feel that every song is our baby, and cannot leave the baby just after delivering it…you have to nurture it. A song takes its own sweet time.
Jigar: Yes, you cannot push certain things.

Over the years, you think your confidence level in terms of experimenting with music, has gone up? More so, because of the appreciation that has come your way…
Jigar: Yes, absolutely! But through the years, we’ve been able to learn and unlearn both. There have been times when I think we should do what we want, but then there’s this sense of achievement when you’re able to balance your music with the taste of the audience. That’s why we are here. We’re targeting India and beyond, so that’s the real challenge, and for that, we have to unlearn a lot of music, and in a subtle way also teach them music.
Sachin: I completely agree to what Jigar is saying. For example, to do a Ganpati song that was based on a dubstep beat. First you need to convince yourself that this can happen. In today’s age and time, may be you’re looking for a Ganpati song which is on a dub-step beat, why not? I have witnessed twice or thrice during Visarjan as to how people play any kind of music, because they just want to enjoy. Our experiments also, in that way come from our observations. When you also say, experiments, I don’t think we’ve been able to do anything new. May be we’ve done something we didn’t do before. Moreover, I don’t agree to the concept of somebody saying I made this tune. Your music is never your own. Your music is always an assimilation and aggregation of what you were brought up listening to. Somewhere or the other, most of us learn more by listening.
Jigar: Sachin has learnt ten years of music, but I haven’t really learnt music. Whatever I know, is by listening, and then I got trained to understand music better. So, everybody is listening to our music, has to be treated genuinely, and we have to keep doing justice to that person’s taste.

What do you think Sachin-Jigar’s music stands for?
True and honest. We’re not really attempting desperately to make something different. 
Sachin: Our experiments are an honest interpretation of what as youngsters we would like to hear. I wanted to be a music composer because of A.R. Rehman. I wanted to be Kumar Sanu, and then Roja happened to lots of youngsters like me and all we wanted to do was, get to our synthesizers and record that kind of music and play it for people. Like I said, we’ve been arrangers for many composers, including Rehman, His South-Indian industry work was so rich, that when I came down to Bollywood, I had to majorly unlearn. That kind of orchestration or richness or that kind of a mindset I don’t think we still have it in Bollywood. Because we’re talking about PAN India, we’re talking about an average listener who hasn’t heard anything other than, perhaps, local folk. So, it’ll be difficult for somebody like that, to gulp a Ganpati dub-step track. I think the credit for us being able to come up with something new, also goes to our producers who time and again come back to us with that kind of conviction.

So you’ll are happy with how 2014 shaped up for you? What lies ahead next year?
Jigar: Yes, we wanted to do one commercial hit, so we did ‘Johnny Johnny’, and we wanted to experiment a bit, so we did ‘Shake Your Bootiyaan’ and ‘Happy Ending’. Next year also looks good because we have ‘Badlapur’, ‘ABCD 2’, ‘Farzi’ and Remo sir’s next film.

‘Marjaaniya’ from ‘Badlapur’ has got a good response, what can people expect from the rest of the album?
‘Badlapur’ is totally intense Sachin-Jigar. It is the kind of music we’ve been itching to do for a while, and we won’t do it again for a very long time after this. Again, we’ve been able to create music like that, because of Dinu sir (Dinesh Vijan), he’s been great help even lyrically, he comes up with these hook-lines. It was him who came up with the hook-line, ‘Jee karda marnaaniya’.
Sachin: He’s fearless, very forward thinking, he listens to very good music, so he has the courage to say that let’s make something so edgy and intense. That’s what you can expect. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Anurag Kashyap

“It’s unfair to compare my movies with star-driven movies.”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the December 27, 2014 issue of Super Cinema)

Anurag Kashyap is as intriguing and honest as the films he makes. He makes no bones about expressing what he feels, be it in an interview or his work – even if it’s hard-hitting; because like he says, “Truth is always hard-hitting.” His latest film, ‘Ugly’ has just released, and amidst several other meetings and running around, he makes time out to chat at his office, just before he grabs some lunch. The film-maker discusses all about brand of cinema, why he is amused at the term ‘dark’ and lots more…

You must be happy with the good reviews ‘Ugly’ has got…
I’m very happy because the idea was to send a message that you can make movies like that and hook people emotionally. It is the need of the hour, because every film works on the excuse that we face so much misery in our life and cinema is our escape. But cinema is not necessarily an escape. If you want to escape, there are other things. That’s why films are losing their charm. For the health of any industry, you need to keep re-inventing yourself.

How did the thought of ‘Ugly’ come to you and how did the journey on the film commence?
I always make films on things that bother me, amuse me or inspire me. ‘Ugly’s’ journey actually started with my relationship with my daughter, after my divorce when I was not really getting to spend time with her. The film started from my own guilt. We might think kids are not mature, but when you see a 5-year old literally questioning your love for her, telling you that ‘why do you even try to spend time with me because you don’t have time, you are so busy; so be honest,’ that makes you think. Those questions from a 5-year old come from nothing else but the want to spend time with you. That’s when it struck that what are we doing in our lives, trying to just constantly out-do each other? It’s some sort of a game that we think we are in, while not nurturing and paying attention to what we should be.

Does the dark, hard-hitting essence in your films somewhere come from your own observations or experiences?
It comes from what I see around. It comes from what my research is, and what I know. Truth is always hard-hitting and that’s my intention in whatever I do. As far as ‘dark’ is concerned, I think dark is a very relative and subjective term. I don’t understand what people term as ‘dark’ in this country. When a film like ‘Gone Girl’ released, I didn’t hear anyone call it a dark film. Everyone calls it a suspense thriller, and ‘Ugly’ is not even half as dark as that. So, I feel this is some sort of hypocrisy. We’ve gotten so used to watching cinema which means nothing except a variety show in the end that people think my films are dark. But I don’t really think I’m coming from a dark space. If that’s the case, then, most film-makers that we celebrate today worldwide, like Cristopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese – can be called dark. They won’t survive in this country just because people call them so. I think, how we look at cinema is something we need to re-look at. Dark is easy for us to put in a bracket – ‘Yeh samajh mein nahi aaya toh yeh dark hai’. We need to expand our movie-watching experience. As far as I’m concerned, I try to make people think, and sometimes also entertain them. I like people to see more than what they normally see. If more film-makers start doing that, then I’ll start making lighter films (laughs). I’m a big cinema lover and I love watching mainstream movies, I just cannot make them.

So, the idea is to sort of keep things real in your films?
I think everything should be believable. Even mainstream films have to be believable. ‘PK’ is the best example of what I’ve been trying to say. A star’s job gets over from Friday to Sunday. Monday onwards, it’s the job of the content and director that starts. And no director has been doing that job for a long time. Everyone’s just depending on star power. ‘PK’ is doing that and should change the game. Everything that it has survived on is word of mouth. It didn’t open as big as an Aamir Khan or a Raju Hirani film should have. It’s only word of mouth that has done the magic. It has something to learn for everyone. Every star should know, that when you focus on content, you can make much more than 100-crores. They’re just obsessed, they cross a certain amount and they’re happy. This is where the game-changing comes – if actors begin to think that way.

Talking about actors, how do you manage to draw such performances and deep emotions from the actors in your films?
From trust! When actors trust you, they completely surrender and open themselves up to you. There are a lot of notions about me, and there are people who don’t even understand why I’m even allowed to exist or make films. But be it actors or studios, when they work with me, they know the truth and understand me. I actually draw a lot from the actors, but every actor has a very different way of looking at things so I work accordingly.

A still from 'Ugly'
So you have a different process of dealing with every actor?
Yes, but the common factor and the beginning is always trust. Sometimes you just talk a lot to them to get into a certain part of their life and find those emotions so they can relate to a character and the performance looks real. For some actors, like Ronit Roy, you just have to tell them what you want, and they find references from their life, by themselves. And some people, we just tell them what not to do. Like Vineet Kumar Singh is such a good actor but he gets into everything so intensely that you have to keep telling him, don’t do this, don’t do that. It differs from actor to actor, depending on their experience, personality and hunger. I like to prepare my actors by showing them movies, get them into that mode, not by making them rehearse lines.

Do you limit yourself to working with only a certain kind of actors?
Like I said, I cannot work without trust, no matter who I’m working with. If a star trusts me, why would I not work with him? But, if a star goes and thinks that I make dark movies and I shouldn’t do a certain kind of movie then the conversation is over right there.

Does it help more when you’ve also written the script of the film you’re directing?
Always! Every time a director is involved with the writing process, it always helps making the film better, because you know the characters very well. I think a director should always, somehow, involve himself with the writing process.

What do you enjoy more and is there a conflict between the two roles?
I enjoy directing more, and I also very rarely like somebody’s script. When I like it, I’m very happy but most of the times when I like a script, there’s also a director attached to it. So, I end up writing my own films. When I’m directing my own script, I tell the writer in me, to shut up. While making a film, you realise in the moment that some parts look fake or false. Because you feel that instinctively, you eventually drop the script and start improvising. For instance, there’s this police station scene which we shot in ‘Ugly’. The first day of the shoot, everybody had rehearsed their lines and when they were doing the lines, I thought, the whole scene was looking so manipulative. I asked them to throw the script in the dustbin and we improvised. From a two-page scene, it became a fourteen minute scene and then we cut it down to nine minutes. But, I enjoy directing more than writing and then I enjoy editing also. Editing is another process where I usually re-write the script. I spend a lot of time writing. I spend less time directing and a lot of time in the post-production. Every film, I take at least six months to a year for post production. That’s when you re-evolve the film and I’m also very particular about the sound-design, mixing and everything.

There’s a certain section of the audience which loves your brand of films and always expect them to be of a certain standard. What is it that goes on, in your mind?
I want to have an audience, whose expectation should be that ‘let’s see what he’s done now’. I don’t want the audience to limit me by expecting a gangster movie after a ‘…Wasseypur’ or another film like ‘Dev D’ after that. I want the audience to expect me to surprise them each time.

And doesn’t it really bother you when there’s also a section which believes that your films don’t really ring the bell at the box-office?
I think my films make enough money, or else I wouldn’t be making films. I make films without stars and my budgets are very low. It’s unfair to compare my movies with star-driven movies. The budget of my film is one-fourth of the salary of directors in many films. I make films without stars, and my films make money which many non-star films don’t. I don’t even take star sons in my films. If people compare ‘Bombay Velvet’ with other star-films, then that would be a fair judgment because it has a big star cast and it’s a big budget film. When you compare ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ and ‘Ugly’ with all those big-star vehicles, I’ll say, pull off a five and a half hour movie, without any big star cast and then we’ll talk. I made ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’ in Rs. 18crores. Let people make the film scene by scene, in less than what I made and then talk. There’s a lot of skill that comes in there. In India, people will not understand that. They will try to put that film in the same scale as a big-budget star-studded film. They say things like, ‘Ugly’ is competing with ‘PK’, but it cannot compete. We have just two-three shows and not more than 350 prints. Internationally, people see what I’m doing. They understand and see where it’s coming from. That’s why we have a value, internationally. My burden is the budget of my film. I’m not trying to make a box-office record. I’m also not being unfair on my producers by charging that kind of fees. When they do a fair comparison, I will sit and talk to them, but as long as they want to do an unfair comparison, I’m not really bothered.

Which means, you work well-in-advance and do your homework well before you go on floors, in order to make the film in a particular budget?
I work backwards. I ask people, how much do they think, a particular film can earn. They say a particular amount and then I make my budget accordingly. I do a lot of homework to figure out how to make a film in that budget. That takes at least, a year or two. We took six years to figure out how we will make ‘Bombay Velvet’ in a particular budget. It’s a film that should have crossed Rs. 300 crores, in terms of its cost. But we got it down. When we first budgeted it, the budget was Rs. 160 crores. That’s unreasonable amount of money. A market that has not made a box-office share of that much cannot give you that kind of money to make a film. We had to cut it down to a minimal possible and then we came to a particular figure and spent so many years figuring out how to make it in that budget.

Evidently, ‘Bombay Velvet’ is your biggest film…
It is my biggest project but it’s also my tightest project. We’ve only shot for 75 days and our budget didn’t even allow us to shoot for that many days.

Because usually your films deal with hard-hitting subjects, they even drain the audience, emotionally and mentally! Isn’t it draining for you?
The way I see it is that, if you’re not emotionally and mentally drained at the end of a film, then you’ve not really made a film. It’s very important for me to drain myself.

And then how do you bounce back before you move to another film?
I go diving after I finish a film. I take lots of holidays. During the post-production, fifteen days I’m on the film and fifteen days I go away. I need to go away from the film to get objectivity.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Aamir Khan

“Numbers are a loose representation of how much people have liked the film”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the December 20, 2014 issue of Super Cinema)

Meet and speak to Aamir Khan and the one thing you might notice about him, is his ‘thairaav’. There’s a sense of calm in his demeanour, there are long pauses when he speaks, but that only means he has gone into the depth of the conversation and given a serious thought to things you've asked him. His responses are like him narrating stories, and that might come across in this interview. Little wonder then, that he syncs in deeply into every character and emotion he displays on-screen. So much so, that he confesses he starts behaving and looking like the part he plays, even for real. The actor's latest offering ‘PK’ is no different. When Khan enters the room, you almost feel he is walking the way his character in the film walks. Just as he settles down, we get talking about ‘PK’, his stand on the box-office numbers v/s quality cinema debate, choice of films and lots more in an engaging conversation…

From a nude picture with a transistor to being dressed as a policeman…was it a conscious decision to create a striking poster campaign ‘PK’?
All of these are moments from the film, and these photographs are clicked on location when the scene was being shot. I actually mentioned it to Raju (Rajkumar Hirani), that for this particular film, we can probably have a good poster campaign, with different looks which are quite strong visuals. So, we decided to open the promotions with a poster rather than a trailer. There’s something called key art, which is the central thought of the film. If we had released a poster which is a romantic shot between Anushka and me, it would be a wrong message for my audience. My messaging has to be accurate and honest to what the material is. In ‘Taare Zameen Par’, the key art was a little boy sitting on a bench and a teacher sitting a few benches behind him. That one image reflected the film. For ‘PK’, it was that image which was released first. It wasn’t used in order to sensationalise. I don’t think Raju thinks that way, nor do I. But we’re certainly very particular about what we’re expressing creatively. We want to be honest to our film, the story, and its creative requirements. There’s a chain of thought and narrative in the posters that we released.

What was the brief that Rajkumar Hirani first gave you about the film?
He narrated the entire developed script to me and I really loved it. He’s written a film which is saying something extremely important and fundamental, and once again the vehicle he has chosen is humour. There’s a lot of humour in the film while he’s telling you what he wants to tell you. That’s his strength as a film-maker. I think Raju is the biggest USP of the film. But there’s not much I can tell you about the brief he gave me. The only reason we’ve kept a lot of things under wraps is because some scripts are such that if we tell you anything, it becomes a spoiler of sort. I want people to experience the film the way I experienced it for the first time when Raju narrated the script to me.

More often than not, a director brings something from his own self or life into his films. Do you think there’s a bit of Rajkumar Hirani in ‘PK’?
I think there’s a bit of Raju in all his films. He’s also a very unusual human being. I think the kind of person he is comes through in the sensibilities of his films and characters. I’ve observed that even his negative characters are lovable. For instance, Chatur from ‘3 Idiots’ was so likeable – though he wasn’t really a negative character but we can say he was the negative force of the film. We even like Boman’s (Irani) character in ‘3 Idiots’ or ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’. So Raju’s bad characters are also not so bad, because he has a very humane way of looking at things, which comes through in all his films. He also has a great sense of humour which comes naturally in all his work.

Your character in ‘PK’ has traits like he doesn’t blink….being the perfectionist that you are, do such traits for a character now come easily to you? What are the other nuances you had to adapt for the film?
I’m not a trained actor, so I don’t have a process hence, each film is a very different. What is the most important to me is to get into the head of the character, and once I manage to do that, everything else follows. This was a peculiarity which cropped up just in the last rehearsal before we began shooting. We were doing a test shoot and co-incidentally, Vinod (Vidhu Vinod Chopra) landed up on the set. He saw me doing a scene and said that why don’t we do the same thing without blinking. It didn’t make sense to me at that time, but I thought let me just try what he is saying. Later when we saw the shot, we realised it was a big cue which he had given to get the key of my character right. So, by and large I don’t blink in the film except for a few emotional scenes. As far as the other traits are concerned, my language is Bhojpuri, my ears which pop out already, have been made to pop out even more. I’m wearing green lenses, which made the not-blinking part even tougher because when you wear lenses you tend to blink more. Also, I don’t move my hands while running. I think it gets easier when a character syncs into you after a point.

And given that you sync so deeply into a character, does it help that you do just one film at a time?
After a very long time I’ve done two films simultaneously. ‘Dhoom 3’ was about 60 percent complete, when Victor (director Vijay Krishna Acharya) told me that he needs some time to prepare before we shoot the rest of the 40 per cent. So, I told Raju that Victor needs more time, so I need to push your film by four months or so, but Raju has been waiting for a long time. It’s now been five years since the release of ‘3 Idiots’. Raju suggested that I could finish shooting one schedule of ‘PK’ till the ‘Dhoom 3’ shoot commences again. So I ended up doing both these films simultaneously. I’d do a schedule for ‘PK’ and then ‘Dhoom 3’ and for me, that’s a very difficult thing to do. I’ve not done that in so many years. I hate the idea of playing two characters simultaneously and in this case three, because I played a double role in ‘Dhoom 3’. After doing a long schedule of about 40-45 days for ‘PK’, I went to Switzerland straight away to shoot the climax of ‘Dhoom 3’. We were shooting this scene where both my characters, Samar and Sahir are running away and Samar stops because he sees Aaliya (Katrina Kaif’s character). My line was, ‘Samar chal, yeh sab dhokha hai, chal, waqt nahi hai humare paas.’ In the first take, I said that line in Bhojpuri. I said, “Chal Samar, bakhat nahi hai humre paas (laughs).”  I finally got it right after two-three takes post which Victor asked me, “Why are you talking in the ‘Lagaan’ language?” I laughed and said, “No, this isn’t the ‘Lagaan’ language, this is the ‘PK’ language!” So no, I really don’t enjoy doing two films together!  

You mean a character stays with you long after you’ve finished shooting for a film?
Yes, I’ve noticed it and I find it strange that something happens and I also start looking and behaving like a particular character when I’m shooting for a film. For instance, after ‘Ghajini’, my short term memory has gone for a toss. I don’t know what stays with me, I don’t have any control over it, but something does stay with me for sure. I’m not one of those switch on-switch off kind of actors. I don’t think about bringing in my own individuality, I just try and be the character.

Apart from being in the character mentally, now there’s also more emphasis on looking a certain way. Not to forget the hysteria around the six-pack and eight-pack abs...So what’s more difficult?
You know that’s good thing! There’s been too much objectifying of women, now let’s objectify men also a bit (laughs). But, it’s important to look like a character. As an actor it’s my job to use my body as a tool, at least I believe so. If I’m playing an old, over-weight person then I cannot be shy to look that. But the mental and emotional transformation is a lot tougher. The physical transformation is more scientific, wherein you work-out or follow a diet, but mentally and emotionally, you have to feel your way through and hope you get there.

You’ve said that ‘PK’ has been the most difficult role for you…why so? Also, which has been your most emotionally draining role?
It’ll be a bit difficult for me to explain it to you, without telling you the plot, so you’ll have to see the film to realise why I feel that it’s the most difficult role I’ve played. I think, ‘Talaash’ has been the most emotionally draining film for me. The back story of my character, Shekhawat was that he has lost his son in a drowning accident. He couldn’t save him and is living with guilt. So, no matter what scene it was, in every moment Shekhawat carried that baggage. There was always this dark cloud over him which never lifts. For me to get into that headspace every morning, I had to start my day by imagining that I’ve lost someone really close to me and that was very draining emotionally!

What is your criterion to choose films, and has it changed over the years?
No, it hasn’t changed. For me, the criterion is how I react to the script as an audience. The idea is to see that if I’m experiencing a film for the first time through the script, what do I feel about it? It’s an instinctive thing. If I hear the narration and if I say, “Wow! I really love that…” then I do it. There are no boxes that I have to tick. It’s just an emotional reaction about how I like the material. If I’ve loved the script, it’s very unlikely that I won’t like my character. A film doesn’t have to be centered around me for me do it. For example, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ was a story of three friends, or ‘Rang De Basanti’ had five to six characters.

You have this knack of choosing good stories…
As a kid I loved to listen to stories. Whenever a writer or a director pitched a story to my father or uncle, I would sit in a corner and listen to them. May be that’s something which has helped me develop an instinct towards good stories.

Don’t numbers or the commercial viability of a film play on your mind while choosing a film, especially in today’s scenario where box-office collection is the only way to judge its success?
I think my choice of films speaks for itself. When you’re selecting, I’m using the word selecting because that’s an important stage in the life of a film. So, at the time of selecting a film, if you think that you cannot do a film if it doesn’t have the potential to do ‘X’ number of crores, then you’re really killing its creativity. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people in the industry I believe, are thinking that way, and it is showing in the kind of films we’re making. It’s exactly the message which ‘3 Idiots’ gives – Don’t chase success. Chase excellence and success will follow. That’s how I have always been. I wouldn’t have done films like ‘Sarfarosh’ or ‘Rang De Basanti’ or ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ or ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ which at that time didn’t do well. ‘Rang De Basanti’ is the fifth film on Bhagat Singh and Azad. ‘Taare Zameen Par’ is a story of a child with dyslexia. These are my choice of films. None of these films, on script level are meant to be big blockbusters. I did all of them because I loved the script, they went on to do a big business, that’s a separate issue. It would be much better for the film industry, if we just thought of what we feel like doing creatively, while selecting a film. That’s how I run my life at least.

So, there’s no pressure of sort to deliver a hit and generate big numbers?
Of course there’s pressure on me, but the pressure to achieve the vision of the director and deliver what we’d set out to do. I’m never thinking about the crores we can make, I always analyse if we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. The concern is, will the audience find the same things funny or emotional that we did? If they love the film, it will do well. Numbers are a loose representation of how much people have liked the film. So if people have really liked it, you’ll have bigger numbers. If people have not liked the film, it’ll crash. Even if the collections go down after the first day, it means people haven’t liked it. In that sense, collections do become a yardstick to measure a film’s success.

As an actor what is the most gratifying for you?
So in the order of preference, there are two things. Firstly, what’s gratifying is to know that we’ve made a film we set out to make. The second thing is to know if the audience, for whom we’ve made the film has liked it.

Has it ever happened that you saw a film and thought it could have been made better?
As an actor that happens to me in all my films. I’m never really happy with my work. But there have also been times when we’ve seen a few films, and as a team felt that we’ve not really done it the way we thought we would, or it hasn’t done justice to the script’s potential.

What next after ‘PK’? Is another season of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ on the cards?
Right now I’m reading scripts so I haven’t decided what I’m doing next which is alarming because this year I didn’t shoot for any film, as I did ‘Satyamev Jayate (SMJ)’ and because I still don’t have a script, obviously next year I won’t see a release. And no, I’m not doing ‘SMJ’ next year either. After five years of ‘SMJ’, my team and I feel we need a break. What I’m going to do is a film after this. But I don’t know what film yet. I’ll decide soon enough, and then a few months will go in the prep work before we start shooting. The only thing that’s definite is that I won’t have a release next year.

And how will you utilise some free time on hand?
I am looking forward to spending some time with Azad. He’s so delightful! I always feel that I’m giving less time to my children. You can never give them more or enough time. A while ago, Kiran had gone off to Himachal to write her script for two weeks. At first, she was hesitating to go, because she’s hands-on with Azad and didn’t want to leave him alone. But I told her I’ll be with him, so she went off for two weeks, and then I was looking after him. From waking him up, to dropping him to school to picking him up, having lunch with him, I would do everything. My work would start in the afternoon, once I put him to sleep and then I would only work at few hours, wake him up and play with him. My meetings would start after 9.30 pm only after I put him to sleep. My entire schedule was made around his schedule but I really enjoyed that, so I’d like to spend some time with my family. I also like to read and travel, so might do that as well!

Monday, December 15, 2014

1000 weeks of ‘DDLJ’

Ten reasons why ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’
is not just a film!

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This feature has been published in the December 13, 2014 issue of Super Cinema)

There are good films, there are bad films. And then, there’s something like ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ which not only entertains people, but makes a humungous impact on them. The romantic saga continues to linger on our minds, in a way that it’s more a part of the popular culture, and people remember instances from the film, every now and then while facing some real-life situations. Call it cinematic brilliance, or just a film brimming with simplicity that won hearts, but talk about Hindi cinema, and there’ll always be a mention of ‘DDLJ’. It makes the kids of the 90s nostalgic when they reminisce the moments from the film, while the music continues to be hummed by people. Not to forget, most girls go ‘awww’ at the mention of ‘DDLJ’ and Raj! Yes, it is an iconic film, but it also goes beyond just being a film! Here’s why…

1.      Bade Bade deshon mein aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hai
The film released in 1995, but since then how many times have we heard people say, ‘bade bade deshon mein aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hai’? Or perhaps, you yourself might have said it once or twice, just for fun’s sake! So much so, that this one has begun to sound cliché. But like they say, clichés are clichés for a reason – they worked. The dialogues of this film worked and how! 1000 weeks to its release and people still say things like, ‘Jaa Simran jee le apni zindagi’ while pulling someone’s leg, or some serious, true things like, ‘Sapne dekho..zarur dekho, bas unke poore hone ki shart mat rakho’. Evidently, these dialogues still fit into our lifestyle and vocabulary. Somehow all these drama-filled lines penned by Javed Siddiqui along with Aditya Chopra, still seem so fresh and ‘dumdaar!’

2.      The swaying yellow mustard field
The beautiful yellow field, a stunning-looking Kajol clad in white, Shah Rukh Khan with his arms wide open with the signature ‘DDLJ’ mandolin tune playing in the background. This particular sequence was such a high for cinema lovers. The moment in fact, is considered so iconic, that most actresses would love to emulate this ‘sarson ke khet’ sequence, just to get that quintessential Hindi cinema heroine feeling. During the release of ‘Highway’, Alia Bhatt was heard sharing, “I loved the shooting experience of ‘Highway’ in Punjab. I got to do things running in the fields like Kajol from ‘DDLJ’, but obviously I wasn’t looking as beautiful as she was!”

3.      The music
The fact that ‘Mehendi lagaa ke rakhna’ has continued to remain an all-time favourite, to be played at any wedding, or ‘Mere khwabon mein joh aaye’ seems relatable to every single girl, speaks volumes about the music of this classic. Anand Bakshi’s brilliant lyrics and Jatin-Lalit’s class-apart tunes added so much to the film. The hopelessly filmy girl that I am, I love to listen to ‘Najaane mere dilko kya ho gaya’ while travelling with breeze blowing on my face. Evidently the music played a huge role in making the film what it is, but what’s even more commendable is how the lyrics continue to make so much sense to the situations our life offers and the music touches your soul, years down the line.

4.      The train sequence
Every time you run for a train, you wish there was some guy (even if his name isn’t Raj) waiting at the door to hold your hand. Okay, yes, I’m being melodramatic, but every time you see a similar scene in a film, don’t you say, ‘Oh that’s so DDLJ’? So many movies have made no bones making the audience reminisce this moment. Take for instance; recently ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ had a similar situation between the lead actors Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone.

5.      Palat!
Admit it! The fact that Shah Rukh Khan said, ‘Raj agar yeh tujhse pyaar karti hai…toh yeh palat kar zarur dekhegi…palat…palat…palat,” you actually do believe that it works for real.

6.      Hope for the hopeless romantic
For the die-hard romantics, ‘DDLJ’ is their comfort zone, it’s like their ray of hope, it’s a work of art that arouses various emotions. For most, it’s their favourite love story. Little wonder then, that many films have tried to bring in similar angles. The Varun Dhawan-Alia Bhatt starrer ‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’ is said to have some resemblances to ‘DDLJ’ in the second half of the film. Also, it won’t be surprising, if a girl thinks she might meet a cute boy while she ventures on a trip with her girlfriends. Remember Minisha Lamba’s character in ‘Bachna Ae Haseeno’? The tagline of ‘DDLJ’ – Come…fall in love, is a further testament to this. It makes one believe in love, or the belief that love triumphs, eventually!

7.      Feeding-the-pigeon sequence
Somehow, you might end up saying ‘aaoon’, recollecting ‘DDLJ’ if you ever go to feed pigeons. Yes, you might try to get that ‘aaoon’ like Amrish Puri.

8.      A handbook on how to make a Hindi film
Dialogue-writer and lyricist Mayur Puri who has worked on several films including the recently released ‘Happy New Year’, says, “It’s a handbook on how to make a Hindi film, or a Hindi love story and should have a mandatory viewing in all film schools,” and adds, “I recently watched the film again at Maratha Mandir and my elder son enjoyed it as much as I did when the film had released. It doesn’t look dated at all. It’s still so fresh. The greatest achievement of a film is when it makes different kinds of people laugh or cry at the same time, in a scene.”

9.      The bonding
The equation between the characters in ‘DDLJ’ so endearing, you want to have that for real. For instance, who doesn’t wish to have a father-son bonding that Anupam Kher and SRK portrayed? Or which girl wouldn’t want a mother like Lajjo played by Farida Jalal? Creating chemistry and conflict between characters that warms your heart, makes you feel for them and remember them for years…very few films have the ability to that, right?

10.  Cowbell
All of us wish to have a cowbell, from Switzerland every time we watch ‘DDLJ’, don’t we? It’s amazing how little things that films have, make a huge impact on people for real!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Martin Sheen

“I’ve accepted the age that I really am, and there’s a great sense of freedom in that”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the December 6, 2014 issue of Super Cinema)

Does Martin Sheen need any introduction? What does one really say about a veteran like him, when his films like ‘Badlands’, ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘The Final Countdown’, and ‘The Departed’ among many others, have already spoken volumes about his brilliance. But the fact that he gets into details even during this interview, is a testament to the amount of detailing he puts in every character. His character of Warren Anderson in ‘Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain’ – which released recently, on the 30th anniversary of the incident - is no exception. Since the film is based on a real-life tragedy, a lot of research went into it, he says. Considering his elongated body of work and years of experience, it’s endearing how his voice still brims with child-like excitement when he talks about his craft. In an extensive chat, Martin Sheen talks about ‘Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain’, his character and how he enjoys being an actor much more now than he did when he was young!   

Were you instantly inclined towards doing the film when you read the script of ‘Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain’?
Yes, because when I read the script, I remembered this enormous tragedy very well. The effects seemed to grow day by day and week by week, after the initial leak. Thousands and thousands of victims have multiplied over the years. The ground water is still contaminated, and we’re still looking for justice. We shot the film five years ago when it was the 25th anniversary of this incident, but it needed a lot of adjustment and refinement, with the music, editing, additions and subtractions. So, it took a long time to get what it is now. We’re still hoping that it’ll have an effect on the youth and people concerned about the environment and human rights.

As an actor are you more emotionally involved, when you’re playing a real-life character than when you play a fiction character?
The incident happened for real and because Warren Anderson was really responsible, there’s a lot more emotional involvement. Also because, he was alive when we did the film, he only died a few months ago. When we were doing the film, I specifically tried to reach him to tell him that we’re doing this film which is critical of the position he took, and asked him to come forward but he never responded. When he died, the reports suggested that he died in Florida, in late September this year. We wanted to make sure he had an opportunity but he did not accept it. He was hiding ever since the incident. He couldn’t find the courage to come forward, at least to say, how sorry he felt. Unfortunately, he hid behind the corporate shield, and ran like a coward. He was a charming and well-educated man with great charisma. But he was selfish. The company was on the verge of withdrawing from Bhopal, and he wanted to stay and see if it’s profitable. It was greed which was motivating his concern for people, and his energy as the CEO.

And what is more challenging? Essaying a real-life character or a fiction character?
It’s hard to say, but in either case, whether it is fiction or reality, you still have to be honest. You still have to play from the heart. Whatever character I’m given to play, it’s like being given a license to explore certain behavior which might seem repulsive to me or I may not even approve of. But, as an actor, I’ll still do it, and teach the audience what to do and what not to do in a certain situations. We actors are forbidden to be dishonest when we play a character, especially a real-life character. When I played Anderson for example, I had to be this very charming, charismatic man who seemed to care about everyone. I had to be this very amiable character, which he wasn’t in real life. In portraying him, I had to take the responsibility for portraying every aspect of his character. Ideally, I love to play heroes, and I want people to like me in a film, but sometimes it’s far more important to be honest and show the darker side of our nature.

Was some of the reality or Warren Anderson’s character diluted a bit in the film?
I wanted to portray him honestly. I didn’t want him to be seen as a dark man who did these things on purpose. He thought he was being honest, and so many of us do think we are being honest when we are only concerned about ourselves. We don’t see the suffering of others. But when you are in a position of responsibility, you have to go farther than your own self interest. So, his true colours showed when he fled, he didn’t speak up and he didn’t offer help at all. The problems have now gone into another generation, and still haven’t been addressed. The compensation hasn’t yet reached these people. Nobody has agreed to clean the ground water, or the poisonous land, and people continue being affected. It’s an ongoing tragedy, and it’s the hope of our film that people become aware of and some changes take place.

You visited India to shoot ‘Gandhi’, and you shot ‘Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain’ here about five years ago. How different was the experience both the times?
I came to India for the first time to do a role in ‘Gandhi’ in 1981. I was travelling with my son Emilio, who was 18 at that point of time. We shot in New Delhi, Mumbai and Porbandar and that’s when I was overwhelmed by the Indian culture. It had a very profound effect on me. It led me to a great source of personal satisfaction. I became a catholic during my visit here, because I was so moved with the spirituality of India. The whole culture was alive with heights and the depths of human existence. There was such great energy, compassion and love. There was also so much poverty that it overwhelmed me and changed my life. I wrote about it in my memoir, with my son Emilio. We have a memoir together which was published last year called ‘Along the way’. I’ve written about my experience in India in it. Then, I came back to India, to Hyderabad five years ago, to do ‘Bhopal…’, and I found the country has so many great successes with the internet and with the business and tourism. So I saw a much a different India, and a very ideal community in Hyderabad. There were Hindus, Muslims and also Christians and they were all meshed together. I’d never been in a city with such diversity. Every instance was a new adventure, and I found it very fascinating. So, I love your culture and I’m very grateful that it had such a profound effect on me. I have a feeling I will come back to India again (smiles).

Over the years has your process as an actor changed?
Most artists do have a process, which is very personal. But the older I become, the less anxious I get. Now I’m less concerned about how I look. I’ve sort of accepted the age that I really am, and there’s a great sense of freedom in that. To not be worried about how people are going to perceive you, just do the work and enjoy the process. I’m so fortunate to continue to do what I love the most. To make a living as an actor is rare, so I’m very happy about it. I’m looking forward to playing parts that are more close to me, doing characters I care about and would like to see explored. Emotions come easier as you get older, at least for me. You’re more sensitive, and there’s something just so comforting, emotionally.

So are you enjoying work a lot more now than when you were young?
Oh yes! I was so anxious when I was young. When you are young and self-possessed, you have all these concerns about whether or not you’re taking the right step. But as you grow, you begin to see a wider picture. You slow down in a lot of ways. You are closer to your spiritual and emotional life. So then, you even approach your character much more confidently, I would say, it’s more fun now than it was when I started, and it was great fun when I started. I’m 74 now and I just finished doing a series for Netflix with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston. It’s a situational comedy called ‘Grace And Frankie’. The average age of the four of us is 74 and it is the first time on television that you see old people really playing their age. It’s not a young person pretending to be old. It’s a funny series of couples who have been married for 40 years; they have children and grand children. And then suddenly there’s a crisis in their life which changes everything. They become so human, vulnerable and loving. It’s been such a satisfying experience. I indeed enjoy work a lot more now, and I look forward to continue acting, till I possibly can.