Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sonam Kapoor

“I don’t think I’ve mastered anything. I’m still nervous at everything

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 24, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

Contrary to her ‘fashionista’ image, Sonam Kapoor prefers doing films that don’t just confine her to being a glam doll. Her choices of projects, ever since the start of her career, are testaments to that. Meet her and lot of things come across as a surprise, except the fact that she stands true to being a style icon. From politics of the country to the economics behind a film, she can have a conversation about anything, but here, we get talking about her latest release, ‘Dolly Ki Doli’ and all about acting! Here’s Kapoor in a candid (as always) chat.

You usually like preparing for a character you essay, so what was the kind of homework required for ‘Dolly Ki Doli’?
Yes, I did workshops with my director and my co-stars. I read a couple of books, saw a few films and videos. I actually wrote a lot and went into the past of this character. The film was only taking place between 15-20 days of her life. It wasn’t a long time frame, so it was important to understand what made her the way she is and how she would react to situations. The thing about Dolly is that she’s a complete opposite of me. She always thinks before she speaks or does anything which I’m not known for, obviously (laughs). She’s very calculating, and nothing she does is spontaneous, so it took a while to get those things.

You sport different looks in the movie, so a lot of detailing must have gone into that? Your look in the first poster also created instant buzz.
I think it comes from my image that whenever the first poster or teaser of a film comes out, everyone just talks about my look. This reaction was so good, I was very happy. It was important that the first look poster reflects my character in the film. So the jacket, shades and daaru ka bottle, all of it reflects how Dolly is. In the film, she is different when with different people. When you see it, you’ll get it!

In the film you con people, but in real life, have you been conned?
I think I have been, a lot. My mom always says that one always sees the negative in people that you they have in themselves. I feel it’s the same with positives. Because I’m so straightforward and honest, I expect everyone to be that way and I trust people very easily, I’m extremely gullible and I feel like a lot of people take advantage of that. So, I don’t know about con but a lot of people do take advantage of me and I also find out about it eventually, but I let go off it, because I was stupid enough to trust these people in the first place.

‘Raanjhanaa’, ‘Bewakoofiyaan’, ‘Khoobsurat’ and now ‘Dolly Ki Doli’…there does seem to be a conscious effort to choose different roles.
Every character I do is different from the role I’ve done in the past. I don’t want to do something which is going to be similar to what I’ve done before. I know how you’ll feel when you’ll are supposed to interview the same person again and again. They give you the same answers. It’s the similar case. I don’t want monotony to set in, I want to wake up in the morning and look forward to go to work. I try to do different things and put myself into situations which are alien to me. The only way you can grow as an artiste and person is when you are put in situations which are out of your comfort zone. That’s how you learn about your craft and hone your skills, so I choose to do various things otherwise it gets very boring.

Not to mention, roles that are meaty as opposed to being the hero’s side-kick?
I have got roles which have stuff to do in the film. They’re not flower pot roles. Because these few films in recent times have done well, people think they’re women-oriented films that I’m doing. They’ve forgotten my earlier films. ‘Mausam’ is one of the performances very close to my heart, but it wasn’t really focused on me. I think I was good in it and I loved working with Pankaj Kapur. Even a film like ‘Delhi 6’; it didn’t do that well, but for me it’s one of my best performances. It’s not like I should dominate a film. And whether or not a film does well, I hope my characters are remembered.

How do you usually gauge a film’s success?
According to me it doesn’t matter who is in the film. If the film is a good film, it’ll do well. If it connects with the audience, it’ll run, unless you are Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan, because anything they do will work. The way we had Michael Jackson, or the way we have Rajinikanth, or Rajesh Khanna in his times, my dad also had it for a while – the industry has very few people like that. They are loved so much that whatever they do, people will go and see. But for the rest of us, mortals, it has to be a good film and it has to be something that people can connect with. I try to choose films which I think people will like to watch. Then the audience’s loyalty comes in. A lot of people liked ‘Khoobsurat’ and so they would want to watch ‘Dolly Ki Doli’. That 10-15 per cent loyalty comes because of that. More often than not, from the first trailer, people understand whether they want to watch a film or not.  

Were you happy with the kind of response ‘Khoobsurat’ got?
For the budget that it was made in, ‘Khoobsurat’ did extremely well. The business kept growing every day. Word of mouth really helped it. We got an opening which was decent but every day it was growing and internationally it did really well. I keep saying it’s blessed, but I think it has a lot to do with the marketing and PR team’s hard work, because people need to even know about the film to go to the theatre. What we should have done was, we should have increased the number of screens of the film. We thought 900 screens would be enough because it was a chic flick, romantic comedy, we didn’t expect families to go even though it was a family film. So, we were really happy with what ‘Khoobsurat’ did. With ‘Dolly Ki Doli’ it’s the same. It’s a family film, an entertaining film. Again, we didn’t release it in crazy number of screens, just 200-300 screens more than ‘Khoobsurat’ and we’ve also made it in a similar budget.

Do you even pay attention to these economics before you sign a film especially, when it’s not opposite a big star?
Fortunately, I’m sensible about the films I’m going to be a part of. I don’t want to choose to be a part of a film that will be a burden on me or put pressure on me. I need to do films which are easy to make and promote.

In an earlier interview, you’d told me that you needed respite after a film like ‘Raanjhanaa’, and films like ‘Khoobsurat’ or ‘Dolly Ki Doli’ helped. Do you get so involved with and affected by your characters?
It depends on the character I’m playing. After, ‘Raanjhanaa’, I was a wreck.  When I started the film I was a certain weight and by the end of the film I had lost six kilos. Because we did it the film chronologically, if you see ‘Raanjhanaa’, you can actually see a distinct wear and tear. It took me at least four to five months to get out of that. Especially the second half of the film was too draining. When I cry, I don’t use glycerin or anything. You need an emotional reserve for that, and I felt empty after the film. But then I got a beautiful film like ‘Khoobsurat’ which made me happy and positive, full of love and all about pretty things. It was like rejuvenation. So yes, I needed a film like ‘Khoobsurat’ and ‘Dolly Ki Doli’ to move on to films which are going to be tougher on my psyche. It’s not like I wasn’t really involved in these films, but they weren’t like emotionally wrecking films. You’ve actually posed a very difficult question, because yes, you’re right in a lot of ways, but the answer is really complex and subjective.

Also such films do seem to come naturally to you?
Whether you’re good at it or not, I feel comedy is as difficult as drama. You need a lot of rehearsal, to do comedy right. I don’t think I’ve mastered anything. I’m still nervous at everything. But, I guess people enjoy seeing me in comedy or real-girl roles. People enjoy me in roles like ‘Raanjhanaa’, ‘Delhi 6’, or ‘Dolly Ki Doli’ which seem more real.

Which is that one film that you treasure the most?
It’s a very sentimental reason but ‘Aisha’, because my sister was 21 and I was 23 when we made that film and we didn’t have any support. My dad was in LA, working on ‘24’. PVR was kind enough to give us money to make the film. The film was special in a lot of ways. We made an audience which loved the film and that audience translated into ‘Khoobsurat’. My sister and I, started this partnership together and that’s when I realised that my sister is my true partner when it comes to anything and we can even work together. We were so stupid and young. I feel if we’d made it two years later, it would have been a much better film but to make this film at the age of 21 and 23 was a big achievement. And we had the best time making it, because everyone working on the film was our friend. So, it was like a bunch of friends coming together and making a film. A lot of people didn’t like it. They felt, a bunch of rich kids was making a film about rich kids but it was ‘Emma’. She was not like other Jane Austen heroines who were ideal. She’s like a spoilt brat who wanted to get married. It was supposed to be a fun, happy chic-flick, which was there weren’t any in Bollywood at that point, so we made that. But people who’ve liked it are die-hard fans of the film.

How’s ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo’ turning out to be for you?
Well, working with Sooraj Barjatya is definitely a high point. And, because I’ve worked with Salman Khan in ‘Saawariya’, it’s like a rehash. It’s so amazing. When he walks in, you know a star is walking in and we all feel so tiny in front of him!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Akshay Kumar

“There’s a small problem in our industry, there’s no unity”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 24, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

The thing about Akshay Kumar, is that he is equally entertaining even off-screen – with his funny one-liners and witty repartee. Well that’s because, he doesn’t like to be too serious, even during an interview, or else it gets boring, he admits. Not to mention, he looks years younger and fitter than his actual age. His films, brimming with high-octane action only justify that. The recently released ‘Baby’ sees him doing what evidently is his forte with the bar raised high though. In a freewheeling conversation, the actor shares details about the film, his journey of 24 years, and more…

‘Baby’, like ‘Holiday’, is also based on terrorism but how different are the two from each other?
The bigger topic in both the films is terrorism but the storyline of both is drastically different. The enemies in the story are different and so is the subject within. ‘Holiday’ was a fictional story but ‘Baby’ is based on real-life incidents. Fifteen to twenty real-life stories have been woven together in ‘Baby’. There was a time when the high command in Delhi had selected around 20-25 people who were all highly skilled and trained. The group came into existence only to destroy terrorism. This was an under-cover mission and the group was hidden from the media. This group’s code name was ‘Baby’ because it was something new that came into existence and it was on a trial run for five years. Even when I read the script I was wondering why it’s called ‘Baby’ but then Neeraj told me the reason.

While the film is high on technology with Octocopter Drone being used, thue action sequences seem real…
Shooting with the Octocopter Drone was such a great experience! You get unbelievable shots with it. It helps you shoot at places where cameras cannot come and you can imagine the shots one can get if it goes high. You get a great eagle’s point of view. Plus I think it helps even more when there’s a chase sequence or an action-packed scene. It moves on its own with the remote control. So, certainly, technology does help. Having said that, yes the action in the film is real. It’ll not go above the character, in the sense that one person can only hit so many people, not like he packs one punch and hits 15-20 people together (laughs).

Obviously you’re an expert when it comes to action, but was there still any kind of research or preparation that went into the film?
My research was that Neeraj Pandey told me not to research, because he had already researched. I’ve always done action so that wasn’t a problem for me but I practiced with the fight master of the film, Cyril Raffaelli for 4-5 days after we reached Istanbul where we shot the biggest chunk of action.

This being your second film with Neeraj Pandey, tell me about his process of working with you?
He is a very simple, straight-forward director actually. He comes and gives you the bound script and if you like it, you say yes. If I’ve said yes, we start reading and then he explains his research and tells you how you should behave. He then decides what the look of the character will be because he already has it in mind. So basically, as an actor, you do not really have to do your homework, he will do it for you. Neeraj is also one of the directors among a few who get something different out of me.

There’s something very interesting you keep saying, ‘I don’t like camps. I like to stay in palaces.’ Having said that, you have no qualms about working again with people who you develop a bond with, for instance, Vipul Shah or Neeraj Pandey…
Oh yes! I absolutely believe in that. But my bonding with a director or producer comes from the fact that they make the kind of films I want to be a part of. And that’s the reason why I keep making films with them. For instance, I did ‘Waqt’, ‘Namastey London’, ‘Aankhen’, ‘Action Replay’ and ‘Holiday’ with Vipul and all these were the films I wanted to do. Same goes for Neeraj Pandey, other directors like Priyadarshan or even some from the newer lot.

While most actors prefer doing one film at a time, which hardly leads to one or two films in a year, how do you manage to do four films in a year sometimes?
It’s very simple actually. One film doesn’t take more than 60 days to complete the shoot. So let’s say, four films will take 240 days. So, I have the rest of the time for myself. In fact, sometimes when a film completes in 45 days (Like ‘Baby’), I get those extra days as well (smiles).

I was talking to Madhurima Tuli (his co-star in ‘Baby’) and she told me how you were always jovial on the set, and the moment the director said ‘action’ you would seamlessly transform into the serious mode of your character within seconds.
I had to, or else the shots would have never gotten okayed (laughs). I don’t like doing my work too seriously. Even if we’re having a conversation right now, it’s a serious affair but we still have to joke. I’m sure when you go back to work, you cannot seriously keep working. Your work place should be enjoyable otherwise it gets boring. I want to enjoy my work, which is why I keep joking on the set, or playing pranks on people. I need to look forward to go to work each day, and that can only happen if I keep the atmosphere light and enjoyable!

And I’m sure the jovial atmosphere would be helping a lot more for a serious film like ‘Baby’, because it can get draining mentally?
Yes, it is draining. Which is why, I joke around and get all my energy back!

How do you manage to strike a balance between those mass-oriented over-the-top comedies and films like ‘Holiday’ or ‘Special 26’?
Sometimes you have to do those ‘so-called’ single screen or commercial films also. Because these are satellite friendly films and a huge chunk of money comes from there. As of now, it’s a deliberate effort to go towards the other kind of meaningful cinema because I’m thoroughly enjoying it. But I don’t want to miss out on comedy films either which is why I’m not staying away from them. I’m doing ‘Housefull 3’. It’s so much fun to do a slapstick comedy which children can enjoy or families can watch together! 

You’ve done two-hero movies in the initial phase of your career like ‘Mohra’ or ‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’ and continue to do so even now, for instance ‘Desi Boyz’. But do you think such films are far and few today?
Yes, it’s very rare. There’s a small problem in our industry, there’s no unity, which exists in the south film industry. I was even reading an interview of Aamir (Khan) and he said the same thing. In fact, earlier there were people like Rajkumar Kohli who would make a film with 6-7 actors of the same league, actually eight actors, including the snake (laughs).

24 years in the industry and you still continue to be as fit and keep raising the bar with your films, especially as far as action is concerned. Has it a conscious decision?
It has certainly been a conscious decision to get better with each film, as you want to always challenge yourself. What is life without challenges? I love to be a part of films that are different and roles that are unique. I hope and pray that I keep getting these kind of roles. Because dil mein iccha rakhna bahut aasaan hai, but people should also give you such roles, it’s not so easy.

And there are no regrets in this journey whatsoever?
No. If I put a stamp on something and say that this is a mistake I made or I regret this, there wouldn’t be a bigger fool than me. The place where I’m in, anybody would want to be here. If I say I have regrets, then I’ll be challenging God’s decisions and saying that he made me do something wrong. So, I’d just say it’s been a smooth, enjoyable journey!

Over the years, have you feared Fridays?
I don’t really fear anything. But I think this one is a good fear. It stays from Friday to Sunday and then it’s gone.

In the age of six packs and eight packs, you’ve always continued to inspire people to go fit the natural way.
Yes, because the wrong ways create problems in the future. There are a lot of ways to lose weight, people can go to a doctor and they’ll also say that even scientifically, these short cuts are harmful, because you lose your mental balance. I’m not against body-building; I’m just saying there’s a natural way to it. One needs to slowly experience their muscles grow. It shouldn’t be that one fine day, you suddenly get muscles. It’s a wrong thing and people who do that, will definitely regret it. If you go to hospitals, you’ll see people in their 40s and 50s getting a heart-attack whereas our grandfathers lived till they were 80 and 90. My message to the youngsters would just be to stick to basics. Don’t take shortcuts, they may seem easy at the moment, but in the long run they’ll only cause harm!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Manoj Bajpayee

“I keep struggling to be myself all the time.”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 10, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

As opposed to the complex characters he effortlessly essays on the silver screen, Manoj Bajpayee is a simple man for real. He admits to his strengths and weaknesses, and portrays himself off-screen with utmost honesty (a trait visible even in his performances). Just as his latest film ‘Tevar’ hits the marquee, the actor talks about his inclination towards grey characters, and reveals why he’s eccentric and moody…

You’ve been promoting ‘Tevar’ for a while now…how has it been, considering the fact that you’re not someone who does that often?
I don’t like to promote my films. That’s something which is against my nature – to go ahead and talk about my own films. I’m a bit old-school, and believe you should let your work talk about itself. But what I like about promotions is that you get to know your co-actors a lot better than just on the set. Everyone’s busy doing their own stuff on the set, but here you are interacting with each other more, and become friends. I’ve come to know Sonakshi and Arjun as people much more because of promotions.

You’re always inclined towards complex, layered characters, aren’t you? ‘Tevar’ of course being yet another testament to that.
My character in the film is not the regular negative guy. I just focused on one thing that he’s somebody who is in love, is betrayed and let down by the girl he loves. He’s not looking at the fact that she doesn’t love him. He takes it for granted that he loves a girl so she should get married to him. That’s the point which comes across in the film. Yes, you’re right. I look at characters which are complex and not the monotonous boring ones. You give me a positive guy and I will try to find negative traits in him. Give me a negative guy and I’ll try finding the positives in him. Human beings are faulted, and that’s the theory I have even with my films and characters.

In an earlier interview you’d told me you’re very instinctive while choosing a film. Was it the same this time around?
‘Tevar’ was not an instinctive decision. I have given so much thought before touching this film. ‘Satyagraha’ had released, it hadn’t done well and I wasn’t very happy with the whole film. I couldn’t find a lot of nuances in the character I played. I was a little frustrated and so somewhere I was apprehensive of taking another negative role. I took around two months before I said yes to the film. Once I realised that I’m just going to focus on being a lover in ‘Tevar’, I thought I’ll give my character a different all-together and jumped on to it.

You seem like one of those actors who get into a very serious preparation mode before a film goes on floors. 
Yes, I was quite prepared even for this film. I usually study my characters very hard and them keep 10-20 per cent room for spontaenity. What happens in front of the camera is a different energy all together. Sometimes, you come up with something very unique and the director loves it. But 80 percent is all studied and always prepared, and thought about. There’s a lot of work which goes into every film and I love the preparation part.

Having worked with some top-notch directors like Prakash Jha, Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Pandey, how was your chemistry with debutant director Amit Sharma?
I put Amit Sharma at a very high pedestal. Amit is a unique director who is in love with the middle-road cinema. He tries to find a balance between commerce and quality. That is something which I also believe in. In a country that we live, we cannot ignore the fact that there’s a large population who likes to be entertained only, and nothing else. If we can give them content with a lot of entertainment, it would be amazing. He’s struck the balance so well.

A while ago, you’d also told me that actors can get very moody and eccentric….
I’m very eccentric and I don’t deny that because my mood swings are huge. At all times, you’re playing a different person and it confuses you completely. That happens to most actors. Your own desire, your own love and hatred gets diluted. It becomes too much to handle sometimes and that somewhere damages you. I keep struggling to be myself all the time.

So, it must be getting difficult to zone out when certain characters make a huge impact on you?
It does! It has happened to me with ‘Shool’ and ‘Aks’. These characters took a lot of time to come out of me. But if you immediately start a next film, the process becomes simpler and you forget the last film you’ve done.

Tell me about your upcoming films.
I’m known for small films and those are my strengths. Films like ‘Tevar’ don’t happen to me very easily. If at all they happen, I think thousand times before tapping them because it’s not very often that I get a role like ‘Tevar’ in all the commercial films. I have ‘Saath Uchakkey’ and a film with Tabu apart from ‘Traffic’ and Hansal Mehta’s film.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Arjun Kapoor

“Nobody said this profession was easy”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 10, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

‘Broody’ might be the first word which comes to mind when one sees Arjun Kapoor. Maybe that has stemmed from the lasting impression of his first film, ‘Ishaqzaade’ or his stubbled-avatar. In reality though, Kapoor is also a lot more, beyond being broody. He is affable and engages you in a deep conversation. 2014 has been an important milestone in his career, with him seamlessly moving into playing a geek in ‘2 States’ from being a 70s gangster in ‘Gunday’. Not to mention, the very unique ‘Finding Fanny’. And now, with him kick-starting 2015 by displaying his ‘Tevar’, here’s a tête-à-tête with Arjun where he talks all about his latest offering and how he functions as an actor…

Photo credit: Zaheer Abbas
You must be really happy with the way last year shaped up for you, in terms of three films from different genres doing well?
I think it was a year where I truly got accepted from the audience. It is one thing to get the acceptance from the industry for signing you for films but last year was when the audience reciprocated the love and affiliation that the industry had felt when they gave me these films. So, I’ll always look back at 2014 as a very important year in my life, because I got to do three films from different genres – ‘Gunday’ which was a two-hero film and it was still celebrated and enjoyed, a ‘2 States’ which every person in India can relate to, and then a slightly niche film like ‘Finding Fanny’ with such great actors. Also, I shot for ‘Tevar’ the entire year, and it was a very important milestone in my life to start that film. So, for me, certainly it’s been a very fulfilling year.

I read somewhere that it took a while for you to say yes to ‘Tevar’. Was it because you wanted to make sure you choose the right script as your first film with your father?
I didn’t take a while to say yes to ‘Tevar’, but yes I just took a while to do a film with dad because I wanted a film to come together with him in the most correct way. I didn’t want it to be like, ‘producer apne bete ke liye picture banaa raha hai.’ I don’t believe in that and that’s why I made my debut outside to sort of create a foundation for my father to make his kind of film with me. That was pretty much the main thing. I just wanted to do it at the right time and when I saw ‘Okkadu’, I said that this is the film we should do. Then of course, we were looking for the correct director and when Amit Sharma came on board, everything just sorted itself out.

What was it that Amit Sharma expected from you, to bring to your character Pintoo?
When Amit and I sat down, we made sure that we didn’t want to pitch my character like a hero. We had to pitch him like a regular boy who becomes a hero because of his journey and obstacles that he faces. We had to make him a boy next-door. We decided that through the whole film he should have a smile and warmth on his face. He needs to be so real that you emphathise with him when he goes through this journey in trying to save this girl.

Was it a difficult film to shoot for it’s been shot in real locations like Mathura?
It was difficult to shoot in Agra, Mathura and all the live locations but it just adds so much to the film that even when we started shooting, we didn’t worry about how difficult it’s going to be; you eventually only care about how the film is looking. Somewhere I think live locations bring a lot of believability to the audience and that for me is very important. The audience must believe in the world they’re watching, so Amit always wanted to shoot in live locations and I was more than game for it.

It must have also been challenging considering you went into shooting it, after moving in-and-out of three other films…
Honestly, at that point going from ‘Gunday’ to ‘Finding Fanny’ to ‘2 States’ to ‘Tevar’ was difficult because it was literally without any breaks. But that’s where you learn. As an actor you rely on your material and on the people you’re working with. You spend enough time with them and they bring out the best in you. I had to do those films back-to-back because I couldn’t dictate my dates at that point. But I think that was a very big learning curve for me, and it has made me a better actor. Playing a gangster from the 70s one day and an IIT student on the other, it’s not easy at all. But, nobody said this profession was easy. Not just the acting bit, but also, getting in and out of characters is difficult. It’s good fun though.

You’ll be completing three years in the industry…have you developed a process to go about your characters yet? How did you function for ‘Tevar’?
Every character and every director have their own way. I’ve realised that, you as an actor only have to be mouldable enough and prepared to be available to the director anytime on the set. Sometimes a film needs you to prepare well-in-advance and some just want you to be in the moment. For instance, ‘Ishaqzaade’ needed preparation because I don’t belong to the world at all. ‘Gunday’ needed a lot more spontaneity because it’s all about living in the moment with the whole heroism angle to it. ‘Tevar’ had a nice balance. I had to learn to play Kabaddi. While I played Kabaddi with the boys, I also understood their body language and stuff. I had to speak to Amit to understand what he expects out of the character. I also had to obviously understand the dialect and make it my own so it doesn’t look forced. So, I had to work on those little aspects.

A lot of actors say that after spending some time in the industry, one of the things they get evolved in, is the technical aspects. But, you’ve been well-versed with that, being an assistant director earlier. So how else have you evolved?
Yes, I was well-versed with the technicalities involved in a film, but what I’ve matured in, is to be able to be patient on the set. Listening to your director and understanding why the director wants so many shots in so many ways. Those things which are not technical, but more about the story telling and how a director works. Every director has a different style. Each director, film, character and co-actor is different, so you cannot be bound by the way you function. You have to be very open and adapt to the film and its people. It’s like getting into a new relationship every time you do a film. It’s not so much about the technicalities, but to be a people’s person on set and adapt to all sorts of people you interact with, while you’re making a film.

And along the way, have you also become less uninhibited with each film in terms of displaying emotions on camera?
It stems purely from how much do you listen to the director, and how much you understand a character. If you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, then the emotions flow. You need to find some sort of co-relation to what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be that Arjun believes in something, but if you understand why Parma (his character in ‘Ishaqzaade’) is doing what he is doing, then you submit yourself to the character and the emotions flow out much more naturally. As far as being uninhibited is concerned, I think every actor has to be uninhibited. If you are inhibited then you are in the wrong profession. Though, the degree of being uninhibited comes from what the director expects from you. It’s purely the material of the film which decides how much you have to explore yourself.  For example, a film like ‘2 States’ requires you to show inhibition and be slightly more controlled. I don’t laugh as I would laugh as Arjun in the film.

Does that mean you don’t really allow Arjun to seep into your characters?
I can theoretically talk about it, but practically there is going to be some residue of me in every character. It’s not possible because it’s eventually me playing it. There will be moments where you feel there’s a bit of me in a character. But then, Parma as character has nothing of me in it, on the other hand, in ‘2 States’ you would find it more. In ‘Gunday’ you cannot find it at all, because the character is from the 70s. In ‘Finding Fanny’, you might feel that this boy is like Arjun because of the body language. There are these small traits, which I cannot really pinpoint but people could. Having said that, I would hope and try that it’s not more than may be a flash or a fraction, because then you’re being dishonest with your character.

Photo credit: Zaheer Abbas
Do you look at your personal growth or learning, as one of the criterion while venturing into a film?
Of course! Because, you want to push yourself and play a character which you’ve not played before. You want to tell a story which is different. For example, in case of ‘Tevar’, I really liked that ‘ordinary boy in an extra-ordinary scenario’ angle. It’s not the typical boy-loves-girl kind of story. There’s no love story from the boy’s side, he’s just doing the right thing and that’s when the girl realises that he’s one of the boys who is just doing something without an agenda. I love that aspect of ‘Tevar’. So yes, as an actor you look for your own reasons to do a film and there can be so many different reasons. Sometimes you relate to a character, sometimes as a viewer you think it will be relatable.

You’ve been appreciated largely, but if there’s any criticism do you take that positively?
Absolutely, and you try and keep improving. Criticism from the paying audiences is more than welcomed because they’re paying money to come and watch your work. If it comes from an unbiased place, I’m more than happy to listen to it, and correct myself. In fact, that for me is very important. If it’s unbiased criticism coming for what I do in front of the camera, then it’s definitely welcomed. But, if it comes from the fact that I’m someone’s son, and I ought to do better because I have a certain surname, then that’s a bit bizarre. But, that thankfully hasn’t happened a lot with me. Criticism happens to the best of actors; you have to face it around, and try and find positives from it because I don’t think people are going to criticise you just for the heck of it. May be something is missing and you have to correct it.

So, wooing the audience is what you strive for?
I don’t ever want the audience to not be entertained. It doesn’t have to be that only I have to entertain them, but a film in its entirety has to be entertaining. The basic rule in India is that you keep the audience engaged only through entertainment, even if it’s a heavy film. Even if it’s a ‘Finding Fanny’, it has to be entertaining. The audience should not feel let down or bored. That would make me really sad.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Winding up 2014!

The hits, flops and the trends…

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This feature has been published in the January 3, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

A lot of misses and a few hits, is how one can describe 2014 at the movies.  Evidently, the year was slightly ‘thanda’ in the colloquial language, especially as compared to 2013 which saw films with some great content raking in moolah at the box-office. While few movies sprung up a surprise, few just disappointed. However, one observes several trends each year despite having a mix of both good and bad films. So, here’s taking a look at some interesting trends of the year gone by…

Women power at the box-office:
With ‘Queen’, ‘Mary Kom’, ‘Mardaani’, and ‘Highway’ one can definitely concur that women-oriented subjects are no longer a taboo in Hindi cinema. Though, it’s essentially, a male-dominated industry, films with women as protagonists were not only acclaimed by the critics, but also loved by the audience last year. While the lifetime collection of ‘Queen’ was Rs. 61 crore, ‘Mary Kom’ and ‘Mardaani’ have made Rs. 55crore and Rs. 35 crore respectively. Because all these three films were made under extremely moderate budgets, they proved to be hits, especially ‘Queen’ and ‘Mardaani’. Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Highway’ earned Rs. 23 crores, which is decent considering the low budget of the film.  

Good content triumphs: 
‘Queen’ has been the first film ever since ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’ whose second week collections were higher than the first week collections. The film did well, solely because of the positive word of mouth which stemmed from good content, leading to a six-week run at the box-office. Apart from ‘Queen’ it is Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Haider’ which is a testament to the fact that good content sells. The biggest USP of ‘PK’ was Aamir Khan but it was good content due to which film managed to sustain its performance even in the consecutive days after the opening weekend. There were also films which despite boasting of big actors and directors, failed because of the dearth of appealing content – ‘Action Jackson’, ‘Humshakals’, ‘Happy Ending’ being some of them.

Sticking to the basics:
More often than not, films just need to connect with the audience. Simplicity is a virtue under-rated and some films in 2014 just proved that. Not to mention, sometimes, just sticking to the basics and taking the formulaic Hindi cinema route works and how! Akshay Kumar’s ‘Holiday’ saw him doing what he does the best – hardcore action. The audience always loves the ‘hero’s victory over the villain’ end, and the patriotic theme further added to its appeal. ‘2 States’ was a simple love story, which worked because the audience could relate to the basic concept of the film. It had something for everyone. Also, after a very long time one saw a film with a good ensemble cast with every member of the cast being appreciated. ‘Gunday’ was another such film. Two mainstream heroes in one film, both having equal parts, with good music, a love triangle, action, and dialogue-baazi – all this took the audience back to the 70s adding to its appeal. ‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’ also stuck to the simple boy-girl love story theme. Sometimes, all a film needs to do is entertain the audience, for example, David Dhawan’s ‘Main Tera Hero’, or Tiger Shroff’s debut vehicle, ‘Heropanti’.

Music plays a crucial part:  Hindi cinema is essentially known for its song-and-dance, which makes music a very important part of our films. 2014 proved it, yet again, that music plays a crucial role in drawing the audience to the cinema halls. Divya Khosla Kumar’s debut venture ‘Yaariyaan’ which had rank newcomers worked majorly because the film’s music was a big hit. Even if one song becomes popular, it helps the film in a big way – for instance, ‘Baby Doll’ worked wonders for ‘Ragini MMS 2’. ‘Tune Maari Entriyaan’ also added to ‘Gunday’s’ appeal. On the other hand, the music of ‘Jai Ho’ didn’t match the expectations one has from the music of a Salman Khan film. At the same time, the fact that the music of ‘Kick’ especially, ‘Jhumme Ki Raat’ and ‘Yaar Na Mile’ got popular, helped the film. Majority of the 100 crore success of Mohit Suri’s Ek Villain has to be attributed to the super hit music, especially ‘Galliyan’. The music of ‘Heropanti’ was also largely appreciated, and it went on to do a business of Rs. 50 crore which is great for a film with newcomers. But so many films were devoid of good music last year!

Now, let’s hear it from the industry folks as to how they think 2014 was…

Arjun Kapoor, actor
“If I look back at 2014, I think it was a year where I truly got accepted from the audience. It is one thing to get the acceptance from the industry for signing you for films but 2014 was the year where the audience reciprocated the love and affiliation that the industry had felt when they gave me these films. So, I’ll always look back at 2014 as a very important year in my life, because I got to do three films from different genres – ‘Gunday’ which was a two-hero film and it was still celebrated and enjoyed, a ‘2 States’ which every person in India can relate to, and then a slightly niche film like ‘Finding Fanny’ with such great actors. Also, I shot for ‘Tevar’ the entire year, and it was a very important milestone in my life to start that film. So, for me, certainly it’s been a very fulfilling year.”

Hansal Mehta, film-maker 

“I see 2014 as a wake-up call. The 100-crore-plus club has emerged as one of the most misleading indications of a film’s actual success. There was no analysis of return on investment or profitability of all the shrill noises about films crossing the 200 crore mark. Films like ‘Queen’ proved that moderate budgets and good content will always have takers and will have their investors smiling. For me 2014 was satisfying. My first national award after 17 years of making films and 20 years of being around on the fringes made this my most special year. I was also happy that my low-budget film ‘Citylights’ made a decent profit for both Fox Star Studios and Vishesh Films. I was happy to make a film that echoed the spirit of some of Mahesh Bhatt’s signature films and that won both the film and its team a lot of critical acclaim. I enjoyed ‘Highway’, and ‘Queen’ immensely but for me ‘Haider’ was the best Hindi film of the year. I also loved a Marathi film ‘Killa’ by cinematographer-director Avinash Arun. I definitely think we have a lot to learn from the Marathi film industry in terms of content and financial discipline.”

Ramesh Taurani, producer
“It was an average year and the best film among the lot for me, was ‘PK’. The best was saved for the last. Other films like ‘Kick’, ‘PK’, ‘Happy New Year’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’, ‘Queen’, ‘Ek Villain’, ‘Tu Mera Hero’, ‘Entertainment’ and few more, have also done well. I think the year consolidated the fact that good films work and bad films fail.

Shyam Shroff, director, Shringar Films
“I don’t think it’s been a very good year. Some movies which I was expecting to do well didn’t do well. I think something is wrong with the movies in the sense that, people are not paying sufficient attention to the contents of the film, and even this year, overall, the music has been quite poor. From the point of view, it’s been a disappointment. There’s been nothing major to shout about, except for films like ‘PK’, ‘Kick’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Queen’, or ‘Happy New Year’.

Akshaye Rathi, distributor-exhibitor, Rathi
"It has not been a very exciting year, because as compared to 2013, there has been a shortfall in the overall business of films rather than growth. And that is for a lot of reasons: one, the elections came in the early part of the year, which really hampered the business. After that, the markets didn’t see too much liquidity because of which people didn’t have too much of disposable income to spend on movies as much as they would have, in any other year. There have been a few sparks in the pan like, ‘Kick’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Singham Returns’, ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Happy New Year’, but those have not been enough to really lift up the spirits. At the end of the year, we finally found a reason to smile with ‘PK’, but even that’s not enough to compensate for the cold weather that the industry has experienced through all through 2014. For Hindi films and Hollywood, the world over, it’s just not been a great year. As far as the most profitable films are concerned, you ultimately look at the return on investment, and how much everyone at all levels (the producer, distributor and exhibitor) make out of it. There have been very few films which have done that. ‘Ek Villain’ was certainly one of the films this year which made money for everyone across the value chain. ‘Happy New Year’s’ economics were really sensible. ‘PK’ of course, was phenomenally profitable for everyone involved."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sonakshi Sinha

“I’m actually one of the few people who do not succumb to any kind of pressure”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 3, 2015 issue of  Super Cinema)

In a lot of ways, Sonakshi Sinha defies conventions – she brought back the trend of curvy heroines amidst the size zero trend, admits to be happy doing the quintessential massy films and speaks her mind rather than being politically correct. Looking completely chic in her new short-hair avatar, the actress is busy promoting ‘Tevar’ with Arjun Kapoor. This is her third film in a row, post ‘Action Jackson’ and ‘Lingaa’ and I won’t blame her if she’s losing her mind due to promotions. But here she is, all cheerful, laughing in between this quick chat where she talks all about ‘Tevar’, how she’s now ready to experiment with roles and manages to deal with the constant scrutiny that actors have to go through.

‘Action Jackson’, ‘Lingaa’, ‘Tevar’…you’ve been promoting films back-to-back…How insane has it been?
I feel I’m in a hurricane. I don’t know if I’m coming or going, or which city I’m in (laughs). But, for now, it’s just ‘Tevar’ on my mind. Yes, I’ve actually been promoting films since the past two months, and it’s really become hectic, but it’s part and parcel of the job. So, I’m enjoying myself at the moment and just looking forward to the release of ‘Tevar’.

In an earlier interview, you’d told me that you like to do films which you like watching as an audience. What was it about ‘Tevar’ that made you want to be a part of it?
I was shown ‘Okkadu’ for me to take a decision. I watched it and I immediately felt connected to the film in some way. It’s not just mindless entertainment; it has got soul in it. It’s a film with a lot of heart. It has a very real story and the characters are very relatable. It’s one of the stories which helps you connect to it and that’s what actually attracted me to the film. I didn’t even think much about it, I immediately called up Boney (Kapoor) uncle and said that I’m on board. That time when I said yes to the film, even the director wasn’t confirmed. But, everything just seemed to fall into place.

Because the film is a remake of ‘Okkadu’ you had a reference point. But generally also, do you think a reference point really helps getting into the skin of a character?
Not really. I like to speak to my directors and figure with them how they would want me to portray a character. I don’t really need a reference point because I’m the kind of actor who’ll do what comes to me spontaneously in front of the camera. Even during rehearsals I cannot really get myself into that mode, unless the camera is rolling – that’s when I start acting. So, whether I have a reference point or not, it doesn’t matter.

What has been your favourite part about shooting the film?
I really enjoyed shooting ‘Radha Naachegi’ because it was definitely my biggest song so far in terms of scale and the style of dancing. It was a completely new style of dance for me. It has a very nice fusion style of Indian and western. It was my first experience of shooting with Remo (D’souza). Plus it was completely focused on me – everything from the location, costumes and jewellery. So, really felt regal on the set while shooting that song. Actually, every part of the film has been nice. I really enjoyed shooting ‘Let’s Celebrate’ as well since Imran Khan came down and shot with us for that.

A still from 'Tevar'
We’ve seen you displaying a bit of your comic timing in a few of your films like the recently released ‘Action Jackson’. Does it come easily to you as opposed to many who feel it’s the most difficult genre?
Comedy does come easily to me, what is difficult for me is to cry on-screen. There’s this whole unit watching you and I just don’t feel comfortable crying in front of so many people who are not close to me. Crying is something which comes from deep within I feel, and it’s difficult for me to bare my emotions like that in front of everyone. That’s something I’ve always found challenging.

On one hand, you’ve had these big blockbusters, and on the other hand, there’s also been something like ‘Lootera’ which despite critical acclaim didn’t generate box-office numbers. Does this lead to a dilemma in your head while choosing a film sometimes?
For me as a person, it’s very important that people see my films. Because today who I am, where I am, it’s because of the films I’ve done. And it’s not like I’m here to prove a point to anyone that I can act or something like that. Having said that, even in the genre of the films I’ve done, nobody has really said that this girl can’t perform. There’s a certain genre of films I like watching as an audience. I like to go to the theatre, whistle, clap, hoot and dance in my seat. I like to see those kinds of films and that’s why I’ve done them. But, it’s not like I won’t do other stuff as well, because now we are seeing a change. The audience has become more accepting. There are various genres being done that are also doing well. So from now onwards, I will try different stuff. The thing is, just because I’ve done twelve films people forget that I’ve on been in the industry just for four years. I haven’t been around for that long. But, I think now I’m ready to try out different stuff. And I’m glad I’ll be starting that with A.R. Murugadoss’ film.

Since you’re very spontaneous as an actor, would it be right to say that you try to make every character relatable and there’s a bit of you in every character you portray?
I think you have to bring in your individuality to every character. In fact, there’s a part of you that you bring in to every character, at least for me. Earlier it used to be that there were such less people watching actors, other than their movies, and so, people used to only identify them with the characters. Now I feel we are more accessible to people, because of the media, interviews, social media, and you also get to meet people during promotions. People know who you are and they also kind of form a bond with your personality. If you get the chance to portray that and mix it with your character then even better because people know you’re being true to who you are as well as portraying a character on-screen.

Talking about media and social media, how do you deal with other things that come along with stardom, like the constant scrutiny on you?
I’m actually one of the few people who do not succumb to any kind of pressure. I’m just being myself, because that’s how I’ve always been. I’m not following the herd mentality or taking things that people say too seriously. I think that comes from the fact that I don’t take what happens in the profession seriously. Acting is something that I love to do, and thoroughly enjoy irrespective of what people say and that really helps.

So, you start of 2015 with A.R Murugodoss’ film?
Yes, and I’m just going to take one film at a time from now on. That’ll be my next project which will go on floors by January end.

Are you also training for the film since you’re expected to do some action?
I will have to train for it to look more realistic!