Monday, February 23, 2015

Varun Dhawan

“I feel more confident now”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the February 21, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

On one hand while Varun Dhawan exudes star-like quality, on the other, he’s just like any other guy in his 20s with no air about himself. Fun, full of life, yet equally focused. These days though, he’s a bit in his ‘Badlapur’ avatar, displaying some shades of the ‘angry young man’. Ask if he has lost some weight, as he enters in a simple black t-shirt and a pair of jeans, and he laughs, “It’s because of the dancing for ‘ABCD 2’.” In between several other promotional activities and a shoot to go back to, Dhawan settles down for a quick chat, fending most questions with quick and precise responses. Excerpts:

Is it true that everyone from your family was against you doing ‘Badlapur’ initially?
Yes, my father was a bit scared when I signed the film, but he’s happy now. At the end of the day, he’s a film-maker so he understands a character and the intensity of a film. He obviously knew that the film was really hard-hitting. My elder brother really encouraged me to do it. And I’d like to say that the media really has supported the film a lot. When the first promo came out, I didn’t expect such a response. This is a very small, low-budget film. It’s made under Rs. 25 crore, it’s actually my lowest budget film, but people have supported it in such a big way, ever since the promo came out. I think there’s more acceptance now from the audience for films with such kind of themes.

Despite the initial apprehension, what was it about ‘Badlapur’ that made you do it?
We haven’t seen a film like that in recent times. First of all, it’s Sriram Raghavan’s film, and he makes films with a very different tone. I react more to stories and the connection I form with the director. I always thought Sriram was a good director and the story was very good. It has that common man connect, and I thought every common man would relate to it. Sometimes the audience feels that their intelligence is insulted. And as an actor, I want to cater to the audience of various age groups, so it’s important to do different kinds of films.

But, it also must have been one of your most challenging films, mentally, emotionally?
It was very tough because I’m not this guy at all. I’ve usually become what my character was in my other films. But Raghu, I’m nowhere close to, and I don’t even wish to become anything like that. I don’t get angry so easily, so to get that angst was difficult. Just understanding that someone can actually go through so much pain, and actually experiencing that kind of pain was really difficult. I had to really go deep into that zone. I played a father for the first time, which was also an extremely emotional experience for me.

Getting into that zone might have taken a while…
A lot of preparations went into it. Sriram Raghavan had planned it all. We shot in Igatpuri and they had purposely kept me there all through, just so I’m in my character. There was no place to roam around, the area was pretty secluded and at times there was no electricity. I went through that kind of process for the first time, so it really affected me. Sriram told everyone not to speak to me, and he himself talks very less. So, I was all by myself. When I sign a film, the beginning process of discussions and workshops, is not something I’d like to miss. There are a lot of inhibitions if you don’t understand your character well. For ‘Badlapur’, we spent around eight months for the preparations.

Because the story is so hard-hitting, and you were so involved, did it affect you? What do you take back from this film?
I usually don’t get affected but with this film it happened to me. It has made me more serious in life, which I don’t like myself to be. Now I think I’ll probably have to do one or two comedies (laughs). Obviously it’s fun to make people laugh, and when you’re doing a comedy film, you’re also in that happy zone. A serious film like this makes you serious. But I think, my family, and then of course, getting into the preparations for ‘ABCD 2’ helped me get out of it. What I take back from this film, is the realisation that family means everything to me. If I had to even imagine my life without my family, it would be a bit too much for me.

Have you developed a method or process thus far?
For me, the acting process changes from director to director. Karan Johar is different from a David Dhawan, and Sriram Raghavan is completely opposite. I try to follow the process which the director follows. So, it keeps changing, as per the director’s style, more than the genre even.

Has your confidence level gone up along the way because, picking up a film like ‘Badlapur’ in the initial few years of your career does require confidence?
Definitely, I feel more confident. But more than confidence, it’s important that you find connect with the audience. Once that increases, you feel that everything you’re doing is connected to them. Many people said that doing a film like ‘Badlapur’ is a risk, but the only reason I did it, is because somewhere I feel connected with the audience, and I believed the audience would also like to see me doing something like that.

How else do you think you’ve evolved?
I’ve learnt to disconnect now when I’m not shooting. I’ve also learnt to disconnect from the technical process. When you’re doing films which are action-oriented, or gimmicky then you need to be aware of the technical aspects, but when there are emotions involved, you have to forget the techniques. So, over time I’ve realised that I’ve had to unlearn a lot of things.

And how was it straight away jumping on to ‘ABCD 2’ from ‘Badlapur’?
Very difficult, but luckily with ‘ABCD 2’, we started the shoot with two songs, so I just had to learn the dance form. And slowly of course, with the music I got into the groove. Like I said, ‘ABCD 2’ was actually like a rehab for me after ‘Badlapur’. I signed it because it is all about dance, in fact, dance in 3D, so the shooting style was completely different and new for me. There has to be at least one new angle to a film, for me to do it.

Of course, one is physically demanding, while the other emotionally and mentally. What’s more difficult?
I think both. When I did ‘ABCD 2’, I thought it’ll be very easy, but it’s actually very difficult because the dancing is so different. Both have their own set of challenges.

What’s next for you?
I’ll soon be starting with my brother’s film ‘Dhishoom’ with John Abraham and Jacqueline Fernandez.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


“I’m most comfortable in front of the camera. That’s the only place where I can be myself”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the February 7, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

He is a man of few words, and I’m not even exaggerating that. He’s reclusive, doesn’t beat around the bush, comes straight to the point, and sometimes might even give you mono-syllabic answers. But then he goes and delivers these power-packed performances on-screen. That’s Dhanush for you. Excerpts from my brief chat with the actor:

From ‘Raanjhanaa’ to ‘Shamitabh’, how was the transition for you?
Fortunately, I had a good gap between both the films so that helped me a lot to get Kundan out of my head. For ‘Shamitabh’ I didn’t really have to prepare, the director did all the hard work, and knew what the character was about. I just had to go on the set, as empty as possible to adapt to the role.

Sonam (Kapoor) was telling me she felt empty after ‘Raanjhanaa’. Was it an equally emotional experience for you?
Yes, even for me it was emotionally draining. Those emotions can be a bit too much to handle for anyone. Sonam really broke down in the climax scene on the sets because she was so involved into the film, and it took us time to stop her from crying. Even for me, it wasn’t an easy character to play. The character carried a lot of guilt and that’s very difficult to handle and portray.

What did you perceive of ‘Shamitabh’ when you read the script, considering this film also has so many emotions packed into one?
R. Balki has his own style of getting what he wants from his actors. He works on it and makes sure you understand the script properly. He also explains you the back-story of the characters, and what would happen after, so that’s the kind of clarity he has. That really helped me understand the script better, and I perceived it the way he wanted me to. In fact, I believe, there was only one way to understand the script and I hope I did understand it the right way and lived up to Balki’s expectations from me.

Do you have a different approach towards every role and do you also believe acting is a lot about feeding off from your co-actors?
I think it’s too soon for me to analyse myself. I don’t know what kind of an actor I am. In fact, I’ve noticed, I don’t know anything. The only thing I know is that I can follow my director, trust him blindly and do what he wants. But yes, acting is reacting. When your co-star is good and you can feed off from them, it is an amazing bonus. If that happens, it’s beautiful.

Don’t know anything? Aren’t you just being too modest when you’ve already received so much appreciation for your acting prowess?
That is the truth. I’m really too young and inexperienced to say what acting is all about. I just go and try and be someone I’m not. I know I can only follow my director, just trust him blindly and do what he wants. I’m very thankful for so much unconditional love and warm reception, but the credit really goes to the scripts and the makers of those films. . I’m not doing anything extra, I just do whatever is expected out of me. I think it’s just God’s grace and a lot of credit goes to the makers. I have a very little role to play in a film’s success. I just want to try and be known as a decent actor, who can play anything, with the same amount of intensity. I try my level best just to be the character when I’m working.

What do you generally look for, in a script?
What I see is, how much I’m able to relate to the script, how much it suits me, whether it plays by my strengths and how gripping is the screenplay.

And do you know your strengths and weaknesses?
An actor should constantly analyse his or her strengths and weaknesses. But what I’ve analysed is just for me to know (smiles).

You pen lyrics as well so what do you enjoy more? Writing or acting?
I write because I enjoy it. I love writing a lot, but I think I love acting equally!

While you seem so reserved off-screen, on-screen you’re so uninhibited…
That’s because I’m most comfortable in front of the camera. That’s the only place where I can be myself, that’s the only place I’m happy. That’s where I belong. 

So, you’re not someone who plans life too much? For instance, even acting just happened to you…
God has been planning everything for me. I don’t think anything is in your control. Everything is in God’s hands. My plate is full at the moment and I’m focusing only on acting. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mahesh Bhatt

“You cannot make high cost, low profit films”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 31, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

At first, Mahesh Bhatt can be slightly intimidating, owing to his plethora of knowledge. Not to mention, the fact that he can make almost anything philosophical. But, that also explains why he is a delight to interview. His latest venture, ‘Khamoshiyan’, yet again, starring young, fresh talent, has hit the marquee recently, so here we have the man sharing his views on this one and his kind of cinema…

What was it about ‘Khamoshiyan’ that attracted you enough to produce it?
After a long time, a script gave me the feeling that we are going into the medium of an erotic thriller, in a supernatural space, which was attempted by us in ‘Raaz’. We had been very successful with ‘Raaz’ which created space for a triangular drama with erotic components and great music. ‘Khamoshiyan’ in a way does that, but in a more energised
way, with the woman’s character more dramatic, because the 21st century woman in India has changed drastically. She is no longer that woman who was struggling to find her voice. More changes have taken place in this country in the last 10 years, than in the last 300 years. Female sexual desire is touching the zenith, and the character of the girl in this film (played by Sapna Pabbi) is a fascinating one. That is what attracted me towards the film. While it is a supernatural thriller, it’s a love story, and not with the uni-dimensional narrative of the bygone days. Multi-partner relationship is a reality today. Women are stepping out of the prison of the patriarchal male-dominated world.

So, is it fascinating characters that you’re inclined to?
It’s the overall feel that the film leaves you with. We immediately go for a film which gives us a feeling that it can have great music. Music of a film becomes great only when it can be blended with the story and goes into the space of the heart. After a long time, ‘Khamoshiyan’s’ music is a more complete one, in terms of its variety. We work from the heart, and we work a lot on the lyrics. For instance, the title track of the film is exceptional, not only because of the melody but also the lyrics. It’s got tremendous depth and that’s what I love.

Is it also because music with such lyrics is rare these days?
That’s why people love it. But there’s a kind of space where a lot of variety is welcomed. Light-hearted, frivolous songs and lyrics are also being accepted and all kind of music is working.

A lot of actors who’ve worked with you say that you’re of great help for them to deliver a good performance. Is there any brief or piece of advice you have for them?
We make it very clear that if the actors don’t work, if the performances don’t work, the film will have an inferior sub-standard look. We trust our actors and we insist that the performances shouldn’t be compromised on, because these days, the standard of performances has gone very high. Everybody expects good quality work. Gone are the days where you could get away with mediocre performances. Obviously, the director on the field ultimately has to call the shots, and make sure that the sensibilities should not clash with what we have agreed upon.

With ‘Khamoshiyan’ you’ve yet again worked with fresh talent…
It was director Karan Darra’s insistence and it was because of his young gaze. No matter how experienced you are, your look gets jaded. It’s always the young talent which gives you a fresh new look. And, newcomers are more willing to go by what the script demands. If you have a script that works, music that works, backed by good actors, the chances of it working are maximum. With ‘Aashiqui 2’ we proved that. For a low-budget film made under Rs. 10 crore, to make about Rs. 90 crore is no small feat. I think it all depends on our own belief in a film. If we don’t believe in it, who will?

Most people say that films don’t fail, budgets fail…You’ve always made sure to make a film under a right budget.
You cannot make high cost, low profit films. Making films that do more than a hundred crore and still hardly break-even because of the high cost, is not worth it. That’s just like making too much noise after making profits of wafer-thin margins. Ultimately you have to create wealth. With a good story and a good cast, not necessarily in terms of big names, newcomers but good actors and great music, the chances of you striking bull’s-eye are higher.

But how difficult is it to make a film under a low-budget, and yet not compromising on the quality?
It’s a struggle to do that. It’s not easy to cut down on the cost when prices of everything have sky-rocketed. The market has become so unreasonable. Even the so-called reasonable people are difficult to get for reasonable rates. So, we work with newcomers, and keep our script very tight. There’s no room for trial and error. For instance, we shot ‘Khamoshiyan’ in South Africa and it looks lavish. Ultimately the film has to look good, so you cannot compromise on that.

Your films largely deal with human emotions with a lot of depth. Yet, how do you steer clear from making the film complex?
I don’t think that at heart, ‘Khamoshiyan’ is a very complex emotion. Simplicity is difficult to arrive at, but it’s only when you have the simplicity in your narrative that it touches a lot of people. Complex films come from complex minds and do not connect with the masses. A mass entertainer needs to have a simple messaging and appeal to a maximum number of people. What my films communicate is clear, identifiable emotions which are as old as man is having said that a film needs to have depth. It has to add up to something, it has to move you. If it doesn’t do that, then it’s an empty film, with just one scene after another, trying to bluff people. Depth doesn’t require profound knowledge. Depth is all about simple, human observations packaged together!

Tell me about the line-up of the films from your stable in 2015.
So after ‘Khamoshiyan’ which was our opening batsman, we have much to look forward to. There’s ‘Mr. X’ which is a very unusual film. It’s a big film for us and Emraan (Hashmi). He needs a hit and hopefully this will give him one. It has state-of-art special effects. Then of course, we have this moving, emotional saga – Hamari Adhuri Kahani. Vidya (Balan) will dazzle the world with that, with Emraan as you’ve never seen before. Not to mention, Rajkummar Rao in an exceptional role. Mohit Suri has given his heart to it. This was the line-up for the first half of the year, and hopefully there’ll be more as we dig deeper.

Lastly, what do you have to say about the year gone by, which hasn’t really been exceptional at the movies?
We are waking up to the world where anything which is mediocre, tired and intellectually done down will not work. We need to respect the audience who has evolved in this age of information technology sweeping the world into another direction. The minds and the hearts have become richer and you cannot engage them with trivia. You have to really give them something, which has some insight, some other view of the world, some experience which they don’t get easily, otherwise they won’t come to watch your film. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

The ‘Khamoshiyan’ trio!

Breaking the silence…

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 31, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

The cast of ‘Khamoshiyan’ – Ali Fazal, Sapna Pabbi and Gurmeet Choudhary – is a crazy bunch. Minutes before the interview starts they’re playing musical chairs in Vishesh Films’ office. The camaraderie just comes through as they crack silly jokes, laugh, and appreciate each other. They’re uninhibited, honest and completely passionate about their craft, as is apparent from the way they get talking about the film. As opposed to the complex character she essays in the film, Sapna Pabbi is child-like, and while she along with Fazal keeps the fun element up, Gurmeet balances it out, as he looks like the more ‘serious’ one of the lot. Only looks, I guess or probably he’s still in the mode of his character. So, here’s the trio waxing eloquent on ‘Khamoshiyan’, their preparations and the challenges.

With the promotional spree, and seeing how the film has shaped up, what was your thought process?
Sapna Pabbi:
I believe, I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I was actually pretty confident, because everyone around me is a pro at what they do.
Gurmeet Choudhary: For me everything has been so new, including promotions. Television was completely different. Too much energy is needed when you’re promoting the film so much. But I’m also feeling very good because rather than just sitting, it is better that you work non-stop. Most importantly, it’s a good film with a good banner. So, I’m very happy.
Ali Fazal: I still remember the call I got from Karan Darra, our director. I remember I was shooting for ‘Bobby Jasoos’, some patch work was left. I was in my van when I got the call and I was so excited about this one-liner he gave me. So, I made him narrate almost the whole thing on the phone. Obviously, the script went through a lot of positive and progressive changes over time. It was a fabulous story even in its original script, not something taken from different places. And that’s the opinion I still stand by.

Sapna and Gurmeet, this being your first film, what did you think of your characters which are so layered?
Because the film is so soulful and deep, my character has got lots of layers. For a new actress, I’ve got a lot to do in ‘Khamoshiyan’, which is great. There’s obviously that erotica element in it, but it’s very tasteful and nice, but there’s also a lot more to the film than just that. There’s a story even behind the erotica. There’s a lot of mind and a lot of soul to her, that’s how a modern woman is, I think. Before the shoot, I was really concerned about the erotic part, because it’s just me and two of them. I was nervous because it’s something very private but I think both these guys were great.
I think I took the longest time to say yes to the film. Of course, everything was good, right from the banner to the script. Even when Karan made me hear the script, I thought he is good enough to direct the film, he is very young, just starting out, and since I’m also starting out, I thought we can do something good together. But, I’m little mad. When I got this character, I thought it would take some time to understand how to do it and whether or not I can do it. Also, I wanted to make it different from the characters I’ve done so far on television. So, I thought it would be very challenging which is why I took a while to say yes. But, it’s really nice when you get to do something like this in the initial phase of your career.

You guys had workshops for the film too, how did that help?
I’m still finding my way to go about a character, but workshops mainly helped us bond. More than anything, the three of us got close, and hopefully for the next project, I wouldn’t do it any other way. It’s nice to create that kind of relationship first and then go out there and shoot. I was probably learning more as I went along, as my character is also changing throughout the film. I learnt as and when the changes took place. I had Karan and Vikram (Bhatt) sir to guide me or give me little tips. Especially Vikram sir, he’s been doing this for the longest time, so even he can spot someone and know what works better for them. I tried and tested everyone’s methods to see what comes better out of all that. And because workshops helped us bond, it made me less nervous for the intimate scenes.
Ali: Yes, that’s an integral part of the film, and if your co-star is not even a bit comfortable, you would also have problems in getting it right. Which is why, workshops helped. Because we bonded, we knew each other’s inhibitions, fears and that sort of, gave it a lot more sanity.

And how did you interpret your character?
My character also goes through a lot of turmoil, ups and downs. My problem is, I pick my director’s brain, my writer’s brain and I form something out of it, putting myself into that situation. Otherwise, you’re lying if you’re not bringing yourself into whatever you’re playing. He has a particular walk. He’s ambidextrous, which wasn’t there in the script. He’s come to write a story and he writes a girl’s destiny. I’ve taken this line from the fourth floor actually, we’re on the second floor. Those are Bhatt Saab’s words (laughs). In a layman’s language, I can say that I’ve never gone this massy. So, that was a fun, challenging jump. Also, it was important for me to even know Gurmeet’s and Sapna’s characters thoroughly because they are a big influence on my character. So, I’m thankful to them. Because they played their characters so well, it was easier for me to get into that zone.

What were the preparations that you went through Gurmeet? Did your learning from television help?
Workshops for me was a first of its kind experience, because on television you don’t really have time to prepare for your characters. I remember when I was playing Ram, I had long hair and a particular kind of body. And after that was over, within 15 days I got another show so obviously I couldn’t have the same look. Just within 15 days, I had to transform completely. On the other hand, for this film, I had a lot of time. What I learnt through workshops is that the bonding you develop with your co-actors really helps. But the real workshops happened at my place. I decided the look and started working out accordingly, and Karan helped me in that. There’s another element in the film I cannot tell you about, so I started practicing at home for that as well, and got a photoshoot done. I then came to Mukesh (Bhatt) ji and Karan, and asked them which look or body language to go for. I think television has certainly helped me get into the zone of a character. Nowadays, you get to do everything on TV, be it action or romance, or comedy. I was taking television as my learning ground for films. Otherwise if you’re a rank newcomer and you have to suddenly lip sync or say some dialogues, it can get difficult. For me, because I’d already done all of it for my shows, it wasn’t much of a problem.
Ali: We’re like the opposite ends of a spectrum.

Oh why do you say that? How different is your approach?
I believe one has to switch on and switch off to remain sane. When you’re so deep into a character, especially when it’s complex, it can drive you nuts. Which is why, sometimes I consider myself a thief, I really steal people’s lives, I pick things from here and there. I picked up this hunger to learn, from Aamir at the time of ‘3 Idiots’. Or like Naseer Saab says, ‘Don’t ever highlight your dialogues.’ We have the habit of highlighting our own dialogues in a script, I do, I highlight all my other character’s lines. The problem in our industry is, we don’t have that kind of script-work. So, jitna you would like to know ki kitna effort gaya hai, utna we can’t tell you because the script almost last minute it gets ready. There are places where there is a script work, but we don’t go too much into it (unless you do it individually like Gurmeet) and that shows. What his character was at the script level and what it is now is just amazing. I mean what he has finally made the character, is wow! I think playing off each other spontaneously is what really makes the difference. Like me and Vidya (Balan) in ‘Bobby Jasoos’. Even though everyone criticised our pair, if you see how we’ve played it, if you’ve seen the film, our chemistry is very unique. The way she speaks to me in the film or the equation we shared makes a big difference.

You mean it’s more about working as a team for the film, than selfishly just looking at your character?
Ali: Yes, always! You can’t be selfish in the business. Once they call cut, that’s when you can be selfish. We all want our own juices, coffees and vanities (Everyone laughs).

Was it a bit challenging emotionally to get the drill of characters in a film like this? What were the other challenges?
Emotionally, yes it was difficult. I remember, when we started shooting, I couldn’t stop crying for the whole day. They had to put me in a corner and would only call me when the shot was ready. For the initial few days, it was like, I wanted someone to take me home, and put me to sleep. It all came from the heart, so it took a lot out of me. But, it also helped break a lot of ice. I figured where this trigger of Meera (her character) was, if I really wanted to use this again, I knew what to do.  
Ali: Yes, I remember how she cried. For me, the most difficult part was to play this drunkard. In one of the scenes, there’s a switch where he’s laughing, and crying while he’s drunk so there was a lot of play of emotions. I was really scared for that one. I don’t know about other actors, but playing drunk is the hardest thing ever, at least for me, because I’d never done that. There’s a caricature which you don’t want to get into. In fact, when you’re drunk you’re most stiff. You’re thinking sharper because you’re trying your best to sort of not lose control. Now that I think of it, I feel I might be totally wrong in my film actually.
Gurmeet: On set, there weren’t many difficulties for me because I’d prepared a lot. But, there was pressure if I’d be able to come up to that level. What’s difficult is to maintain the consistency of the character. Sometimes it can be draining because you’re not able to come out of that zone, body language and emotions even after pack-up. A lot of times, I would get the same things in my sleep. It just stays with you.
Ali: Yes, you know as actors we tend to over-intellectualise a shot sometimes and it gets too serious, which is why you need people like Vikram Bhatt or Mahesh Bhatt cracking the silliest joke on planet on the set. It’s actually very smart of them to bring the actor back to normal, because sometimes, that’s just what you need. So, what I take back from this film is a sense of family while you’re working.