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A film that bagged an award at Cannes this year tells of a love story aided unwittingly by the noted 'dabbawallas' of Mumbai.
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My films is an analysis of betrayal
Your latest movie Saheb Bibi aur Gangster is out. What is it all about? How much is the movie inspired by Guru Dutt's 1962 classic Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam?
Saheb Biwi aur Gangster is an analysis of betrayal. For Saheb, betrayal in a relationship is no big deal since his values are deeply feudal. Biwi betrays and thinks that its effect will be minimal. But things go out of control. The gangster, who is the most na?ve, betrays for love. I can say that it has been inspired by Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam. I wanted the charecters to be transported in today's political and cultural milieu. The storyline is very different.
Everybody thought your movie Paan Singh Tomar will be released in early 2011. There was a lot of interest because it was based on the real life story of a former national-award winning athlete turned dacoit. What happened?
Paan Singh Tomar is releasing in March next year. UTV had sold the satellite rights of the film when the film was being shot. But suddenly the satellite territory has boomed and so they wanted to renegotiate the deal that took some time. Now they have cracked it. But there is an overflow of releases every week and they can't seem to get a proper date this year.
Your forthcoming movies have Mahie Gill
in lead role. Both roles are quite unlike each other. In Paan Singh, she plays a rustic wife;in Saheb Biwi. . . she is far more sophisticated and urban. How has she handled and approached these roles?
Mahie is an accomplished actress. I think she has seen the world enough and has understood it even better which reflects in her work. She takes her job really seriously.
Jimmy Shergill is another favourite actor of yours. Comment.
I have always thought he is an underrated actor. He is good looking and unlike many actors, has a solid command over the Hindi language. He is a very good actor. I did my first film with him and since then have shared a good understanding and are very good friends. His recent Punjabi films have done extremely well.
Tell us about your early life in Allahabad. Which movies left on an impression on you in your childhood and teenage years?
My inclination towards the field of art and literature stems from my family. My father was a judge of Allahabad High Court and my mother was a Sanskrit professor. I have two elder brothers. Their dinner-time conversations, to which I used to be a mute spectator, generated the interest. They were all avid filmgoers and I used to tag along. Allahabad at that time had a strong cultural atmosphere which was also a big help. My dad used to take me to the movies and I have seen all the major westerns and World War films with him. I also saw The Godfather, All the President's Men, French Connection and many such films. He explained the films to me giving proper historical references. Later when I grew up I joined the college film club and saw many European classics.
You earned a master's degree in theatre at the National School of Drama in 1989. How did you enter the world of Hindi films?
I went to the NSD because I loved the liberal atmosphere of the place. I was doing some serious theatre in Allahabad. But honestly, theatre was not something which I wanted to pursue. I was always a film buff. Film is the only complete art form which I realised during my stint at NSD. Though I specialised in acting, I realised I was very bad in the second year. Probably that was also the reason I quit theatre. I haven't watched a single play in the last 10 years.
You were a casting director for Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen. How did you get the job?
After passing out of NSD I stayed in Delhi. Going to Bombay was still a dream but I was fortunate that I did films in Delhi though very few were planned and shot there. My first was Sardar Patel by Ketan Mehta in which I was the assistant art director though I knew nothing about artwork. But since it dealt with a certain period I was happy doing the research. Then I joined Pradip Kishen as assistant director in Electric Moon. Bobby Bedi was the producer and I started working for him. He initiated Bandit Queen and I was appointed the casting director of the film. My association with theatre helped since I knew actors from cities like Bhopal and Lucknow and they were introduced in the film.
How did you get to make your directorial debut in the much-appreciated Haasil, which dealt with student politics in universities?
After doing TV in Bombay and writing films for others, I thought it was time to make my feature. I wrote Haasil. Locating the narrative in the North was because for obvious reasons. Politics in UP at that time was going through a major change. BJP and Samajwadi Party had taken control. Congress had been sidelined. University politics and student elections are a huge affair since the president of the university is the future MLA. I weaved a love story around the volatile student politics.
The films that followed, Charas and Shagird, also failed at the cash counters. In retrospect, what do you think went wrong with these movies?
In Charas, I made some mistakes - the screenplay was too complicated and I tried making an expensive film in a lesser budget which affected the climax of the film. Also, I think for a film like Charas, I should have waited a few more years I think the style of the film was not well received. Shagird was killed because of very bad promotion. I got super reviews and great appreciation for it. I want to add something here and would appreciate if responsible journalists highlight this issue. A big budget film that is above Rs 20 crore needs a big opening to recover costs but a moderate budget film of six to seven crores gets its recovery even if gets a 30 to 40 per cent opening but is labelled a flop. If in a year only five to six films are called hits, why do you think more than 200 films are made in a year?
Apart from direction, you are also acting in Anurag Kashyap's forthcoming mafia saga, Gangs of Wasseypur. What's your role and how was the experience before the camera?
Anurag is a very dear friend so when he offered me the role I could not refuse because he had obliged me in Shagird. I did not realise the magnitude of the role till I reached the sets. It was a very humbling experience as I was acting after 20 years. What I realised most was the pain the actors go through and have vowed never to scream at them.
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