Category Archives: Indian Interviews

Interview: Anushka Sharma #QnA #OpenMagazine #Phillauri

Anushka Sharma: ‘I have never tried to fit in’

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/zAQg6k

ANUSHKA SHARMA HAS done 13 films in nine years, with Bollywood’s leading directors (the stellar list includes Aditya Chopra, Yash Chopra, Vishal Bhardwaj, Raju Hirani, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar and Imtiaz Ali). She is also the only Hindi film actress to feature in two of the four Rs 300 crore-plus grossing Bollywood films. But not one to abide by the rules and rest on her accomplishments; she chose to turn producer at 25 with Clean Slate Films. While the media seems to have an unhealthy preoccupation with her personal life, Sharma has made it clear that she has other concerns and bigger battles to fight—such as trying to bridge the wage gap for female actors.

With her new film, Phillauri, releasing in theaters this week, she speaks candidly about making movies that matter to her and why she hates the ‘Number One’ game.

You are an atypical star in that you have stayed away from masala fare, you have never done a ‘special number’, you are never seen at parties and don’t dance at weddings. What’s the belief system that drives you?

(Promptly) Peace. I’m a big believer in peace (smiles). I don’t do anything that takes away my peace of mind. Going to a party is not peaceful to me, you know. Having done those masala films would not have been a peaceful experience for me.

I’ve always been somebody who doesn’t want to be ordinary; I never had that herd mentality. Like, while growing up, I never even tried to fit in… I was happy just being in my own la la land. I would enrol myself in ‘Art of living classes’ because I used to feel this identity crisis of sorts.. at 12 (laughs). I think, to me, my personal growth, as a human being, is far more important than anything on this planet.

So when people ask me, even when Karan Johar asked me on his show, about the number 1 game, it makes me feel, like, not good, you know? It just feels sick. I don’t even want to walk on that path.

How did you manage to keep yourself away from these trappings, given that you were only 19 when you made your Bollywood debut? It would have been tough to deal with…

(cuts in)…Everything. Yes, it was, especially if you come from an army background, where your life is very different, you know? There’s so much uniformity, you live in the same houses, you don’t see any disparity. I don’t think I faced reality, quite honestly. And then, I’m suddenly, like, this Bollywood actress, and I was so afraid all the time about what I am supposed to say or how am I supposed to be.

I used to get so uncomfortable when people would come to me for photographs. And till date, I’m not someone who goes, like, ’Yeah, please.. let’s take a selfie’ (chuckles). I’m not that ‘cool person’, you know. I really envy people like Ranveer Singh, who go on stage and they’re like, ‘Yeah! I love you all!’ I can’t do that (laughs)! I can’t get myself to kind of embrace this.

But from the beginning, I had this thing where even if I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I definitely knew what I did not want to do. And I think, I met the right people in the beginning of my career, like my first director, Aditya Chopra, who allowed me to be who I am. So I had the courage to react instinctively and then back those instincts, even early on.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to accomplish as an actor? Because it’s interesting how you have done only 13 films in 9 years. Deepika Padukone has 22 in 10 years; Alia Bhatt has already done 9 in 5 years.

I was struggling with what I want to do in the moment, you know (laughs)? So I definitely did not think so far ahead. But yes, when I was growing up, I always knew I was going to be famous (laughs). I don’t know why! But I used to sit in the bathroom and give myself interviews (laughs again). One day I was a sportsperson the other day I was an actor like Rani Mukherjee.

I always had a big belief that some really special things are going to happen with me, you know. I do feel that I’m a very blessed person. And because I feel so blessed, I take risks. I’m an outsider, I come from a non-film background, I did not even think I was going to do this, then why am I doing well? So I have to treat this as a gift and make the most of it.

As for Deepika, you know, she has been a huge, huge motivator in my life. I’m from Bangalore too. When I was in junior college, she was my senior, and she was this beautiful, tall, very popular girl. Everybody knew who she was… and I always thought, ‘Man, this is cool!’ And I swear to God, her life has inspired me. It’s so bizarre that I was launched with Shah Rukh too. So the better Deepika does, I feel like, I’m also going to do that good (chuckles).

So what made you turn producer at 25? It’s a huge responsibility for a young actor to undertake.

There was never like a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Whenever I would watch something good, I would feel this urge to either act in it or create it, you know? So when NH10 came to me, I thought that when I’m taking this film on my shoulder, why should I not do it completely? The success or failure of it will still come to me, then why don’t I get into it as a producer?

When I started doing this, people told me, ‘This is what actresses do at the end of their careers!’ And I thought that was so bloody stupid! Why would you not capitalize on your hard work and your position, that you’ve worked so hard for? I should take charge of it, na? Of course, none of this would be possible without my brother, Karnesh. Clean Slate wouldn’t exist without him.

Bollywood does not have too many great scripts for actresses, so was part of your decision influenced by the fact that you’ll be able to create good work for yourself?

Yes, the best an actress gets is a romantic comedy, where you have a good role to play with a guy. Vidya Balan kind of started a whole phase of films led by actresses, with Kahaani and Dirty Picture, and I have a lot of respect for her. After Queen and then NH10, producers now want to make ‘female-centric films’ – and I hate that term – because this is a business.

But NH10 had no reference. And nobody wants to put in money until they have a ‘reference’. So you start feeling, ‘Kahan se aayenge roles?’ And when you get lesser opportunities, you work even harder. You come at it even stronger, you know. Because you know that you are not entitled and you are not privileged. By that, I mean that satisfaction you get from work on merit.. that is not something that we experience. So if I want things to change, I need to go to writers and directors and put things together and make those films.

But Clean Slate is not to make films just for me, you know? Right now, it’s easier for us to produce a film if I’m in it, but we want to tell stories, and we want to back new people. I come from outside and Adi backed me.. and if I’m in a position today, I want to be able to do that. By doing this, I feel like I’m doing a little bit more than just caring about my life.

Why was Phillauri a must-make film for you?

Karnesh and I know Anshai (Lal) since many years. So when Anshai and Anvita (Dutt) came to pitch the film to us, I thought the idea – of a guy who gets married to a tree because he’s manglik, and he inherits a ghost – was too cool (grins). It was funny and emotional and fresh. And then we made her a ghost who flies, who vanishes, who has fairy dust… she was a character, not just a ghost. I also knew that an A-list actress doing something like this would be interesting for the audience, so it just seemed very exciting.

NH10 made a statement about honour killings and Phillauri seems to take on superstitions like being a ‘manglik’. Do you feel a responsibility to tell such stories?

See, I understand that I may have a certain amount of influence on the society through my films. And yes, the films I act in or the films we produce, will never reinforce something that is not correct. But if you are telling stories thinking like that, that’s being very opportunistic, I think.

As an actor, and as a human being, I do take social responsibility by leading my life in a certain way. I don’t want to say I’m any role model because I’m not a perfect human being. I have a lot of flaws, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I have owned up to my mistakes too. I’ve always presented myself exactly as who I am because I don’t want you to think that there is a right way of being this perfect person, who is not real. It’s really okay to be the way you are. That’s the biggest responsibility for me.

Do you think that’s enough in today’s world? The discourse has become so sharply divided into extremes, isn’t it important for role models to speak up more actively?

(Pause) I deal with a lot of sexism in whatever I do… I think all women do. But I have never shied up from speaking about it not because I’m a role model but because I’m like that as a person. Having said that, when you talk about speaking up, trust me, what Meryl Streep spoke at the Golden Globes, if someone here had spoken about something that was against the grain of the majority, people would have pelted stones at their house, you know.

We can’t say one should exercise free speech here, because look at the repercussions that come with it! You can’t go out there and just be foolish about it because it amounts to what? You are compromising the safety of your family, your own safety and the safety of the people you work with you. Like, you know, what happened on the Padmavati sets.. how can that happen? I don’t even know how it’s possible.. but it happened, na?

When actors in Hollywood talk against things, there may be people who might abuse them on Twitter… but they are not going to come and actually hit them in person, which is an actual risk that we have. For example, because I’m a huge animal lover, I had this positivity campaign on Diwali about keeping pets safe. For something like that, people sent me videos and photographs of meat, and said, ‘This is your chopped dog’. So I’m like.. don’t listen to it na, baba? You want to burst crackers, go put them up your ass and burst them, for all I care, I don’t give a shit. But how can you be so aggressive?

This hasn’t deterred you from being outspoken towards the cause of feminism.

Yes, but I think I have said a lot more in interviews that has gotten me into trouble within the industry. Case in point, Anupama Chopra’s interview, where I went and spoke out against the wage gap. I got a lot of shit from some really powerful people in this place. But I spoke out not because I wanted to be sensational, but because I believe that the only way people can change is you try to change their thought process.

The fact is that this disparity exists today is not because people are against it but because it’s a deep rooted tradition of looking at women actors in a certain way. So I wanted to bring that out to the surface and I was fine with whatever I got out of it too. I will continue to be vocal about feminism.

After multiple 300 crore+ films, are you in a position where you can demand the money you want for a film?

See, my trajectory is always going to be a little different because I do a really successful film and then I produce two of my own films where, there’s obviously no money. So, for me, my success of any film is important so that I can produce and push the stories that we want to make through Clean Slate Films.

As far as the monies are concerned, you have to have the ability to say no and walk away. I guess there’s this sense of fear that’s always put in actors where the media, industry insiders and the biggies pit you against each other. You have to be very cautious of that, so you should just walk away. That’s why I have a lot of respect for women who are doing that, like Kangana. She’s asking for what’s hers, and more power to her.

Do you face misogyny as a producer as well? There are very few women in the top management of Bollywood studios, barring Ekta Kapoor.

At Clean Slate, no, because we truly believe that working with good people is the most important. But otherwise, let me tell you, misogyny is not male centric. I meet a lot of misogynistic women, who cannot see somebody else doing well, and if they are in the power to do something to bring you down, they will do it. And that, I think, is a lot worse.

But since I’m one of the first actresses to do this, I will face it in small ways because, to see a female actor who’s having a conversation with you is something that they are used to. For example, you will be asked to explain how you produce films. Like, journalists will ask you, ‘So what do you do in it?’

And then this recent thing, where people started crediting my ability to make a big film like Phillauri, to my partner. You will face people thinking that a woman cannot do something on her own… she needs a man to help her. And that’s like a dagger, you know… and I cannot believe people think like that. And of course it affects me, but you have to ignore it and move on, because that’s the only option.

How do you deal with all the social media abuse that has come your way because of your relationship?

You know, if my film tanks, or if I do badly, and you abuse me, okay, it is something that I will take. But when you get blamed for somebody else, (pause)… you feel belittled, you know. You are made to feel small. You have blamed me for someone’s failure, which is something that is a part of their life, while the success also is. (Pause) It’s heart-breaking.

But what do you do? I don’t think anybody will be able to understand who I am as a person or the nature and simplicity of my relationship. People look at it as some high-profile relationship, when it is actually the simplest relationship you can think of, of two very simple people, who want nothing out of their life but to be peaceful and successful in what they are doing, you know?

People like to speculate even more about your relationship because you keep it private now.

I was not at all private about it; I was not hiding it. But then, it became only about that. While I know that my partner is not going to experience that in his place of work, unfortunately I will have to, because I come from the entertainment industry, and my personal life is entertainment for somebody, you know. And I want to be taken a little bit more seriously than just my relationship. I’ve been subjected to journalists literally.. what is the right word for it (pauses)…

…Bullying?

…Yes, bullying me. You’ve called me to your own office and you are asking me questions about my personal life, which I have answered jitna I want to answer, then you are constantly asking me questions only about that. Why should I allow you to do that? Why should I allow you to use a part of my life to sell your own magazine, newspaper, or channel? It’s not for sale, you know. I’m a very private person and I’m very guarded. I don’t have that many friends also, quite honestly. I don’t even open up emotionally to too many in my family. My brother is literally my best friend. And my relationship is a very personal thing.. and I have to protect it. Because it means a lot to me.

I’m not someone who puts up vacation pictures on social media, or ask people to come to my house on Diwali and shoot it… I don’t even like people seeing my house. For me, the important thing is to safeguard my relationships. And that’s just how I am.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on March 24, 2017
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/i-have-never-tried-to-fit-in
Picture courtesy: Anushree Fadnavis for Open Magazine. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Interview: Saif Ali Khan #QnA #OpenMagazine #Rangoon

Saif Ali Khan: ‘I’am an ambassador for modern Islam’

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/YWqwjd

“I think that everything I’ve done, travelled, read and learnt, should show somewhere in a shot, and in everything I do as an artist. Otherwise, what’s the point, you know?” says Saif Ali Khan, when asked about what he’s brought to his next role, a millionaire producer, Rusi Billimoria, in Vishal Bharadwaj’s period epic, Rangoon, out in theaters this week.

Speaking to Khan, the son of swashbuckling cricketer and Nawab of Pataudi, Mansoon ‘Tiger’ Ali Khan Pataudi, and acting legend, Sharmila Tagore, makes the point he’s brought up, rather well. In a career spanning over two decades, Khan has gone from being the boy no one took seriously to a poster boy for the urban Indian man, to grappling with finding a comfort zone as actor-producer. The many worlds Khan has traversed as both an actor and as a man, reflect in the sharp wit, worldly intellect and sobering realness that he brings to a conversation.

The newly turned father of a gorgeous baby boy, Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi, that he gave birth to with actor wife Kareena Kapoor Khan, is free, frank and forthcoming about his career, his politics, and his legacy as a father, son and husband.

Do you ever think about legacy? About how you’d like to be remembered as an actor?

I think I’d like to be remembered as an actor who took some chances. And someone, who did a mixture of commercial stuff as well as films to promote something independent and interesting. (Pause) I’ve not thought of my legacy as an actor, but I think, I do represent a section of the audiences, who are not 100% mainstream, but a little more urban.

The reason that I ask is that you started off doing ‘masala’ films and had a renaissance in the early 2000s, as one of the first actors to experiment with ‘multiplex’ films, like the now-cult Ek Haseena Thi, Dil Chahta Hai, etc. But then you turned producer and veered away from your content-driven niche.

I think you’re absolutely right. Perhaps I got a little waylaid, or bored, or side-tracked with other things; my personal life took preference and maybe I did not focus so much on being an interesting actor as I did on the commercials. And I think I have paid a price for that. I had a bit of a wake-up call, and I’m certainly back to thinking the way I was.

If you look at the films this year, the first thing I turned to was a Vishal Bharadwaj movie, and thank God I did (chuckles). I’m lucky to get the chance, despite the mess of the years before. To be Vishal’s first choice, Akshat’s (Verma) first choice, Raja Menon’s first choice is like an achievement and I need to prove myself and the credibility of my acting with these three movies (Rangoon, Kaalakandi and Chef, respectively). And I think I have the capability of doing it. I know times are changing fast, and nothing can be taken for granted.

The last couple of years have really seen Bollywood go through an overhaul. Your contemporaries, whether it be Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan or Akshay Kumar, have all found their groove in storytelling. Are there a certain kind of stories you’d like to tell too?

The obvious answer to something like that would be, yeah, a kind of a biopic, or a genuine kind of story, like a Neerja. I wouldn’t say Rustom but a Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and others like it seem to be indicating that the audience would like to move away from the tried and tested formula that we’ve been giving them. And a more human experience is required from the movies we make. I’m very keen on working with good directors and producers and following them. I have my eyes open for exactly the kind of film Akshay Kumar has been doing… at least the ones with Neeraj Pandey, you know.

Given that you made your calling as an actor with urban sensibilities, it sounds to me that, keeping with the current trend, even you want to veer towards cinema that’s more Indian at heart.

But, of course. You know, I think Bollywood is turning more mature now. If you look at the villains of our movies over the years, it says a lot. Earlier, it was ‘thakurs’, and then it was parents, then it was your own mind, and now it’s backwardness and mediocrity. If you look at modern India, people are going to the gym; they want to be as fast, as good looking or as fit as anybody else in the world, you know. And yet, there is still a brain drain, where some of the best minds are leaving the country.

So there is a struggle between a new India and a kind of old India happening, and I think Dangal sums it up perfectly. There is a large shift to looking inwards, at our own country, and being a bit more original with content by celebrating our heroes. So we’ve got to decide which side we are on. Even if you try and fail in a movie that’s trying to be progressive, I think that will be forgiven. But to be regressive now is not going to fly at all. As an actor, I would rather be part of a forward movement in the vanguard of the art.

In a post-Trump reality, the world is sharply divided into two as well: the liberals and the right wingers. And there seems to be a political slant attached to everything in the news. For eg. The controversy about the name of your son, Taimur. What was going through your mind when the uproar happened?

I’m glad you asked because I’d love to answer this. I think with social media today, there’s a downside that you can hear everybody’s opinion. And you realise that the world has many bigoted people. But I feel as far as Taimur goes, it’s ridiculous to judge somebody based on medieval history. It’s a name that I’ve grown up with – my cousins had similar names – and nobody had an issue with it in the 70s or the 80s or the 90s. It’s only recently that everything’s become so ‘touchy’. Some section of people, some kind of right wing, are now talking about Kareena and me and saying we are anti-national, or we’re too fair, or the baby is too blond (laughs).

You know, you’ve got to understand that India is not 40 years old and it is not only a Hindu country. This is a country of Jains, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and many more, who have trodden this earth and this soil and have given it the unique flavour it’s got. If it was only a Hindu country, I think we’d lose something. The idea is to respect all religions. But, you know, I understand it in one way, and I put it down to lack of education or lack of happiness, where, with the anonymity of the internet, people say terrible, uninformed things, and it’s ‘nationalism’. I mean, my Taimur will grow up to be an open-minded, very liberal, syncretic Indian, who’s a mix of all faiths, so what does the name matter?

But I was very happy that a lot of people were supportive and spoke quite liberally for the issue, which made me feel, that okay, at least there’s two sides to these arguments. As long as those voices are still there, I feel relieved that we also are in a liberal society.

Do you find it tough, in this climate, to be an actor and nothing more, just like in the days you were coming up?

You know what I find tough? Acting like a twit to promote my movie (laughs). You have to go onto TV shows and say incredibly fake things, like ‘I’ve got tears in my eyes’ because of somebody singing at Indian Idol, you know. Why can’t I just say I really liked the song (chuckles)? I mean, I can’t do all this bullshit! I just want to act. I don’t mind getting paid half the price, honestly. I just want to live my life simply without being a political tool or an emotional tool where I have to appease everybody.

Because of social media today, you have to say the right thing or do the right thing and have to come across as the right sort of guy. I mean, I haven’t been brought up like that, honestly, so why can’t I be someone like Billy Bob Thronton, for example? He’s such a great actor, but he’s not traditional. Johnny Depp’s not traditional. Why can’t we have far out ideas? Why can’t we be a bit rebellious? Why can’t we be creative and artistic and sometimes say the wrong things, as long as we are not bigoted or racist, you know?

Why can’t artists in India be outspoken, indeed? When you see what’s happening in the US, some of the biggest stars, Meryl Streep, included, are making political statements on global platforms, don’t you think India needs its Meryl Streeps too? Shouldn’t artists be political here?

No, when it comes to politics, I think, you have to be very careful because you have been given that platform to be an actor. And when you’re an actor, people listen to you. When you are successful at one thing, people have a tendency to imagine that therefore your opinion counts on all topics, which is a big mistake. For example, somebody, who is a big star, might be completely clueless politically, or might not be balanced in his opinion. So to use the respect and the support he’s getting by the audience for doing a certain job, which is acting, and to try and get people to agree with his political views on the same front, is very dangerous. In that sense, actors should completely be apolitical. Or, at least, the audience should be mature enough to separate the actor’s political opinion from his popularity as a screen idol, and, you know, not confuse the two. But they do confuse the two. They end up voting for Amitabh Bachchan when he stands.

You have always been forthcoming when asked about your politics. In fact, a couple of years ago, an article you wrote on ‘Love Jihad’ went quite viral too. You had mentioned the need for a moderate Muslim voice within it. Do you never imagine that voice to be yours?

In its own way, I am an ambassador for moderate Islam. I’m not very Islamic, and I’m not very religious. But when people meet me at Gstaad, or at London or wherever we are travelling abroad, I think I leave them with a certain sense of ‘Okay, well, we’ve just met a secular Muslim’. So in that sense, yes, but otherwise, I don’t believe in the philosophy of religion enough to want to be a voice for anything.

But with Islamophobia at its peak, don’t you feel like actively participating in progressive discussions about Islam —

— (emphatically) No! No! I mean, (pause), I think somebody might be required to redefine the religion, you know, as Jesus Christ redefined Judaism. Islam is, technically, the last revelation of the same message.. the first message was to Abraham about Judaism, the new message was to Jesus Christ, and then the most recent message was to Mohammed, but nobody agrees with each other to this point. It’s a mess when you get into religion. And just the idea… it’s post gratification to the nth degree, where, you know, you are even allowed to drink wine in paradise but it’s banned on earth. That kind of thing, I mean, I don’t buy.

You sound a lot more sorted in your head about what you seem to want from life, as you approach your 50s, as opposed to your early years, where you were self-admittedly ‘immature’. Is this state of mind a reflection of your marriage to Kareena Kapoor Khan and the second phase of fatherhood?

I mean, it’s more to do with age, you know. My father wrote me a note once that said, ‘The secret of Islam was revealed to the Prophet after his 40th birthday’. I think, he meant that when he was 40, he started going through a maturity too, where things kind of slow down. I’m not in a rush to lead my own life, and to explore my own horizons anymore. I’m pretty sorted with what I am, what I’m doing, in the kind of life I wanted to lead. So I’m happy to share all that with Taimur, you know.

(Pause) I loved bringing up Sara and Ibrahim, but, somewhere, I was also finding myself at that time. Of course, part of that continues, but I feel more grounded and I think I’ve grown. I’ve grown in front of people, where they were mimicking me with a nasal voice and now they don’t. Over time, with the kind of reading I’ve done, a process of enlightenment has begun, where one understands, and things resonate more.

And as for being married, like my father said, after a point, you must accept that your wife is another person than you. On one level, you are replacing her family so you need to be a bit aware of that. But, I think, in Kareena, I’m very lucky to have a wife who is very, very tolerant of me. I really don’t have to watch my Ps and Qs around her. But I mean, balance is the key in a relationship. Some space apart, some time together, and it’ll all be easy.

The golden rule, of course, is to not question it, you know (chuckles). It’s a quasi-religious approach (laughs). There’s no chance, no chance, if you start questioning. It has to be unconditional and unequivocal. You can’t even question whether you are happy or not or whether what your wife said makes any sense or not, just take it for granted and just get on with it, you know. As Abba said, ‘Think about something else’. (bursts out laughing)

I started the conversation talking about your legacy as an actor. I want to end by asking you —

— On legacy, actually, there’s one thing that’s important to me. Karan Johar asked me on his show, what are two Nawabi traits about you, and because it’s such a bloody high pressure show I gave him some shit answer like ‘horses and guns’, which I don’t mean, because I don’t ride a horse (laughs). But what I should have said is, looking after Pataudi is an honour, and that is my legacy. It’s something that I want to pass on for generations to come. I want the gardens to be perfect, I want the photographs that reflect cricket history to be perfect, I want to spend money that I earn, as Kareena says, standing in the sun for movies (laughs), on maintaining that house, and maintaining the family atmosphere there. So it’s somewhere we can all get together. That means a lot to me.

My question was about the legacy you would want to leave as a father?

Without being arrogant, I think Taimur is going to grow up, whether he likes it or not, as a bit of a Prince, you know. But the big thing for his mother and I, is to keep him level-headed and not to let him be spoilt. And the bottom line for that is a good school and a balanced upbringing, with a slightly strict focus on education being very important, because that’s the only thing that grounds children.

But, besides that, I think fatherhood is not about changing diapers and reading stories only, it’s a lifelong commitment, guidance, and rock-like support forever. I’m happy I have older kids like Sara and Ibrahim and a tot like Taimur, and I want them all around when I drink wine around the fireplace in Pataudi in later years. I must pass on the legacy of Tiger and his ancestors too, of what a man should be, and the open and curious mind one should have.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on February 24, 2017
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/saif-ali-khan-i-am-an-ambassador-for-moderate-islam
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Vikramaditya Motwane #Profile #OpenMagazine #Trapped

The Loneliness of Being Vikramaditya Motwane

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/Q5rGec

When Vikramaditya Motwane’s urban survival thriller, Trapped, releases on March 17, it would have been three years, nine months and a few odd days since his last film, Lootera, opened in theaters to universal critical acclaim. For an industry that churns out 200+ films every year, any director of calibre typically has a release every second year, and the more prolific or fortuitous ones may even manage to put out a film a year.

This inordinate gap between Motwane’s two films has little to do with his calibre; his debut film, 2010’s coming of age drama Udaan was officially selected to compete in Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Un Certain Regard category, the first Indian film to do so, in almost a decade. His second, the heartbreakingly beautiful Lootera, inspired from O Henry’s The Last Leaf, found a place in most year-end ‘Best Of’ lists, with film critic Rajeev Masand calling it a film that “makes a place in the heart”, and leaves “a lasting impression”.

Motwane’s prolificacy isn’t in question either; in the same period, as part of the directors’ collective Phantom Films, Motwane has produced an incredible eleven films (along with Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap and Madhu Mantena) including critical and commercial successes Queen, NH10, Masaan and Udta Punjab.

So as is the wont of Bollywood, it all comes down to luck, and Motwane has been plagued by a particularly bad stretch of it over the last four years. At various points in these years, he has been attached to a dysfunctional family drama starring Ahana Deol, a thriller, AK vs SK, starring Shahid Kapur, vigilante drama Bhavesh Joshi, first starring Imran Khan, then Siddharth Malhotra, and a superhero drama Chakra, co-created by Stan Lee.

While the first film never took off, AK vs SK was shelved after some days of shoot, and at some point, so was Bhavesh Joshi, as the script had stopped being relevant, having been written back in 2011. And so, Trapped, a story about a man locked in an apartment in a newly-constructed, empty Mumbai high rise, trying desperately to break free, happened because of, and as a reaction to, the stalled movies before it.

“To be honest, the film was made in anger,” a wistful Motwane recalls amidst a packed Juhu café. “I had reached a point where I felt responsible towards my crew as they had hung around with me for so long through all those shoots that started and then stopped. I was also tired of just doing ads or prepping for movies. I wanted to shoot something narrative, something that was longer than three days.”

The idea for the film came to him through an email by writer Amit Joshi, and Motwane’s first reaction was, ‘I can do this!’ “It was such a good challenge for all of us,” he says. “It was a great story, easy to make, and I liked that the nature of the idea was universal. It could have been set in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, Cal (sic), or even Shanghai or America. And after everything that had happened, I just felt that I should jump in.”

Motwane and a minimal cast and crew did just that. Within three weeks of having decided to do the film, Motwane and his crew were shooting a start-to-finish month-long schedule in one location, an unoccupied building in the middle of Parel’s frenetic commercial district. It felt almost like a “student film”, Motwane says with a chuckle.

Beyond the fact that a survivor thriller like Trapped had never been done in India, what attracted Motwane, a filmmaker whose painstakingly beautiful frames in each of his first two films were just as much talked about as his grasp over storytelling, was its theme of ‘urban loneliness’.

The lead character in the film, Shaurya, played by the very able Rajkummar Rao, is an immigrant in the city, one of the many anonymous people with anonymous jobs, who come to Mumbai and try to find both, their calling and themselves. He is completely alone in that he has no dependency on anyone in the city, and there’s no one by way of family to come looking for him if he goes missing.

At the start of the film, Shaurya is in a relationship with Noorie (played by Liar’s Dice actress Geetanjali Thapa) though, and Motwane characterizes this relationship as a form of urban loneliness too, in that the two are “alone together”.

“When two people like each other in Bombay, and you see them together at Marine Drive or Juhu Beach or in cabs or trains, these are two people are both lonely because it’s only each other that they actually have ,” says Motwane. “Their isolation from the city to me was best encapsulated in a scene where the two of them are listening to music on the same pair of earphones in a train. It’s something I’ve seen couples do… and I find that very cute, yaar (smiles).”

There is certain comfort and ease with which Motwane talks about loneliness, and for anyone who’s followed his filmography so far, it’s not tough to see why. Both Udaan and Lootera were films about lonesome, misunderstood characters, whose battles were not just with the world outside, but with their own selves in a world that they were trying to find their place in.

In Udaan, the lead character’s isolation and quest to be appreciated by his father, was memorably captured in a scene where he beats up his father’s car. In Lootera, the isolation manifests both physically, as Sonakshi Sinha’s character, betrayed in love, lives in seclusion in Dalhousie; and symbolically, as Ranveer Singh’s character takes up a solitary task to of painting the last leaf on a tree every day, so as to give hope to the dying woman he loves.

In hindsight, Motwane reveals, he’s always been a bit of a loner himself, and his films may just be a materialisation of that on to the big screen. “I believe in characters whose actions speak louder than words, characters who do things alone and quietly,” he says. “I love making films without too much dialogue. That’s not to say there’s no communication in my films, in fact there’s a lot of it and I really, really enjoy that. But I really get off on silent scenes, yaar (smiles).

“Udaan has a lot of that, Lootera has a lot of that, Bhavesh (Joshi) also has a lot of that (laughs), and now that I think of it, maybe that’s what attracted me to Trapped as well. I just like lonely characters… I find them interesting in cinema, in books, and in general. There’s something about one man versus the world.”

On further reflection, Motwane believes this could be because, hailing from a divorced household, he grew up too fast as compared to other kids his age. “I had a maturity level a little higher than that of everybody else,” he recalls. “I started smoking before everybody else, drinking before everybody else and smoking weed before everybody else. I had elder cousins who were too old for me to hang out with, so maybe I took that leap to fit in with them. But I never could fit anywhere, not with them or with my friends.”

Meanwhile, the city in which Motwane grew up in, ‘Bombay’ changed into ‘Mumbai’ overnight and he couldn’t recognise what had happened to it anymore. He characterizes his relationship with it as “love-hate”; there’s parts of the city he grew up in and knows like the back of his hand, and there’s the bustling metropolis that is Mumbai, where it seems that some people care [about others], but the others do not at all. “The city overwhelms you in a weird kind of way now,” says Motwane. “It’s almost as if the city I grew up in was Bombay.. and Mumbai is a city I don’t know at all.”

This nagging feeling of being an outsider within your own city is a feeling that’s stayed with Motwane for much of his life. And as a filmmaker, who belongs to that school of filmmaking where God lies in the details and craft is just as important as story, this is a feeling that has percolated into the art he makes and the industry he’s a part of too.

“I still feel like an outsider, even within the industry and film circles,” Motwane admits, “in the sense that my stories are very different from what anybody else is making. I think that’s a good thing because compromising or becoming like everybody else is not going to be a solution to anything. On every story I develop or work on, I soon start feeling that ‘Oh, this has got a very limited audience’, which I’m quite happy about! I know I can then take them and turn them into something larger and bigger, within the aukat (capacity) of the film.”

Motwane agrees that it may be the producer in him talking about making things ‘bigger’ but the fact is, the movies that he grew up with, the classic ‘cinema’ of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg or even Quentin Tarantino, are hardly relevant anymore; the last movies of these auteurs – Silence, The BFG and The Hateful Eight, respectively – failed to set the box office on fire, and the ones before didn’t rake in substantial money either.

It now seems that with dwindling attention spans of audiences in the age of Snapchat, the only way to stay relevant is to move on from purist cinema towards a new kind of event cinema, which all modern day auteurs from Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) to Alejendro Inarittu (Birdman) to Christopher Nolan (every film) seem to be embracing.

Five years ago, Motwane would have been reluctant to agree, but today, having seen the collapse of the mid-budget film that could very well have been his strength, he concurs. You have to evolve now, you have to grow as a filmmaker… I think every film you make should be an event,” he says.

“I think there’s a general acceptance within me towards that; that you have to hit the ground running. The world is not as patient with cinema as it was when I made Udaan or even Lootera. You have to be conscious of that, and I’m understanding that.”

But all is not lost, where the scheme of things in commercial Indian cinema is concerned, and Motwane recognizes that. As a producer, he’s been part of films like NH10 and Udta Punjaab, that challenged the status quo of ‘mainstream sensibilities’, and still managed to work at the box office. Such risks are inherent to Motwane’s storytelling ability, and it gives him heart that the audience is welcoming them, as recent films outside his banner like Neerja or Dangal prove.

The fact that Dangal, a film that Motwane believes may not have been made at all ten years ago, is the highest grossing film of all time, gives him a ‘vindication’ to believe that the audience are accepting a certain kind of story now… that perhaps, it’s not a lone fight anymore.

And so, the Trapped director is prepping himself for the next stage of his career, where he wants to liberate himself from his own boundaries, by ‘overstretching’ and ‘overreaching’ and making all kinds of movies, including sci-fi and animation, as well as a sequel to Udaan, because of the opportunities he has at his disposal today. He wants to make up to two films a year, if possible, and will keep developing scripts till he is able to achieve that, but at the same time, is keenly aware of the library of his work that he eventually wants to put together.

“I feel that there is the here and now, where you go and make films and get successful, and then make more films, but then what? Do you want your films to be seen 15, 20, 30 years from now, do you want a library, in the (Stanley) Kubrick sense of the way, that people value? I do, and I’m conscious of that. So you need to not only challenge yourself, but in some sort of a way, challenge your audience too.”

For Motwane, the greatest such challenge lies in finding the balance in his work in a way that feeds his creative soul and still appeals to the audience. He calls Trapped his ‘most commercial film’ and believes that with it, and his next film, Bhavesh Joshi, he has found a way to make his stories “more accessible” and “universal”. This is not to say that he’s become less inventive or “sold out”, “I just believe it’s a bit selfish to be stuck in your own loop.”

“I have tried to open up my audiences but at the same time, I have taken exactly the kind of risks in Trapped that I know the audience for this kind of a film would like. So I’m hoping, film by film, the audience grows out. Because what’s happening on the commercial spectrum is so heartening that you also feel like extending yourself.”

Motwane pauses for a brief moment, then smiles. “Or maybe, it’s just maturity, you know.”

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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on March 10, 2017
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/the-loneliness-of-being-vikramaditya-motwane
Picture courtesy: Ritesh Uttamchandani for Open. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
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Interview: Neeraj Pandey #Profile #OpenMagazine #MSDhoni

Neeraj Pandey: Captain Cool

A big budget feature film on India’s most successful captain is a different kind of thriller for Neeraj Pandey.

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/55CBEJ
In two weeks, National Award-winning filmmaker Neeraj Pandey will face the biggest test in his (roughly) decade-long Hindi film career. On September 30, his fourth feature film as writer-director, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, made over a period of two-and-a-half-years, on a reported budget of Rs 80 crore, will release worldwide in four languages.
A biopic on the life of arguably India’s greatest cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer MS Dhoni will be Pandey’s first film since A Wednesday! to feature a lead actor other than Akshay Kumar (he starred in both Special 26 and Baby), in a genre other than a thriller, on a story not his own, and on a canvas far bigger than anything he’s ever played with.
But over an hour-long afternoon conversation in the meeting room of the office of his production outfit, Friday Filmworks, which he co-owns with producing partner Shital Bhatia, you could very well pass off Pandey as ‘Captain Cool’, the moniker deservingly earned by Dhoni for his ability to stay unfazed, especially at crucial junctures of any match.

If the film is a critical moment in his own journey, Pandey doesn’t betray any sign of nerves. He is visibly unpretentious, laidback and genial during the interview, and for a man fresh off a Rs 100 crore plus box office hit that he produced in August with Rustom, he is self-deprecating to the extent that he answers every other question first with a joke on himself, before grappling to find an earnest response, but only to satisfy the demands of the query itself.

Because, just like Dhoni again, Pandey seems conscientiously focused on the prize, and everything else in between is something he’d rather get through with, so he can do what he loves doing, his ‘9 to 5’, as he calls it. And for this reason, giving interviews, going to Bollywood parties or even being ‘visible’ for anything other than actual work is a task. “I love what I do, there’s no denying that,” he says, “but this is not my entire life.”

“My passion is pre-configured and I have a lot of respect for my ‘9 to 5’ or ‘9 to 12’ sometimes, so I don’t feel the need to display it. I have never felt I am a crusader in the world of movies, ki yahan jhande gaadenge (I’ll bury my flags here).  Between writing something and creating something, I’m dealing with the world in my own way, and that negotiates all these other issues, and purges me in so many ways. That’s my day to day motivation, and I hope it continues; I hope I remain this way.”

Pandey’s way, of course, is a stark contrast to most filmmakers in an industry that’s certainly a large part film, but also equal parts glamour. And that could perhaps be because of the non-filmy journey the director’s had to reach where he is today. Growing up in late ‘70s Calcutta, as it was called then, to working class parents, Pandey wasn’t the kind of child who had his life chalked out in any way.

“You know, it’s a myth that everyone in Calcutta is intelligent,” he says with a laugh, pointing out that he shouldn’t be perceived as intelligent ‘just because he was born there’. “No doubt, some of the people who shaped the film industry in the ‘50s and ‘60s were Bengalis, but you are talking about Howrah, jahan Bombay pata hi nahin tha kahan hai, hamein (where we didn’t even know where Bombay was). Most of my friends wanted to do BCom and the more dynamic ones had only one dream, bas yahan se nikal jaayein’ (to just get out of here). At that time, I really had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.”

If there was one thing that he did know, it was that he liked telling stories through his childhood. “I was very good at lying as a kid and it all started from there,” he says with a straight face. “I was a very mischievous kid, so I had to keep on making excuses, by using my imagination and digging up stories.  I think that, sort of, perfected my skill at storytelling and sowed the seed.”

Pandey was always a literature buff and was just as interested in all forms of sports, growing up. Looking back, he is certain that the nudge towards movies was more subconscious than either of these active hobbies. “I can make it sound profound and intelligent at this point, but to be honest, at that time, I just liked watching films a lot, without knowing anything about the film industry or that I’ll be pursuing a career in it.”

Two films in particular left an indelible mark on him, though. One was Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah, the “experience” of which stayed with him through the years. The other was Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool that he watched a number of times to “find out why I am seeing it over and over again”. “Maybe it was the theme of rise-and-fall that affected me, or maybe it was the music, which I was very, very fond of at that time, contrary to what I’m known for today,” he says sheepishly.

“One song in the film, Kaifi Azmi’s ‘Dekhi zamaane ki yaari’ stayed with me and that disturbed my parents a lot ki kuch to problem hai idhar (there’s some problem here). Because at that age, you are not listening to this kind of music.”

Talking about his parents, Pandey says he feels “blessed” that they were always encouraging towards any hobby or passion that cultivated, as opposed to other parents of that generation, who’d rather their children pursue either of engineering or medical sciences. He remembers how they never stopped him from doing anything, until it was absolutely necessary. So when he took up reading and films as hobbies, there was no “resistance”. “In fact, I guess it was more a sense of relief than anything else for them that I found something to do with my life,” he reminisces with a laugh.

Films turned into a passion for Pandey during his college years in Delhi in the early ‘90s, as a literature student in Delhi University’s Sri Aurobindo College. He briefly flirted with theatre, strictly as a writer-director, he points out (“there was no confusion about this bit!”), and eventually decided to take up film because he “had no other skillset”, or so he insists.

“If you are a Lit graduate, you anyway don’t have too many choices left in life,” he grins. “Stories excited me, and so I decided to learn direction to be able to tell them visually. My source of inspiration, and my institution at that time was TNT. The channel, which was Cartoon Network by day, used to show black-and-white movies from 9 pm to 6 am. That became a huge source of learning for me. The best stories were made in the ‘40s and ‘50s, even in Hollywood, so watching them sorted me out in life.”

The aspiring director at the time tried getting admission in the renowned Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, but was rejected. So he started doing television in Delhi, as a stepping stone to film. He first started as an assistant director and then worked on a couple of telefilms and fiction television as an independent director for Doordarshan and others, because he says he knew that he won’t get to be a film director “so fast”.  “Main kisi ko jaanta thodi na tha (It’s not that Iknew anyone) that I’ll come here suddenly get a film.”

Indeed, after shifting to Mumbai in 2000, it took time for Pandey to get the chance to work on his first feature film, 2008’s critically-acclaimed A Wednesday! that won him a National Award for Best First Film by a Director. Till then, he worked on commissioned documentaries, TVCs and more television, a lot of it through the first production set up he formed with Bhatia, Quarter Inch Productions.

Meanwhile, he wrote three films, a romantic comedy, a comedy and a satire, none of which saw the light of the day. The 2006 Mumbai serial train blasts inspired him to script A Wednesday! that went on to become a sleeper hit, subsequently being remade in Tamil as Unnaipol Oruvan and Telegu as Eeenadu, both starring Kamal Hassan in the role of Naseeruddin Shah as the ‘common man’ whose life is derailed because of a terror attack.

It was this movie that labelled him as a “thriller guy who makes films about the common man”, a tag that he has now stopped fighting or reacting to. “I have realized you can’t control what the audience or critics take away from a film,” he states.

“I had gone to the theater to see the audience reaction during A Wednesday!, and found myself sitting ahead of two people, who were basically discussing if Naseeruddin Shah’s character was a Hindu or a Muslim and that’s when I realized it’s all gone to the dogs (laughs). The whole point of the movie was to not talk about that, and here I was. Of course, the good thing was that at least people were talking… and perhaps there is a third guy who would counter these two and tell them what the point really was. That’s who I made the film for.”

Ever since, he has stopped falling into this “trap” of trying to leave his audience with any sort of a moral takeaway through his writing. “It’s very important to me that I am not indulgent in thinking ki audience iske baare mein kya sochegi (what will the audience think about this),” he explains.

“But you do want them to be left with some residual value in broad strokes, so what you are trying to say is translated to them, else what’s the point?  Like, in Baby, you were looking to give people a sense of respect for the guy on the border. But usually, the audience gratification I want is only in terms of their attention. As a storyteller, my entire focus is to tell any story as entertainingly as possible and then I hand it over to the director in me, who is a crowd pleaser, and knows when to amp up the background score!”

If there’s one conscious rule that Pandey follows is in his writing is to never hurt or offend anyone, because he asserts that he holds all religions and people in equal regards. Beyond that, he only wishes to deliver quality storytelling, which he hopes people have come to expect from his films, but not so that he becomes “a brand name or something of that sort.”

“It is imperative for me that audience likes the film so people who put their money in the film recover their money so I can make one more film and explore one more genre and tell one more story, and the faith sustains… it’s as simple as that. We are not making films only for ourselves, else we may as well make home videos. We are catering to an audience, so you have to respect that.”

His successful collaboration with Akshay Kumar, twice as a director and once as a producer (Rustom), which has arguably resurrected the actor’s career and given him a new identity as this generation’s Manoj ‘Bharat’ Kumar, is also more a nod to the audience than to do with his comfort level with the star, or a conscious choice as a filmmaker. “If your gamble pays off, you are hooked on to it right? It’s no rocket science,” he smiles.

But of course, he continues, in Kumar, he has found a star who comes to set as an “actor”, which, he explains, makes his work as a director easy. “There are no airs about him. He and no last minute brilliant epiphanies on set ki koi bulb jal gaya (that some bulb has lit), and he is extremely disciplined. That gives me the ability to focus only on the job at hand.”

On MS Dhoni: the Untold Story, the job at hand may have looked daunting to some, in trying to do justice to the legend of one of contemporary cricket’s biggest idols, but for Pandey, the movie was never about the cricket itself, but about the man and his journey, and that’s what made him take up the challenge of presenting it on the big screen.

After he was offered the film, he found himself in a room talking to Dhoni, and reckons that experience to be a “déjà vu”, because “it didn’t feel like you are meeting him for the first time. He is extremely grounded and earthy and holds all his players and teammates in such high regard that I knew, in that very meeting, that this was a story I had to tell.”

“It’s a very inspiring story about the making of the man that is MS,” he continues. “It’s a story of tenacity, something that, in my belief, pays off big time. If you can be very clear about the fact that this is my goal and go after it, and look the odds in the eye, chances are that you will have a good journey, and you will reach a good place.”

MS Dhoni’s story, of a man who started from nowhere and went on to carve a kind of arc for himself that one can only dream of, is, in a way, the story of India’s ultimate common man. And as such, it only makes sense that Pandey was handpicked to direct it.

As the maker of films that glorifies the extraordinary deeds of the ordinary man, and for a man resolutely trying to stay common in an industry that thrives on the uncommon, it is possibly that the tenacity of Neeraj Pandey’s journey brought him here, and just like Dhoni, it is perhaps the thrill of the chase that will take him towards a good place too.

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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on September 16, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/playing-with-dhoni
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Interview: Rahul Khanna #OpenMagazine #Profile

Rahul Khanna: The Internet’s Gentleman Boyfriend

The crossover star of the 90s, Rahul Khanna plays a Pakistani intelligence officer in an Emmy-nominated drama and becomes the internet’s latest boyfriend

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/BkCbDA


Tucked away in a lane a few hundred meters from Mumbai’s iconic Haji Ali Dargah, you are likely to miss The Royal Willingdon Sports Club, if you aren’t aware of it. Founded in 1918 by Lord Willingdon, the then Governor of the city that was once called Bombay, the club is cited as Mumbai’s “most exclusive”, with its membership closed to outsiders since 1985. It most famously denied membership to Padmashri Dr. DY Patil, in 2010, while he was the governor of Tripura, and is especially known for its snobbery towards all things ‘Bollywood’.

So the elite club is the last place you expect to meet an actor for an interview, least of all an actor who purportedly counts his allegiance to the Indian film industry. But then again, Rahul Khanna is no ‘Boutique Bollywood actor’, even though his Twitter bio irreverently claims otherwise.

Khanna, the son of the legendary ‘70s superstar, Vinod Khanna, India’s first de-facto sex symbol, and former model Gitanjali Taleyarkhan, could well be the living and breathing personification of cinema’s popular ‘fish out of water’ trope. Stylish to a fault and impeccably well-mannered, the actor has the grace and poise of a gentleman more suited to the era in which the Willingdon Club flourished, than the hasty, unruly world of today.

His filmography has been measured and unhurried, his anchoring appearances have been select, his press interactions have been few and far between, and there’s painfully little known about his personal life. And then there’s that paradox: for someone who’s self-confessedly reserved, he is a rage on social media, not so much because he tries to be, but particularly because he doesn’t. His social media profiles are a picture of effortless wit and old world charm, and have led to a collective following of over half a million followers.

It is of little wonder then that the 44-year-old Khanna – who looks at least a decade younger – has been rediscovered by an entirely new section of the audiences, mostly excitable, frenzied millennial girls who have filled the internet with posts declaring that they can’t have enough of his naughty, suggestive Snapchats (he once posted a picture titled ‘morning wood’ that had him standing in front of wooden logs one early morning) or his tantalizing Instagram posts, filled with ‘ovary-busting pictures’, as one listicle site put it.

Is he the internet’s new boyfriend? Ask him and he bursts out laughing, “It’s all a bit of fun, really. You know, I don’t have a publicist or a PRO, and I’m a classic introvert, so when the social media phenomenon came out, I thought this would be a nice way to connect with people who are interested in me. The idea is for it to be a part of your personality and to use it to express yourself. I don’t want to share my opinions or be political, I’m only there for a positive experience. But I never thought anyone’s even paying attention to this!”

And when he did realise that there was rapt attention from female fans, it gave him the license to be a bit sassy, leading to everyone from Buzzfeed to MissMalini  declaring him ‘sex on legs’. “I would be lying to you if I said I don’t love the attention,” he chuckles, “especially since it’s not lascivious, it’s fun and flirty. But now that I know people are watching, there is this temptation to be a bit creative and be a little cheeky.”

Not only does Khanna have fun with his accounts publically, he also stays playful with his rather sweet habit of personally replying to anyone who tags him in a post through a personal, intimate direct message. Once, the actor responded to tweet from a female fan who had asked him to marry him, by messaging her, “Certainly. Is Saturday good for you?” The internet discovered her screenshot recently, driving hordes of female fans ecstatic that the eternal bachelor is now a DM away from marrying them, and he soon started trending for the same. Everyone wanted a DM from Rahul Khanna, and Khanna was only happy to oblige most.

“It was quite bizarre when that happened,” Khanna chuckles. “I didn’t understand that. I feel if someone has taken the trouble to tag me or say something nice, it’s only polite for me to reply. I want my profiles to be happy so I just started using them in the way I would chat with a friend on SMS or Whatsapp. I just want to be authentic.”

The word ‘happiness’, along with ‘joy’ comes up a lot during the course of our conversation. And every which way you look at Rahul Khanna’s story so far, whether you casually google him or speak at length with him, you’d see why authenticity is just as important a trait for him.

As a bespectacled ‘nerdy’ kid with an affinity for pinstriped shirts and khaki pants (“I had a connection with pinstripes that made me feel good about myself”), Khanna grew up with his kid brother, actor Akshaye Khanna, in South Bombay, distinctly away from the heart of Bollywood that resided in and around Juhu and Andheri.  His parents split up early in his childhood, and with it, so did most of his connections with the film world.

“It’s strange that we, as kids, were perceived as belonging to that world,” he reflects. “I sort of equate myself as being an outsider with inside access. All we knew is that our Dad was an actor and people knew who he was. So as a kid, there was a time I wanted to be a vet because I love dogs, and another time I wanted to be an artist because I loved cartooning. I knew it would be something creative but didn’t know it would be film. I ended up here… but I still kind of feel I don’t know which world I belong to.”

It was the opportunity to go to New York along with his interest in the creative arts that inspired him to enroll in film school at The School of Visual Arts, New York. Along the way, he also did an acting course at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute.

“The end game wasn’t to get into Bollywood, it was only to explore the craft,” he says. “I was very influenced by the new sort of burgeoning Indian independent cinema coming out of the west. There was this little theater in New York called The Angelina that would play only independent, foreign films. I saw a film called Masala by a filmmaker called Sreenivas Krishna from Canada, and it was spectacular to see English language films about India.”

Although his brother, Akshaye, made his Bollywood debut around the same time as he was studying filmmaking, with Himalay Putra, a film produced by their father, Vinod Khanna, Khanna just couldn’t relate to what Bollywood was in those days. “There were no scripts!” he chuckles. “When people would offer me stuff and I’d ask for a script, it would be inconceivable to them that I didn’t understand the Bollywood way of working, and it was inconceivable to me that they wouldn’t have a script.”

Bollywood did happen a few years later, but it was in the early 90s, when Khanna first burst on to the scene as the Indian face of MTV Asia, even before MTV India was launched. After enjoying immense adulation and being hailed as a metrosexual Indian icon, at a time leading Bollywood actors were more famous for their chest hair than their acting skills, Khanna became one of the first young leading men to star in crossover Indian cinema with Deepa Mehta’s 1947 Earth and Bollywood/Hollywood.

It was this experience he had on the film set, along with a 8-shows-a-day, 11 week stint on the off-Broadway stage, with “theater royalty” Scott Elliott-directed play, East is East, that made him believe acting was his calling.

“Earth and East is East were incredible first acting jobs for me. I picked up so much about teamwork and they set the bar really high in terms of the kind of people and crew you could work with. I find acting to be a very intimate process, so it helped me, as an introvert, to connect. And those environments made me realise that if I could continue to do this, it would be a really good thing.”

So post his early days as a crossover star, the reason Khanna only did a handful of films over the next decade was not due to lack of offers, but because for him, relating to the team behind the film was just as important as the scripts he was getting.

“I want to be working with people I respect and who respect me back, because that’s the only way you can enjoy work and get a good result out of it” he emphasizes. “What’s the point of taking on something, when it would seem that you’d be miserable during the process? So when I look back at films of mine that haven’t been received well, if I had a good time on them, and if I’ve made friends, I feel they were worth it.”

He points out that there were times he wasn’t sure of a project but went ahead and did it anyway because he liked the people. “It was also important for me to prove wrong people who believed that I had some sort of prejudice against Bollywood,” he says. “Whenever I’d meet people, it was always implied that I perhaps felt that I was better than Bollywood, and hence hadn’t done so much of it. To them I would say, how could I have anything against Bollywood if I worked with Raj Kanwar!”

That would explain some of the misfires in the early part of his Bollywood filmography, but when he started taking up character-driven roles in films like Ayan Mukerji’s Wake Up Sid and Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal, he saw another exasperating side of the same industry.

“After these films, I’d only get offered ‘the other guy’ roles!” he laughs. “People started telling me how brave I was for doing such a role in these films but I never knew these rules. No one told them to me when I was taking up the films! (pause) It did get a bit frustrating that I wasn’t getting to do more of what I love, but it’s not a vanity thing for me to see myself on screen ‘x’ number of times. Besides, isn’t the whole point of it to have fun?”

Having fun has been the driving force behind taking up the cameo in season one of Anil Kapoor’s 24, and also a scene-stealing role in the international drama series, The Americans, that has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Drama this year. What started off as a one episode cameo, was turned into a full-fledged arc in the following season, even if that meant coming to terms with the graphic sex scenes he had to indulge in as a Pakistani spy with a keen eye for American women.

“My friends haven’t stopped tormenting me about that,” he chuckles. “From screenshots to Whatsapp group profile pictures, I’ve seen it all. The good thing, acting wise, is that after you spend 16 hours naked in a room full of strangers, there’s nothing you can’t do. It’s no longer an unknown beast.”

The Emmy nomination would certainly give the show a big boost and Khanna will perhaps come to benefit it too along the way. At the moment, even as he hopes to be called back for another arc on the show, he’s looking at scripts in both countries to figure his next steps. He’s got a travel show coming up on NDTV Good Times that will see him on the whiskey trail in Scotland, and while there’s been serious talks and negotiations for a men’s clothing line, given his tremendous style credentials, it’s yet to be worked out.

All of these things are an important part of what he calls, ‘the pursuit of joy’. “I feel that life is really short and if you are not doing stuff that brings you joy, then you are wasting your time,” he smiles. What gives him joy on a daily basis, you ask him? Reading, food, gymming and meeting friends are high on his list. He also has a certain fondness for antique furniture and collects boarding passes, although he’ snot sure why. But it’s not about individual things, he says, but the way you live your life.

“I feel we, as a people, have become a little bit less considered. So everything I do or own or like has been considered. So, if you say, I have nice manner, it’s because it’s a nice thing to have, it’s nice when someone smiles because of you.”

“It’s a horrible example, I know, “he continues with a laugh, “but I see people who may have an amazing car but they’d treat it really badly. My car may be 300 times more modest but I appreciate it and keep it well. I’m not saying my way is right, but I see people who have a lot more than I do, but nothing brings them happiness.”

It’s almost strange to see the Zen-like attitude, especially coming from someone who is a part of an industry fundamentally built on desire, and with a first name that has come to be synonymous with a period of Bollywood that reflected upward mobility and aspiration. But where everyone likes to fit inside little brackets of stereotype and cliché, Khanna’s refreshingly alright about standing out. “I have always been a round peg in a square hole,” he explains through an idiom that’s almost as peculiar as he asserts he is.

“I was uncomfortable about it when I was younger, because there was an emphasis to fit in and be a certain way, but now, I feel it is one of my biggest strengths, that I don’t fit in anywhere. So I’m also really attracted to people who are odd, who don’t play by the rules, and whom other people call weird. I really like those kind of people, and I feel it is a wonderful quality to have: in a world so standardized, to have people who are themselves. I love that!”

That’s perhaps, then, the best way of defining Rahul Khanna, connoisseur of the good life, pursuer of joy, and the internet’s current boyfriend: A gentleman of his own, in a world that is standardized.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on August 5, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/rahul-khanna-the-internet-s-latest-boyfriend
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Maneesh Sharma Interview #Fan #Pandolin #QnA

“Entering Mannat to meet Shah Rukh Khan was my Fan moment”

Maneesh Sharma is one of the most sought-after young filmmakers in India. He started his career with Band Baaja Baaraat and swept all the Best Debut Director awards for the film throughout the next year. From there, Maneesh has grown from strength to strength as a director, and then, as a producer for Yash Raj Films, with his much acclaimed first film, Dum Laga ke Haisha, winning the National Award. His passion project Fan has been in the making for about 10 years now. From its origins to the final production, this has been a ride for the filmmaker and fans alike. In an exclusive and in-depth chat with guest writer, Nikhil Taneja, Maneesh Sharma opens up about the film, its genesis and his long association with YRF.

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Pandolin.com. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/EEC8Ru


You wanted Fan to be your first film, isn’t it? I find it interesting that although your eventual goal was to make a thriller-drama of this scale, why did you only make comedy-dramas before this? Why did you not gravitate towards any thriller in your career so far?
It was obviously unplanned because I was very driven to make Fan as my first film and having said that, I also wanted to make my first film with Shah Rukh Khan. When I was coming to Bombay, I told my friends in Delhi that there would definitely be a day when there will be a film called Fan and it will say “Starring Shah Rukh Khan, produced by Aditya Chopra and directed by Maneesh Sharma”. Ye toh mujhe karna tha. Adi (Aditya Chopra) was always encouraging, but he would always tell me that you must develop it (the film’s idea). Therefore, it came with a suffix that it cannot be your first film.

In the time I was trying to develop the idea, Fanaa (*his first film as an AD for YRF*) released. Then Adi told me that he is planning a Madhuri Dixit comeback film. When I heard ‘Madhuri Dixit film’, there was no need to talk any further (smiles). So I put Fan on hold and worked on Aaja Nachle. When I got back to Fan after that released, Adi again called me and said that this time, he was making a film with Shah Rukh and wanted me to work on that (chuckles). I thought, “Obviously. If Shah Rukh and Adi are doing it, then I am doing it!” Rab Ne… (Rab Ne Bana di Jodi) happened and I reiterated ne last time that I wanted to make Fan. But Adi told me that since the film is a very ambitious one, not just financially, but creatively, he asked me to first make a film where I didn’t have to break mountains so I could hone my craft. Since I had kept at it for 5-6 years, I got dejected that I won’t ever be able to make this one.

Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) came out of that dejection. The story of Band Baaja… happened, Adi liked it and agreed to produce it. I must say that it was a very honest film because it was my first film and it came from an organic space. We just made what we wanted to make. Thankfully Band Baaja… put me in a place that Adi could talk to him about the film. By then I also knew SRK because of Rab Ne…. And it was also a sheer coincidence that I received my best debut director award from SRK himself on my birthday (smiles). We kept talking about the film and had some equation by then. Before BBB released, Adi and I had discussed that in terms of development and writing, Habib Faisal would be the writer. Since it would take time, I did Ladies vs Ricky Bahl as its script was ready.

When Adi planned Jab Tak Hai Jaan with SRK, he also told him that there was an idea for a film by me. SRK liked it and he told Adi that he wanted to do both! So it was decided that he would do Fan after Jab Tak… so Habib would also be able to write properly after Ishaqzaade. Meanwhile, Shuddh Desi Romance happened (laughs).

People keep talking about how I work within the same milieu but it was not at all planned! I only take ownership of Band Baaja Baaraat. That came from me, I liked it and thought that it would be a new voice. Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Shuddh Desi… both came as bound scripts to me. When people say that my command on Delhi is very good, I feel like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Shuddh Desi Romance is set in Rajasthan (laughs). And Ladies vs Ricky Bahl too had barely 10 minutes of Delhi. Even in Fan, a quarter of the film is in Delhi but this association has got too glorified, that I am good with that milieu. Another thing that is said is that all my films are set in the middle class, which is another unplanned thing.

Your question is right to an extent – if I was planning to make Fan then why the other kind of films? When I was in film school, it was on my bucket list that I wanted to direct a Jaideep Sahni film and it happened. l liked the script and also thought that the film had great attitude in the writing. Another thing is that directorially, Shuddh Desi… was a very tough film. It is not that I am always looking for a larger scale in terms of money, VFX, etc. It may very well happen that the next film that I end up doing might be a 3 crore film with a newcomer. I think your association with the film/script at that point in your life is very important because you are charged about different things in different phases of your life.

For the same reason, I admire Yash Chopra as a director in terms of his body of work and I find it weird that this thing about him being the King of just ‘romance’ is talked over and over again. He made movies like Deewar, Kala Patthar, Mashaal, Dhool Ka Phool and Satyakam. Whatever he did, he did it well, irrespective of genre. Therefore it is beyond me to classify him into one slot. I think it will take at least 10 films for me to achieve a prolificacy. It is not that the next film that I do has to be a comedy. I think there is honesty in being unplanned, and I hope that I will be able to retain it. Success and failure will come and go and I know that I will make both good and bad films.

For example, I did get some flak for Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and I am not being defensive here but no one tells that it is a shit film. It was ‘okay’. And I think people were reacting to the monkey on its back with respect to Band Baja Baaraat. But I was not trying to outdo or match what I did with Band Baja Baraat. I was excited to make an Indian chick flick. I was not planning a bigger, better film after a successful film and I don’t want to do that even after Fan now (smiles).

Did a Shah Rukh Khan film for YRF outside of Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra’s direction feel like a daunting task? Being from the same college as Shah Rukh Khan (Hanraj College, Delhi) and your associations with him from assisting days help during the shoot or did you have to figure how to direct him from day one onwards?
The thing, is arriving at Fan has been a very long journey, vis-à-vis Shah Rukh Khan. I’ll tell you a little story. It was in 2004 and I was about to graduate from my film school. I wanted to meet Shah Rukh Khan and pitch him an idea that I want to make a film with him and to ask him how to go about it. One night I was partying really hard during my college days at Cal Arts, LA, and it was 1:30 am that I called his spot boy, Subhash Da, and told him that my name is Maneesh and I am graduating from film school and I have a script for Shah Rukh Khan (chuckles). He said to call him back in 10 minutes. I thought he was just brushing me off but I did call back after 15 minutes and he said wait for a minute and then from the other side, Shah Rukh Khan’s voice comes on, ‘Hello?’ I was standing on a LA street and wondering whether this was real (smiles).

So I immediately became formal and started saying, ‘Mr. Khan’ and being courteous.  I told him I wanted to pitch him a film. So he gave me his manager’s number and repeated the number too. I said I’ll be in India in June/July and asked when will be a good time to meet him. He said he was preparing for a show, ‘Temptations’ and was very focused on it but we’ll figure it out. I thought that I spoke to Shah Rukh, so now I am definitely making this film, it is done (chuckles).

When I came back to India from college, I tried contacting his team but there no response. So I went to Bombay and crashed at a friend’s place. I dropped him a long message saying that ‘You asked me to come here and because of that I am here and now you are not responding at all’. A couple of hours later I got his message that I am shooting and at 6:30, come to my place, the address is ‘Mannat, Band Stand, Bandra’. I thought, ‘Really?!’

So, I landed there. Entering Mannat to meet Shah Rukh Khan was my first ‘fan’ moment. I went to the guard and I said that I am here to meet Shah Rukh. He said that he is not there. I thought that this is a standard response so I said to him that I had received a message from him but the guard said that he really is not there. Fifteen minutes later SRK messaged me that he is running late and will be there in 20 minutes and will inform at the gate and I can come in after that. So when his car came, a whole horde of fans ran in to have a look. These are all were very strong images and the idea seeded there and then for the film.

When the Mannat gate opened, I felt like I was walking in 48 fps (laughs). I met Subhash Dada, put a name to the face. I was sitting in what used to be his meeting room then. I just looked around the room and it looked astonishing – the great sea view, there were different VHS tapes that were kept there, even Fauji’s, there was a jukebox.

When Shah Rukh Khan came in, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s how he looks! (smiles). We had an hour long chat. He is, of course, a very gracious person and if you meet him in person for a chat, he will own you. He had a very professional manner. We talked about Delhi and Barry John, our common alma matter, and we discussed a lot of things. He liked the idea and then after talking about a lot of things I left. I had no idea how this process works. I mean to get his time like that, I don’t know I can pull it off even no!? After that I met other people too but I realized that if I have to work in the industry, first I need to know how it works. So I decided that I will start but I will only work at Yash Raj films. Then, somehow, Fanaa happened… and you know the rest of the story.

But by the time Fan happened we had also completed a sort of journey ourselves through Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, on which I was an associate director. So by then, it was not directing a superstar, it was more like a collaboration, like working with an immensely talented person. We just wanted to make the best film possible.

You seem to have a certain instinct about the films you choose to make, both as a director and producer. It seems to me that you have an innate understanding of young people of India. While ‘Bollywood’s’ idea of ‘the youth’ is young people from Bombay, you make stories from all over India, be it Delhi, Rajasthan, Haridwar or even your upcoming films as a producer which are set in different cities. Is this something that you look for in a script? Is there something in particular that you are assessing, for that matter, whenever you read a script?
No, I don’t, actually. As a script, BBB came from me because of my understanding of a particular subculture. From the people and places I knew and the spaces I understood. It may sound strange but BBB came from an in-flight magazine (smiles). I was in a flight and reading this article about six case studies about these new age entrepreneurs. In some cases, these people were just packaging your gifts well, that’s all. And that kick-started the thought that it is somewhere talking about the middle class and lower middle class’ aspiration. It was very exciting to see self-employed people trying to start a business and make money. So the idea started there; that if there were two youngsters from this milieu who have no resources but they have a vision then how would they go about it. I don’t think of it as a love story but as a relationship story between these two.

Whether it was a rom-com or a ‘youngsters’ story or even a love story, whatever audiences must have thought of it, it probably was about the conflict of their aspirations to do bigger weddings. I think two things happen: I have more affinity towards, and understanding of, this kind of material. And the second thing I get excited about is when something has not been done so far. I cannot say if something is unique in the preparation phase but if something is fresh and exciting, I back it up and enjoy the process of seeing it through. Even for Shuddh Desi, the thing that excited me was that we were talking about three young people in a very regular situation which society considers very irregular because ‘live-in’, as a situation for our audience is still something that happens only in New York or Europe or Australia or may be in South Bombay. That excited me so I guess because I come from the same environment I get hooked to it.

When Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s script came, I was busy with Fan’s pre-production. At that stage I was developing a script with Sharat (Katariya). Then one day, he wanted to narrate an idea to me for feedback. It was a script for him to direct. I told Adi about it and explained to him why I felt about the characters and space, etc. He said that if you are so excited about it then why don’t you produce it? Now I knew he was looking for some creative producers and I probably was on his mind on that list, but he said that I really have to believe that I can do it. I was happy to do it because I thought that at least the movie will get made that way. I did not even do it for Sharat, I just did it for what he had written. My only contribution after reading the draft was asking Sharat, ‘Why don’t we set it in 1994?’ Prem liked audio cassette but the film was written contemporarily. But it gave me a cue of why don’t we take it to the time the transition happened to CDs. This also gave some context to some of the regressive character behavior. Sharat also got kicked about ‘90s and it became a big flavor. It wasn’t as if I was tempering with his material but it was just an idea. That’s the only way you go for it. You just feel that this feels right and hope that others also find it right later on. This is the only thing that I want to protect about myself.

Your career and filmography is still young but I’m curious to know if you ever think in terms of what your legacy when you select a script to direct or produce. Do you think in terms of, say, at the end of your career, people should think about Maneesh Sharma in this particular way?
It’s a very interesting question. Do I think about legacy in a certain way? Yes. Say after my ten films, you might hate them or dislike them but when you discuss them there will be a certain intention. You will find that there is something worth deconstructing. But if you think that I plan my movies to be in a certain order, or plan some kinds of projects at certain points in my career, then it is not so. At least so far it hasn’t been so and hopefully it won’t be so in future too. I don’t belong to that school of thought.

When I am backing a script in any capacity, my only criteria is that if I like it, I will do it. Let me tell you how Shuddh Desi happened. I was suffering from jaundice in the middle of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl’s shoot. There was a lot of pressure of time because some 20-25 days of shoot was left, three songs were to be done. One day Adi said that you are just lying down, read a script and give me feedback. Adi was not looking for me to direct it. Adi and Jaideep were discussing it and they thought that let’s also ask Maneesh to read it since he is lying down idly anyway (chuckles).

In that state I read Shuddh Desi romance and I remember I read 65% of it and I was feeling drowsy only because of my physical state but I was really enjoying the script. I put an alarm that I will wake up in 45 minutes to read the rest and I did that. I loved that script. It was a slightly different draft, though, principally, it was the same film. I called Adi in the morning and said it is terrific so he called me to the office.. he wanted to meet me and Jaideep together. I was very excited about the script and told them whatever I felt about it. It was a week or so later that I asked Adi, ‘By the way, who is making that film?’ He said that he hadn’t attached any director yet, so I said, ‘Then I am making that film’ (chuckles). He was planning something else for me and I said, ‘Don’t worry about that’ so this happened.

I must tell you another thing that since the reception of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl was different, everyone kept saying that I was making a ‘comeback’ film. They wanted me to do a ‘safe’ film. Now I did not know how it was an ‘unsafe’ film, I was not thinking like that at all. You have to stick with your instincts and thankfully, it worked well. It was actually my most successful film on box office despite what everyone was thinking about it (smiles).

Earlier, of course, since you were in the middle of Fan, you probably didn’t have the mind space to think about another film for you to direct. But when you got closer to Fan releasing, and you liked a script that came to you, how did you choose between producing it and directing it yourself? And how will you go about it in the future?
If I read a script and I really like it, I get very excited about it. Now whether I am excited about it in the way that I want to direct it or I just want to just creative produce it, that answer does come easily. It is not that if I am directing a film then it is more mine, I just have to think about the number of hours given to this film on a day-to-day basis for several years. Otherwise, for me, it is always the case that if it is a good project then it should be made, and it does not matter in what capacity I am attached to it.

Do you discuss with Aditya Chopra about the kind of projects that you’ll produce and the ones that you’ll direct? Has there been any particular idea for how your films as a producer will be similar or different from everything else by the banner?
Not at all, yaar. It’s all about instinct. Between Adi and me, there has been no such discussion that I will do something in one capacity or another. In fact, one thing that’s very heartening is that Adi said, ‘There might be a scenario that I might not like a script that you like but I’ll still want you to make that film, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having you as a producer. If you are fully convinced, then make it, otherwise the larger purpose of finding new voices and creating new content gets defeated.’ I think I have quite a free room in the kind of projects that I want to do. I really have to believe in a project to do it and so far it has not happened where I had to really sell him an idea. It will happen someday where he will not be convinced and I’ll have to really try to convince him (smiles) but so far it hasn’t happened.

So what are the aspects in which your thought process is similar to that of Aditya Chopra’s? How are you guys similar as producers?
I think Adi and I have a really good confluence. It is a nice give-and-take relationship. See, even if you start with the fact that he is Yash Chopra’s son and has grown up in this industry, the fact is that he has made a mark with his first film in a way that no one else has done. His understanding of the industry and Hindi films is of a certain ‘darja’ (level). I am a Delhi boy who wanted to make a film. Our one commonality is that we both are film buffs; we like films in general. There is lot of respect for each other in the manner that I view certain portion of film in one way and he in another way. Our film association has almost been five to five-and-a-half films old. If you keep that aside and we are talking about any X film, then there is a commonality and a passion for films, yet worldview wise and ideology wise, we do not think in the same way, but in a constructive manner. Adi backs films like Band Baja or Shuddh Desi Romance because he has an acumen, and he knows that cinema has to change and new voices have to come in.

You have also assisted him when he directed Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, what are the things you picked up from him as a director?
What I realize now fully and I realized it back then too is that we are from very different schools. I am a very unstructured director. I never give a shot breakdown to my ADs. We always start from a blank slate on the shoot’s morning. It works for me and I find a certain energy in that. Adi is the complete opposite. He is a writer-director, I am not, though I may have given the story for two of my films. I have realized one thing that if you read Adi’s script on paper, you feel like it has been directed over there itself. It has so much clarity for everyone. Whoever reads it, there are no different interpretations, whether it is an actor or a production designer or a DP. He directs it first on paper and then it is just about logistics of taking a shot. That is a big learning. Another thing is collaborating with music directors, which was completely alien into me. He was heavily involved in the music of both Fanaa and Aaja Nachle, both films where he wasn’t the director. This is something that I have learned from him.

Finally, a question out of curiosity. Will we ever see you directing or producing something on digital?
Yes, why not? I don’t feel there is a demarcation between the formats. I like storytelling and whatever it comes on is fine. During my film school, I had worked on all kind of formats so my association is in fact stronger with these formats.

 

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared on Pandolin.com in April 2016.
Link: http://pandolin.com/entering-mannat-to-meet-shah-rukh-khan-was-my-fan-moment/
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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

THE SRK INTERVIEW #OPENMAGAZINE #SRK #QNA

Shah Rukh Khan: ‘I Give You the Right Not to Judge People’

Shah Rukh Khan dissects fame and success and confesses that many chapters of his life remain closed to all

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/NfjTiS

It’s 12.45 am, and this is the last of 13 print interviews that Shah Rukh Khan has committed to, and done, through the day, besides radio and internet interviews, over a period of 10 continuous hours. He’s visibly drained when he greets you, with a weary smile, but as soon as the recorder is turned on, the energy is back again, and it’s manic. A fifteen minute interview stretches to an hour, and that’s what Shah Rukh Khan is: a man who may get tired of being a superstar at times, but would never take it for granted.

It is the week of release of perhaps his riskiest movie in years, Fan, where he plays both a superstar, Aryan Khanna, and his biggest fan, Gaurav, a aged-down, shorter, VFX version of himself. To the audiences, Aryan may very well be Shah Rukh Khan himself, what with the name being the same as Khan’s son’s name, and with the trailers using footage of ‘SRK’ mania, but they are likely to, somewhere, identify with Gaurav, who is the reason for, and thrives on, the same mania. As Khan faces off against himself in the movie that seems to be a return to his thriller roots, he speaks about fame, stardom, privacy, fans… and being Shah Rukh Khan.

Everyone’s more interested in the ‘fan’, Gaurav, in your movie, Fan but I’m more curious about Aryan Khanna. Aryan seems like a manifestation of Shah Rukh Khan. Is it somewhere what you see yourself as, or what you think fans see you as?
No… in fact, it’s a completely written character. And that’s why I had more difficulty playing Aryan Khanna than Gaurav. When you are making a film about a superstar, so that you don’t have to establish the stardom, you could maybe go with Mr. Bachchan (Amitabh Bachchan), Salman (Khan), Aamir (Khan) but the story was of a Delhi boy, so it fit well with me. We’ve also shown the star in his personal space outside of the flamboyance and Bollywood shoots, so it was important he be a star without us having to prove that.

But the character is very different. It would be unfair of Adi (Aditya Chopra) and Maneesh (Sharma) to ask me to play me but yes, the only manifestation has been using my 25 years of archival footage. You have me getting an award from Rekhaji (smiles) and that you may not have gotten from a newer actor. Yes, a lot of people will say, ‘Shah Rukh aisa hai kya? Yeh aisa hai yaar! (Is Shah Rukh like this? Oh! He’s like this!)’ But the honest truth is I’m not like him at all. He’s more real, more grounded, more practical, less mad and probably less compassionate in his dealings than me. He’s scarily real, and I’m not like that at all.

Have you ever given a thought to what the world sees Shah Rukh Khan as? What do you think your perception is to the regular guy on the street?
No… no. But I do get a feedback, on Twitter. Sometimes, they like me, sometimes they think I’ve become anti-national or I’m a marketer or I’ve sold out or that I’m fantastic or romantic. See, the beauty of being a star or being liked is, the more different perceptions people have of you, the more different people like you for different things. I may be all of them, I may be none of them. But there’s no way I can sit down and get disturbed by them.

Suppose you say, Shah Rukh I want you to do a Chak De (India) kind of a film; achchi acting karega, mera bada dil khush hoga (you’ll act well, my heart will be filled with joy). But that’s your perception. Mujhe nahin lagta maine baaki picture mein gandi acting ki hai (I don’t think I’ve acted badly in other movies). But I can’t explain that to you because you don’t know the craft or why an actor breathes, lives and does what he or she does. And I can’t explain myself to everyone else too.

And now, with social media, you’re perceived differently depending on the day. On the day of a hit film, you’re perceived as something, on the day your team has lost a match, you are perceived as something else. As a matter of fact, it’s maddening. If you are not able to concentrate and just know yourself fully, and say no, ‘Main inmein se kuch bhi nahin hoon, main yeh hoon (I’m none of these, I’m this)’.  And if I tell you that part of me, it’ll be very boring (chuckles). So I let people think who they think I am.

I am an image. Shah Rukh Khan is an image… and I’m just an employee of that image. Now whatever that image, some girl see pink, some boys see black, some women see beautiful, some people think overrated, it’s an image. None of it is me. It’s like, you know, when you make a shadow with your fingers and you make a dog, there is no dog, it’s actually made out of fingers. I can’t show you the fingers, because the magic goes. So you think it’s a dog or a butterfly, whatever you like. I can’t break your myth that I’m working for as Shah Rukh Khan and I can’t believe in it myself. Because the day I do, I’ll be torn apart. I won’t know what happened!

 

In 2009, you played a superstar in Billu, who stayed true to his roots and was accepting of all love. In 2016, in Fan, you again play a superstar who has much to like, but one who draws a strict boundary between his reel and real life. Is this a reflection of your process as well? Do you now have try and safeguard how much of Shah Rukh Khan is accessible?
See, but I’m not even making myself accessible. I don’t even know what happens. It’s the reality we live now and it is how it’s going to be. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t change my way of being, according to the changes of the platforms of media, or according to how people start reacting to things. I’m the same person, living in the same place. I will still go for my match and cheer for my team, I’ll still take my child in my arms and walk down to the airport, I’ll still try to do the best I can in a film.

(Pause) But, to be very honest, very few people know the real me. I’ve been an open book, but the chapters I’ve opened are the chapters I’ve opened and nobody knows the chapters I haven’t opened. I’ve written a book about my life and even that book doesn’t contain all of it. I sit down to write it and I say, ‘No, yaar’. My privacy is not the space I allow people to get into physically or by a photograph or a selfie or by Facebook and Twitter. My space, which I don’t allow anyone into, is my emotions.

You know, I’m an extremely emotional person and I’m still really detached, and if I’m able to survive this dichotomy of stardom and normalcy that I live in, that’s a pre-requisite. I need to have my space. I know, what I do in my personal life and what I actually feel and think is so far removed from what people think I am, and what I could be, that it’s very strange, and very maddening.

But I’m only myself when I’m in my bedroom with my kids, yaar (smiles). With my black shorts and my hair standing out, and just being. Because my kids know me as a father and as a friend. They don’t want to know me as a star. And I don’t want to tell them what a star I am. They have respect for what I’ve done, they’ve immense amount of pride for who I am, but none of it enters my bedroom. We never talk about Shah Rukh Khan in third person, in fact, we make fun of him in third person (chuckles), sometimes, as much as others do.

You’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed his celebrity and yet, had respect for it. But in the age of social media, where fame is under such intense scrutiny, do you feel differently about it? Is fame more difficult to enjoy now?
No, yaar, it’s like… if you come on a weekend and stand outside my house, the people there are mostly loving. But there are people who’ve got stuck in the crowd and traffic, who are thinking, ‘What the fuck? I don’t want to be stuck in the traffic! Who the hell is he?’ knowing fully well who the hell I am. There are also some who are irritated, thinking, ‘Why does he have these people outside his house and I don’t?’ and then, there are some neighbours who are genuinely affected because they want to sleep and a thousand people are screaming. But 80% of the people are there for the love of it. So when I go out and wave, I respect everyone but I hear only the 80%, who’ve come out of love. I share the love with them. The same love also goes out to the 20%, who can take it or leave it. Social media is exactly like that.  Most of them have followed me out of love. And I’m not worried about the X, Y or Z voice of the 20%.

You know, I really enjoy my stardom, I love it and have always loved it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, unabashedly, I came here thinking that when I am a star or when I’m good enough, I want people to love me, to hug me, to cry for me, to shout for me, to die for me. I want people to abuse me, to jump at me, to deride me too. I want people, it’s as simple as that (smiles). And people comprises of all kinds so I can’t disrespect that. Yes, I can get irritated at times, it’s my human right. I can get pissed off, and get really, really angry at trolling, or when some say I am anti-national or some shit. But, having said all that, it’s the same crowd outside my house – some of them I understand don’t want to be here, but they’re here (chuckles).

I don’t have issues of privacy, because I know what’s private is private. You can’t take that out of me because I don’t want to give it. I’m an actor, I can act like anything.

The reason I asked the last question was that today, the guy who makes a film round the year is just as big a star as the guy who uploads a five minute video on YouTube. How seriously do you take your stardom in such a time? Do you ever worry about things like staying relevant or protecting the fame?
You can’t make stardom, you can’t hold stardom, and most of all, you can’t protect stardom. Stardom is an entity by itself. It’s uncontrollable, intangible, unquantifiable. It’s not something you can just achieve and just because you have it, don’t please think you can control it. I’m not ready for it to fall or drop but there’s no reason for to try and protect it. Because you have to realise that stardom did not happen because of you.

Having said that, (pause), the model has changed. This is my understanding, I am completely off the cuff here. There was a vertical model in the world: the haves and the have-nots. The world does not have have-nots anymore… it’s all equal. We’re a horizontal world now. So, when I came into the film industry, a lot of actors told me, ‘Tu enigmatic nahin hai yaar, tu ads karta hai (You are not enigmatic, you do ads)’. I’m not Greta Grabo. She’s wonderful, I love her – but the times of Greta Garbo are gone. There are 1.2 billion people now. My biggest hit, the biggest hit in the country has been seen by only 11 crore people, 110 crore people haven’t seen it, on TV, in theaters, on every media combined. So there’s nothing like too much of me ,yaar. There’s nothing like too much love either; love is love. So there’s nothing like, ‘Arre yaar yeh bahut baari aa raha hai ghar mein, mujhe nahin pyaar karna (Oh! He’s coming to our house too many times, I don’t want to give so much love).’ You can’t overexpress yourself, you can’t over-spread yourself in today’s world.

There’s no hierarchy of stardom now, there’s no hierarchy in this country, or in the world. Each one of us is equal. It’s the reality now… it’s the truth. I can’t look down upon you. There was a time that if you wanted a star’s interview, only the top journalist of that country’s top magazine got the interview through some source of friendship of the manager that you had. Today, each of us comes out and talks to everyone. Not because you were less then, because there is no hierarchy, everybody is equal, yaar.

But the trick is, how can we be a little more equal than equal, that’s all. And for that, you’ve got to stick to the clichés – the honest basic truths. Be upfront, work hard, play harder, party hardest and love your family. That’s what I do. You have a dream? Go for it. Buy a house. Buy yourself two cars and waste one. Marry the girl that you love. There’s nothing wrong in wants or desire. That’s what we were made for. Otherwise we’d be in heaven, desiring nothing… everything is there in heaven. But at the end of it all, keep some modicum of honesty to it. Don’t have it without hard work, don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t thieve, don’t try to make a fast buck, don’t shirk away from saying and believing the right thing, it’s as basic as that. Your father would have said this to you too.

When I wake up in the morning and sit down with my kids, I need to be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘There is no discrepancy in what I teach you about goodness’. Try and be honest – that’s the only thing I want to protect.

Fan comes at a very interesting point of your career. Shah Rukh Khan started out as a risk-taker, someone who’d do a Darr or a Baazigar, not worried about how he’d be perceived. Somewhere in the middle, a SRK film became safe, and comfortable. You’d go to watch your film so you know it’s okay. But with Fan and Raees, for example, you don’t know if it’ll be okay, and that’s exciting. What’s brought about the change?
Even if you are extremely disturbed after watching Raees and Fan, let me assure you everything is okay (smiles). If you cry after watching a film, it’s okay. If the family in the film breaks up, it’s okay. If the hero falls in love and doesn’t get the girl, it’s okay. At the end of it all, life is going to be okay. You’ll never find a guy like most of the characters I’ve played in my films, in the real world. But when you play them, you don’t have to judge them, that’s all. I mean, look at Rahul from Darr, he’s a psychopath and stalker. Or Devdas, who is an alcoholic fool. You won’t do it, I won’t do it, but you need to just tell be able to tell the story of someone like that, and still let it be okay.

You know what my movies give you? The lack of judgment. I give you the right not to judge people. When we read the third page of the newspaper and see a shoddy headline screaming out, we judge instantly. ‘Wo ganda hai, wo acchcha hai, wo politician hai toh harami, yeh hero badmaash hai, are yeh uske saath soyi, yeh ghatiya hai, yeh cheap hai (He’s bad, he’s good, he’s a politician so is an asshole, this hero is a hooligan, if she slept with someone, she’s cheap)’. Arre? You think it’s not right, so don’t do it. But let them do it, don’t judge them. So the whole idea I give in films is that it’s okay. It’s alright if somebody’s done it, you should accept that.

We are getting so judgmental in today’s time and age, that you are under the pressure to say the right thing about the right thing. Sometimes, people say, why aren’t you mentioning that tragedy on Twitter? Arre, come on, does that make me a lesser person, because I didn’t write about it on Twitter? Everybody tweets, ‘My heart goes out to…’, and my heart does go out, to what happened in Kolkata, for example, but I don’t need to write it and explain it to you. I don’t judge the ones who share but I believe that every feeling need not be shared. A tweet does not life make, or a character decide, you know (chuckles).

But there’s no reason why I have choose these films at the time. Fan and Raees were signed before Dilwale so there’s no concerted effort behind this. The only freedom I have is I should be able to make a choice that’ll make me happy in the morning, good, bad or ugly. It makes me happy that I’ll work with Anand (Rai) or that I’ve worked with Maneesh or Gauri (Shinde). If all these films don’t do well, maybe I’ll go back and only make romantic films again (laughs).

 

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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on April 22, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/shah-rukh-khan-i-give-you-the-right-not-to-judge-people
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