Category Archives: Movies ALL

On Stalking: Toilet – Ek Prem Katha and responsible vs irresponsible Bollywood #Opinion

Toilet Ek Prem Katha is entertaining, raises some important issues about sanitation & gender equality and does a good job in addressing them, and cements Akshay Kumar as the most important Bollywood star we have today. Having said that, what could’ve been a landmark film is marred by an extremely long runtime (still okay), blatant political sucking up (sigh but okay) and a huge thumbs up to stalking (so not okay!!).

But let me start by saying that I’m glad the film raises some pertinent issues:
a) Our “culture” is being toyed with by its self-proclaimed guardians and it’s high times we stop them
b) Beyond a point we can’t blame the government or anyone else for our issues: we need to first step up and stand up for ourselves and cause change within ourselves.
c) Men in our country have a huge ego and there is no harm in apologising when we are wrong; in fact, the way we will have healthy relationships is if men stop acting like superheroes and behave human.

And let me reiterate: I have immense respect for Akshay Kumar for picking the kind of scripts he has been over the past couple of years. I’m so glad that he’s now using his stardom to say something than just get more money for himself. And he acts so well in this! He’s always been on point with comedy but so good to see his dramatic chops. Bhumi is the backbone of the film and stands out in every scene, and Divyendu Sharma and the rest of the cast is hilarious and on point.

Now coming to the issue: In the film, a 37-year-old (in the film) hero wins the heart of a 20-something film by stalking her, harassing her, taking her pictures without consent, and even using her images to market his shop! And how does the girl react? By getting angry at first but then, after the guy explains to her that this is “romance”, agreeing to marry him!!! What. The. Fuck.

Given how often the film declares its feminism, it’s shocking no one found it wrong to show the hero harassing a girl in the name of “love”. This film is destined to cross a 100 Crores and do plenty of good (as it must) so then this kind of messaging is completely irresponsible. And it’s unbelievable that although, very evidently, some intelligent people worked on this film, how did they feel this was okay!? How did this pass through the entire studio without one person pointing out that THIS is a HUGE problem in this country and we CAN’T normalise this!!

I’m just disappointed that in today’s day and age social mass entertainers (who self-confessedly have the agenda of bringing about change) are not really paying any attention to what they are saying in the rest of the film outside of their main agenda. This is the third film in the span of a few months that’s had this problem. I had earlier had similar problems with Dangal too: It was such an inspiring film on the side of feminism but in which the father forced his dreams on his children and mistreated them (he even throws his 9 year old daughter in the river!). The messaging was literally at odds with 3 Idiots where Aamir said – parents should chill and let their children dream. Badrinath Ki Dulhania did this too: it had a social message about dowry and whatnot, but the jilted lover kidnaps his girlfriend and there’s this extremely jarring scene where a guy is almost raped and his friends find it funny. What?!

Bollywood can’t get away by saying “but it’s just a film” and the characters in this film “just behave this way”. They can behave this way if your film is NOT meant to be a social entertainer. If it’s a dark film or a satire, then sure, go ahead and show whatever you want. But you can’t have your country’s biggest stars normalise regressive behaviour, especially since your film is all about “soch”.

I really do hope filmmakers and studios and even our stars understand that in social mass entertainers it’s incredibly important that the messaging is responsible OVERALL. Because these are films that will be talked about and certainly films that will have an impact on the minds of people. So then for them to take away one great message but one regressive, irresponsible message, is so unfortunate. And the only way to address such a problem is to first admit there is one.

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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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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.

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).
© 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: Mira Nair #Profile #OpenMagazine #QueenofKatwe

Mira Nair: Breaking the Colour Code

Mira Nair’s new movie is a daring rejoinder to racial prejudices

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/bhuR62
““Irresistible” is one of those adjectives that critics should handle with utmost care,” reads the very first paragraph of the review of Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe, by the New York Times’ chief film critic of over a decade, A.O. Scott. “But if there is anyone out there capable of remaining unmoved by this true-life triumph-of-the-underdog sports story, I don’t think I want to meet that person.”
It’s been a month since the tenth feature-length live action film of arguably the most accomplished and feted international director of Indian origin, Mira Nair, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the festival’s artistic director Cameron Bailey spoke of how the world has been catching up with Nair’s stories. Bailey went on to proclaim that Nair’s time is “now”, and ever since, the accolades for both her and her new film haven’t stopped.Being a four-quadrant-pleasing inspirational Disney biopic of an underdog chess prodigy, Phiona Mutesi, from the slums of Kampala, Queen of Katwe may not be the standout movie of Nair’s remarkable career that counts, among its many highlights, the Oscar-nominated Salaam Bombay! and the screen adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautiful exploration of one’s roots, The Namesake. And yet, it is, by all means, just as important as every other story Nair’s chosen to champion through her distinct cinéma vérité style of filmmaking.Because this is the year in which the American film industry is still reeling from the embarrassment and backlash of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, where all 20 acting nominees at the Academy Awards were white, for the second time in a row, since 1998. It is also, lamentably, the year where US Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric against anyone who isn’t a straight, white, American male, has managed to sway a significant part of his highly-educated first world country into advocating for him.In such a time, so fuelled by class divide, prejudice and racism, here’s a film by the most successful of the ‘Big Six’ American film studios at the moment, featuring an all-black cast led by a 16-year-old debutant non-professional actress from Uganda, set almost entirely in Africa, and directed by a woman filmmaker of Indian origin. In any other year, a film like this would have been an anomaly, but in 2016, when the world seems to Benjamin Buttoning itself into a de-evolved, Neolithic version of itself, the very fact that Queen of Katwe was made, is akin to a miracle.

But that’s exactly what attracted Nair, never been one to shy away from challenges, to the story in the first place. “If you see Africa on any screen, even within Africa or without Africa, it is always to do with dictatorship or beastiality or child soldiers and violence; it has nothing to do with the kind of everyday life in Africa,” she says, over the telephone, in a conversation that took place minutes before her film’s European premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.

“I think it’s so important to break the ignorance, the myopia, and the, sort of, terrible tropes and stereotypes that exists about other places in the world today. Even in India, there is massive racism against African students. There is so much importance given to the colour of our skin, and there’s caste prejudice that we’ve been carrying on for years, that the government stokes every moment, you know. A film like this hopefully makes you realise that the Nigerian student down the street is not a hustler or whatever the world may tell you that he/she is, and that’s important to know right now.”

Lending a voice to those who don’t get much of a say has always been one of the prevalent themes of Nair’s movies. From tackling the pandemic of child abuse in Monsoon Wedding to the rising Islamobhobia in her last film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Nair takes pride in giving a platform to the disadvantaged, the marginalised as well as the misfits, while ensuring that their portrayal is not bleak, but instead, spirited. Nair calls it the “life-ist” attitude that she has seen as the fundamental component of the human condition, irrespective of where she’s set her film.

“This attitude, this embracing of life fully… the emphasis on how much you can create with your life, regardless of how little you may have, has always inspired me,” Nair says. “The struggle to just achieve you are by people considered outside of society, is a tale I have tried to tell since Salaam Bombay!, because there’s dignity and joy that you never see or hear of.”

When a Disney executive with Ugandan roots, Tendo Nagenda, brought her a cut out of a sports magazine that had profiled Mutesi, asking her if she’d be interested in making a film on her, Nair knew this was a story she needed to tell. Mutesi’s story took place barely 15 minutes away from her house in Kampala, a city she calls home since the last two decades (she met and married her husband Mahmood Mamdani, a Professor at Columbia University, New York, in Kampala), but it was opportunity to authentically portray a people she has come to love, that jumped out at her.

So if Queen of Katwe tick marks the genre sports film, it also firmly shines a light at the vivaciousness and compassion of the Ugandan community, beyond just the colours of its streets, the hip hop music or the vibrant camerawork (by 12 Years a Slave cinematographer Sean Bobbitt). The story of Phiona, she points out, is not just the story of how “genius can be found everywhere”, but that of the entire community that lived her dream with her, and for her, “because that is how life is lived in Kampala.”

“It’s not an individualistic life or a one person show. It takes a mentor like Robert Katende, a mother like Harriet Mutesi, it takes a street, a family… it takes a village to make a genius. It’s this prismatic view that I find interesting. I also think the world is ready to see on screen what the world is off screen – the multiplicities, the diversity, the inclusivity, and the humanity – which I love to film. Because I am certainly never going to make the reductive formula sports film that is expected of me,” she laughs.

Having grown up between Rourkela and Bhubaneshwar, then studying in Delhi University and Harvard University, and then, having found her calling in Hollywood, shuttling between her three homes in New York, New Delhi and Kampala, Nair is a global citizen, if ever there was one. So presenting an all-encompassing world in every story she illustrates on screen, is not just important to her, but in some ways, obligatory.

“If you are truthful and all-encompassing, whether you are watching Uganda in Queen of Katwe or Monsoon Wedding with the Punjabiyat of it, or the streets of Bombay in Salaam Bombay!, even if that world is far away from your reality, you will eventually see yourself in that truth too. You relate because you either know the feelings I have tried to portray, or you could know them.”

It was hence critical to Nair to have cast actors from the same streets that she tried to paint this honest picture of, if Queen of Katwe was to work. Madina Nalwanga, who played the lead role of Phiona, grew up not far from Katwe, in the streets of Kibuli, where she sold corn for a living, and was found through a dancing troupe she was a part of. All the other kids were non-professional actors too; a strategy that had helped her put together a magical cast during her debut in Salaam Bombay! as well.

“Children are like the maps of life in the way they move their hands or bodies,” she says tenderly. “I had no interest in taking an upper class child and teaching him or her how to bathe with half an inch of water. My interest, on the other hand, is actually being educated by a child, to show us the world that he or she is coming from. So when we found the kids, I distilled the roles according to their strength and their fun, so even the audience would feel a sense of familiarity on seeing them.”

“Morever,” she points out, “there’s a real alchemy that happens when you put together a kid from reality opposite a legendary actor like David Oweloyo (who plays Phiona’s coach Katende) or Lupita N’yongo (who plays Phiona’s mother Harriet), or Naseeruddin Shah in Salaam Bombay!. Because when you have a pure non-actor and a pure actor, they both have to meet at a point of purity, you know.”

It is this commitment to break out of the trappings of traditional Disney fare that gives Queen of Katwe the characteristic Mira Nair stamp, which the director gives full credit to the studio for not trying to “sanitize”. Because if the film plays out the conventional soaring, uplifting sports film tropes, like the sports metaphors that Katende uses to explain life itself (“Find your safe squares”), there are enough unpredictable and unexpected moments of genuine emotion derived from the “barbarity and brutality of living in the slums,” as Nair puts it.

The filmmaker points out specific examples of scenes where Phiona, when she first goes to the Church where the other kids are playing chess, is called a ‘pig’ and has to fight to eat the complimentary porridge by her own. Another scene, where Phiona, on beating a boy at chess, asks out aloud if she was allowed to win by him, is an example of the “familiar female diffidence” that is still rampant in so many women, according to Nair.

“These are not unique attributes, you know,” she explains, “These things happen to all of us, and that makes us think and believe that we are pretty much the same people, no matter where we are. I don’t like sugar coating this, but yes, I do like to tell it all in a way that you have mazaa (fun) also. Because if you feel the mazaa, you feel the pain too.

“That is how I make movies – I don’t want a harangue; I don’t want to be lectured to. So I have shaped the film like a human heart and the rhythm of it is like an accordion. It expands your heart with laughter, because the kids would do that to me with their finger snapping and their sounds that were so full of sassiness; and in the next moment, you’d see the reality of eating, where you are fighting for a bowl of porridge.”

A turning point in the movie, for Phiona, comes through when a kid she’s playing with explains to her why chess matters to her. “In chess, the small one can become the big one,” she says, referring to the chess rule wherein a pawn can become a queen if it makes it across the board to the other side. Phiona makes this her motto, deriving courage from it, and giving it her own moniker that ties back with the movie’s title: “queening.”

Queening can aptly be used as a term to describe the swagger of the women in the movie. Because Queen of Katwe isn’t just an inspirational sports film that would empower the young Phionas of the world to dream big and then chase those dreams down; but for Nair, it is also a feminist movie inspired by, and dedicated to the Harriets of the world, because without their pluck and persistance, there could be no Phionas.

Says Nair, “I don’t ever want to make a female character who gives up on life. Even the real Harriet is a formidable ‘Mother Courage’, someone who became a teenage mother but refused to let her children follow her path, as best as she could. She struggled so deeply in her youth but resolved that she will stand up for her children.”

“That’s the tenacity that Phiona has inherited too. She’s lethal and resolute in chess, and that comes from her mother’s life, struggles and courage. And these are the women I like depicting on screen: who are as complicated as we all are, and inspiring in their own ways.”

With virtually no wrong moves in her film career spanning three decades, be it through her feminism or her movies that feature protagonists embracing life with all the curve balls it throws at them, or through the film school she’s started in Kampala, the Maisha Film Lab, that has been galvanizing African youth through its motto, “If we don’t tell our stories, no one else well,” perhaps Nair’s endgame too, has been “queening” all along.

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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on October 21, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/mira-nair-breaking-the-colour-code
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.

Why Guardians of the Galaxy is the greatest superhero film of all time #Ode #VoxPop

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor the VoxPop Blog.

So I’m going to go on a limb out here and say that Guardians of the Galaxy is the greatest superhero movie of all time. BOOM!  Yes, I did just make a sweeping declaration and no, it’s not because it’s Marvel Month at VoxPop (even though it is) or because I have a man crush on Chris Pratt (even though I totally do), or because my Baby Groot action figure means more to me than actual babies mean to some people (even though I am Groot). It’s because it’s true.

I do understand how some of you may feel about this as the legend of Christophar Nolan’s The Dark Knight has elevated it to the defecto status of the greatest, while there are some who swear by Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles, Unbreakable, Blade, Superman: The Movie, X2 and Batman Returns in the older ones, and X-Men: First Class, Deadpool, Chronicle, Kickass, plus Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man 2… well, basically everything else from Marvel, in the newer ones.  There are also some who believe Krrish 3 ROXXX, but unfortunately 7 year olds don’t know any better, so we will let them be for now.

The Curse of Christopher Nolan
But I can reason it out, *logically*. Let’s go back in time to the year 2008, when The Dark Knight released, and the superhero world, heck, the entire blockbuster movie world, turned dark. We got a Spiderman reboot sans humour (The Amazing Spiderman), a Superman reboot that had a dark tinge throughout the film (Man of Steel), an Iron Man so dark that it was shot mostly at night (Iron Man 3), a Captain America so dark that even the Hulk had better jokes (The Avengers) and a Thor so dark that they even put the word ‘dark’ in its title, you know, in case anyone thought it *looked* too bright (Thor: The Dark World).

Even if you discount the Zack Snyder affliction that’s plaguing the DC world at the moment, even movie titles *literally* went ‘dark’ post-2008. Here’s a list of just some of the movies that came out after The Dark Knight:  Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Thor: The Dark World (2013)… and I’m only listing summer movies here. There’s also Edge of Darkness (2010), The Darkest Hour (2011) Dark Shadows (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger (2010)…. Umm, okay I made my point.

On the heels of this illness, came the unlikely Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie so aggressively anti darkness that its trailer featured Swedish pop rock band Blue Swede’s ‘70s anthem, ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ as opposed to, you know, Mike Zarin’s BRAAAM!s from the Inception trailer. Considering the fact that the joke was actually on the last few superhero films that tried being funny (Green Lantern and The Green Hornet failed spectacularly), it cannot be stressed enough how mental the very idea of Guardians of the Galaxy was.

Marvel’s Lab Experiment
Here’s a film that was so disruptive that it was practically a lab experiment by Marvel. It was directed by an indie filmmaker whose most notable work was having scripted the Scooby-Doo movies (James Gunn), it was set in outer space with a budget of $170 million dollars (enough to feed Bangladesh), and featured five anti-heroes: a lead who was earlier best known as the chunky dude in a niche TV show (Pratt as Starlord), a former WWE wrestler (Dave Bautista as Drax), and three recognisable faces who were either in unrecognizable makeup (Zoe Saldana as Gamora) or were animated (Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel as Groot)! Recipe for disaster, right?

But NO! Guardians of the Galaxy became the biggest August-release of all time in the US, making $773.14 million globally in 2014 (for comparison, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is at $872.7 million in 2016) and there’s one big reason why: it brought back the essence of what comic book movies were always supposed to be but something that most superhero movies had completely forgotten to be in the years preceding: FUN!

Take the pre-climax scene where the five anti-heroes agree to go on a suicidal mission to save the world after Starlord’s ‘I have a plan’ speech. The movie does the cliché Blake Snyder’s beat sheet tick mark, but then, once all five are standing, Rocket remarks snarkily, “There, I’m also standing. Look at us, a bunch of jackasses, standing in a circle!” It’s this – how the film took all such superhero tropes and played it to perfection, only to turn it on its head before the end, so that the audience got to watch both an irreverent indie film that’s new and exciting and the familiar summer film that’s become such a lost art.

Indie Soul in a Blockbuster
Because that’s what the legacy of Guardians of the Galaxy and that’s what makes it so great – and in my books, the greatest: a summer blockbuster with the soul of an indie film. It has the big ticket action scenes, but it also has the quiet moments – like the scene where Groot grows a flower to gift a little girl; or the scene where Groot releases fireflies to bring about light in a dark scene; or well, just the fact that it’s got Groot! Instead of going the ‘one for them, one for us’ way with their slate of blockbuster films that go right up to 2020, Marvel figured out the inspired middle-path in this one: ‘something for both’. How else do you explain an ingenious ‘70s soundtrack (‘The Awesome Mix Vol. 1) to a film set in space?

Even besides this, what Guardians of the Galaxy did with its success was empowering indie filmmakers to give their own unique voice to big budget films. Now you have a Spiderman movie made by the guy who last made a violent road thriller (Jon Watts), a Thor movie made by a dude who made a horror comedy mockumentary on vampires (Taika Waititi) and a Doctor Strange movie by the guy who made indie horror scary again (Scott Derickson)!

In Groot We Trust
GOTG also empowered hapless audience that wanted to be entertained but could not suffer through one more never-ending Michael Bay explosionfest (especially without any Megan Fox) or a Snyder VFXfest (especially without Nolan exec producing) to demand movies that actually DO have a story, a heart and a soul. Most importantly, it empowered studios to experiment with new subjects (even if its superheroes), the wackier, the better. Hence, we already have a Deadpool and Suicide Squad, and are in the line for a Lego Batman Movie, a *young* Spiderman and Flash, and so many more!

Just like the heroes at its helm, Guardians of the Galaxy is the unlikely misfit superhero film that the world needed, and not just the film they wanted, hence making it the greatest ever. With a franchise like GOTG, the future of the galaxy is in safe hands indeed, because essentially, in Groot, we trust.

 

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Note: This interview first appeared on the Vox Pop Blog in September 2016.
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.

Bollywood slayers on American TV #TheJuice #Listicle

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor The Juice.

There is no denying that after Priyanka Chopra had her ‘YAS QUEEN!’ moment starring as the ass-kicking lead of a primetime American TV series in Quantico, the floodgates finally and definitively opened for desi talent from the heart of ‘Bollywood’ to cross over into the homes – and hearts – of a global audience.

Yes, of course, Indian-origin talent from Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Indira Verma (Game of Thrones) to Aziz Ansari (Master of None) and Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory) had already jostled their way through many struggles on to the front and center stage. But Quantico represents the first time that Indian talent from Indian cinema has been picked to be the lead of a major network series, paving the way for authentic desi flavor to take over the taste buds of American TV audiences.

Already, on the heels of Priyanka slaying it on everything from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner red carpet to the Oscar stage, Netflix has become the harbinger of more good news for Indian audiences worldwide, by announcing an original TV series set in India. A Hindi and English-language adaptation of acclaimed author Vikram Chandra’s bestselling novel, Sacred Games, the series will be produced by Phantom Films, the production company founded by Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Vikas Bahl and Madhu Mantena.

It will be exciting to see which Indian actors make the cut in this already-buzzed about series, as a leading role would immediately put them on the world map. But even before we start rallying behind whoever’s announced, there are a bunch of desi actors from Bollywood who’ve been surreptitiously playing strong parts in ongoing American shows, with some even in parallel leads!

NIMRAT KAUR
The gorgeous Nimrat Kaur, who made her big screen leading-role debut with the beautifully-crafted The Lunchbox, has only been since in one Hindi film since, this year’s blockbuster hit, Airlift. But the reason for her unhurried Bollywood career is that she’s been busy kicking killing it with her strong supporting roles in popular American shows. She played a badass Pakistani spy in season 4 of the popular Homeland, and she’s just wrapped up a parallel lead role in season 2 of Manoj Night Shyamalan’s series, Wayward Pines! The American audiences can’t have enough of her, and neither can we.

TINA DESAI
Ex-model Tina Desai made her Bollywood debut with the suspect ‘Sahi Dhande Galat Dhande’ and followed it up with a couple of even more questionable films. It is then even more inspiring that she managed to break into international cinema with the sleeper hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, opposite Dev Patel. And while she’s only done the film’s sequel in the movies since, she’s been making quite a mark on TV. As one of the eight parallel leads of the critically acclaimed Netflix series, Sense8, Tina Desai has worked with the legendary Wachowski siblings – Lana and Lilly for two seasons now, with the second season scheduled to air sometime later this year.

RAHUL KHANNA
One of the very first international young Indian actors from India, Rahul Khanna, along with Rahul Bose, was one of the first few faces of crossover cinema. He dabbled in a few Bollywood films since, but after a brief lull, Khanna’s back in a big way with the Emmy-nominated series, The Americans. Playing a Pakistani agent in the period spy drama, Khanna’s arc was extended from an episode to an entire season after a fabulous performance that required him to show off not only his acting talent, but also his bottoms, in a graphic sex scene (alert: ladies!).

POORNA JAGANNATH
After starring opposite Aamir Khan in the cult Delhi Belly, Poorna Jagannathan was only seen in a brief cameo in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani in 2013. But that’s because for the past three years, she’s been filming a crime drama series for premium cable channel, HBO. A part of the critical smash hit, The Night Of, was first shot with late actor James Gandolfini but after his untimely demise, Jon Turtletaub took his role and the series began work all over again. In the series that’s currently on air, Poorna plays the mother of a 20-something Pakistani boy, wrongly convicted of murder, and has received glowing reviews for her measured performance.

ARJUN MATHUR
Actor Arjun Mathur has been at the receiving end of much attention for his countless ads as well as for his MTV series, Bring on the Night. But the actor, who stole scenes in Luck By Chance, Barah Anna, My Name is Khan and the recent Angry Indian Goddesses, has added another ace up his sleeve with a supporting role in the PBS series, Indian Summers. The series also stars many veteran Indian actors like Lilette Dubey and Roshan Seth, but Arjun’s standout performance has been particularly spoken of by critics.


BOX: Where else to spot Indian actors on American TV

Anil Kapoor – After playing Omar Hassan, the President of ‘Kamistan’, Anil Kapoor made a Jhakaas appearance in the ongoing season of Family Guy in the episode titled ‘Road to India’

Purab Kohli and Anupam Kher – The charming Purab Kohli has a strong supporting role in Sense8 as the fiancé of Tina Desai’s character, while veteran Anupam Kher plays her father.

Sikandar Kher – News is that Anupam Kher’s step-son Sikandar Kher has been tapped into playing the negative lead on the second season of Sense8.

Sugandha Garg – The Jaane Tu Ya Jaana Na actress, who has been consistently starring in acclaimed crossover Indian movies, can be seen in a supporting role, along with Arjun Mathur, in Indian Summers.

Shenaz Treasury – Besides starring in around 50 episodes of the daytime soap opera, One Life to Live, the former MTV VJ and actress Shenaz Treasury can be seen as a recurring contributor on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

Freida Pinto – The first Indian actress to get leading roles in Hollywood, Freida Pinto has signed up opposite Idris Elba in a prestigious mini series Guerrilla, to be written, directed and produced by 12 Years a Slave writer, John Ridley.

Irrfan Khan – Yes, India’s most famous international export Irrfan Khan will be back again on TV after his breakout role in the HBO series, In Treament. Khan has signed up to star in an international mini-series on World War II.


Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /tanejamainhoonpage
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoonon Twitter:
@tanejamainhoonon Instagram:@tanejamainhoon,

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This piece first appeared in The Juice in the August 2016 issue.
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.

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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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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