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THE TRUMP CLUSTERFUCK: OUR BUBBLE HAS BURST. BUT THERE MAY BE HOPE.

How did we fail to see this coming? How did we allow this to happen? More importantly: can we fix this or is it too late? Can we really un-Drumpf the world? YES WE CAN!

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor The Quint. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/1PL2Mr

I’m not qualified enough to write political posts so this is not going to be that. I am writing this because I believe the reasons for the upside down we have now entered, the Black Mirror that has become our reality, the fucked-up island on which that the collective airplane we seemed to be cruising on has crash landed, is *nothing* to do with politics and everything to do with who we are as the ‘swipe-right’ and ‘move on’ generation. The bubble we’ve been living in has burst, and perhaps this was the much-needed jolt that would hopefully stop us from spending our lives staring at our phones.

Here’s what’s happening right now, even as a misogynist, racist, fascist homophobe is taking over purportedly the “most powerful nation in the world” and the “land of the free and fair”: the shock wave that is rippling through every tweet, every status update and every snap-story is not just about the tragedy that Donald Trump has won, but more to do with the catastrophe that WE have lost.

How did WE let this happen?
“WE” – who had shared all those 9Gag memes, all those hilarious Buzzfeed posts and Facebook gifs, who had liked loved the hell out of every (not so much pro-Hillary but) anti-Trump article, video and status, who had waited for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to see Donald being Drumpf again, we, who had retweeted *every* celebrity and stand-up comedian tweet that represented well-reasoned sanity – how could WE be so wrong? SO WRONG?

‘WE’ may not be American, may never have stepped foot in America and may never even intend to (or get allowed to now!), we may be Indian, European, Australian, or from any other nationality that always, in our heart of hearts believed that America is stupid but didn’t know it is to THIS EXTENT, ‘we’, the progressive, liberal, educated, internet-savvy millennials who have prided ourselves in our balanced opinions and our broad-minded worldview, and have generally been the force of nature that’s showing the world the light: how did WE fail to see this coming? HOW THE HELL DID WE ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?

Here’s how: ‘We’, our generation at large, are less the citizens of any country with well-defined borders, but more those of the bubble that is the internet, that we log on to every morning on our devices and spend the entire day rallying behind, with all the nationalist pride that soars in the hearts of the right-wingers for all the wrong reasons, according to ‘US’.

We are to blame
We go to sleep at night at peace with ourselves after partaking in every trending topic, every popular hashtag and every viral news story of the day by jumping to the most-reasonable conclusion that the smartest people on our timelines have come to. Our knee-jerk likes, shares and comments do not wait for tonight’s television coverage, tomorrow’s newspaper, or this week’s news magazine. They are swift, immediate and final, and come from a sense of inherent duty that if we don’t do our bit RIGHT NOW to further the cause of the liberal rationale that the world so badly needs, we would have let us all down.

Except that the internet is *not* the world. Facebook doesn’t in any way represent the aspirations of the common man on the street who is suffering from issues we don’t know and can’t even fathom; Instagram is so fantastical that it does not even truly represent our own worlds with the inevitable lows that it sees outside of the highs we choose to showcase, and Twitter is so far gone that it has led itself to believe that it really does have the power to change the world through its white eggs and blue ticks.

Yes, of course, the internet can sway a certain section of public opinion, especially when it comes to entertainment, but that’s about all the influence it exerts. Because the internet comprises but a tiny, only sometimes-significant part of the world’s population that is unfortunately so loud, vocal and self-agreeable that it does not even bother to factor, in any of its conclusive pronouncements, an entire middle-class that has more critical worries in its life than a status message not getting enough likes.

We are the bubble
Our social media accounts are carefully curated by us to represent the voices we want to hear, the opinions we find compliant and the thoughts and ideas that concur with the ones we have deemed appropriate. And whenever there is dispute, disagreement or dissent, it strikes as such a false note in our utopian realms that our immediate response is to term it reactionary, dumb, illiterate or worse, trolling. We unfriend, block and report abuse, but we do not understand, we do not empathise and we do not engage (and if we ever do, it’s only to slur back).

We have been living and thriving in this self-created bubble for so long; we have been so passionately dissing anything that challenges our statuses and status quos; we have been so far removed from the reality that exists beyond our screens on either side of us that multiple tremors were only seen as aberrations. It would’ve taken a tornado to burst this bubble, and it looks like Donald Trump is that tornado.

So yes, in essence, we are fucked and it seems like we have brought this upon us. So now what? Well, the good news is: this is an end of the road, but not the end of the road. It is perhaps the end of a road where everyone (of a certain kind) was driving on the same side and was often deliberately dismissive – and sometimes ignorant – of the other side. But it is only the beginning of a two-way road, where all kinds of people from both sides are driving alongside, well in-sight of one another, co-existing peacefully at first, and maybe, one day, meeting at a crossroad to become one road again.

Can we fix it?
And what did that bullshit traffic metaphor above mean? In essence: let’s not be so self-involved within our own timelines and our own devices that are far removed from the truths around us that it becomes fashionable to ‘not give a shit’. Let’s not look down upon anyone with an offensive opinion or one that we dislike but engage with them, let’s not show snark at anyone less-informed but inform them, let’s not call out anyone with vulgar but desensitize them, let’s not be contemptuous of those unlike us but comprehend them.

It’s not going to take one person and it’s not going to take one day. But if we view this moment in time as that crucial turning point of our history that it needs to become – for all the right reasons – and come together to be less seemingly elitist, less self-absorbed, less intolerant people who can stay put and take action than swipe right and move on to the next armchair battle, there is hope yet.

So let’s be gentle to that old relative or grandparent who believes homosexuality is a disease and explain to them why they are wrong, let’s have a one-on-one with that colleague that passes off sexist comments as banter, let’s have a dialogue with the deeply conditional house help who inadvertently champions patriarchy and let’s tell a racist friend why the world cannot – and should not – be segregated into religions or colours. Let’s have the patience and resolve to talk it out with everyone who is only just a few well-meaning conversations away from broadening their perspectives.

And let’s LISTEN. Let’s listen without judgement to the woes of the people who fear their jobs being taken away by immigrants, let’s understand without discrimination those people who believe in prejudice, let’s empathise with everyone who is unlike us, and let’s engage. Let’s engage with *everyone* who does not hold our outlook because the fact is: there is no such thing as a right or wrong views, but there is context and there is perspective. And if we understand the other’s and explain to them ours, maybe – just maybe – there is a meeting ground in the middle for both.

Yes WE can!
If WE, the generation that has had, unlike its predecessors, the opportunity, luck and benefit of being aware of the world beyond our neighbourhoods, communities, cities and borders thanks to our devices and the very same phenomenon that is the internet, come together to engage, to listen, and to be kind… WE can work together at making the best out of the trumping we’ve received today as collective denizens of an idyllic world that can hopefully someday be reality.

If we come together, this too shall pass. If we come together, we can save the world…

….YES. WE. CAN! 🙂

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

on Youtube: /tanejamainhoon

Liked/disliked the piece? Think Donald Trump is great and I am a nasty man? Leave your comments below!
Note: This piece first appeared in The Quint on November 12, 2016.
Link: https://www.thequint.com/blogs/2016/11/12/the-trumpocalypse-our-bubble-has-burst-but-there-may-be-hope
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.

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What Bollywood Can Pick Up from the Digital Revolution #Digital #SuperCinema #ByInvitation

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Super Cinema. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/2AXwVJ 

If we had to look back at 2016 and talk about its highlight in terms of an international pop culture phenomenon, we wouldn’t be talking of a film but instead a Netflix show – Stranger Things. This is not an anomaly. In India too, from Permanent Roommates Season 2 to Ladies Room this year, content on digital platforms has broken out among the youth in a way films haven’t managed to.

The fact is that narrative on digital across the world caters to the same audience that buys movie tickets: the young 18-30 segment, who constitute not just the target demographic but also the protagonists in most films made today. But save a few inventive movies that side step the Bollywood formula (most hits this year, from Neerja to Pink to Airlift, have little to no ‘masala’ in them), movies in India are still predominantly star-first, content-second.

As attention spans of audiences decline, and smartphone usage and internet consumption continue growing at a rapid pace, we are today on the brink of a content revolution led by internet creators and creative talent on the web. Fortunately, it’s never going to come down to an either-or choice between film and any other medium, as audiences have proven that medium is temporary, storytelling is permanent. But there’s still a lot that Bollywood can learn from the internet content revolution to stay relevant to its core audience:

Focus on stories that *must* be told: If there’s one thing that web has proven as a fact today, it is that there are no substitutes to good stories. A myopic way of looking at the internet is only through its freedom from censorship, but creators and digital studios know that while sex and SRK can get you views, the kind of cultural impact that a Pitchers or Man’s World can have stems from just one basic truth: the audience wants good stories.

‘Actors’ are the real ‘stars’: The internet has also gone against the grain by diverging form the ‘star’ system and putting its faith and backing behind good actors who may not be names, or even traditionally chiselled and sculpted. The viralability factor of the internet today comes from not how big the star is but how able the actor is and how convincingly he/she can act. From Naveen Kasturia to Angira Dhar, the internet today creates the star.

The force is with the writers: On the internet, the writer is king. Whether or not the show has scale or stars, whether it caters to the urban elite or the rural cool, unless the writing is great on paper, the audience will see through it. The internet never forgives or forgets so it is imperative that the writers take lead to give the audience content that doesn’t take them for granted.

Risktaking is the key: Fortune favours the brave and there is no better case in point for this than the success of the digital narrative. From tackling issues like abortion to sex education, the internet has shown that the riskier the content and the more it pushes boundaries in terms of cast, producer and director, the more likely it will attract good filmmakers who thrive by doing content that is off-mainstream, in that, it tries to represent the under-represented or voiceless.

There is no formula! Ultimately, digital has convincingly proven, in more cases than one – there is no formula to what works. On this medium, a massy show about two crazy families is just as big as a seemingly niche show about conversations between women in loos. Until you follow up something that has worked, with something that you have no idea will, you will never truly achieve a cult following of loyal fans on the internet who will support your brand in any form, manner or genre!

 

Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /tanejamainhoonpage
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoonon Twitter:
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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Super Cinema Magazine in the October 2016 issue.
Link: http://www.supercinema.co.in/what-bollywood-can-pick-up-from-the-digital-revolution/
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.

 

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

on Youtube: /tanejamainhoon

Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
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.

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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Tell Your Story, Make A Film #TheEdutainmentShow #HandBook #ByInvitation

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor The Edutainment Show’s Handbook (By Invitation). 

I believe we are in a time of crisis; probably the most unique crisis the youth of India has faced. Here’s what’s happening: The internet has made the world equal in carving a platform that’s given rise to the world’s largest and truest democracy, by, of, and for the young. But unfortunately, this very platform has made a few faceless, masked, trolls the power to rule it by hiding behind anonymity.

So, on the internet, people who haven’t ever had the courage to step out and do things on their own are today sitting behind a computer screen and laughing at people who do. The moment someone starts to express themselves, they are bullied or stifled by voices that say they are not good enough or that they have no right to do this. This has unfortunately resulted in a strange time in our history where young people are the most empowered that they ever have been, and at the same time, only very little real talent is shining through because those with the loudest voices – and not necessarily the best – are shaping the narrative as the ones with more to offer are too afraid to speak up, for fear of being judged.

This is why everyone, and I believe EVERYONE, needs to tell their stories, and make a film. Today, thanks to the mobile phone, 4G, and the rise of new digital platforms, all hungry for new content, there’s never been more demand for fresh, original voices. Everyone who has something new to say, will get a chance to not just be heard but to be broadcast to hundreds of thousands, but for that to be a reality, you need to step up and MAKE A FILM.

Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has their own, unique, truth, and this is the best time in our history to share that with the world. And what better way to do so than filming it? Film is the most powerful medium of art because it is the only one that can make you see, hear and feel things, at the same time. Film doesn’t need to be a two hour professionally made movie at the theater, it can be anything from a one hour documentary to a four-part web series to a thirty minute short film to a ten minute sketch to a five minute YouTube rant to a six second Vine. Film is anything that has a story told visually – and if you have a smartphone with a camera, you can be a filmmaker.

So far, Bollywood has shaped our minds and our identities. If the youth growing up in the 80s were Vijay, the angry young man, in the 90s they were Rahul, who believed ‘love is friendship’, and in the last decade, they were Sid, jo ‘udna chahta hai, par rukna nahin chahta’. But it’s high time to flip the narrative and be the story that Bollywood tells by making your own film that inspires Bollywood.

If the world sucks, make a film, if you are angry, make a film, if you are inspired, make a film, if someone tries to take your ‘azaadi’ away, make a film. Remember, circumstance is temporary, but film is permanent. Periscope it, Snapchat it, Instagram it, YouTube it, but make a film so that when, hundred years down the line, when people look back at this time in our history, they don’t find one Bollywood iconic character that speaks for the generation, but an entire generation that spoke for itself, and told the stories that shaped the future.

 

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Note: This interview first appeared in the Handbook of the Edutainment Show 
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Mark Lijek Interview: Real life Argo hostage! #MidDay #Argo

The Best Bad Idea They Had

Mark Lijek, one of the actual hostages who escaped from the midst of the Iranian revolution in 1979 in what was then termed as the ‘Canadian Caper’ and is now a brilliant motion picture, Argo, gives us an account of what really went down

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Mid-Day. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/qVX153
It didn’t seem like a good idea at all. Rescuing six American diplomats – Bob Anders, Mark Lijek, Cora Lijek, Joseph Stafford, Kathleen Stafford and Lee Schatz –from right under the nose of the Iranians in the middle of a revolution, in which 52 other American hostages had been captured, for what went on to be 444 days, was a proposition that bordered on the impossible. And when CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez suggested creating a fake Hollywood science fiction movie, posing as its producer on location scout to the exotic Middle East, flying in solo to Tehran and flying out with the six Americans pretending to be his crew…. the proposition turned ridiculous. But then again, some propositions are so ridiculous, they can only be a success.

Iran Calling
Born in Detroit 1951, Mark Lijek, who now lives a happily retired life with his wife, Cora Lijek and his two children in Northwest, Washington, was only 27 and newly married, when he was “asked to volunteer” to the trouble region of Iron as part of the United States of America’s Foreign Service. “In hindsight, it was probably stupidity that made me take it up,” he chuckles. “But truth be told, it was my very first assignment, and I got the offer in November 1978, when there was no real indication that there would be any danger.”

 

Mark Lijek at the time
Mark Lijek at the time

By the time Mark landed in Tehran in July on 1979, he realised that he had been terribly wrong. The ruling monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty, Shah Reza Mohammad Pahlavi, had been overthrown and religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, had come to power. Armed gangs, called the “revolutionary committees” had taken over every neighbourhood. It was the US government’s confidence that American diplomats wouldn’t be in danger that made Mark and his wife, Cora, carry on in Iran. But within four months of Mark’s posting there, on November 4, 1979, the American embassy was attacked.

The attack and the escape
Mark vividly remembers the day. “We only had 2 US Marines guarding the 26 acre compound which formed the two buildings of the American embassy. We got fortunate on two accounts – one, the tourist visa section, where we were holed up, was shut that day, and two, our building had direct access to a back lane, where visa applicants would normally line up. I suppose the protestors assumed there was no one inside, but even then, people climbed into our 2nd floor bathrooms through a ladder, as the only marine with us pushed it the ladder away and threw a tear gas bomb. As we blocked the entrance through coat hangers, our generator went off and we were in total darkness. We then smelled smoke and heard people on our roof, and it was the most nerve-wracking moment of my life. When we realised that no help was coming, we got the permission to escape through the back entrance.”

After this dramatic escape, for the next six days, the five Americans (Lee Schatz joined them later) changed several locations to escape being caught. “It was too dangerous to stay with the Brits, because they were attacked themselves,” Mark recalls. “We moved in the day, trying to pass off as Iranians, because there were roadblocks and checks at night. I remember one night we didn’t sleep at all expecting to be attacked any moment but the guard of the compound managed to convince the revolutionaries that there were no foreigners where we hid, and we had a narrow escape.”

This is when the Canadians came to the rescue. Anders had a friend in the Canadian embassy, John Sheardown, the Canadian Chief of Immigrations, who graciously welcomed them to take refuge in his house. Bob Anders, Lee Schatz and the Lijeks stayed in the Sheardowns’ residence, while the Staffords’ stayed at the house of Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor.

79 Days of Confusion
Finally having got a place to hide, at first, having no other choice but to wait to be rescued by their governments, the houseguests had a “pleasant time” thanks to their Canadian hosts. But then days turned into weeks, and weeks into months and there was still no sign of a rescue. A scary realisation crept amongst them: “If the negotiations between the US and the Ayatollah regime would have worked out and they would have released the hostages, we couldn’t have gone with them because in the eyes of the Ayatollah, we didn’t even exist,” says Mark. “By suddenly turning up, we could have put the negotiations as well as the lives of the hostages in danger. Plus, every day we stayed with the Canadians, we were putting them in danger too. In the meantime, an American businessman who had escaped independently, and who knew about us, revealed it to the press. Luckily for us, the news didn’t get picked up by the media at large. So it had become clear to us that we would need a rescue independent of the outcome of the hostage negotiation, and fast!”

The real hostages
The real hostages

Their prayers were answers on January 26th when CIA infiltration expert, Tony Mendez walked in, under his cover name, Kevin Harkins, and told them that he would get them out of Iran, and all they had to do was pretend to be Canadians from Hollywood! “Tony suggested other options like posing as teachers or oil engineers, but we loved the Hollywood idea only because it was too flamboyish,” says Mark. “People from Hollywood live in an unreal world and think of themselves as special. So it was actually believable that they would go to a country in the middle of a revolution to shoot a movie. The other reason we went with the plan was because Tony had detailed it out elaborately, and his eyes would lit up when he spoke about it!”

The Rescue
The day before the escape was spent by the six in preparing the background of their new identities and mastering the Canadian accent. Everything seemed in place, until the actual day of escape arrived, and multiple dramatic moments had them skipping their heartbeats. “Several things almost went wrong,” chuckles Mark. “Tony Mendez overslept, the immigration officer almost held up Lee because his moustache was longer than that in his passport, we didn’t have immigration forms and could have been caught had the officer there decided to check them. And after we managed to pass every check, we realised our plane had a technical malfunction and we had no option but to wait with bated breath!

“Joe (Stafford) also almost got us caught. He was never happy with the plan because he thought it was our moral responsibility to wait till the other hostages are released, and he felt that having fake Canadian passports bordered on espionage. So he didn’t bother to change his appearance, he would call all of us by our real names and at one point, he even started reading a Farsi newspaper at the airport, though his cover wasn’t supposed to know the language! I remember Tony hit him in the shin to get him to act normal, as we were just moments away from escape.”

But the ridiculous had already worked: The plane was repaired

Mark Lijek Today
Mark Lijek Today

sooner than they thought, and the six, along with Mendez, waited for it to cross the Iranian airspace, before they could order Bloody Marys and raise a toast to themselves. “Even then, we didn’t really celebrate much, because for all we knew, the Iranian sitting next to us could be the Tehran Police Chief!” laughs Mark.

All these years later, Mark, who went back to the Foreign Service even after the rather inauspicious beginning, believes that the only reason they all managed to pull it off was because they pretended that it was a game. “We had no other choice, really,” he chuckles. “It was the best bad idea we had.”

 

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Note: This interview first appeared in Mid-Day on December 23, 2012
Link: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/the-best-bad-idea-they-had/193738
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