Tag Archives: Bollywood

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: Saif Ali Khan #QnA #OpenMagazine #Rangoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Vikramaditya Motwane #Profile #OpenMagazine #Trapped

The Loneliness of Being Vikramaditya Motwane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

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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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in the Handbook of the Edutainment Show 
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.

Seven years of Mumbai: On what I learnt while living the dream

Today marks seven years since I came to Mumbai. Tomorrow will mark seven years since my first full-time job. I came as an engineering graduate with zero ties to the ‘industry’ (and zero clue on how I’ll ‘make it’ except hopeless optimism), and through Hindustan Times, MTV India and now, Yash Raj Films, I have worked on some of the most fantastic projects (thank you, good universe) with some of the most fantastic people (thank you, good people). There’s been some not so fantastic projects and some not so fantastic people too, but as in the movies, good always wins over evil.

Any way you look at it, the truth is, this has been a dream, and I’m very scared of waking up from it and being told, ‘Ch**tiya banaya, bada mazaa aaya’. If you’d have told me seven years ago, in Room no 307 of Eklavya Bhavan of NITK Kurukshetra that this would be my life for the next seven years, I’d have said, ‘Zeher mat faink, behenc**d’ and then touched wood and said a quick, sly prayer on the side for it to come true.

Looking back, I’ve had ups, downs, and many, many days of sames, but I’ve counted every day as a blessing because even when I’ve had a horrible day, at least it’s a horrible day I’ve had on a job I love doing. And that’s really been what it’s all about – taking that first step and keeping at it: the decision to have left the engineering life, to never look or go back or do an MBA (because that’s generally the secret to winning at life), and even when life gave lemons, to collect those lemons and wait for the prices of lemons to go up, and *then* make lemon juice.

But here’s what I’ve learnt:
1. It’s really not about networking as they say… it’s about relationships. People matter, friends matter more, family matters most; and as long as you’ve got your priorities straight, even when the chips are down, at least you’ll have wonderful people to… umm… eat them with (and stay fat, dammit!).
2. No matter what people say or do or are, as long as you’re nice and good with everyone and in general, and believe in the niceness and goodness of everyone and in general, nice and good things will eventually happen to you (and in general)!
3. You may not be the most talented guy or the smartest guy in the room, but you can do well if you simply outwork them :).

So here’s to many more years of ups, downs and sames, and to many more awesome friends and projects. Kyunki picture abhi baaki hai!

Like/dislike this blog or particularly any of the articles? Do leave your favourites in the comments below 🙂
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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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.

THE MTV FILMS PROJECT #SIXFILMS #PRODUCED #MTVINDIA

At MTV, I produced six one-hour films for a project called MTV Films, which I was leading under Bhavya Nidhi Sharma. The films were in association with some of the best directors in the country – Abhinay Deo, Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, Nikhil Advani, Rohan Sippy & Shoojit Sircar. All the six films are on YouTube and can be seen below.

You can read more about the films here: http://www.mtvindia.com/films/

PROMO

1. Real FM
Director: Akarsh Khurana
Producer: Anurag Basu, Bhavya Nidhi Sharma, Nikhil Taneja
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3661992/

2. Shaadi Vaadi & All That
Director: Kaashvi Nair
Producer: Nikhil Advani, Bhavya Nidhi Sharma, Nikhil Taneja
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4081994/

3. The Girl in Me
Director: Gul Dharmani
Producer: Abhinay Deo, Bhavya Nidhi Sharma, Nikhil Taneja
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4075486/

4. Stupid Cupid
Director: Reshu Nath
Producer: Shoojit Sircar, Bhavya Nidhi Sharma, Nikhil Taneja
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4536060/

5. Picture Perfect
Director: Neerav Ghosh
Producer: Rohan Sippy, Bhavya Nidhi Sharma, Nikhil Taneja
IMDB: None yet

6. Trippin’ Goa
Director: DP Singh
Producer: Anurag Kashyap, Bhavya Nidhi Sharma, Nikhil Taneja
IMDB: None Yet
[Note: The film below is a mercilessly cut-down version of the original 70 minute film. Will upload the link of the 70-minuter as soon as it is available]

What did you think of the films? Leave your comments below!🙂

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

© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.