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Directorial Debut: Kids Read Sexist Comments #DontGrowUp #BigShorts #IndiaToday #YFilms

As the Head of Development of Y-Films, the youth wing of Yash Raj Films, my core job is developing films, web series and TVCs and then creative producing them and releasing them too. It’s an end-to-end job from idea to development to production to promotion and release. Continue reading Directorial Debut: Kids Read Sexist Comments #DontGrowUp #BigShorts #IndiaToday #YFilms

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THE SRK INTERVIEW #OPENMAGAZINE #SRK #QNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Liked/disliked the interview? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on April 22, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/shah-rukh-khan-i-give-you-the-right-not-to-judge-people
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
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My TEDx Talk: Don’t Be An Asshole #TEDxSRCC #Kindness #LONGRead

So here’s the background: I was invited to give a TEDx Talk at TEDxSRCC in October at Delhi. It was one of the coolest things  that ever happened to me so I wanted to speak on a topic that… matters. Conventional wisdom meant speaking on ‘the road not taken’, ‘following your passion’, or ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’, but I thought of it this way: If this was the only time I ever got a chance to speak on any platform as prestigious as the TEDx stage, what thought, theory, or idea, would I want to leave people with? Given the fact that the theme of TEDxSRCC was ‘Food for Thought’, I decided to speak upon a topic that I believe is more basic, more human and more important than success, hard work, passion or anything else: KINDNESS. For the distinct purposes of sounding cool, I named the talk ‘Don’t be an A**hole’. The talk is online now, but I’ve put out the full text below too:

THE VIDEO

Watch below:

 

THE FULL TEXT
(Including some points I missed in the video)

Please note two things: 
1. It was an 18 minute talk so this is a LOOOOOOOONG Read. Like WTFHOWLONGISTHIS read.
2. This is not an article, it was a talk, so some of the humour written was specifically meant to be funny to the audience watching me speak and it may come across as lame. It probably came across as lame to them as well, but hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
So there we go:

DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE!

I want to start by clarifying one thing – for those who saw the description these guys had put about me on the Tedx page, there was this thing where it said that I’m a blogger for MTV Roadies. I promise you – that is not true anymore. I promise. If it was, the title of my speech today? It would make NO SENSE. This would then be a talk at TedxIRONY.

Having said that, I want to tell you guys a story. A few years ago, I travelled to Egypt on work. On the last night there, I went to a souvenir shop to buy a bunch of stuff for my family. The shop-owner of that place was a guy called Ahmed and Ahmed, for some reason, really LIKED the fact that I was buying stuff for my family. So much so that he offered to take me to his nightclub and show me belly dancing. Not HIS belly. And then just before I left he said – DON’T TRUST ANYONE IN EGYPT.

That should have been strike one right? But here’s the thing. I was incredibly boring back then. The wildest thing I had ever done was spike my hair – and that was because my mother has requested me to start being cool. So I called up Ahmed and told him that I’m ready to be wild. And then I left a note in my room saying ‘I’m going out with an unknown man named Ahmed. His shop is this his number is this, if I don’t come back please tell my mom I loved her.’

Ahmed
Ahmed

Strike two was Ahmed’s shady car. Strike three was him getting lost and not being able to find his own nightclub. I mean by this point I had basically realized that I was going to die tonight and that could be the BEST case scenario of what would happen to me. But when we eventually did reach the nightclub, I didn’t escape. That could probably be because I had nowhere to go to – but it was also because I really wanted to see how this would play out. WHAT DID AHMED WANT! I stayed as Ahmed got drunk, got loud, got emotional. And on the way back he almost started crying about how poor he was and how he was working hard to get his family money. That’s when I realized – he wanted money for me. This was going to be awkward. So I paid no attention to him and started figuring what’s the right amount to give him. I waited for him to ask the whole way back. He didn’t. We reached. As I awkwardly tried opening my wallet when he dropped me SAFE and SOUND – he said, thank you so much, I just thought you looked like a kind person and I hope we have more guys like you. Please stay friends.

I couldn’t sleep that night – I was not kind that day. He was the kind one. I was, in fact, an asshole. Someone who had been so ingrained to not trusting ANYONE being kind that I just naturally assumed anyone showing empathy was a liar. One of the great American writers, George Saunders, recently gave a keynote address where he spoke of how the only thing he regrets are “failures of kindness”. I failed to be kind that day too, and I tell this story today because while I talk about assholes, what I really want to tell you guys about is kindness.

THE THEORY OF KINDNESS
But before that – I want to tell you guys some statistics. That’s because I’ve seen a lot of TED Talks to prepare for this – yesterday night, basically, because after all, I’m still an engineer at heart – and I realized that the best TED talks have some amazing statistic that makes the audience go WOAH. So I’ll be kind and give you TWO:

There is something called the World Giving Index, that measures 130 countries on how kind they are. It’s basically about how kind we are. India ranks 93. Behind – I kid you not – IRAQ, PAKISTAN, BANGLADESH, AFGHANISTAN. I mean – these countries have NOTHING to give, how are they still giving more than us!?

The second statistic is my favourite: It has been scientifically proved that if you are kind – if you are not an asshole – the chance of you getting rich, famous and getting laid are basically a 100%. Yes, of course, I’m the one who proved that through my life.  Well, not the getting laid part. And not the.. rich part.. and well, not the famous part either..  but that’s not the point.

Okay, so let’s not call what I just said a scientific fact but a theory – but this is a theory that I truly believe in with all my heart and soul and I’m going to spend the next.. 12 minutes.. in trying to convince you on why it works and why you should believe in it too. The theory is simple: The universe works in your favour if you are kind.

I genuinely, wholeheartedly believe that if you are kind to people

Naveen Kasturia's nice hair
Naveen Kasturia’s nice hair

you know, to people you don’t know, to yourself, to the environment, to your body – okay I shouldn’t be talking about that – but if you are kind in general, you are going to be happy and successful. When I say kindness, I don’t mean a vague concept of politeness… or being ‘nice’. Gulab Jamun is ‘nice’. This  spotlight is ‘nice’. Naveen Kasturia’s hair is ‘nice’. But I’m talking about ‘kind’, not ‘nice’. Kindness is about caring. It’s about compassion. It’s about empathy. It’s about giving a shit.

GEN D (DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT)
I mean I really don’t understand how it became cool to NOT GIVE A SHIT? I mean, I’m appalled – yes that’s how strongly I feel about it to use a word like appalled – I’m appalled that I come across so many people who ‘don’t give a shit’? You must have met them too. ‘Hey there was an earthquake the other day’. ‘I don’t give a shit bro’. ‘Hey people are dying of hunger and poverty’ ‘Talk to the hand’ ‘Hey you are an ASSHOLE’ ‘LOLZ WHAT A FUNNY WHATSAPP FORWARD HAHA’.

So when did this become cool? To not care? When did it become cool to wear earphones on purpose so no one would try and talk to us? When did it become alright fake texting people when going in elevators instead of smiling and saying hello? When did it become ok to be so self-involved and self-obsessed that we can’t even comprehend the pain and suffering around us, much less share it or be of help?

AGB
Alexander Graham Bell Not Giving a Shit

Let me put this in perspective. Let’s go back in time and imagine if Thomas Edison didn’t give a shit? ‘Kya yaar, who’s going to put in all this effort in making a light bulb… waise bhi I’m scared of the dark.’ Or if Alexander Graham Bell didn’t give a shit? ‘Ugh connecting people? Ugh why would anyone ever want to do that? People are stupid and I don’t give a shit.’ What if – and here’s an idea that will horrify you – what if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t give a shit? What would we LIKE then huh? How would we ever show our support to poor hungry children in Africa by liking their pictures and sharing their memes? But in all seriousness – if the guy who invented fire and the girl who invented the wheel was just like this generation and didn’t give a shit, we wouldn’t HAVE this generation. We’d still be half apes – which, when you think of it, may just be better than who we are today.

WE ARE ASSHOLES!
Because let’s be honest, we are assholes. We are people who quickly close an elevator quickly even when we see another person just about to enter it. We are people who walk in the middle of the road showing their hands to stop cars like we’re Ironman or something – that if YOU hit me it’s on YOU. And when we drive, oh man… we would honk and honk and honk in a traffic jam as if the guy in the car ahead is PURPOSELY not moving the car.. and when it’s our turn, we never EVER let another car overtake us because… tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai? We litter in public when no one is watching – and sometimes when everyone is – we pee on the road, we spit on the road, we park our vehicles wherever the hell we want, we are the people who will KILL one another to get into a Metro train!! I mean what kind of a species jumps queues – queues make us HUMAN!

Sparta
This. Is. SPARTAAA!

These are just a few quick examples – but raise your hand if you have been one of these people. Hey, it’s okay, for the longest time, I was an asshole too, you should check out my twitter feed from 3 years ago. And to be honest, on certain days every month when I’m stuck on Western Express Highway between Kandivali and Andheri in traffic, I still am! Because it’s really hard to be kind – but just like all things hard, kindness is WORTH IT.

Because that’s the thing about kindness – kindness not only makes others happy, it makes YOU feel happy. And since happiness is really what we are all trying for, why would anyone be anything but kind? I believe *everything* and I really mean it when I say that – *everything* that makes the world a better place – or at least OUR world a better place – can be tied back to kindness.

EVERYTHING IS KINDNESS
Think about it: Why do we love our parents so much? Really THINK about it. It’s not just biology or their money that we love them for – well, at least most of us – it’s because they are kind to us. Their hearts beat for us. And we love that!! We love them because they CARE. Take the example of your BFF – why do you love him or her so much? Because when everything and everyone sucks, they say something kind and cheer us up! ‘Don’t worry it’s okay’ – that’s all you want to hear. A kind word. What do we love the love of our lives? Our better halves? Because they know EVERYTHING about us and YET they are kind to us!! So think about it – it’s actually kindness that we seek in everyone and it’s kindness that we really thrive on.

Think of the person who instantly puts a smile on your face – the most warm person in your life. Are they kind? Of course they are! Why would you smile thinking about someone who kills ants for pleasure? Even thinking of someone kind can put a smile on your face. I’ll give you a Bollywood example. Who is the most successful director in Bollywood today? Raju Hirani, who’s collectively made over 1000 crores from his movies. You know why his movies are so successful? Because they are about kindness! Jadoo ki jhappi is about kindness, gandhigiri is about kindness, ‘All is well’ is indirectly about kindness. This reminds me – I just saw Shandaar and they have this dialogue, ‘Everyone is sindhi’ – and I feel like I’m saying something similar in ‘Everyone is kind’. But hey, my message is better, right?

Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama being kind like a BOSS

Because think again – religion! What do all our individual gods and religions really preach – at the core… at their deepest core… at their core core… Everyone really talks about kindness. Dalai Lama has said that kindness is his religion. Imagine a world like that – if kindness was the only religion and where *everyone* would be kind? There would be no left wing vs right wing – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone have their own opinion. They would be no straight vs homosexual – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone make their own decisions. Heck, there would be no BANS – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone live their own lives.

I truly believe that we can alter the course of the world, of someone’s life or even our own, if we are kind. Because Kindness begets kindness! I believe in the spiritual aspect of kindness. I believe in energy – I believe that if you are kind, and you spread that kindness, good things will happen to you. And I will tell you another story to prove that.

ONE MORE STORY & THE HELPER’S HIGH
I was in Turkey. Yes, somehow, all my stories today have international destinations in them…travelling is nice (not kind). So I had gone to turkey – well I was stuck in turkey on a layover. It was the start of a Eurotrip me and my brother took. We decided to kill time so we booked a cab to the nearest tourist spot. My father told me that he’s heard that Turkey cab drivers are scamsters so when it was time to pay the driver, I was very careful in calculating the exchange rate since I had to pay him in dollars. Turns out that this guy actually was charging less, so I decided to be kind and gave him more instead. He was a nice guy! On a completely different yet connected note, just before we had got into the car, I had told my younger brother that it was I who would keep both our passports because a) He was younger so pffft, obviously he was irresponsible, and b) I had bought a cool pouch for passports and I wanted to keep the passports in it with me.

Mr. Ali
Mr. Ali from Turkey… or Omar Sharif?

So you know where this story is going right? Yup, I forgot my ‘cool pouch’ in the cab after getting off, along with my iPhone, my iPad, and miStuff. It’s a really long and funny story but in the interest of time I’m going to get straight to the end. After two hours involving Turkish police, a VERY angry sibling and more, I got a call from the place where the cab driver had dropped me off. The driver was back with my pouch and wanted me to come there to collect it. I profusely thanked him and asked him why he returned – he said because I was kind. Maybe older Arab gentlemen and I have some strange cosmic connection or perhaps the truth is – kindness is awesome.

Kindness is so infectious and that’s been scientifically proved. Not by me this time but by actual research, that says that there’s a phenomenon called Helper’s High, where every time you help someone or are kind, feel-good chemicals or endorphins are released in your body. Look it up –I have researched this before coming because, as I mentioned before, this is Tedx, so I wouldn’t come unprepared, right? So it turns out that recipients of kindness always pay it forward. It could be something as simple as – you know my mother travels alone sometimes and like all mothers has these HUGE suitcases and bags that she carries with her because she’s Indian. And it’s a fact that tells me that all is not lost in the world that each time she’s travelling there’s always someone who is kind to her and picks her bag. And because it happens to her, I ensure I do the same each time I travel and see someone older. In fact, I actively look for older people to help!!

Kindness can be cultivated like this. If people are kind other people see them and want to be kind too. I’ve been teaching college students for five years now, and every year, at the end of my semester I have this one class where I ask my students to be honest. I tell them to let their guards down and just talk about something that you really truly care about. That you feel for. That’s my favourite class of every year. These 20 year old kids have said some of the nicest, most beautiful, bravest things in those classes – from why praying is important to why homosexuality is not a sin. The reason I do this class is because in today’s age, we know everyone through their Facebook pages more than ever trying to get to know them. And this class is about showing people that there’s so much more to us than our names. If you *know* people you are going to be kind. It’s an exercise in compassion. You know how many people have come back to me and said – the other student used this private information against me? NONE. You know how many people have come back to me and said kindness is awesome? TONNE(S). ..Hey, that rhymed!

THE CULTURE OF DISCONNECTED TROLLS
I mean that’s really the thing that’s turning us into assholes isn’t it? The fact that because of the internet and technology and all these buttons we can hide behind, we don’t ever get to really know people – or think of them as real human beings with feelings. It’s amazing how the more the world gets connected, the more disconnected we get with each other. I mean if it was only indifference that would be one thing, but it disturbs me how we have moved towards being a culture of mean-spirited bullies.

Social media, instant messaging where the meanest comment gets liked, the loudest troll gets retweeted and the biggest asshole has the most fans, has turned us into assholes too. On the internet, we only see words, and not people. 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, however good or bad they might be is besides the point. ‘Hey you SUCK’. ‘You can’t sing’. ‘You can’t act’. ‘You are ugly’. Who are we to judge someone’s talent? Who are we to judge? Social media gives us the power to be judge and jury but strangely, we don’t need facts to give any sort of verdict.

drunk cop
Drunk cop in Delhi Metro who I know *nothing* about

Take the very recent example of the picture of the drunk police officer in a Delhi metro that was being shared on Facebook with everyone calling him all sorts of names. I’m not saying here that he was a good person or that a police officer in duty clothes should be let go scot free. But my question is – how many of us knew ANYTHING more than the fact that this was a drunk officer in a metro? What if he had lost someone that evening and he was getting drunk to grieve? I’m giving an extreme scenario because the fact is, if we don’t know this to be true, how could we assume the other to be true – that he was, in fact, a drunk, alcoholic, asshole cop? There are so many times that we don’t know anything, then why are we unkind? Who are we to say someone’s way of living life or someone’s right to an opinion or someone’s way of expressing themselves is any better or any worse than someone else? We are now a culture that is quick to pull others down because they don’t meet *our* expectations of how *they* should lead their lives.

THE SCARY THING ABOUT BEING AN ASSHOLE
The problem gets more grave and has a socio economic angle too. Yes, I went there. I now have the distinction of using the word ‘Roadies’ and the phrase ‘socio economic angle’ in the same talk. When we are not kind to people we become apathetic towards them and as a consequence, we are disrespectful or impolite or rude and sometimes contemptuous too. And this first comes out especially to those who are considered ‘weaker’ be us because of caste, creed, colour or class. Think about it – we would never go into an Armani store or a Zara story and haggle for discounts right, even when we are buying thousands of rupees worth of stuff? But we are ready to insult the poor hawker on the road for Rs 5 less on vegetables worth Rs 50 or the rickshawwala who doesn’t have change? We get SO UNKIND when the auto rickshaw driver doesn’t have change but we are ready to pay Rs 500 as service charges on food worth Rs 600 in expensive restaurants. We are unkind to beggars, to eunuchs, to anybody providing service to us like a watchman or a driver or a sales clerk, because they are considered ‘weaker’. Heck, we don’t even know their names! No one likes to be called ‘waiter’ or ‘driver’ or ‘watchman’ but that’s exactly how we address them! Do we genuinely believe that our lives are so tough so we don’t have time to be kind?

A model from Zara because there are too many pics of old dudes in this post.
A model from Zara because there are too many pics of old dudes in this post.

What a shitty excuse that is! How much time could it possibly take to be kind!? To say ‘thank you’ to someone or even smile back? If we think our lives are hard IMAGINE how hard the lives of people lesser privileged than us must be. And you know what the socio economic consequence of this is? When auto rickshaw drivers refuse to ply to us. The carpenter you called to your house takes more time than necessary to get things done. The house help steals something every now and then. It’s not on them – WE are to blame. The larger picture is that some of the horrible crimes that happen in our country – and especially in cities like this where the class divide is very obvious – those crimes are violent crimes. They are crimes that stem from anger. Because WE have created a circumstance where a lesser privileged person feels humiliated and ashamed that they are lesser privileged because WE are unkind and we selectively choose to be nice to people who come from money.

I mean, what a shame. We’d rather be assholes and see the world around us descend into chaos than just be kind. And I have also noticed how it’s become unfashionable to be kind. Kind people are boring – unexciting. ‘Oh he’s ‘nice’. What an idiot!’ We are scared to be kind because it’s looked down upon!!! If anything, it takes courage to be kind in today’s uncynical world. It takes bravery and a certain kind of heart to GIVE a shit when no one else around you really seems to care. It takes a certain kind of good crazy to NOT ‘move on’.  And it’s not uncool at all – because kind people are always more successful than unkind ones. Because people WANT to be around people who make them feel good about themselves. People are generous to those who have shown them generosity.

KINDNESS IS AWESOME
Take it from me: I’ve been standing here in front of you for the past 17 minutes and doling out LONG gyaan, because I’m probably considered successful by the organizers of this event because my ‘CV’ has ticked off certain check boxes that add up to ‘Tedx speaker’. And I can tell you first hand, while many others in my field strongly believe in ‘networking’, I believe in being kind to people and being actual friends with them – and hey, I’m both happy and I guess, ‘successful’ in the conventional way. A lot of this success has to do with the fact that I’ve worked my ass off, sure, but the secret is: that the other part of it is because I’ve been a kind person… and hence, the universe has worked in my favour.

The fact is, life is not about what you do as much as it is about how you go about doing it. People will forget your work, your degree, your bank balance, but they will always, always remember how you made them feel. Especially if you were kind.

me
This is how much gyaan I just gave.

So I’m going to go back again and implore you all: be kind. Believe me, when I say that, I don’t mean I want you all to go donate your kidneys. It can be little things you do, that will go a long way in making you happy and in making this world a better place. Little things! For eg. Say ‘Thank you’, when you are given a service by anyone – the rickshawala, the waiter, the bai. Say ‘Thank You’ anyway. Thank yous are nice. I send a thank you mail at the end of every year to everyone who was kind to me – you know why? Because acknowledging those who are kind is ALSO kind. Give someone a compliment. Tell people who are awesome that they are awesome. Ask your sabziwala to keep the change. Hold the door for the person who’s coming behind you. Open a door for someone else! Keep the lift open if someone wants to enter. Give 20 bucks to the guy who’s come to deliver a 1000 Rs order. Smile at a stranger. Smile anyway. Smiling is awesome. Treat a kid begging on the street to some junk food. Find out the names of all the people who are giving you a service! LIKE a happy post, SHARE a kind post and RETWEET those who ask you to care. Be respectful, be polite, and really, start giving a shit. Don’t be an asshole – there are already too many of them in the world.

 

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Liked/disliked the piece? Be kind and leave your comments below 🙂
Note: This talk was first given at TEDxSRCC in October 2015.
Picture courtesy: TEDxSRCC. 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: JOSH RADNOR #QNA #HUFFINGTONPOST #2015

‘There’s a kindness deficit going on everywhere’

Note: This QNA of Josh Radnor was done by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) in October 2015 for Huffington Post. An edited version of the piece can be found here: http://goo.gl/q8bWih


Josh Radnor, most famously known for playing the affable ‘Ted Mosby’ in the cult TV sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, truly came into his own as an artist in the last few years. He’s made two films as a writer-director (Happythankyoumoreplease won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and Liberal Arts received much critical acclaim), he’s starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, Disgraced, he’s written pieces for The Huffington Post, LA Times Magazine and Indiewire, among others, that exude positivity, and has also given inspirational talks the world over. He was in Mumbai recently for one such talk, where he used his fame as an example to speak about why we need to be ‘contagiously good’ with kindness.

In an exclusive hour-long interview, he spoke about why he believes so strongly in kindness and hope, and discussed acting, writing, direction, and of course, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). 


You wrote a wonderful piece in The LA Times Magazine (http://www.latimes.com/style/la-mag-oct052008-rules-story.html) on the importance of being kind. It’s interesting that you are using your fame to talk about not any big, worrisome issue or cause, but about something as elementary as kindness.
I think that there’s a kindness deficit going on everywhere, in some way. I think we’re hurting a little bit, and a simple word or a kind gesture from someone can really alter the course of someone’s day or someone’s life. Because of that, I feel that we underestimate the power of kindness, and how every word, thought and action is consequential. I think I also wrote in the piece that unkind words were kind of like air pollution. It’s almost like people writing mean stuff on the internet… they don’t realise that it actually goes somewhere and affects people emotionally. Words have a kind of charge or a heft, that what comes out, goes around, and you can feel it.
So well, even if I worked in finance or the Silicon Valley, I’d still be talking about kindness. It may have something to do with growing up in the Mid-West, which is a nice place (chuckles), but I think, more than that, it’s about how when I’m kind, I feel good, and when I’m not, I don’t feel good. So, in some ways, being kind is like a beautifully self-serving thing, because I would rather feel good about myself and what I’m contributing to the world, rather than just being reckless and serving my ego all the time, which, I find exhausting, you know.


We’ve seen how you’ve carried these ideas into your writing and direction as well, but the roles that you’re taking on as an actor after HIMYM are all complex in their own ways. Is there a line that you draw about the kind of roles you take, so you stay true to your philosophy artistically?
Yeah, certainly. But it’s not about not choosing a, say, violent role, it’s more about how I may not respect what it’s saying to the world. I think we become the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. I know this in my life that I want to be careful about who I say I am. So, I feel like, if we say we’re greedy, horrible, angry creatures, we become that, and I’d rather not be that. I don’t want to participate in things that make me feel bad about humanity, or that perpetuate certain lies about who we are. I’m certainly interested in playing complicated people but I turn down a lot of stuff that I feel like, is… (chuckles), assaultive of our better nature.
Like I said in the other Huffington Post piece (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-radnor/why-i-chose-happythankyou_b_830205.html) that we spoke about before the interview, there are so many other people who are on the case of how horrible we are, and I just feel like, as a creator of things, I want to take people through the dark woods of the Joseph Campbell stuff, but I want people  to come out of the other end, emerged and transformed, and awakened to some new aspect of themselves that they didn’t know before they went on that journey.


In the same Huffington Post piece, you wrote about how there is snobbery about films with so-called ‘lighter’ ideas, like kindness, and how the darker stuff is always seen as more real and ‘sophisticated’. Do you face that challenge whenever you try to make something similar?
Oh all the time, all the time. I mean, it’s interesting because, both my films very applauded at Sundance, and embraced in the world, but there‘s a certain kind of critical snobbery that takes over. I always ask myself that question: why do we consider that which is dark ‘sophisticated’, and I think it has something to do with this suspicion that underneath everything, we’re actually bad. I was talking to a friend the other day, and telling him how I think, it’s the exact opposite; at our core, at our core-core, at the deeeepest base, I think we’re divine. I think we’re good. And I think there’s all this other stuff that’s on top of it that we need to get rid of, so we can get back to that core principle.
I just feel that it’s a different way of conceiving of the world, and conceiving of the uses of art, and what, I sometimes think, are the misuses of art, which reinforce these ideas that we are these terrible, horrible, Darwanian creatures who just are wired to maximize self-interest. I just think that’s a lie. I feel it’s actually brave in such a cynical society to tell stories where people are risking the charge of being called ‘sentimental’, which I think is ridiculous, because in today’s age, if the critic feels something, if they feeeel something, if they get provoked emotionally, they call it ‘sentimental’ (chuckles). But I go to the movie so I can feel something, so I can transform myself, right? So I think that there needs to be a distinction between sentiment and sentimentality. Sentiment is great, it’s a full feeling. Sentimentality is something manipulated, it’s a lie. It’s a false, cheap, cliché. I feel like I don’t make those kind of movies, because I’m trying to make something real and honest and have the characters experience something that makes the audience feel something. I try not to apologise for that, although maybe I just did apologize for that (laughs). I try not to, though (chuckles).


In both your films, there’s always some wisdom being passed on by someone older to someone younger, and sometimes, the other way around. How did this become a theme for you? You’re also doing this in your own life now with your talks and columns.
Someone pointed out to me after Liberal Arts that all my films have mentorship in them, and they were right. There’s a whole web of mentorship in them, and I think it’s because I had very good parents, I had very good teachers, but also because I like learning. I like learning from people. And people have said things to me at very tender moments that have altered the course of my life. And, because of that, I find it to be a very dramatic moment, when someone has just the right words that you need to hear and it’s almost as if, you know, God has taken over their mouth and is speaking to you. You know, they are speaking to you what you need to hear. So I’ve really loved the teachers I’ve had. And I really love the opportunity when I can be a good friend or a mentor to someone, and that’s certainly a theme of what I do. But there’s also another theme.
You know, it’s interesting, I spoke at Cambridge the other night and I read this article someone wrote about it. She was a little glib and dismissive of one particular thing that I said. Someone had asked me if I had any advice for college students, and I essentially said what I had said in Liberal Arts, which is that this is the only time you get to do this, and if you don’t appreciate it now, you’re going to be haunted by the fact that you didn’t. The writer used a term like a ‘tacky cliche’ and I was kind of thrown by it, I thought, ‘No! It’s a cliché because it’s true!’ If you aren’t present in this moment, you’re going to be nostalgic and you’re going to realise that you weren’t awake for one of the most special times of your life. I was telling my friend this the other day, that I’m not like a sunny optimist all the time, I actually battle some real melancholy, but I’m trying to (chuckles) stay on the side of working towards transforming rather than getting stuck in some rut…  or (pauses), a feeling of hopelessness. I mean, that’s maybe the worst feeling… hopelessness. So be grateful, you know. And that’s what both the movies are about – pay attention to your life and be grateful.


That’s also possibly one of the things that Ted Mosby taught the audiences. I loved Ted and found it amazing how he was probably the only sitcom character I’ve seen whose ‘quirk’ is empathy. He cared, felt and had compassion. And that seems to be something you’ve brought to the role.
I used to feel like he was closer to me when I started, because I was trying to find these points of identification with him, but as the show went on, I started growing in ways that the character was not. So I’ve used this before – I’ve just said that he was like my annoying younger brother (chuckles). Like we’re definitely related (grins), and he sometimes drove me crazy, but at the end of the day, I loved him, because he was such a great guy.
You know, my acting teaching at NYU used to say that a character is a 50% meeting of you and 50% of the character. So there was 50% of the stuff that the writers were doing and 50% was stuff that I was bringing to it. And then, the writers start paying attention to who you are, and then they write that in, so it becomes like this weird, interesting dialogue between you and the writers, about this character. You know, for instance, Jason’s character, Marshall, was envisioned, and you’ll notice in the pilot, that he’s afraid to open the champagne bottle. But then they got ahold of Jason Segel, who’s not afraid of anything (chuckles). So they started making him a different character, because they suddenly had the actor. So similarly, I don’t feel like Ted, but I lent Ted a lot of myself, if that makes sense.


Did any of the ideas perpetuated by Ted or the show shape who you are as a person?
Ted… not quite, no (chuckles). I mean, maybe I’m being dishonest with myself, but I think he was a better example of a friend than he was as a romantic kind of a guy. I mean, he gets so much credit for being this great romantic, but sometimes I think he was actually crazy, and a little obsessive, in a really unhealthy way. Like a lot of people cite this ninth season speech, where he talks about love, you know… ‘Love means doing anything for a person, no matter if it kills you’, and I think, like, ‘No! It doesn’t!’ That sounds like insanity, calm down (grins). But I thought he was one of TV’s great friends; he was a really loyal person.
As for the show, well, I think the biggest thing that it gave me was that it taught me to be publicly vulnerable. Because it’s a very hard thing for a man to be that vulnerable in our society, and some people don’t want to see that, and others are longing to see that. So, it taught me a certain kind of emotional bravery that I don’t know I would have had had I not been forced every week. And I remember that same acting teacher at NYU thought that I was an incredibly, technically proficient actor, but he thought that I didn’t I wasn’t connected to my emotional life. And I couldn’t think of a better teacher for that particular thing that I needed to learn than HIMYM.


I want to end by asking you a fan question, which you may have been asked already a hundred times. It’s been over an year since HIMYM ended, do you look at the ending differently now? Do you feel it could have ended in some other way?
(Chuckles) Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t the creator of the show, I didn’t write on the show, so I was serving the show as an actor, and I know, certain people act like I, (laughs), you know, had something to do with it or wrote that, and I obviously didn’t. But I also stand by thee vision of it and I think, ultimately, the show will age quite well. I think it’ll be interesting how we feel about that in 10 years versus right now, and I think some of the sadness people felt was just sadness about the show ending. It’s just hard to let go of something that you love like that. I also think if you look at it from a kind of meta perspective, it’s like the whole pilot episode was not about the mother but about ‘Aunt Robin’. So the DNA of the whole show was in that pilot episode. ‘I thought we were talking about Mom?’ ‘No, we’re talking about Aunt Robin!’ That’s what the whole show was.


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Note: This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on October 26, 2015. An edited version can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/nikhil-taneja-/how-i-met-your-mother-tau_b_8387438.html
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Interview: American filmmaker Richard Linklater #Film #Indie

Is there an easy way to introduce Richard Linklater? An icon of American independent cinema, often credited with paving the way for the era of low-budget, light-comic, self-exploratory gen-X movies, Linklater’s legacy as a writer-director is deep and varied, his films fiercely original and undeniably interesting. He has managed to forge an inspiring film career by living and operating at the periphery of the American film industry in the era of clone blockbusters, and is one of the few remaining high-profile filmmakers who work not for money, but for the love of cinema.

Before Midnight, the long-awaited third film in Linklater’s utterly beautiful and romantic Before… series starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, released across the world earlier this year, premiering in India at the recently- concluded Mumbai Film Festival. In his first ever interview with an Indian publication, over the phone from his home in Austin, Texas, the director of cult classics like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life and School of Rock offers an insight into his mind and craft. And he’s just as amiable and charming as every one of his films. Excerpts:

Q In the 18 years it’s taken to complete the Before… trilogy, how has your idea of love personally changed?

A Now that I think of it, for Julie [Delpy], Ethan [Hawke] and I, making these films sort of introduced [to us] this subject of long term relationships and the definition of love or what love even means. That’s become the subject of our lives, you know. I find myself reading a book on that or reading articles or statistical data on couples.

Movies are like that—when you are making a movie, you tend to feel that you are doing a Masters [degree in] whatever the situation is. Over two decades now, this subject [has] really made me follow notions of relationships of long term, and question how things change and how things remain the same.

I don’t know if that’s an answer, but it’s definitely a subject in our lives and I’m always constantly thinking, ‘Oh this could be good if we ever do another movie—this notion or piece of information’.

So we can look at it both emotionally and scientifically, and we have our own lives going on with our long term partners, and it’s involved in there too.

Q In this time, how has the idea of love changed for Hollywood? Is ‘romance’ still relevant today?

A (laughs) I don’t know. I mean, the first film, Before Sunrise, wouldn’t happen today, or at least in the same way. It certainly wouldn’t have the same result, like they wouldn’t exchange numbers. I mean, they would get each other’s emails or texts, you know. People communicate differently today. That film was a little old fashioned even then.

I don’t think young people would approach love the same way [now], but I still think the core of that movie—two people meeting, that moment of attraction, of falling in love—that never goes away. That’s relevant. That was relevant 500 years ago and will be relevant 500 years from now. Nothing’s going to change in that area between people. There is something about that that is eternal, but the details of it change generation to generation.

But I can honestly say that Before Midnight covers an area that is not covered a whole lot in movies today, for obvious reasons. It’s not about the beginning of a relationship, it’s not about the end of a relationship. It’s about when they are having their problems. It’s kind of the middle area, which is not often used as subject matter for something in the romantic realm. It’s not very commercial. You don’t see a lot of compelling films made on this. Hollywood would never touch these films.

We have a low budget, and we make these independently, so we can do whatever we want and express things that don’t need to fit into a Hollywood romantic comedy construct. We can make something that we feel is much more honest, but we know we don’t have a huge audience for these movies. We just kind of figure our audience might appreciate some of the blunt honesty (laughs) of our characters in their situation.

Q I’m also asking about love in the time of the movie studio, because the Before… trilogy is one of the few movies where romance is real and uncontrived. How did you manage that?

A That’s a compliment, thank you. I think it’s just the approach. It’s what you are going for, you know? What is real? I don’t pretend any of it is actually real. I mean, they are not documentaries; they are actually scripted and rehearsed excessively, very well thought out, very constructed.

But the effect I am going for in the viewer’s mind is [for them] to accept it as some kind of reality, to feel like it’s real.

I don’t know if people want to feel that way. I like going to movies often, going into someone’s unreality. When you go into a Tim Burton film or a James Cameron film, you will enjoy being in their reality, [which] you know is not real but it’s wonderful. I’m not asking people to be in some kind of parallel reality, but to relate to [a film] on a closer level.

That’s what I love about the way people perceive movies. I kind of like that a film could be anything and mean something different to every one; it just has to be true to the story you’re trying to tell. People just come along for the ride.

Q When Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and you got together to write Before Midnight, how did you find common ground for it, considering that you might all have been in different places emotionally after 18 years?

A I think we just incorporate our different moods, you know. Whatever changes in character or whatever vibe you get from this movie that’s different from the last one probably reflects our changing mood, the atmosphere, the things we’ve all been through. I’ve tried to incorporate our personal reality into this film, into something that’s real for Jesse and Celine.

I think Ethan, Julie and I trust each other artistically, so we don’t have to work too hard to find common ground. I think we are all trying to be honest when we write something that means something to us. Julie not feeling good about something or being paranoid about something, you know, some of that might find its way into the movie. Or if Ethan is feeling creatively satisfied and has such ideas, then we’ll work that in. So we’re kind of basing the film on where we are at, to some degree. Our writing sessions were like comedic therapy (laughs). We’d sit around, laugh a lot, and just talk for hours and hours.

Q How would you say you have evolved as a writer and director in these 18 years?

A You know that’s a good question, because I don’t know if I have that much (chuckles). Stylistically my movies are still very similar—well, I do that on purpose—but I don’t know if I’ve matured that much. With anything you do, you get a little more confident, you get a little more experienced. I guess that’s all good, but I don’t feel I have changed significantly. I think my concerns are pretty much very similar. What I’m getting at is that I’m always surprised I’m much more similar than different.

I would say the same about Jesse and Celine: it’s not so much how they have changed; it’s really more interesting how they have stayed the same. And to think of it, am I that different than I was at 24? I am more mature and more experienced, of course. Life has a way of doing that whether you like it or not. But the gist of my life, what I’m interested in, what I care about, artistically, it’s still kind of similar.

Q You’ve mentioned that your films are semi-autobiographical. How many movies do you think you’ll need to express all facets of yourself completely?

A (Laughs) Well that’s really the question, isn’t it? I don’t know. I wonder if Ingmar Bergman [would say] at the end of his life… that he expressed himself completely in his movies. I don’t know if that’s even possible, if any filmmaker is totally satisfied. [Michelangelo] Antonioni, towards the end of his life I think, finally wrote a book [That Bowling Alley On The Tiber: Tales Of A Director] to say, ‘Here’s 30 movies I’ll never make.’ He had ideas, and a few pages about each of them. A book about unrealised movies—I could do that book now. I have 10-15 unrealised films (chuckles).

But to answer your question, you’d have to make, like, a hundred. Every film does say something. In every one, you are communicating something. But that’s sort of the challenge artistically, isn’t it? To try to express what you want to express. And some novelists or writers have perhaps spent thousands of pages trying to do that. I admire people though who kind of say, ‘No, I’ve said all that I have to say,’ and [then] quit writing, quit making movies, quit painting or quit making music. But I don’t really believe it. I don’t think you can retire from expressing yourself.

Q Do you write to discover something about yourself or do you already have philosophies you centre your films around?

A To be honest, I am always trying to discover something. I don’t look forward to the day that I have some knowledge to impart. If I have something worth making, it’s something I [either] have mixed feelings about or am trying to discover something about, or I’m not totally sure what I think about it, and that’s why I think it makes it fertile ground to try to make a movie.

To make a movie about something, specifically, that I definitely have strong feelings about and then [to] convey them exactly—that’s a lot less interesting, I think. Things you have strong opinions about find their way into the general tone and core of the movie anyway.

Films are truly much more about the exploration of your thought and lot of exploration is just the process of making a movie. And I’m inclined to think that everybody feels that way. I wonder if [Alfred] Hitchcock felt that way. Was he just physically manifesting what he had all planned out or was he discovering his deeper feelings about the subjects that he made [films about]? For example, in Vertigo. I don’t think anyone just renders something they’ve just printed out, as much as they try.

Q Your movies are very dialogue heavy, and that goes against the conventional wisdom of cinema, except if you are, say, Woody Allen. Why is dialogue so important to you?

A I don’t know. You’re right; that is Film School 101. (In a stern voice) ‘Don’t talk about things, show it’ (laughs). It is a visual medium.

The first time I turned on a camera and heard the characters, I thought that people talking revealed a lot; that was as interesting as any landscape.

I’m not that verbal myself. I’m not much of a good talker; I’m more of a listener.

When you fall in love with cinema, it’s usually visually, but it’s just the way you evolve. Like I said, I’m as surprised as anyone!

When I was making my first film, I thought strictly in visual technical terms; I wasn’t thinking so much dialogues or character, even though I had a background in theatre. I should have known that was coming.

I never improvise on camera. Never. Ever. That’s never made sense to me, I don’t know how to do that. It’s always very scripted and rehearsed. You know, it can be a loose idea, I can sit with the actors, but by the time the cameras are rolling, we have worked it out. We know what we’re doing. I don’t leave it to chance.

Q Even with your fascination with dialogue, you don’t just direct to, say, deliver the poetry of a script, as in the case of an Aaron Sorkin movie. You take direction very seriously, don’t you?

A Yeah, I mean, cinema is the most important.

I remember every movie of mine having a little cinematic scheme in mind—visually. I mean, I’m not, like, uber-stylist; I’m not that interested in that. But I do really believe in a cinematic design to the story you’re telling. And you spend a lot of time to work on it. I think people who come strictly from writing backgrounds, might not think that way.

But I always felt that it was primarily a director’s job to think cinematically, in terms of pictures and stuff, you know? What’s the particular tone, style, approach to a movie—I’d have really strong rules in that area. I plan all that, even though, again, it doesn’t drive too much attention to it I hope.

But, you know, it’s about creating a parallel world of characters and trying to make that work when it all comes together in the movie. I don’t see anything as separate; [it is] all part of the same thing, which is trying to tell the story appropriately, and that’s different from film to film.

Q Comedy has also always been an important part of your films, even when you are dealing with subject matter as serious as death (Bernie) or drugs (Waking Life).

A I think it’s just the way I see the world. Everything’s funny, you know! I’ve done a lot of comedies where most of what I do is pretty comedic, but Bernie was a challenge because it is about death. There is some dark subject matter swirling around that movie. But I think to make that a consistent comedy was a real challenge. That world’s so much like ours, even though it’s tragic [and] there’s a lot of ups and downs. I think it’s not a bad way to see the world through a comedic lens. Whatever tragedy, hardship or struggle, comedy is a pretty good way to offset it. And not more consciously—again, that’s just in films—but in the way you naturally see the world, I think, and the way you approach drama too. I just can’t help but see the humour. And I admire that in movies I like.

For example, Raging Bull is a movie that would never be listed as a comedy.

It’s just too dark a subject and what you take away emotionally from that movie is anything but comedy. And yet, if you really sat down in front of it, you would find yourself laughing very consistently throughout that movie.

And I thought that was brilliant! I mean, when I saw that movie, something clicked in me—this was before I was even thinking about making movies [myself].

It’s kind of like how I see the world: in the middle of fights, in the middle of all the horrible stuff, I would have these funny thoughts. Even as a kid, when things were bad, or parents were mad at you, there was always something ridiculous about it, something funny. I always liked that tone.

So even with Before Midnight—people wouldn’t think that film’s a comedy, in fact it’s an extreme opposite of it—when they fight in the movie, Julie and I think that’s pretty funny. Celine and Jesse don’t think it’s funny, far from it; but we, the audience, do. And I like that mixture—a little uncomfortable, a little real. I think it’s the right approach to a movie and to life.

Q Do you ever find it surprising that living in Austin, outside of Hollywood and the studio system, you have managed to have such a spectacular career?

A Yeah, well that would be my point of view—and I guess it’s yours—but Hollywood wouldn’t look at it that way. They would look at my career as an underachievement or a failure, you know. Whatever (chuckles). It’s all perspective.

When I go to LA, I do feel like a nobody, because I don’t fit into that world so well, you know. I haven’t made all that money. What I mean is that our concerns are not exactly the same. They are sometimes, yes, but it’s nothing I think about a lot.

It’s just the way it all worked out. I’m lucky to live in my own bubble and managed to make a life and living out of my kind of cinema. I’ve been lucky to get a lot of films made, because it’s hard to do, and it’s harder to do today. I think I came around at the right time. It would be tougher to get started now, doing what I’ve been able to do.

Q What would it take for you to come back to the studios? A superhero film?

A (Laughs) I don’t know about super heroes, but I’m always on the lookout for comedies. You know, when you are trying to get a story told, some need a bigger budget and studio backing because some are inherently more commercial. So obviously, I’m not averse to that.

School of Rock and Bad News Bears are good examples in the last 10 years of times I found myself way into a story where I felt I could express [something] or I was the right director for, but those are probably the only two films [I have done] that maybe would have existed without me. Like, if I wouldn’t have done them, someone else would have. None of my other films would exist as movies, you know, if I wouldn’t have done them. But those two, they are part of the system.

But I like the system. It’s nice to have that support. They have $30 million, a 50 day schedule, you can do it right. It’s kind of nice to have the—if you’re lucky enough—subject matter they think it warrants. Usually, I’m in the area where they say, ‘Oh! This isn’t a very commercial movie; we’ve got to do it for nothing!’

That’s okay, but that’s tougher over the years too. Bernie would have been a studio movie 10-15 years ago, but by the time I did it, it was like an [off-beat] independent movie.

Interview: Aaron Sorkin (Unedited)

This interview was taken in 2010 during the release of The Social Network.

Nick?

Hello?

Hi, this is Aaron Sorkin

Sir, this is such an honour to be speaking with you. I may possibly be your biggest fan in India!

Ohh, thank you so much. You really made my night.

I just want to say this before the interview starts – You were actually the reason I came into writing. Studio 60 inspired me to get into writing. It’s just the biggest day of my life to actually get to speak with you.

Oh no, that means the world to me. Thank you so much, that’s really, really kind of you!

Sir, I want to ask you a bunch of questions about The Social Network, which again, was brilliant – I saw it and really loved it – but before that, I’d like to tell you about a little incident that happened at the MAMI here. When the movie was screening here, there was some sort of a commotion. Too many people wanted to see it but weren’t allowed in and they went beserk…

…I heard the story!

Yeah, you have?

I heard that people couldn’t get in, so the people inside, to show their solidarity, insisted that they get in somehow. That was thrilling to hear.

Yeah, exactly. I was going to just talk about your fan following here. When you gave your video message, people went crazy screaming and cheering. So when can your fans see you here in person?

I would love to come to India. I’ve never been to India but I’d love to.

Sir, I wanted to know. Are there are any elements of Indian movies that you like and either have, or would like to incorporate in your scripts in the near future?

You know, I feel terrible about this but its really only been, I think, in the last 5 or 10 years, that I’ve become aware of Indian filmmaking as a tremendous artistic force in cinema, that, umm, my film knowledge was confined to the US and Europe, and, umm, Hong Kong. So I’m very new to Indian cinema, and, err, I’d really love to school myself so that I can be influenced by Indian cinema, or, to put it in a different way, steal everything I possibly can from Indian cinema (chuckles).

Now, I want to ask you a lot of questions about The Social Network. The movie’s quite unlike anything you have written before – and I’ve seen everything you’ve written before. Considering you’ve said that you didn’t know much about Zuckerberg before you took on the movie, and considering that you don’t take on too many movie projects, what was it that attracted you to this story?

What attracted me to the story, it really didn’t have anything to do with Facebook. I didn’t know mucha bout Facebook, umm, I’m not someone who gets very excited about technology. What excited me about the story were the elements, the ‘clactical’ elements, uhh, of the story, that are thousands of years old. Themes of friendship and loyalty and betrayal and jealousy and power and class, things that we’ve been telling stories about for thousands of years, set against this very modern backdrop. It was irresistible to me.

One of the things that stood out from the movie was the fact that the idea of Facebook came to Zuckerberg because of a girl. That was what really made him go out and do this. Is that also something that got you interested in the story?

Absolutely. It did. Uhh… (chuckles) the thing is, Mark Zuckerberg joins a long line of great men in history, and great events, that were started because of a girl. Erica’s the Helen of Troy of Facebook. And it began, you know, the precursor to Facebook, that was Facemash, was the revenge stunt directed first at this girl, who had broken his heart, and then, at the entire female population of Harvard. And then, when the dust from that settled, uhh, he thought, you know, wait a second, there was something there. Something just happened, that was important. Uhh, it is upto the audience to argue about… how much of that epiphany was influenced by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoff, and how much of it was just a coincidence of timing.

Was it the longest it took you to write a script? Since there was such level of detailed research involved, did that make a difference to the process of writing for you?

I’m sorry, did you ask if this was the longest that’s taken me to write the script?

Yeah.

It’s the shortest it took me to write the script. Uhh, yeah, it took me a year to write this. That, for me, is very short. I do not have a reputation in Hollywood of being a speedster. Umm, if you hire me to write a movie, it’s going to be a while before you see it. Because, it’s not the writing that takes me a long time, it’s the thinking of what to write that takes me a long time. But umm, there was an extensive research process on this, and a period of thinking what to write, but once I thought of it, once I had my arms around it, the writing went, for me, very quickly.

But did the level of detailed research make a difference to the process of writing for you? Did it make it easier – since you say you finished the script really quickly.

Uhh, I think it did. I think that, you know, I… I’m someone, I don’t start writing until I know what I’m going to write. I don’t need to know the whole thing. I don’t need to know how the movie ends – although its helpful to know how the movie ends – I don’t need to know the middle, I don’t need to know every scene, I don’t need to outline the thing. But I need to know how the movie starts. I need to know what the first scene is, and what the first scene leads to, second thing. Umm, it takes me a while to think of that. But once I’ve thought of that, I want to write it as quickly as I can. I want to write it with speed and energy because I really believe that that speed and energy makes its way on to the page.

Sir, one of the things everyone’s curious about is that Facebook hasn’t come on board the movie but it didn’t sue or try and stop it from release even though it maintains it is fiction? So, what did it take for Facebook to agree to have it called Facebook and for Mark to be called Mark?

Well, they didn’t have a choice in that matter. We, umm, you know, you can write a movie about General Motors, and call the company General Motors. What you can’t do, is lie. You can’t say something that’s both untrue and defamatory. Which is why, you’ve answered your own question. The reason why Facebook hasn’t sued Sony, the reason why we haven’t received an injunction against the release of the film, is because they can’t. We haven’t lied. And we haven’t defamed them. And they know that. So they can say fiction all they want what – that’s what I’d be doing. Their PR people are every bit as good as our PR people. And they can say fiction all they want but if it were fiction, we’d know it because Facebook would own Sony right now.

I’ve also read how Mark Zuckerberg first un-favourited West Wing and then put it back up.. Do you know of that? What do you think made him accept the movie?

You know what, uhh.. I have to tell you – I think that uhh, Mark, who I don’t know at all, has shown an awful lot of class, uhh, during this period. I don’t think anybody would want a movie made out of the things they did when they were 19 years old. And it would have to be an extremely uncomfortable time for a very young guy who’s already got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s 26-year-old guy, running a company that’s bigger than CBS. It’s a 25 billion dollar company. If it were a country, it would be the third biggest country in the world… right after India. And uhh, he, uhh, on the day the movie opened in the US, October 1st, he shut out the Facebook offices, bought out a movie theatre, took the entire staff to the movies to see it. And then took everybody out for drinks afterwards. I think he’s really shown a sense of humour and a sense of class, and I really want to give him, uhh, credit for that.

And, I’m sorry, that was a long way of answering your question. I appreciate that he put the West Wing back up on his Facebook profile (laughs).

That’s what I wanted to ask you, actually. What do you think made him accept the movie because he was clearly upset with you writing it, but then the West Wing back on his favourites, which means he’s okay with it now.

Yeah, that’s what I mean. It’s a very classy thing to do. Umm, I think, uhh, I don’t know what… as it happens, Jesse Eisenberg’s first cousin works very closely with Mark Zuckerberg. He started working for Facebook about six months ago, maybe longer. Umm, so, when the movie was over, when they all went to see the movie on October 1st, Jesse’s cousin texted Jesse, saying that Mark really liked the parts he agreed with. And, uhh, that, you know, even that, was a very generous response. It’s gotta be impossible for Mark, watching this story play out on a huge screen, written by some guy, all of a sudden everybody’s speaking in dialogue, and scenes were connected to form a narrative, and Trent Reznor’s score was underneath. And David Fincher and Jeff had lit it to so beautifully. And, you know, there was a lawsuit. And people in lawsuits disagree on what the truth is. So he had to listen to all of them saying things about things he disagreed with, all over again. Umm, so, uhhh, you know, all in, it’s gotta be excruciating for him. So I really take my hat off to this guy.

Couple of things I wanted to ask you about Zuckerberg’s character. First, you’ve said that you can identify with him in being anti social. Considering you are one of the most successful writers in the world, it sounds a little strange! And also, you’ve spoken about Zuckerberg’s character in the movie going from being an anti hero to a tragic hero. What made you do that, as opposed to making him just a good guy or a bad guy?

Well, let me answer the first question first. When I say I can identify with him, I don’t consider myself anti social. Umm, I’m shy, I’m socially awkward. I get nervous in social situations, that I uhh, I may say something wrong, do something wrong or I don’t quite fit in. I think these are feelings many, many men can identify with. So, when you are writing an anti hero, and you are right, uhh, you are quoting me correctly when you say, uhh, Mark spends the first hour and 55 minutes of the movie being an anti hero and the final 5 minutes of the movie being a tragic hero. When you are writing an anti hero, as the writer, and Jesse would tell you the same thing as the actor and David will tell you the same thing as the director. You can’t judge the character. Umm, you can’t say that I’m writing a bad guy. You have to defend the character, you have to respect the character, have affection for him, and be able to fight for him. So that’s why you have to find the things about yourself that are like him, so that you can write him. So Jesse and David have got to do the same thing.

When he becomes a tragic hero in the end, that’s because he’s met two requirements – the two requirements of being a tragic hero. He’s paid a price, and he feels remorse. Uhh, now that scene, that final scene in the movie, is entirely imagined. Uhh, but, you know, here’s a case, where, if I were writing, if this was fiction, and I had just concocted this story, I would have written a less good ending. Umm, I would have written a warm and fuzzy ending, where Erica responds to his Friend Request and accepts it, and the two of them happen to be living in the same city, and they meet for coffee and everything seems to be great. It would be like the last scene in The Christmas Carol, where Scrooge gets up in the morning and you know, everything is terrific. And it was only ‘truth’ that kept me from writing that movie (chuckles), with a much more compelling, much more complicated ending. I was great… for the truth. (?)

The last question that I wanted to ask you was about David Fincher. He’s known for his visual style of directing. And since this is such a dialogue-based movie, how did you guys go about collaborating?

Uhh, you really read my mind. You are asking excellent questions. David Fincher, on the face of it, it’s not an intuitive marriage of director and material. David, what he’s most known for, is being peerless as a visual director. I like writing people in rooms. But it worked beautifully. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars that it was David directing the movie. David embraced that this was a story that was gonna be told through language but he did bring in his distinctive visual style to it. He got extraordinary performances out of a very talented, but very young cast of actors. And then, in the editing room, he took scenes of typing, basically, coding, hacking, and made them look like bank robberies! He made them look like action sequences, with nice assist on the score, umm, and our team of editors. But you know, there were about a 100 ways of wrecking this movie badly, if you can think of 50 of them, you are a genius. Uhh, and, David brought an ungodly artfulness to this.

With that I have to tell you that I’m getting the look from the publicist, telling me that I have to end the phone call to get on with the next call.

Oh, that’s not a problem, sir. Thanks so much for your time. Again, it was really an honour to get to speak with you.

Sure, of course, it was my pleasure. Thanks so much for the interview.

Thank you.

Note: This interview first appeared in Hindustan Times
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