Sunday, July 4, 2010

Interview - Aisha director Rajshree Ojha

Rajshree Ojha, director of the forthcoming Sonam Kapoor starrer Aisha - that is an adaptation of Jane Austen's book Emma - speaks on the various challenges before her while turning the classic into a film, her disagreements with Sonam and Anil Kapoor, and how her film is not similar to Clueless

'I've stayed faithful to 'Emma'

Rajshree Ojha is ready with her new Sonam Kapoor-Abhay Deol starrer Aisha that releases on August 6. The film is an adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 classic, Emma about a rich heiress with a penchant for match-making. This is the director's first commercial outing in Hindi films, but she has to her credit several short films which made it to numerous prestigious film festivals. In fact, she informs us that one of them was even selected at the Oscars in the 'student's section. She also studied filmmaking formally at a foreign university. "Aisha is my first mainstream film, but I have a lot of experience behind me," she says.

So how did Aisha come about? "I was always interested in adapting Emma in a desi setting. So I wrote the script along with my writer Devika Bhagat and we pitched the project to different producers. I'd never thought of approaching a star as such. But it did land up with Sonam, who loved the script. When Anil Kapoor heard it, he loved it too and wanted to produce the film. At that time Anil had just done Slumdog Millionaire so he could understand where I was coming from and what our vision was for the film," she says.

But Ohja agrees that she had to make a few compromises, so as to fit in with Bollywood conventions. "I don't make loud films. But then, too much subtly can also be a problem for Hindi films. Yes, there were times when I would be told that things are not looking 'happening' in the film, and I would try to enliven the narrative. On certain points, I was very adamant and had my way. On other occasions, I relented as I saw the other's point of view. Finally, I am happy with the film and I think the compromises I made have been for the betterment of the film." says the director.

Incidentally, there were several rumours emerging from the sets about disagreements on how the film was being shot. Ohja does not clearly state this, but she admits that initially she wasn't happy with he way Sonam was playing her part. "She had some pre-conceived notions about how to play her character and I had mine. I didn't want her to play her role in a goody-goody way. I like my characters to have shades. I wanted her internal struggle to come to the fore. Sonam had read Emma and she loved the story, but she was quite lost when it came to pitching the character. But after some initial hiccups, she understood where I was going with her role, and it turned out fine," she says, adding, " Actually, I learnt through this project to give my actors freedom. I would encourage them to make their own back-story for their characters. Earlier, I would hold everything and not give them enough space. So it was a learning process for me too," she says.

So why Emma? "I am an Austen fan, much like all women are. Her two novels which I've always been interested in adapting are Mansfield Park and Emma. I love the grey shades in Emma. She is strong and yet a bit lost, not knowing what she wants from life. In fact, even Austen said about Emma that she's a heroine who only she loves and not many others will. She's an interesting character. Sometimes, she's manipulative, at other times a lost child. Also the theme of the novel ie match-making is very prevalent to our society. Everyone indulges in it at some point or the other. The book is also about a woman's yearning for love and finding the perfect a man - that's a theme that is universal and evergreen. Whether 19th century England or 21st century India, women haven't changed in that respect," she smiles, explaining why she was drawn to the classic.

And while the makers have fully contemporised the subject and have based it in Delhi, showing Sonam Kapoor - who plays Emma - as a young, rich girl, who loves shopping and being with friends, Ohja says she's stayed quite faithful to the original. "There aren't too many changes, though we've tried hard to keep the setting and characters as real as possible. I had to condense a few characters, because, it's a two and half hour film after all. Also, we haven't treated any character as fully negative. There is some bitchiness among the women, but no one is all bad. We've treated it like a romantic comedy, nothing too dark," she says.

While her words for Sonam are measured, her praise for Abhay Deol - who plays Sr Knightley of Emma in the film - is wholesome. "Abhay was the best casting decision we made. He's always done very different films, so he could see where I was coming from. Now when I think of Knightley, I can't think of anyone else besides him. He's made it such a flesh and blood character - you'll love him in the film," she says.
But in the book, Knighley is a fairly mature man - 40ish perhaps. Here the character is younger. Ohja says she's happy with the age difference between Sonam and Abhay and didn't want anyone older. "I think there is a 10 year age difference. Abhay is 35-35, which is good enough for me. I didn't want the character to be a father-figure," she says.

Finally, there is some speculation that Aisha is closer to the 1995 Alicia Silverstone starrer Clueless - that was also a modern-day adaptation of Emma. The director denies the similarities. "Yes, there is a fair bit of fashion in Aisha too. That is natural, because Emma is rich. But this is not based in high-school, like Clueless was. Aisha is a 24- year old, a typical Delhi girl. It won't be similar at all," she says.

For now, she's delighted with the final product. "I am very satisfied.” she says. Hope the audience is too.

- Sandhya Iyer


Blogger austenreader said...

I've been dying to find out more about Aisha as it happens to be adapted from my favourite book. So thanks so much for this.

Mr Knightley was 37 years old and not in his 40s.

I'm really pleased to read that it isn't a Clueless. I think it didn't do justice to the book or characters.

Of course changes have to be made, but I wish they hadn't made her a fashion freak because Emma was far from it (inspite of being rich). It was Harriet in fact who was always concerned with gowns.

Also, the other change about Aisha yearning for love is a change from the book. Emma didn't yearn for love. She was, in fact, very sure of never marrying as nowhere could she be as much mistress of the house as at Hartfield (her home).
Thus the realisation of her love for Mr Knightley hit her like a bolt.

Nevertheless I'm looking forward to this.

Thanks once again.

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