Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'I don't believe in having a signature style'

The cricket frenzy might have reached an all time high, but there's a high-profile release this week- Game. Its director Abhinay Deo talks to Sandhya Iyer about his journey from an ad filmmaker to film director, among other things

Even as all eyes were set on the India-Pakistan game yesterday, director Abhinay Deo who makes his directorial debut this Friday was concerned about his own, Game - produced by Farhan Akthar's Excel and starring Abhishek Bachchan, Kangna Ranaut, Boman Irani, Shahana Goswami and new find, ex Miss India Sarah Jane. "I want India to win of course and reach the finals. Yes, our film will miss out on shows on Saturday if that happens, but that's okay. I strongly believe that a good film will work. And I have faith in my film," he says.
The young director of course is no newcomer to the glamour world. He's been a name to reckon with in the ad world, having worked with the top most stars of the industry. That apart, he's the talented second son of veteran Marathi actors, Ramesh and Seema Deo, who one will recollect made an endearing couple in Anand. It was his Marashtrian roots, he says, that made him doubly keen to hold a press conference in Pune, though Sarah Jane who was supposed to accompany him could not make it due to a sudden vertigo attack. Affable and warm, the director took questions patiently and tactfully, alternating between Marathi and English.
It wasn't Game, however, that Abhinay was supposed to debut with. It was Aamir Khan's Delhi Belly that he directed first, but the film got delayed and meanwhile Abhinay got started on his second film. "I actually signed Game first, but Delhi Belly shooting happened soon after. The first cut was ready. But Aamir had had two other films - Dhobi Ghat and Peepli Live which he had look into, so it took time. Meanwhile, I shot Game. Earlier, both Delhi Belly and Game were supposed to release in quick succession with hardly a month's gap. But we decided, Delhi Belly is a youth-oriented film and this would not be the right time to release it. It now releases in July," says the filmmaker, who also did his architecture before venturing into the ad world.

Game, he describes as an edge-of-the-seat murder mystery, with interesting twists and turns. He agrees that whodunnits aren't exactly condusive in today times of intense social networking with smses and twitter flying around all the time. “That's true and I hope the twitter world won't spoil it for us. But more than who the killer is, the journey that leads upto this is equally interesting. There are many twists and turns, and obviously that can't be enjoyed unless you see the film,” he smiles. “As for why we don't make enough thrillers. That's because our industry thrives on second viewings. Why would you watch a film after knowing who the killer is. The penny has dropped, so what's the interest? But Game is different because the journey is as much fun.”

Talking about how the film came to him, he says, “This was a script Excel had. The writer of the film is Althea Delmas Kaushal and when I read it, I totally loved it. It's an exciting genre, something I wanted to do,” he says.
Farhan Akthar is the dialogue writer of the film, and Abhinay believes it has added greatly to the film. “Of course Farhan never interfered. He was making Don at the same time. And besides, we've been good friends and known each other well. I think Farhan writes very interesting dialogues. And he doesn't treat it as a stand-alone job. He think about the film in its entirety and captures small details, which are important.”

Detailing is something that Abhinay holds dear. “That is something that I get from my 17 years of advertising background, where you have to say your story in a 30-40 seconds. Detailing becomes a habit in such a case. This is something we miss in Hindi cinema, so that's something you'll see in Game – not just technically but also story-wise,” he says.
The challenge, again, was one which ad maker turned film directors frequently face. “In a feature film you have to maintain a graph, it's like a spinal chord that has to stay in place. In some ways, the process is like making 200 ad films and putting it together as a film. But the graph has to be built correctly. And would you believe, we shot the climax first before the rest of the film. That's a very steep arch,” he tells us.
In the past, almost every ad man turned director - R Balki, Rakeysh Mehra, or previously Pankaj Parashar – has come up with fresh, innovative treatments for their scripts. Will it be the same for Game? Abhinay candidly says he isn't making any fresh departures in terms of technique. “The film is stylised, but I wouldn't say I'm trying new things technically. That's because I don;t think the film needs it. I've always believed that one of the important qualities in a director is that he must let the script determine the technique. Moving the camera unnecesarly or adding too much colour is not my idea of technique. But you'll find some of the editing in the film interesting – the way the plot is revealed is quite unique I think,” says Abhinay.
The film introduces newcomer Sarah Jane. “We wanted someone who would come with no baggage. We auditioned for almost four months and then when we saw Sarah, we thought she was fantastic. She is extremely striking,” the director says.
Wasn't Aishwarya Rai the first choice? “She was considered. In fact at that time the film was called Crooked. It was not Sarah Jane's character. At that time, we were still undecided on the heroine's part. But the dates didn't match.”
The film's lead, Abhishek Bachchan is going through a rather rough patch in his career. Are the makers bothered about it, which is why the film is being promoted as an ensemble one? “ Not really. This is an ensemble cast and it would be wrong of us to promote it in any other way. We can't call it an Abhishek film, because that would give a wrong picture. I could have Tom Cruise in Game, and we would still promote it this way,” he says. On Abhishek's dismal form, he thinks all it takes is one film to bounce back.

While it's too early to talk about Delhi Belly, the director is clear that he doesn't want to be attached to any particular genre. “I believe I am a story-teller and don't believe in having signatures. As it is you give two years of your life to one film. If you are going to attempt a similar genre, I think there's a good chance of you getting repetitive. So I want to try everything. I want to do a romantic film. I'm penning a childrens' film as well,” says the director, whose all time favourite film is Anand, and all other Hrishikesh Mukherjee films, especially Golmaal. “Not the new one!,” he says specifically. “I don't enjoy slapstick comedies.”
Here's looking forward to all that Abhinay has in store this Friday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Basu Chatterjee interview

Basu Chatterjee, who was at FTII for a seminar, speaks to Sandhya Iyer about some of his delightful, evergreen films that continue to be a great source of enjoyment

His films, along with Hrishikesh Mukherjee's, remain the most avidly viewed films on television by far, and the countless re-runs have only added to their timeless appeal. Films like Golmaal, Baaton Baaton Mein, Chupke Chupke, Choti Si Baat and Rajnigandha have been a source of endless delight, and new age filmmakers too have come to see them as wonderfully conceived classics. And even if these two veterans have been out of the limelight for years, their films feel as fresh as ever.
We met up with Basu Chatterjee at FTII and though he admits he's not really a talker and has preferred to be the man behind the camera always, he does sit down for a tete-a tete, even as he politely waits for his sugarless tea that shows no signs of arriving.

Chatterjee had a long and impressive body of work, but the film that appears closest to his heart is Saara Akash (1969), which was his debut. It also remains important for the reason that almost the entire cast and crew were chosen from FTII. “The only person I could not get was Jaya Bhaduri. I was told that she could not act before completing the course. My point was that the very purpose of such a course was to get an opportunity to act and here I was offering it. So I had to take someone else. But otherwise, almost all the technicians were from FTII and I remain grateful for that,”he says.
Saara Akash is a story about a young, immature man — with political ambitions — and the turmoil he faces when he is pushed into an arranged marriage. The film on the one hand was a satire on the unpreparedness of youngsters with respect to marriage and on the other, was about two strangers discovering each other under one roof. Chatterjee says he surpirsed himself by coming up with such a good film and theme. “That is my best work I feel and very path-breaking for its times,” he says.
As for his other outright classic Rajnigandha — about a woman's struggle to decide between two men she loves — he credits his writer Manu Bhandari. “The story was written by a woman, so it got the complexities right. This was the time when the girl was viewed as sati- savitri and this film subverts that idea because here she is in love with two men at the same time. Originally, the story was written as letters shared between two ladies. I sat down and worked out the screenplay.”
A lot in the film is left unspoken. For example, one doesn't know if Dinesh Thakur's character really loved the girl. “He does,” says Chatterjee. “It's just that he is not expressive.”
The film starred a young Amol Palekar and Vidya Sinha. “I had seen Amol on stage and had liked his face. He was working as a clerk in a bank at that time. Vidya Sinha was struggling for years in the industry when she got this break. She looked very young in the film, but she was almost 28 by then. She was married too,” he tells us about the film that offers one of the most nuanced exploration into a woman's mind.
His films like Chameli Ki Shaadi, Baaton Baaton Mein, Choti Si Baat were all set in a middle-class milieu and were narrated with ironic humour “That’s becauseI belong to the middle-class and was the only thing I knew. Also, comedy by nature appeals to me. I was called a balcony class filmmaker in those days, because most of my films had the balcony full,” tells the filmmaker who also made one of the most popular television serials, Rajini.
Chatterjee's obvious strength was his ability to pick good stories. “Even today I don't think there is a dearth of ideas but you must know how to recogonise and grab the good ones,” says the director who made a Bengali film called Trishanku a year ago — about the conflict between a mother and daughter.
Among recent films, Chatterjee mentions A Wednesday which he liked, and among the filmmakers he likes Sanjay Leela Bhasali. He doesn't see the Hindi market conducive enough to make a film himself, though he readily admits that the industry and audience are changing for the better.
All of Chattejee’s films were greatly entertaining, and studded with several useful gems of wisdom. Would he share what he believes about love, life and relationships today? “I don't think my views have changed much since then. I'm almost 80 now. I believe you are wiser when you are younger. Experience is not necessarily useful. Most people who attain something in life do so in their youth. By the time they are old, they are already established," he says. As always, Basu Chatterjee leaves us thinking and smiling.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Aamir's b'day pics and new look

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Madhuri Dixit to be on a food show

Madhuri Dixit, who has taken up a food show with chef Sanjeev Kapoor, talks about cooking and how she minds her kitchen

The gorgeous Madhuri Dixit who has been consenting to be part of many events and shows these days has just agreed to join master chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s channel, Food Food as part of their new show, Mahachallenge. The show is essentially pegged as a male-female cooking battle, with Kapoor and Madhuri helming each of their respective teams.
Madhuri who was put up at Hotel Westin looked fresh and stunning in an orange-gold sari. Beaming with confidence and frequently flashing her million dollar smile, she spoke in chaste Marathi at the request of the local press. “When I was acting, I didn’t cook too much. Not that I didn’t know how to cook, I knew a few things... but it was only after I got married and had kids that I turned to cooking in a big way,” she says.
“I hate to admit it but my husband (Shreeram Nene) cooks better than me. He makes a salad with bell pepper which is awesome. I love Maharashtrian food, my favourites are kande pohe, zunka bhakri and modak,” she tells us.
The fact that she is a doting mother to two growing up sons makes her all the more conscious about healthy and tasty cooking.

“My elder son is very fussy, the younger one is easier. It’s tough to get kids to eat. It took some time for me to know that my son likes everything sweet - which may not be healthy all the time. So then, you have to find ways around it. You have to cheat a bit - keep the food interesting and yet make sure they are eating right. If they don’t like cucumber, I tend to cut it in different shapes and put tomatoes,” she says, speaking with passion about her kids.

Madhuri intends going back to the US now, and returning back again to shoot the show in a month’s time. “I’ve been here for four months now, and I have three big fans waiting for me in the US, and they are the ones who matter the most to me,” she says.Does that mean there isn’t any film on the horizon for the dhak dhak beauty? Madhuri is tentative, “Let some good script come along...”

She’s excited about the food show in question though. “It’s about culinary skills and lifestyle and every woman sees herself balancing these two things. I’m one of them too,” she says.
The show would have her supporting the women’s team and she sportingly indulged in a mock-verbal dual with Sanjeev Kapoor. The latter spoke about his recently launched channel once again, and said it was doing very well. “It was seven years ago that I dreamt of having a channel entirely dedicated to food. At that time, people said I was mad. Why would people be interested in a 24/7 food channel, they asked? But in the last 2-3 years, things have been changing and the project started seeming viable. Food Food is already doing very well, and in fact, it’s TRPs have gone ahead of many channels in the same genre,” he says.
On Madhuri, he tells us that he needed someone with credibility and a love for food. “We needed a big personality to be associated with the channel so as to take it to the next level. Normally, all the film people I meet are scared of food. They are overly health-conscious. Thankfully, Madhuri was not like that.”
“Oh I have no such problems,” says Madhuri. “I eat what I want to and say to myself, ‘I can run a bit more on the treadmill tomorrow’. In any case, the channel and this show in particular will be promoting the idea of healthy eating,” she adds.
Food shows - that are well executed - have an excellent chance of succeeding, but only recently we saw a major dud with Akshay Kumar’s Master Chef, that Star Plus had launched with great hype and hoopla. So has Sanjeev analysed what goes into a hit show?
“I know about food and I know this will work. Yes, if I was a doing a film, I wouldn’t be sure at all,” he smiles at his implied response.
The show looks all set to begin in a month or so, and given the charismatic players at the centre, there’s not much doubt that the channel will get its much-needed visibility.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Just like Juhi

The affable Juhi Chawla was in the city on Thursday evening for a screenplay launch, and Sandhya Iyer caught up with her for a quick tete-a-tete

Looking younger by years and slimmer than ever, Juhi Chawla made for an extremely pretty picture, as she joined director Onir and co-star Sanjay Suri at Pune’s Landmark book store to release the screenplay of their 6- year old film, My Brother Nikhil, that over the years has been evoking discussions on many forums around the world, due to the sensitive issues of homosexuality and AIDS that it handles.

Coming to Juhi, we ask her how she’s managed to shed so much weight, but the cherubic faced star is in a painfully self-effacing mood and doesn’t take any credit for her lovely looks. “Hardly,” she says giving us her chirpy smile. “Maybe it’s because I’m wearing black. Everyone looks slim in it,” she says. Is the weight loss a result of the IPL planning where she’s part-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders along with Shah Rukh Khan, we joke? “No, I’m not really involved with it. The others manage it,” she says about her team that has been putting up a disappointing show the last three years.

Coming back to films, throughout her career, Juhi firmly stuck to commercial films. There wasn’t even a hint of anything arty in the work she did. But with films like Teen Deewarein, My Brother Nikhil and some others, she suddenly seemed to be patronising meaningful, hatke films? Does she see this as a natural transition for a top mainstream actress like her? “You’re right. I never did anything arty in my career. I was very happy running around trees, and banners etc did matter to me. In general too, I am a fan of regular Hindi cinema. I like films to be entertaining, matlab they have to keep me engaged. My Brother Nikhil happened because of Jhankaar Beats that I was doing with Sanjay (Suri) and Rahul Bose. I did that film because it was being produced by Pritish Nandy and his name rang a bell. Also it was such a sunny, happy film. Sanjay was the one who introduced me to Onir, and when I heard his script, I was blown away. That is how the association happened,” she tells us.

Now that Juhi has got a taste of the more sensitive, subtle cinema, she says she’s not enthused much about the purely mainstream fare. “I think I have outgrown those kind of films. Moreover, what can commercial cinema offer me? I am not ready for mother roles yet, thoda ruk jao abhi...,” she says, her humour intact.

The actress who is married to industrialist Jay Mehta and is mother to two children didn’t take a longish break at all from the industry. Unlike her contemporaries, she eased into all her roles and today appears to have kept a fine balance between family and career. “Well, I know how chaotic my life is, but if people think I am balancing everything beautifully, I am happy to appear like that,” she says. “I love my work, films are very important to me. At the same time, my family matters a lot too. Social events, get-togethers, I like all these aspects of my life.”

Among today’s actresses, the QSQT, Darr and Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke star is fond of Vidya Balan, who perhaps comes closest to her own comely personality. “She’s the only one who is pushing the boundries, so it would have to be Vidya,” she says.

Juhi’s next film, which she has also co-produced, is Onir’s film I Am where she plays a wealthy Kashmiri Pandit, who is forced to come face to face with an uncomfortable past. The film also stars Nandita Das, Sanjay Suri, Rahul Bose and Manisha Koirala. The film allowed Juhi and Manisha to connect after so many years. “Imagine! I never really knew her when we were contemporaries, but we spent a lovely time in Srinagar,” says Juhi.

We do hope to see this talented actress in several different roles, but Juhi, prompted by director Onir sitting beside her, agrees that she is perhaps in a happy, comfortable zone and doesn’t feel a strong need to push herself. Yet, as an audience who is feeling the lack of strong actresses more severely now than ever, one does hope to see more of the lovely Juhi.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tanu Weds Manu team in Pune

The team of Tanu Weds Manu were at Inox, Pune and were visibly thrilled with the positive response to the rom-com. Sandhya Iyer brings the details

2011 is seeing several surprise hits and Tanu Weds Manu is an addition to that list. The rom com is being lapped up and the film's lead actor R Madhavan, in particular, is getting unprecedented praise. The charming actor came to the city with his co-star Kangna Ranaut, director Anand Rai and Deepak Dobrayal (the actor who did a marvellous job as Madhavan's friend).

Looking slimmer than he ever has in recent times, we tell the actor how his entry on screen in Tanu Weds Manu was greeted with huge whistles - something which one sees only when an A list superstar is at the helm. Does he believe his popularity that sky-rocketed after 3 Idiots rubbed off on Tanu Weds Manu as well? The actor agrees. "The success of 3 Idiots is unparallelled and I am sure that popularity must have helped. But I also had 13B which did well. So now with Tanu Weds Manu it's been three hits in a row," he says with some pride.
Sitting next to him was Kangna Ranaut, who said she completely identified with her character in the film. "Every girl can relate to Tanu. It was my most satisfying and fulfilling roles. Tanuja is not dumb. She's a smart, intelligent outspoken girl and knows the effect she has on men."
The film is about a reticent, affable NRI groom falling for a loud, capricious small-town girl with plenty of airs. We ask Madhavan about the scene where he sees Kangna as a sleeping bride-to-be and agrees to marry her. It is testimony to the actor's talent that one buys a somewhat absurd situation like this, but was it just physical attraction that makes him fall in love so instantly? We put the question to the director, but Madhavan is eager to field this one. "I'll answer it, because it is my interpretation. Every love story begins with looks. You probably cannot find someone ugly and yet fall in love immediately. Looks do matter. The other thing is that, even in real life, when I was of marriagable age, I thought it looked quite unmanly to go and see a girl and then call in saying you don't want to go ahead. I think that same feeling is with Manu. He knows his parents have approved the family, so he's made up his mind to marry without too much fuss. He doesn't fall in love with Tanu instantly, but he is charmed by the fact that a girl can be so cool so as to sleep when a guy is coming to see her. He falls in love much later," Madhavan explains.
The actor has a relatively low-key role in the film, but Madhavan made it extremely memorable. Says the actor about his part, "No other hero would have agreed to do the role after reading the script. There are no turning points for him. He hardly talks in the film. It's not author-backed at all. But I'm glad it worked," he says. Director Anand Rai agrees, "Yes, his role isn't author-backed, but it is director-backed. Manu is extremely strong in his thoughts - once he decides, he decides."
There have been points of criticism against the film, where people have found it somewhat strange for Madhavan to stick on in such a harrowing relationship. The director has no qualms joining the critics' chorus. "I agree with them, the film is not flawless at all. But I tried to make the characters lovable. You fall in love with them, so you forgive many things," he says.
There has been talk about a sequel to Tanu Weds Manu. The team is toying with the idea after the media presumed it themselves. "If you ask me whether I had thought of a sequel, then the answer is no. We're hearing it for the last ten days. I might consider it, but nothing as of now," says Rai.
Madhavan is less enthused. "How do you make a sequel to a love story? It has a beginning and an end. Sequels are made for films like Dhoom and Krrish. But let's see if something works out," he says.
The film's leading lady too is happy that she got to do a different role after playing a series of on-the-edge characters. " I am a happy person by nature. And I was a bit tired to do the on the edge roles. I'm thrilled this happened," she says.