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‘For me, they’re like a single film’

How do you feel about the fact that your second film Game is releasing (on April 1) before your first film Delhi Belly?

From my side, I have put in equal effort in both the films. So which one releases first doesn’t really matter. The prime thing for me is that both the films are being done in the best way possible and marketed in the best way possible. As long as both get a good release, I do not have a problem.

But you can’t make your first film twice. Didn’t you make Delhi Belly keeping in mind that it would unleash Abhinay Deo on the world?

In fact, I had signed my first film with Excel Entertainment (Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s company that has produced Game) and it was a different script. But that got stuck and in the meantime, Delhi Belly came along. And then Game came along. So there was a point when I was working on three scripts at the same time. I kind of lost track of which was my first film. I really did not have my dreams attached to one particular film.

We have all grown up watching your father Ramesh Deo do those delightful cameos in films like Anand and Zameer. Didn’t you ever want to become an actor?

I never wanted to act, actually. I was always very clear that I wanted to be a storyteller. Direction is a subset of that. I didn’t want to be just a performer in the film. I wanted to be that person who decides how to tell the story.

How did you get into advertisements?

After my architecture (degree), I joined advertising. It was my first love, really. I enjoyed doing ads and never thought that ads were like a stepping stone to the bigger picture — feature films. I put in everything into a 30-seconder. I just knew that if I ever have an urge to make a full-length film I will make it.

From 30 seconds to two hours, how was this transition like?

It wasn’t very easy. Once I knew how I wanted to look at feature films, things fell into place. I decided to look at feature films like I look at commercials. In both, you are telling a story and building characters. In one you are doing it in a shorter duration and in the other one you have more time. So a film to me became like a 100 ads put together. There were lessons learnt, of course. In a feature you have the gift of time. You don’t have to hasten yourself. You can decide to make a point slower, faster or drag it through.

And what did you bring to feature filmmaking from the world of ads?

Detailing. In ads since you are dealing with 30 seconds, every second gets detailed and that’s something I tried to bring into films. Every second I have tried to make it more layered... in both my films.

If you always wanted to tell stories, why didn’t you write the scripts of your films yourself?

It doesn’t matter that neither Game nor Delhi Belly has been written by me. This is another thing I’ve brought over from advertising, where you are always directing someone else’s idea. Even worldwide, very, very few filmmakers write their own scripts. Most of them are professional writers and professional directors doing their bit. And that’s how it should be. But in our country, because of a dearth of writers, all directors end up having to write their scripts rather than wanting to write their scripts. For Game, Althea Kaushal had come to Excel with her script. At that time, I was already working with Excel on one of my own scripts. But there was some trouble over my script, and the Excel boys gave me the Game script, which I found quite exciting.

When ad filmmakers become feature directors, often style takes over substance. Any worries on that front with Game?

The USP of every film should first be the story, then the way it is told and then by whom it’s told. Script should be the main hero of the film and that’s the case with Game... there are lots of twists and turns and there is an element of thrill. Second is the way I have told the story... it’s fast and pacy and there’s really no time to think. One is always on the edge of the seat and every 15 minutes something unexpected happens. Finally, the ensemble cast of Game, which gives the director’s vision a shape.

Tell us about your experience of handling this ensemble cast that includes stars like Abhishek Bachchan.

It was outstanding, man! I was told that handling stars would be difficult but I soon realised that those were nonsense stories. It all boils down to the fact that if the director knows what he is doing, the stars won’t trouble him. For me, working with stars made the work smoother.

Game and Delhi Belly come across as such different films — one a glossy Bolly thriller and the other a niche comedy in English. Did you approach them differently as a director?

Not really. In fact, the most exciting thing for me was that the two films were so diametrically different from one another. The sensibilities, of course, were very different, too. I had to switch gears all the time. But again, advertising came handy here. I have done over 450 commercials. And one of my USPs has always been that I have never done two stylish commercials in a row. I have always mixed them up and even in films, I have been able to do something so different in my first two projects.

But will there be a director’s signature in the two movies?

I hope so (laughs). From my perspective, I have managed to do justice to both the stories. They look very different. So much so that I sometimes ask myself whether the same guy made both the films! That too three months apart. But if you knew me, you would see me in both the films.

There was some talk of Aamir Khan actually scrapping Delhi Belly. Given how his earlier directors like Amol Gupte and Anusha Rizvi cried foul, how was your experience with Aamir the producer?

I personally feel that Aamir Khan is a director’s dream producer. I have obviously not been part of his other projects but I find it extremely difficult to believe how these things are said about him. It’s not that I am related to him and he needs to be better with me than with the others. He is one of the most professional people I have met. What is the mark of a good producer? For me he’s someone who doesn’t hold anything back creatively or financially towards the film and gives ample space and room to his directors and creative teams. He also makes sure that the film releases in the best way possible. And that’s what he has been doing with Delhi Belly.

Is it true that during post-production he doesn’t allow the director to be around?

Not at all. He has always been accused of being an interfering man. First of all, he wasn’t on the sets of Delhi Belly for even a day. In the post-production, he was there. But what can be better for a film if your producer — who is also an accomplished actor and director — is present in the edit room? Someone who comes in with you as a partner in the creative process only to take the film to a better level — only when there is a scope to do it. I think all this nonsense about him has been spoken for too long.

If one were to put a gun to your head and ask you to choose between Game and Delhi Belly, which one would it be?

Honestly, I have been in the most confusing of states. There is one film which I signed first, one which I shot first and one which is releasing first. So it has been a simultaneous effort from my side; the lines have blurred completely. For me, they’re like a single film. I used to shoot for one and go to edit the other, I used to mix one and go for the song of the other. I am not a diplomatic person at all... just that I can’t differentiate between them anymore.

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