Sridevi in English Vinglish
Debutante filmmaker Gauri Shinde talks about the magic of Sridevi, directing Amitabh Bachchan and being R. Balki’s (director of Cheeni Kum and Paa) wife. English Vinglish releases on Friday.
There are a lot of expectations from Sridevi’s comeback film. Are you feeling the pressure?
I am very consciously not thinking about it. But every time I am asked this question, I get scared for a few minutes (laughs). It’s not like I cast her because I wanted to be the one to direct her in her comeback film. I didn’t even know that she has refused other people. I am just lucky that she wanted to be a part of English Vinglish.
You’ve made over 75 ad films and two short films. Was the goal always to graduate to feature films?
By the time I finished my mass communication course in college, I knew that I wanted to be in films, regardless of the format. Advertising just happened first and I have been directing ads for some time now. I was just waiting for that one great idea to make a film. It took me a while to write the script.
And, that ‘great idea’ came from your mother’s life.
Yes, that’s where the idea originated. My mom always struggled with English. She is a housewife and an entrepreneur with a very successful spice business. But she always felt under- confident when it came to speaking in English or being around people who did. She always felt that she could have done so much more with her life if she knew the language. When I look back, I realise that there was no reason for her to feel inferior and to a large extent we, as her family, were also responsible for her complex. We used to make fun if she couldn’t pronounce words right or if she got her tenses mixed up. It was cruel.
Did you have an actress in mind when you were writing the film?
Not really. I think it is limiting to write for a particular actor. I only wanted to do justice to the protagonist and the story. I am just lucky to have found an actress who fit into the movie so beautifully.
How did you manage to convince Sridevi to end her 14-year-long sabbatical?
Believe me, it wasn’t tough at all. Balki mentioned the story to Sri and Boney (Kapoor) over a cup of tea one day. Sri spoke with me and asked if I could narrate the script to her. I couldn’t believe my luck. So I did, she loved it and the rest is history.
What was it like to direct Sridevi?
It was fantastic. When you see the film, it won’t feel like she’s been away from acting all these years. She is a great artiste. She’s taken the character to another level. One would imagine that she would be a diva but I didn’t even get a glimpse of that. We were on the same page throughout the film whether it was about the colour of her nails or her lines (laughs).... I am completely spoilt in my first film by her calibre as a human being and an actress. I want to work with her for the rest of my life!
Filmmaking has undergone some changes while Sridevi was on a sabbatical. How did she adjust?
When the camera rolled the first day, it was magic. Nothing has changed that much that she would have been out of depth. But she did tell me later that this was the first full script that she had ever received before filming. Also, I wanted her to do some workshops with the rest of the cast before we started shooting. Obviously, there was no concept of workshops during her days.
In your debut film, you’ve directed not one but two legends. Amitabh Bachchan has a cameo in the film...
It’s a big honour to direct him. He was an absolute dream to work with. He is so professional. And, seeing Sri and him in the same frame was a dream come true.
You had the advantage of having Balki as a sounding board though the film.
Of course. Balki has been a very supportive husband. I wouldn’t have expected any less from him. I am also lucky to have had an exceptional team to work with.
There is a perception that you wouldn’t have been able to make this film if not for Balki.
I totally agree. But I am his wife and I had an idea that excited people, so should I not take advantage of that?
What happens next?
A month of sleep after English Vinglish releases (laughs).
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