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David: star and style

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By Neil Nitin Mukesh on signing David after most of it had been shot and wanting to do a ‘good’ 100-crore film
  • Published 31.01.13

Bejoy Nambiar’s three-in-one David has Neil Nitin Mukesh slipping into the shoes of a London gangster of the ’70s. t2 caught up with the soft-spoken actor for a chat on his Friday release and his forthcoming films.

You apparently signed David after most of the film had already been shot?

I was constantly hearing news in the market that I am doing David… I am doing David. And I was very surprised at this kind of talk because not only had I not been approached for the film, I had not even met Bejoy! It so happened that after a few days I got a call from Bejoy asking me if I was interested in doing the part. This was after a few actors had been approached and the shoot had already started. I was a little apprehensive whether it was just a guest appearance. But when Bejoy narrated the film and my part to me, I was like: ‘Oh my god, this is going to be a lovely film!’

Within five minutes of the narration, I told him that I was doing the film. Then he told me that there was just one glitch and that my portion would be shot in black-and-white. I was like: ‘Dude, you think that’s a glitch?! That’s one reason why I want to do the film even more now’. At a time when everyone is only wanting to pump colours into their films even when it isn’t required, here was someone who was looking to do the opposite. I was hooked. And let me tell you that taking all the colours off my story has actually added so much more colour and depth and scale.

What is it about your character that appealed to you?

His dual personality. Here was this hardcore, extremely violent gangster and on the other hand, my director wanted me to show the emotional and romantic side to him too. It was very challenging… this shifting of gears and constant change of personality.

Did you have a choice to play any of the other two Davids?

I wasn’t given a choice because Vikram and Vinay’s (Virmani) portions had already been shot even before I was signed on! To be honest, if I am given a choice, even today I would love to play the gangster. Even Vinay and Vikram keep telling me that they would have loved to play my role. But if you are really asking me, then I probably would have also liked to play the fisherman’s role (played by Vikram). On second thoughts, I could actually play all three! (Laughs).

Did you do any research for your character?

I would be lying if I said I did any kind of research. David’s character doesn’t need research; what it needs is a lot of experience of struggle in life and I believe that I have seen that kind of struggle in my life. Plus, I observe a lot. It’s my personal take on this character and how I would be if I were in the situations that he is faced with.

Was it tough filming the intimate scenes with Monica Dogra? She told us how you had helped her through it....

The intimate scenes are not for titillation, but carry the drama forward. They have been shot very aesthetically. Monica is a lady and on my set, I have to have women respected, no two ways about that. When you do scenes of such close proximity with a co-actor whom you don’t know at all, then it becomes necessary to break the ice beforehand and that’s what we did.

There is nothing in David that will make a family hesitate to watch it together, the intimate scenes included, because they have been done so beautifully. When I see those scenes, I have moist eyes because they capture such a beautiful moment.

How was it working with Bejoy Nambiar?

Bejoy came in with the baggage of being this hardcore and intense director and it kind of intimidated me. I was worried what the atmosphere on set was going to be like and whether he would understand my wacky sense of humour (laughs). When I went on set, I just fell in love with the guy! Here is this man who makes such intense cinema, but he’s so chilled-out and relaxed. Our sense of humour is similar and he’s very good with his actors. David’s a film that everyone associated with is extremely proud of.

After David this Friday, you have 3G in March and Shortcut Romeo in April. Are you worried of overkill?

I knew all along what the schedule of my releases would be. I am definitely very excited because I don’t think anyone has really had three releases in consecutive months. Whether it is one release in two years or three films in three months, I always do cinema that I am attracted to. This will be a year in which I really liked a couple of films that I wanted to be a part of. I have been shooting non-stop around the world for them.

They are completely different genres… one (David) is a drama… one (3G) is horror and then one (Shortcut Romeo) is an action thriller. They cater to different audiences. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it when I was strategising the release dates, but I am not worried about overkill, for sure.

You started off with so much promise in Johnny Gaddaar, but your subsequent choice of films hasn’t really brought you dividends career-wise…

I will always do films that make a place in my heart… that strike a chord within me the moment I hear the script. Sometimes those choices have worked and sometimes they haven’t. But that’s true about everything in life, isn’t it? At the same time, I constantly look to experiment with genres and that’s what I’ve done with the three films due for release. I will never be in a film that just requires me to sleepwalk. Even in a horror film like 3G, there’s enough scope for performance.

A barometer for success in Bollywood is now the 100-crore club….

I don’t understand this 100-crore club thing at all and believe me, it isn’t a case of sour grapes because none of my films belong to that club. But honestly, tell me, do you believe that all those films that have made 100 crore are necessarily good films? I would pick just Barfi! as a good film that also made 100 crore. I want to do a 100-crore film that makes people say that it was also a good film.

Priyanka Roy

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David decoded by Stylist Ameira Punvan


Born in Lucknow and based in Mumbai, Ameira Punvani, has an enviable CV with the likes of Mani Ratnam and Wong Kar-wai on it. And now with Bejoy Nambiar’s David up for release, the bubbly stylist has her fingers crossed for February 1. She decodes for t2 the three eras that the thriller explores…

The ’70s

Neil Nitin Mukesh: Is David and he plays a gangster, living in London. He has been brought up in a Muslim household, but he is not really a Muslim. In a period film, a lot depends on the costumes. I actually did a lot of research. I went through a lot of albums. My parents were married in 1975. That was a reference point. I was in the NIFT (Delhi) library for three-four days. They have archives of magazines. I went through them and got printouts. I wanted to know what real India was wearing then. I saw a lot of Amitabh Bachchan films because Neil’s David has an angry young man feel....

My father wore a three-piece suit at his wedding with a broad tie. In one of the scenes, I have given Neil a three-piece suit and a tie and it looked amazing.

Neil really gets into his character. You will see him with a handlebar moustache, which is really thick. It was a bit of a risk, but Neil was willing to experiment.

We haven’t used any crazy, psychedelic prints for this David, which kind of becomes a caricature. I used stripes. The kind of shirts that I have given him have long, pointed collars. Some of them had dog collars — a long collar but rounded at the edges. We made him leather jackets, bell-bottoms with 26-inch flare. The shirts were U-cut. We used matte buttons.

He is very intense... somebody who would just pull out a shirt and wear with neutral pants and a jacket. A character like him would not have more than 12 shirts or four-five trousers. Not so flamboyant. This David was the most fun to dress because I love doing period costumes.

Monica Dogra: To transform her into a Muslim character was a challenge. But she carried it off beautifully. She is wearing a gharara in the film and for the design, I actually borrowed a gharara from one of my aunts because I wanted it to be authentic.

Milind Soman: He doesn’t have many lines, but when he walks in, in that Pathan suit, he looks so good!

Sarika: She is a qawwali singer. In Dumadum mast kalandar, she looks so stunning in that gharara and that kurti! I used a shimmer net dupatta for her. I wanted to give her a gharara in chata patti, a Lucknowi work. That kind of work takes six months to do! I actually got a little bit of a graphic design so that we could make it look like chata patti. Her gharara had a checked brocade. She doesn’t wear too much make-up and has a simple style. So, when she saw this shiny costume that I had made for her, she was like, “Oh, my god! How will I look in this?!” She loved the final look!

Ameira’s Wong Kar-wai moment

The guitar bag

It happened at the end of 2011, for a short film for Chivas Regal (Deja Vu), set in Jodhpur. The scale was really grand. I was the costume designer from India. After the conversation ended, I asked them again that, “Did you say Wong Kar-wai?!” It was just so shocking. He has a really good sense of humour. When he was framing, you couldn’t understand what he was doing, but when you saw it on the monitor, it was nothing short of magic.

The ’90s

Vinay Virmani: David comes from a chawl in Bombay and he wants to be a musician. I actually gave him torn jeans, which I remember my sister (Ayesha Punvani) in the ’90s used to keep wearing... cut-up with slightly loose T-shirts. She also used to wear this locket which had a peace symbol. I went hunting for this peace symbol because David in the ’90s had to have this!

In school, we used to take off our cardigans and tie it around the waist. I wanted to do that too. He is sometimes shown tying his shirt around his waist.

His guitar bag has a story of its own. We were told a day before that it was required. And we had to make it. It is a leather bag. Bejoy wanted it to look at least five or seven years old... rugged and worn out. My assistant drove his car over and over again on the bag because we had to age it! Bejoy was still not happy with it. So, we took coconut oil and poured it over the bag, sand-papered it and then put talcum powder on it. The entire set had a strange smell!

Lara Dutta: She is playing a leading lady in the ’90s story. It is not a regular romantic track. This was Lara’s first film after her baby. Her look is all about simple churidar kurtas and cotton saris, which you usually don’t associate her with.


Spanish senorita sketch for tabu

Vikram: David lives in a fishing village in Goa. And he is not your run-of-the-mill guy. He has little bit of a twisted mind. You never think of a character like that! He plays a fisherman and I have given him ganjees and jeans.... I also gave him a pair of Wayfarers which he carried off really well.

Tabu: It was a dream come true to work with Tabu. There is such an aura about her. She was willing to experiment. I imagined her as a Spanish senorita, but I had to keep in mind what a character like Tabu would have access to. They live in a poor fishing village. So, I bought checked shirts and flowy skirts with lace trimmings on it for her. In one of the scenes she is wearing a gown. She looks beautiful.... You won’t believe it, but she is such a good mimic!

Isha Sharvani: She plays a person with deafness. I had to keep her look simple. I have used a lot of white for her. Very simple dresses.

Ameira’s top two

Guru: Doing Guru was like putting myself through a crash course in period costumes. Working with someone like Mani Ratnam is a big deal. He himself is so knowledgeable that you have to have your research a 100 per cent correct. In Barson re, the lehngas had antique work and it was all made in my workshop.

Badmaash Company: I dressed Shahid Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Vir Das and Meiyang Chang. Shahid is wearing high-waisted jeans, Wayfarers, and Anushka is wearing neon. We gave her Sridevi-Madhuri kind of hair, big and curly.