Genres don't excite me, stories do — Sujoy Ghosh
In 2012, Sujoy Ghosh’s first foray into the thriller space, Kahaani, released. It was a huge hit and the filmmaker hasn’t strayed away from the genre since. His Friday film Badla, starring Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan, is a murder mystery. An adaptation of the 2016 Spanish film The Invisible Guest, Badla is produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. t2 recently spoke with Sujoy in the office of the film’s producers in Khar, Mumbai. Over a cup of hot chocolate, the director revealed why he was hesitant to make this film and his reason for setting it outside India.
I believe it was Taapsee who was very keen that you direct this film.
Taapsee was making my life miserable! She kept saying, ‘Do it, do it’. I honestly didn’t think I could better the film, as a director. How do I better something that’s already amazing? That’s why, initially, I was a little hesitant about even reading the adaptation. Taapsee was probably the most convinced about this than all of us put together, and she kept telling me that I must read it and I kept putting it off. Finally when I read it, I thought it was very interesting, the way they’ve approached it. When the film came to me, the script was almost perfect.
When did Amitabh Bachchan come on board?
When I started reading it, I thought Sir would be just the perfect person to counter it. That’s how it happened, and if he’s in a film, which idiot would say no to directing it?
In Badla, the gender of the protagonist is flipped from the original. This happened before you came on board?
Yeah, and I think what they did was very commendable. That’s actually what attracted me — it’s where I felt I could add my two bits to the storytelling, the characters, in the world, and that got me excited. That flip was my first reason to be a part of this film. Plus, I’ve wanted to work with Pannu for a long, long time.
This film is different in a few ways for you. It’s not a story that’s come from you. When you were making it, did it play at the back of your mind?
It does. As a director, my job description is to tell a story. So, if you give me a book, I can tell a story. But if you give me a story that’s already been told, it just makes my life that much more difficult and challenging. I don’t know what to do, because someone’s already told the story in a manner that’s amazing. As a director you are tempted to play with that world and with the characters to make the adaptation a little more yours. Also, it’s important to make the film palatable to ‘my audience’. They shouldn’t feel like it’s a world they don’t identify with, or that it’s a great world for a Spanish audience, but why am I watching it? Those are the little things that I brought to the table.
Badla is set in Glasgow, which again for you is slightly different just in terms of milieu…
Yes, and I needed to create that world, where my characters are a little self-sufficient and have to do everything on their own, which we don’t get in India — everything from taking the garbage out to washing the dishes. I needed everyone to be isolated in their own little world, and that’s how that society is. There’s much less involvement in each others’ lives. Things are a little more cut and dry, whereas here doors are always open. You may hardly see your neighbours there; that’s the world I wanted, and a world I understand a little.
Did you miss the colour and the warmth?
I wanted a cold film, that’s why you see a lot of blue. I needed that for this film. Each film comes with their own demands, and somewhere one needs to give in to those demands. This one demanded a little cold, a little grey. So be it.
It’s been about nine years since you first worked with Mr Bachchan (in Aladin). Are you still a fanboy or has that equation changed?
I still am a huge fan but obviously the equation has changed. You have to be honest to the film. You are doing him a disservice if you still remain a fanboy on the set. He’s also expecting a film from me. So, I can’t just go in doe-eyed and let him do what he wants; that’s not fair to me, that’s not fair to him, and that’s not fair to the film.
You started out making fairly lighthearted films like Jhankaar Beats, but you seem to have found your niche with thrillers...
I don’t know why people think this. The film I wanted to make with Taapsee initially wasn’t a thriller. I think it’s more of a coincidence that after Kahaani, I immediately did Ahalya which was thriller-like, and now I’m doing Badla. I don’t think I’ve found a niche, I’d be horrified if I have. Genres don’t excite me; stories do.
What’s next for you?
I’ve finished shooting a show for Netflix. What I make next depends on Badla. If I pass, I’ll do another film. If I fail, then I’ll have to think. Every Friday is a challenge, every Friday is an exam, every Friday makes you so nervous.
The nerves still kick in, after all these years?!
And how! It gets worse.