Monday, 30th October 2017

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Tushar Hiranandani: Taking inspiration from ‘Mother India’

The ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ maker on his directorial debut

  • Published 25.10.19, 6:47 PM
  • Updated 26.10.19, 4:14 PM
  • 6 mins read
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Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar in ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ Source: The movie

Tushar Hiranandani first heard about the sharpshooters Prakashi and Chandro Tomar about five years ago. “I saw them on Aamir Khan’s show (Satyamev Jayate). I had tears in my eyes listening to their story,” he says. Tushar decided that he wanted to bring their life to screen and make his directorial debut with the film. That’s how he started working on Saand Ki Aankh. During a recent interview at Sun ’n’ Sand Hotel in Juhu in Mumbai, The Telegraph sat down with the director to talk about his casting woes and directing filmmaker Prakash Jha.

Was it easy to convince Prakashi and Chandro Tomar that you wanted to make a film on their lives?

They were very excited that we’re making a film on them. By the time I wanted to make the film, they were already used to the media. 

Your troubles started when you were trying to cast for the film?

Yeah, this is the kind of movie that requires actresses who were ready to put in a lot of work. And there’s a lot of risk — you either make it or break it with a film like this. There’s no middle path. So, I understand why people said ‘no’ to me. I was just happy to get the two most excited people to do this film. When I narrated the film to Taapsee and Bhumi, both these girls were excited and that’s what mattered to me. 

It’s taken you five years to get this film to theatres. What was the journey like?

I wanted to spend as much time on writing before I started. We took two years to write the script. As I said, it’s not a conventional film. I didn’t want to make it a dark film, I wanted to make it like a proper entertaining and inspirational film.

Casting took another two years, and once both of them were cast, we started. Actors earlier would juggle between films, they don’t do that any more. They finish a film and then start on the next, which is a very good process because then they’re completely into that film. Obviously, they both had a lot of work prior to that — so I had to wait for combination dates from both of them. That’s how it took me five years in all. In the end, it’s all worth it and doesn’t feel like five years for me. I still remember that first day watching them on Satyamev Jayate.

There has been some criticism about casting young actresses to play much older characters. How do you respond to that?

It’s a very simple story. My favourite film is Mother India and I’ve paid a tribute to that film. There’s even a scene where Mother India is playing in the film. In that film as well, Nargis was at the prime of her career and she was young but she played an older woman. Another film I really like is Mere Apne which has Meena Kumari. In that film, too, it’s the journey of a woman who grows old. In my film as well, they are in their 60s but there’s a journey — they’re young, they get married and then they grow old. I’m being both criticised and applauded for my choice. These girls also knew that the most challenging part of the film was to make young people old. We knew we’d get flak and get praised as well, but we have to weigh what we need and it’s much more than the flak.

What was the casting process like?

I went to everybody and they had their own reasons for saying ‘no’. Interestingly, no one said ‘no’ to the script. They all liked the script but then they weighed the pros and cons from their own perspective. I never really asked any of them for their reasons for refusing the film.

With Taapsee it was instant —she heard it and said she’s doing it. When I saw her excitement, I wanted someone like her who would immediately say ‘yes’... I wanted someone who was as excited about the film as we were. And this finally happened with Bhumi. We went to Bhumi because of the kinds of films she was doing and we liked the combination of her and Taapsee —they would look quite similar to Chandro and Prakashi, where one of them is taller than the other. And when I saw the way she reacted immediately saying she’s on, it all fitted completely for me. 

Taapsee told The Telegraph that it wasn’t decided which of the two sisters she would play when she said ‘yes’...

Yeah, initially because there were a lot of things going on. But when we got Bhumi in place, we knew exactly who would play whom. It wasn’t just their physicality, it was also their characters. Bhumi really thinks and talks, while Taapsee is very spontaneous and says what comes to her mind. That’s exactly Chandro and Prakashi. Prakashi is very straightforward, has anger while Chandro judges situations and plans. 

What kind of prep did you want from your actors before the film?

We had body language training... we had decided that Bhumi would walk in a certain way while Taapsee would walk in another. They had to look different, I didn’t want them to ever look the same. No two people can look the same just because they’re old.

Then we had language training, trained them to shoot and the make-up test, which went on for a while. Then we had dialect training, so there was a lot and it took 45-50 days. But they knew this film was special for them. Very rarely do you get roles like this where the entire film is about them and depends on them. That’s the weight they carry on their shoulders.

You also got to direct Prakash Jha in the film!

Yeah, that was great. Gautam Kishanchandani, my casting director, and I wanted to get some newness to the film through the cast — people who look real. My wife (Nidhi) had just seen Jai Gangaajal and said he’s very good in some scenes and I watched it.

So, we approached him and when he said ‘yes’, I had tears in my eyes. Anurag (Kashyap, the film’s creative producer) asked me why I was crying, and I told Prakash sir the first film I saw in a theatre was his Hip Hip Hurray. I was so honoured to be directing him in this film.

What was it like to have someone like Anurag as a creative force behind you?

He is the best person to have as a producer. I can say that easily, for both me and my wife. He just let us fly with this one. When he read the script, he said it was phenomenal and suggested some minor changes, which were all valid points. He also gave me a great scene, which he wrote himself.

It took five years to make this film, so I was a little paranoid. When he came for the first day of shoot, I was a little hyper and shouting around and he calmed me down and said he didn’t need to be there and never came back again. He let me do my thing and let my wife handle everything as producer. It was just her and one more lady handling a set of 500-600 people. It was beautiful that he let us have that experience firsthand — it’s the only way one learns.

How did you end up shooting the film in the village where the Tomars live?

When I met these ladies for the first time with my wife and the writers, it was like finding a treasure. We felt that the crew needed to experience that same kind of awe we felt and it could only happen if we went there, the ladies couldn’t come to us. Most of the houses in the village are the same with similar structures and we were lucky to find a dilapidated one where nobody had stayed for the past 30-40 years. We took that over and made it into our house, and the dadis were just next door. They would keep coming over to our set and the whole unit realised what we were doing — I wanted everyone to feel the same way I felt. 

You have written films like Main Tera Hero and Ek Villain and also developed content for Balaji Telefilms. Did you always want to direct?

There were many other films that I was going to direct. Somewhere down the line, just as I was about to start, I always got cold feet. I would back off at the last minute and producers began hating me for that. I just didn’t feel it all those times but this one took five years, and not one day did I feel that way.

It was the story that was the difference. I knew that it would be special for anyone who’s a part of it. Everyone had the creative freedom to do what they do best, it’s just how I work. And when they believe it’s their film as well, you get the best out of them.