When Dil Chahta Hai, directed by Farhan Akhtar, released in 2001, the multiplexes hadn’t arrived yet. The Hindi movie universe was still ruled by mass entertainers, and Saket Chaudhury was yet to direct his first film. Akhtar’s seminal film proved to be a major catalyst for Chaudhary, who was still figuring out a way to make his kind of films within the conventional contours of Bollywood. Encouraged to tell “urban, youth-centric stories that emerge from our milieu”, Chaudhury created and directed a television show for Star One about the lives of four friends, a homage of sorts, called Dil Kya Chahta Hai. But more importantly, Dil Chahta Hai pushed him into film direction — Pyaar Ke Side Effects (PKSE) launched his directorial career successfully in 2006.
So, it is fitting that, for his latest film, Shaadi Ke Side Effects (SKSE), Chaudhary has cast Akhtar in the lead role. “It is just a series of happy coincidences,” says Chaudhury with laugh. The film releases today.
It won’t be wrong to liken his cinema to Akhtar’s — a middle-of-the-road approach between tasteful filmmaking and commercial cinema. “Films are like a conversation you have with the audience. In India, you have to tell stories in a popular narrative style. Putting lip-synced song sequences doesn’t come naturally to me, but I weave it in,” says the 39-year-old writer-director, who began his career in showbiz as a writer for Movers and Shakers, a popular comic talk show in the late ’90s.
His first stint in the movies was writing the script of the epic historical drama Asoka (2001).
Interested in “making movies on modern ideas and concerns”, Chaudhary has centred both his films around the dynamics of a couple’s relationship. While PKSE was a refreshingly humorous take on the man-woman relationship that emerged from “commitment phobia of this generation”, SKSE, its sequel, touches upon the next phase in the life of that relationship — marriage followed by children. “It is the first time you stop caring about yourself; the child’s needs are all-absorbing. You are not at the centre of things anymore and there is a big shift in lifestyle,” he says.
Speaking about modern takes on relationships in movies, Chaudhary names filmmakers who have been hugely influential in the genre. “I like contemporary comedies such as Woody Allen’s. He’s made smart, humorous movies on relationships, such as Manhattan and Annie Hall. In Hindi, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s urban comic dramas are a favourite,” he says, “They are like great pop songs. They need skills and artistry.”
Not being married wasn’t a problem for Chaudhary; just observing friends and reading books sufficed. “A couple, who are my friends, was convinced that I had taken a particular scene — that appears in the trailers — from their lives, whereas I had just imagined it,” says the filmmaker, who dabbled in advertising before turning to movies.
While he admits that the gender dynamics in the film is narrated from a male point of view, he ends the story in a way that conveys how misplaced a singular viewpoint can be. “Both people change over time, and you have to constantly adjust with each other,” says Chaudhary, whose next is a film for Saif Ali Khan’s home production.