Why did you decide to turn Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania into a franchise?
It wasn’t planned. I wrote Badrinath Ki Dulhania as an independent love story. When I showed it to Karan Johar (producer), he pointed out that it’s different from Humpty… but also similar in that it’s a love story about the dynamics between two very different people, followed by conflict.
He didn’t want a new title but wanted to do something interesting to connect it with Humpty. And he liked the name of the lead character, Badrinath Bansal. So he suggested we call my new film Badrinath Ki Dulhania. Initially, I didn’t like the idea but I woke up the next day excited by it because there is no such existing franchise.
In Varun Dhawan’s Badrinath, his clothes, mannerisms, you seem to have aptly depicted the small-town youth.
When I was developing the character of Badrinath and his friend Somdev, who is also an integral part of the film, I wanted to depict the influence of metro cities on people from small towns. Most cities and towns in India have a fixation with Bollywood and cricket.
Badrinath is a Virat Kohli fan. And Somdev is an MS Dhoni fan, not how Dhoni is today but his initial days when he had long hair. We don’t spell this out but it becomes obvious. And Kohli is hugely popular even in metro cities, where every other guy looks like him; heck, even I look like a cheap spin-off of Kohli at the moment.
How did you arrive at your characters?
I am a small-town boy, I grew up in Nashik. I know people like Badri and Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt). What’s common to a small-town boy and a boy from a metro is emotions and what sets them apart is exposure. Seeing a foreign country online or on television can give you a sense of the place but not orient you to it. Similarly, dressing up in “modern” clothes may not make you progressive.
It’s a struggle that even youngsters in urban spaces are facing today, but in a small town this confusion can be profound. I wanted to capture that through these characters. Vaidehi provides the perfect foil for Badri. The story is about an independent, thinking woman and a boy with no exposure and filter, and if they will ever become equals.
Hailing from Nashik, why did you base the characters in Jhansi and Kota?
These cities aren’t mere backdrops in the film but also characters. The way the story unfolds, their hometowns add to
Part of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’s success is its modern take on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ).
When I watched DDLJ at the age of 13, I found the film magical, it was witty, entertaining and emotional at the same time. It made me decide that if I did not become an athlete, then I’d take up filmmaking. In 2012, I was writing a script to pitch to Johar. It was a con film, more on the lines of Bonnie and Clyde. My characters were called Humpty and Kavya.
By the interval point, I realised what I wrote was utter crap. But it had some nice scenes and the characters were lovable. So, for fun, I set them up in the DDLJ story in the present time and followed their progression. It came out fun and the twist was organic because Humpty and Kavya belong to the 21st century, they are bound to behave differently.
What also made it different was that you did not make “the other guy” a loser.
It’s easy to run the other guy down, but if that were to happen in the film, the hero’s journey would have become too simple. He isn’t trying to convince Kavya’s dad that he is better because he isn’t. He is trying to prove to him that Kavya and he can be a good, happy couple.
His competition cannot be a loser. He will be a guy Humpty cannot beat in terms of the conventional definition of a ‘good guy’, in that he doesn’t smoke or drink, is stable and sensible. It’s just that Humpty and Kavya have a better chemistry. Perhaps while writing the story I was also influenced by my own experience when everyone around me seemed to question why I had chosen to become a filmmaker when I could have taken a conventional route and joined my family business.