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Director-producer Maneesh Sharma on growing up on a Bollywood diet, educating himself on filmmaking and his long wait to make the thriller of his life.
You have been toying with the idea of directing Fan for a long time. When did you first pitch it to Shah Rukh Khan?
It so happens I was not the first one to tell him about it. When Adi (Aditya Chopra, chairman of Yash Raj Films) was meeting Shah Rukh for Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), he told him about Fan as well and they were figuring out his dates. Shah Rukh was wrapping up Ra.One at that time. After hearing the story of Fan, he said he would do both the films and asked Adi to decide which one he wanted to make first. So, it was about matching our schedules — Shah Rukh had to finish Jab Tak… and I had to wrap up Shuddh Desi Romance (2013). I would not have made the film had he not agreed. Or, I would have taken 10 years to deal with the fact and then thought of what to do with the story.
When you had conceptualised Fan, did you imagine using VFX and prosthetics so extensively?
On paper, it was mentioned that the ‘fan’ would be a young boy played by Shah Rukh. We all knew we would need the support of VFX and make-up to achieve that. We had no idea how difficult it was going to be. After a lot of research and trials, we arrived at what we now call ‘the look of Gaurav’. Aryan, the superstar Gaurav is obsessed with, was the result of a more organic process — the director and actor discussing the character and the pitch of performance.
Gaurav was physically draining — three-and-a-half hours of make-up and then shooting with an actor with 32 VFX markers on his face required for the post-production work. What we were seeing on the monitor during the shoot was not going to be there eventually. I had to say okay to a take imagining how it would look like after four months of post-production.
Before Fan, you have directed rom-coms such as Band Baaja Baaraat and Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl. What made you attempt a thriller?
The only film I ever wanted to make was Fan. After assisting in YRF productions like Fanaa (2006) and Aaja Nachle (2007), there was a kind of understanding with Adi that if I make a film, he would back it. I bounced the idea off him in 2006. However, he categorically said that Fan is too ambitious and expensive to be my first film. Instead, he asked me to come up with a story that we would both be excited about. Band Baaja Baarat took shape after that.
Being a Delhi boy, was it a conscious decision to make the city such a big part of Band Baaja Baraat?
The personality of a filmmaker always reflects in his films — had the film not been set in Delhi, my viewpoint and understanding of people would still have been showcased in it.
The Delhi we tried to show had not been cinematically explored before. Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006) did try to show a Delhi beyond Humayun’s Tomb and India Gate, Do Dooni Char (2010) too showed an interesting aspect of the city. For me, the hook was the aspiration of middle-class Indians. Though Bittu is endearing, at an emotional level, I associate more with Shruti’s character. Just the way Shruti knew she wanted to be a wedding planner, I knew I’d make a film.
When did you realise that you want to pursue a career in cinema?
Since my days at Delhi Public School, RK Puram, I was clear about doing something related to cinema. I dedicated a lot of time to theatre during school and college. I did English plays with Barry John and musicals with Delhi Music Theatre. That apart, I used to watch a lot of Hindi films on television and in cinema halls. My family had its own VHS collection and prominent among them were titles like Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Guide (1965), Angoor (1982) and a number of Amitabh Bachchan films. Once I turned 12, I preferred going to theatres to watch movies. If I really liked a film, I would watch it a couple of times. I have watched several Shah Rukh Khan films as well as Salman Khan’s hits like Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) and Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994) many times.
And then you went to the California Institute of Arts for a master’s degree in filmmaking.
I was always very clear that I would like to go to Mumbai to pursue filmmaking. Since the production of feature films, ad films and music videos were far and few between in Delhi, I had no exposure. So I chose to go about it in a structured manner and joined the three-year course at CalArts.
Did it change your ideas about cinema?
I was the youngest in the class, not to mention the least exposed when it came to cinema of every kind, barring Bollywood. I had not even watched The Godfather. I especially remember a Korean classmate who was 38 years old and had made some 40 one-hour features for television. I had not even seen a camera or a film set in my life till then. Yet, I had to educate myself within the system, perform really well to be eligible for scholarships. I had my run of watching Wong Kar-Wai, Pedro Almodóvar and my favourite, Krzysztof Kieslowski, at one go.
And then, you returned to the heartland of Hindi cinema. Why?
By the time I graduated, I was very clear that I would return to India — while others were deconstructing Andrei Tarkovsky, I was giving presentations on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995).
Your films have great soundtracks. Why did you give it a miss in Fan.
Forget about me, Shah Rukh often has great song sequences in his films. But since we wanted to make a relentless thriller, we believed it can do without songs. We created one song, Jabra Fan, to put the characters in place and use it as a marketing tool.
How difficult was it to shoot the scene of one Shah Rukh chasing another?
It was very difficult, and not just because it had two Shah Rukhs running. For nine days in Croatia’s Dubrovnik, he did a nine-hour schedule with an injured knee. Every day, he would be given painkiller injections before he ran. He would be treated again in the afternoon and after pack-up. He was in great pain, but he was so accommodating.
You turned producer with Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), which won a National Award. Was it always on the cards?
I had never planned to produce movies. Sharat Katariya and I were working together and trying to develop some ideas. At some point, we thought I would direct the script he would write. One day, Sharat gave me the script of Dum Laga Ke Haisha and sought my feedback. Since he wanted to direct it, I mentioned it to Adi. After hearing the brief, Adi suggested that I should produce it. In fact, I was busy with the pre-production of Fan when this conversation happened. I will soon be producing another film, Akshay Roy’s directorial debut Meri Pyaari Bindu.