The filmmaker of hits such as Dushman (1998) and Sangharsh (1999) has had a busy year. Earlier in March, Tanuja Chandra released a collection of short stories Bijnis Woman, which narrated tales from UP’s heartland. And yesterday, her new film Qarib Qarib Singlle hit the theatres. It has Irrfan and Parvathy in the lead. “It’s a story about two adults, who are not new to this love game. As Irrfan says in a scene: ‘Saath-saath jeene-marne waali love story nahin hai hamari’,” says Chandra. Excerpts:
The seeds of Qarib Qarib Singlle were sown 20 years ago, in a radio play by your mother, Kamna Chandra.
Yes. My mother had written this play for radio. But the story stayed with me. It was way ahead of its time. Here you have two people who meet each other through a dating website and then choose to embark on a journey together, which is their path to self-discovery.
This is your first outing as a director of a romantic comedy.
True. My earlier works have been thrillers, and even Sur (2002) was a complex and layered drama. QQS in its essence is a Hindustani rom-com. It belongs to our time. It is not easy to make people smile or laugh. Thrillers are relatively easy. Gazal Dhaliwal and I worked on this for about a year-and-a-half. You keep at it, and at one point, you are like bas, now we have to shoot. You are not sure that this is the best script ever, but there is no such thing.
QQS is a road romance, a relatively new genre.
The lead couple — Jaya and Yogi, visit Bikaner, Rishikesh and Gangtok. In this middle-class Hindustani set-up, involving people who are not typically of marriageable age, what next after the first few coffees? Irrfan has a dialogue, ‘Ab kab tak coffee peete rahenge’. There is a context to their journey, but basically they are getting to know each other. The journey is essential to the plot. They are in that phase of the relationship when they are drawn to each other, but are not together.
Your protagonists are not in their prime and are unapologetic about their romantic histories.
Well, they are 35, which in India, is considered middle age. But there should be no age for falling in love. It is a reflection of the world we live in, there are set timelines for every thing — job, marriage, kids. And there is the notion of first love, which is supposed to be everlasting. Par kyun? First love was long over, it’s nothing to write home about.
Why did you title it Qarib Qarib Singlle?
Because even when we are single, we are never completely free. We have our past, our memories, and our baggage. We have this thing nowadays, this push to move on, let it go. But why? I say — we should remember it. Respect and learn from it. Of course we should look ahead, but not everything in a relationship is bad. Hence we are almost single.
Your film have always had strong women leads. Parvathy is different.
Jaya is an intelligent, working woman. She has her vulnerabilities. She has been out of the dating game and has not been with a man in a long time. She is anxious about it, he (Yogi) isn’t. But he respects it. She is strong, but strong doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have fears.
Do you think the Indian audiences have matured enough to accept a lead couple which is not college going?
Movies only reflect what is developing in the society, they are never truly ahead of life. There is a dialogue that is happening between the life we lead — and what we see on screen or read. But a person watching QQS, will feel and empathise with Jaya and Yogi, as they seek the basic things we need for existence — love and companionship. We have a majority of these blood lust stories, but we need a healthy dose of those which are not. We need stories that are connected to the lives we lead.
You have path-breaking films to your credit, and you also penned the screenplay for Dil Toh Pagal Hai and Zakhm. But you have been missing from action for a while.
Well I was always involved with one script or the other. We started work on QQS about three years ago. A director’s life is different than a technician’s. We live and breathe one project at a time. So all this time I was working on something or the other. Of course there were a few that were on the verge of taking off, but did not.
My novel. I had taken a detour with my anthology of short stories. Hopefully I shall finish it — writing a novel is
daunting — next year. In fact no matter how much I would love to be a literary writer, this is a chick lit.