The father confesses that he doesn’t ever have self doubt. The son loves Ship of Theseus, is into Morrison but gleefully plays a kettle in his school function. The father-son team of Amole and Partho Gupte on films, food, sports and Hawaa Hawaai.
Amole, you act as the baddie in Kaminey and Singham 2, but as a director, you direct films with and about children. Please explain this dichotomy.
Amole: It’s not really a dichotomy. When I was growing up, I interacted a lot with Shahir (poet) Liladhar Hegde and his friends, especially the socialist leader Madhu Dandawate and actor Nilu Phule. I was really struck by Nilu bhau, who had a face of an oily thug and played the mean guy on stage but was such a gentleman in real life. That’s how it must be with me. Also, while growing up, my parents never questioned me. They thought they had a genius of a son, which is why I never have self doubt.
Stanley Ka Dabba was three years back. You like to pace it slow?
Amole: See, I’m from theatre, where there is always a dearth of resources and what’s important is to have fire in the belly. I’m sure there must be artists in the Vincent Van Gogh club, but we only remember his name. Nobody remembers the name of the other films that released in the year Pyaasa (1957) did. I was at FTII for 12 years and whatever keeda I had, I took it out in the 110 student films I made. If process be it, then I’m doing it. That’s more important than reaping the benefits of being a star. Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Shailendra and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas were great poets, but they were also participants in cinema and left an imprint on our minds.
Since economic liberalisation in the ’90s, we have changed our mantra. We only celebrate success. Our films are happy to celebrate blue and pink rooms in places that are Manhattan lookalikes. We need to bring out our hidden anguishes. That’s what I tried to do in Taare Zameen Par and Stanley Ka Dabba. It’s all about the need to say something, warna tel bech lete (otherwise we could have done any run-of-the-mill job).
Is it true that you wanted to make Hawaa Hawaai much before Stanley Ka Dabba?
Amole: Yes. Actually it started with Partho. My wife, Deepa (film editor Deepa Bhatia) and I would take turns to take him skating at the Bandra Kurla Complex. But one day, Partho decided to stop skating. Somehow, the grungy vibe of the skating rink stayed with me. And just as this idea was germinating, Deepa got busy with her documentary, Nero’s Guests, based on journalist P Sainath’s work on farmer suicides. Deepa’s documentary took me close to the skin of the issue of social inequality, and this idea of two Indias — where urban India has created its own syntax and is not interested in engaging with rural India. All of this was amalgamated in the story of Hawaa Hawaai. Though it took a while to come together, I’m fine with it, because, as a filmmaker, I never want to set a shop of my films. At the end of the day, do roti khaani hain, sone ka biscuit digest nahin kar sakte (One has to get two meals a day, who can eat a gold biscuit?), so why all this khatpat then?
Partho, do you remember the first time your father discussed the script with you and asked you to act?
Partho: I don’t remember if we ever had a conversation about it. The idea was always there. I loved skating. It was a lot of fun at first, but as I started to get better at it, things started getting muddled. It became too competitive. You know, at the rink, on the outer tracks, we can see our parents. I could always hear them screaming, “left se cut kar le… right mein jaa… dekh woh tere se aage nikal raha hai… jaldi kar (go to your left/right… see the other boy is going ahead of you… hurry up).” I wanted to tell the parents to calm down, your child is just five years old. I didn’t like this competition, so I decided ki nahin karna (I won’t do it).
Amole: Even as a child, he was quite good at skating — he participated at the district level also — but he decided to quit and then found something else. What was it?
Partho: Capoeira. It’s a Brazilian martial arts style which involves dance and acrobatics.
Amole: Yes. So yahan mere dimaag mein Hawaa Hawaai ki kahaani ubal rahi thi but masterji (gestures at Partho) ne skating hi chhod di (While I was thinking of Hawaa Hawaai’s storyline, this guy left skating). But I knew that if I had to make this film, we had to do it now. If we waited anymore, Partho’s appearance would change — moochchen aa jaati (he would have sprouted a moustache) — so I had to tell him to get back to skating since the film required him to be a champion skater.
Was it easy to go back to skating and pick it up from where you left?
Partho: It wasn’t. I took it up after six years and in skating, the thing is that your bones change, so it’s like beginning from scratch. It would take me half an hour to get one foot in. I got so many shoe bites. I had to really practise hard for 6-7 months. I would often hurt my elbows, knees and shins. It was tiring but fun. When you get your speed, then it’s like flying.
So between the two of you, who is the boss?
Amole: This house is run by Partho’s command and rutba (status). ‘Kya khaoge? (What will you eat?)’ is the story of our house. Till date, no meal in the house has been made without his consent.
Partho: I don’t decide their menu. I just decide my menu, but if they also want to eat what I want to eat then what can I do? I love my Papa’s cooking a lot, especially the crabs he cooks. I don’t like to eat out too much because the best food is always made at home.
Okay, so it’s established that Partho is the boss of the house. What’s he like on the film set?
Amole: I don’t want to say it to his face, but I’ll risk it.
Partho (interrupts): Main kaan bandh kar leta hoon (I will cover my ears — does so).
Amole: He’s a genius. And I’m not saying it just because he’s my son. I’ve assisted Ketan Mehta on Mirch Masala and Holi, and I’ve seen the likes of Smita Patil in action. I’ve seen that when an actor respects the process, he multiplies the performance. Partho is like that. I’ve seen Hawaa Hawaai 70 times, and each time I can see how his mind is working and how he’s building the character of Arjun Harishchandra Waghmare. I’ve yet to see a better performance. Abhi kaan khol sakte ho (Now you can uncover your ears — nudges Partho).
How do you approach a scene, Partho? Do you get nervous before a big scene?
Partho: I try to react from the heart. If it’s an intense scene with a lot of crying, then I prepare a bit. Actually, every scene is important because each scene holds the film. My dad always tells me, whatever you do, just have a blast. If it doesn’t happen in one take, then you can do it again. Sometimes I get a little nervous, but it’s fun.
Amole, you specialise in working with children. How do you make them act?
Amole: I have been working with children for years and have an entertainment and information model that I use in my workshops. On the film set, everything is created in the narration. When children grow up, they lose their sense of observation, they don’t want to absorb anymore. The best way to teach them is to create a spell through narration. My grandmother narrated the Mahabharata and the Ramayana
to me and I still remember the stories vividly. Her stories gave me what no book could. That’s what I try to do with children I work with.
Partho, tell me what goes on in your 13-year-old brain?
Partho: I think I’m a little weird. But it’s better to be weird than boring, right? It’s better to be crazy than just exist or survive in this world. I want to live.. like really live and not just sit for tuitions. I love Eric Clapton and I’m a big Jim Morrison fan. I’ve read all his poems.
Amole: He just directed a short film for Guneet Monga.
Partho: It’s called Battlefield Warrior. It’s a 3-minute film about a bunch of children shooting each other with a toy gun, a pillow and even a rag. It’s to do with imagination and about how children think, you know. They believe that they are better than anyone. I don’t know why is it that the older we get, we stop believing. Or do we just over-process everything? I feel as we grow old, we don’t think or feel much. We become like ping-pong balls… going from here to there.
Amole (laughs when he sees my surprised expression): Kuch toh sahi kiya hai humne (We have done at least something right)…
Hawaa Hawaai is about dreams, aspirations, about finding the hero within. Who have been your heroes?
Partho: My parents, my nani, my aji, ajoba. Amongst fictional heroes, I love the story of Mumbaro, the machchar (mosquito) of Mumbai, who is such a small thing, but when he bites a big cow he destroys her. I like the David and Goliath thing.
Amole: Sant Tukaram is the one film which is the reason for my cinema. Vijay Tendulkar, who was such a rebel, was my god. Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara is a handbook of emotions.
Are you both film buffs?
Partho: I don’t watch everything, but I know that there are no bad films. I loved Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal and Chennai Express, but the films that teach you something stay with you. I loved Ship of Theseus. Some people didn’t get it. They found it a bit random, but when the whole thing comes together in the end, you are like, wow!
Amole: I loved Fandry also.
Partho: Oh, I loved Fandry, too! During the National Anthem scene, I got gooseflesh.
What about sports?
Partho: I don’t know if it’s fixed, but I like the IPL. My favourite team is Mumbai Indians. I love football also. My favourite club is Barcelona, though I like Bayern Munich a lot these days. On a country level, I love Brazil forever. Germany is good, too. I love Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has lost my respect forever after the England-Portugal 2006 match… I love football. It’s my religion.
Amole: Football is your religion. Music is your religion. Tere kitne religion hai re? (How many religions do you have?)
What about acting?
Partho: Acting is a way of life. I want to make films. I want to get into cinematography.
How do your classmates react to you? Is so much attention weird?
Partho: It becomes embarrassing. I’ll be sitting quietly in the class after our paper is over, when someone will say, ‘I saw Hawaa Hawaai’s promo’, and then suddenly a mob will encircle me. People think I like it but I don’t. I get awkward and it’s weird.
There’s so much happening in my school — debates, elocutions, dramas. I want to enjoy that. I’m really excited for our annual day function even though I’m playing a kettle. Can I please show you what I’m doing? (He gets up and assumes a pose of a kettle and breaks into a song, Chamko Clear Liquid, which is part of the skit).