Shashank Khaitan had first conceived the characters of Humpty and Kaavya for a crime-drama where the two play con artists like the lead pair of Bunty Aur Babli. Then something happened. Unlike the rules of fiction, where the creator decides the course of the film and the journey of the characters, here, the latter compelled Khaitan to change the film itself. As Khaitan wrote the script, he became convinced that his mischievous pair belonged to a more innocent, simpler world, a modern-day-love story perhaps. It led to Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (HSKD), starring Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt, his first film that released last Friday.
It’s all about the characters. A part of the reason why the film is being liked is because the audience has connected to not just Khaitan’s lead pair, but others who constitute the supporting cast, including the hero’s friends and the girl’s father. “I just follow the characters’ instincts and see where they take me,” he says. This is really how Khaitan works, with well-rounded, solid characterisation at the heart of the stories he wants to tell.
With HSKD, he wanted to tell a story of “eternal love”, an idea he thinks has found itself endangered in today’s cynical times, in real life as well as in the movies. “I think the last great Hindi love story we made was Jab We Met,” says Khaitan who’s film is being seen as an affectionate update of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), one that embraces some of its old, traditional values and gives them real, contemporary edges.
His hero is a loser, a sort of a fool even, but when we are introduced to the character, he is seen making out with a random girl in a loo. For all his love for great, sweeping love stories — besides DDLJ, he mentions Casablanca as a major inspiration — Khaitan thinks keeping it real is the key. “My characters aren’t trying too hard. They aren’t trying to break any rules, they are just reacting in today’s environment. When the girl’s father gets the boy beaten up, at first its because of a father’s instincts, but then he has the wisdom to tell him okay fine, you know what, you take a call on this, you decide,” explains the 32-year old, who casually informs us that he is married to his “childhood sweetheart”.
Inspite of the “modern take”, critics have pointed out that certain cliches have been rehashed into the story, such as the approval of the parents still being a prime factor. But that’s because Khaitan believes things haven’t changed all that much since DDLJ. “Our social structure hasn’t actually changed so much. What I have tried to show here is how love, affection and faith among people can change things,” he says.
You may have seen Khaitan if you remember the bit role of Arjun Kapoor’s elder brother in Ishaqzaade, or the accused in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, the play by Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group Motley, which he was a part of from 2009-2011. But his acting stints were just a means to get to filmmaking. Indeed, Shah’s priceless acting lessons have been a treasure trove for knowledge about the craft.
“He doesn’t leave you on a surface level. You really go down and understand why the hell this character is behaving the way he is behaving”, says the filmmaker who was born in Kolkata and grew up in Nashik, Maharashtra. Hailing from a Marwari business family, Khaitan joined as a dance trainer for personality development just to get close to the entertainment industry. “I was really into sports before that, playing tennis and cricket tournaments across the country. But when I turned 17, I realised I wanted to be in movies,” says the self-confessed fan of Raju Hirani.
“I think The Shawshank Redemption is the most perfect movie ever made, but I don’t think I aspire to make something like that,” says the filmmaker, who wants to experiment with different genres and make movies that are “real, simple and entertaining.”