On the sets with Neeraj Pandey: Keeping It Real

Writer-director Neeraj Pandey on his fascination with real life characters, and his distaste for public glare.

Updated: February 20, 2014 11:08 pm
For Pandey, it’s all about his love for stories. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu) For Pandey, it’s all about his love for stories. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

He hates giving interviews. Neeraj Pandey, the reticent writer and director of A Wednesday and Special 26, prefers to talk in the measured skills of a performer. “Barring my work, I feel really uncomfortable talking. It doesn’t make sense to talk about oneself. I want my work to be cherished, loved and discussed,” he says.

Currently, Pandey is in the midst of the release of his latest production, Total Siyapaa, which he has scripted. The Ali Zafar-Yami Gautam starrer romcom is the remake of a 2004 Spanish film Seres Queridos (Only Human), a love story about a Jewish girl and Palestinian boy, which has been transposed by Pandey into an Indo-Pak setting. He has also turned author recently with his novel, Ghalib Danger, which is the story of a taxi driver who ends up saving the life of a don. But you won’t see Pandey in literary fests plugging his novel. “Most of these things are fake. I can’t be momentarily intelligent or intellectual,” he says. The only dialogue he enjoys is with students. “It’s great to interact with young minds. Their ideas and interpretations really open up a new world for me,” he says.

Born and brought up in Kolkata, Pandey says he was a lousy student. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do even in college.” He loved only two things — reading and watching films. “I read pretty much everything while growing up. In fact, a lot of older stuff such as Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead or VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas. His film diet constituted classic Hollywood films by Frank Capra, Vincente Minnelli, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch and John Ford, and of course, the acidic finesse of film noir. “Frank Capra happens to be one of my favourite directors. And Billy Wilder. They exposed me to a world I had never seen.

Within some of these directors, there are institutes hidden,” he says. This was also the time when the future writer-director started reading film scripts. “I started reading a lot of film scripts. But I realised reading is not helping me as watching or observing is,” he says. Shaped by these sense and sensibilities, the unwavering interest in films took him to Delhi to work in a TV software company but slowly and steadily, his conscience was clearly signalling him to move to Mumbai where the inevitable happened.

For Pandey, it’s all about his love for stories. “It is possibly the only skill set I have. It doesn’t matter whether I am doing it through a book, a short story or a film,” he says. How different is to write for self and other directors? “When you are writing and directing, it’s very fulfilling and you feel responsible. When you are writing for other directors, you share the material and leave it to the director to interpret it,” says Pandey. Does he interfere when there’s a clash of vision? “Not at all. There’s a discussion. Sometimes the director gets it wrong or misinterprets it. But that happens more during the reading stage. Once the script is locked, it’s the director’s vision,” he says.

Going by his CV, the characters in his films always do something beyond the ordinary. Considering his quiet demeanour, does he live the extraordinary life vicariously through his characters? “No no, I am not fulfilling my fantasies over here. I don’t intend to. These are not my fantasies. They are stories that fascinate me,” he says. And it’s mostly the real life stories that get his attention. These days, he is busy scripting his next directorial venture. Is he going adapt his book, Ghalib Danger? “Yes. But not immediately,” he says.

Ranjib Mazumder

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