As we walk into the Red Chillies Entertainment office to talk to the star-cast about their experiences while filming Happy New Year, I’m reminded of an earlier, behind-the-scene moment that one was privy to. An invitation from Dubai Tourism to observe Dubai’s many virtues that make it a perfect film shoot destination, allowed me to witness first hand, the hysteria and excitement generated by Happy New Year’s cast and crew who were also in the city. As luck would have it, the film’s shooting was taking place at the sprawling Atlantis The Palm, the hotel where we media delegates had been checked in. Predictably, everyone at the hotel was giddy with excitement about the fact that Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and Abhishek Bachchan were shooting at the very same hotel. The fact that we had some access to the stars obviously added a degree of significance to us too. That apart, to witness the impact—both economic and cultural—that a quintessential Bollywood film was creating on foreign soil was a strong indicator of Shah Rukh Khan’s star power as also the Bollywood impact. Happy New Year, a starry heist film, (with a dance competition thrown in) given the scale of production elicited comparisons by the locals, with Hollywood star Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible 4 that had been shot in the city a few years ago.
Of course, when the star cast comprising of Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood and Vivaan Shah accompanied by Farah Khan turned up in abaya (for women) and kandura (robes for men), complete with headgear, to address a gathering of the local media and some eminent guests, one got a sense of things to come. The camera’s triggered a flood of flashlights and the hysteria that followed, courtesy the stars in general and Khan in particular, necessitated a conversation with Shah Rukh Khan, the star producer of the film in one of the ante rooms tucked in the quiet, away from the main hall. It evoked a feeling of déjà vu, reminiscent of the star’s public appearances in India.
Once the official niceties were over, the entire team trooped over to Khan’s residence at the tony Palm Jumeirah. After a hard day’s work, everyone was letting their hair down. The boys—Bachchan, Khan and Sood were busy playing football, while the girls played cheerleaders and then later, everybody just settled into a night of fun and revelry.
Director Farah Khan in a bid to liven up the party decided to tear a few shirts—Sonu Sood and Boman Irani were her prime targets while the rest watched, amused.
Khan, played the perfect host and colleague, attentive to each member of his team, enquiring after them and indulging their smallest request. So, he gave Vivaan Shah, the youngest member of the cast, a little talk on creating an identity of his own, and had a boat pressed into service for Padukone when she mentioned the boat ride she’d enjoyed during an earlier visit. He sparred with Irani and Farah, teased Sood and fussed over Bachchan, watching over everyone in almost a guardian-like fashion.
Since then, till now at the time of release, the bonhomie, seems to have grown stronger. The fashion show and the unveiling of the first look had them all cracking up at jokes between them. The SLAM Tour for which the team travelled across US and London was no different. The joie-de-vivre was evident during their exhausting visits across continents with visits to Google and Twitter office (in USA) thrown in.
According to Padukone, even though she was unwell and had lost her voice, “I was there, ready with hair and make-up like everyone, but just smiling and waving as I couldn’t speak. But it was very overwhelming to see what Google does, what Twitter does, the reach and all that.”
Back home, at the Red Chillies Entertainment office things were no different. The air was almost carnival like with all the stars (except Sonu Sood), present at the venue for media interviews and everyone (including the media) being plied with food and coffee at regular intervals. Each of them sat through almost eight hours of media interactions (as did the media) soon after their gruelling trip. They were displaying enviable energy levels, their enthusiasm seldom dipping, occasionally breaking into a jig (which they had performed in Ahmedabad or walking over the other person’s cabin for a quick catch up). From all the fun and games that we witnessed between the actors and in the promos, the probability of Happy New Year hitting the bullseye seems rather high. The fact that they have reportedly earned back the making cost through smart deals only underscores that. But more of that later, for now we bring you stories of mirth and merry making from the star cast:
How was it to have Shah Rukh Khan as not just your co-star but also the producer of the film?
Abhishek Bachchan: What I love about Shah Rukh is that for somebody of his stature and his standing, to do such a film, takes a huge amount of guts. And to do it with the spirit with which he has done, takes even more guts. He’s not trying to hog the limelight. He always says that he has the worst role in the film, but Shah Rukh has the intelligence to identify that this is a film about a team and he can’t play the hero in that. He has to be a part of the team and I love him for that. It speaks volumes of him as a star and as an actor. It’s absolutely sensational. What I don’t like about him is that he smokes too much and he leads a very unhealthy life style. He doesn’t sleep, and is working all the time. It’s good to work, but you got to take care of your health as well. Besides, he’s accident prone. We had an accident on the set where a door fell on his head, and he suffered a deep wound on his head. But he got it patched up and came back for shooting.
Deepika Padukone: Although I am not interested in turning producer, there’s a lot to be learnt from him both as an actor and producer.
Vivaan Shah: Shah Rukh sir is truly electrifying. His energy affects everybody and everyone wants to give their best when they are working with him. He is also a teacher; he is really somebody who is involved, interested and curious and loves people. He not only cares about people and is interested in them, but is also interested in various things like knowledge about life etc. I think, he is the most well-read, knowledgeable person ever. He’s truly a genius with a very rare mind. His curiosity about life is startling, it’s inspiring and that translates into his craft. When he comes on set, he is so involved in every aspect of film-making, whether it’s action, dance, props or costumes. He genuinely cares about the process, and wants to teach others, share his experience and give them that same sort of understanding. It was the most educational experience that I have ever had. It’s been like film schooling for me. The things I have learnt in this film are the things that I’ll draw up on for the rest of my life and will hold me in good stead.
This being an ensemble cast, what kind of energy did everyone bring to the table?
AB: We’ll start with seniority first, so it’s Bomsy. What I like about Bomsy is his youthfulness, and I don’t mean to make fun of his age, but to run with a pack like our’s that is full of energy and keep pace can’t be easy, but he does it with a smile. He never complains, instead he loves and enjoys it. He is an avid gamer and I’ve never seen someone of his age play superbly; he’s the best amongst all of us. What’s really endearing about him is that apart from being so young in mind, he slips in and says, “Wait a second, I am the eldest here, you have to listen to me”. He has this paternal vibe about him, but we tend to forget that he has two sons around our age. So I find that very cute. What do I not like about Bomsy, it’s difficult, I like everything about him.
Bomsy is my agony aunt, sometimes when something is pissing me I call him and say ‘Bomsy I need therapy’, and he’s there.
What I like about Sonu is that respect he has for what he is doing. I just love the way he innocently says that I was destined to do this film because I have worked for it. That’s such a wonderful quality to have in an actor. On Kaun Banega Crorepati, he had said, “When I first came to Bombay I used to call KBC lines. In fact, I used to get the answers right, but was never selected.” When I asked why he would do that, he said, “I wanted to meet Amitji and that seemed the best way to meet him. Today, I am on the show with him and I feel I’ve accomplished everything.”
I love that he still retains his innocence and simplicity, a difficult quality to maintain today. What do I not like about him is that he doesn’t eat at all. He’s a health freak. He eats, but it’s the boring salad, and he always make’s me feel guilty about what I eat. He’s the food police, but he’s not rude about it. Tu kya kha raha hai, acha ye khayega, aise mat karna, makes you feel guilty. That’s what I don’t like about him.
Next is Vivaan, what I like about him is that he is a baby. He’s the most obedient, sporting actor I’ve ever met and I love that about him with all my heart. What do I not like about Vivaan? He can’t stay awake through a press conference. It’s weird that you get him on the dais and it puts him to sleep! There have been times when we’ve had to wake him up during press conferences. So, Vivaan needs to wake up a bit.
I love the way Deepika has blossomed into the actor that she is. This goes to show how much she has learned, and I have immense respect for actors who improve with each film. She’s not complacent about her job. What do I not like about Deepika? She makes us look bad even though we are wearing the best of clothes. We all think we are looking really cool and suddenly Deepika walks in, and we end up looking like sidekicks. She upstages us.
BI: Vivaan is in love with me, so discount half of all the things he says. He must have said the nicest things about me. We, and I mean everyone, had no ego problems during the shoot; we did masti and if we didn’t like something we could walk up to the person and say, “Don’t you do that again” but without consequences. Then, there were times when we had not slept several nights and we had to catch a flight to San Jose—it was a private jet, but nobody ever wanted to sleep.
What was it like for all of you to work with Farah (Khan) again?
AB: What I love about Farah is that apart from being one of the most accomplished directors we have in the industry— she has made one of the biggest film till date— still she manages to be very maternal on the set. When you are multi-tasking and handling such a grand task and to still retain the emotional side is very commendable. It is very easy to become practical at that point. I think that’s fantastic. I absolutely adore her except for the fact that she is very impatient!
DP : I think the way she treats me, the kind of respect I have for her hasn’t changed. Only thing that has changed is my confidence as an artiste. From my first film, when I did not know anything— she really had to tell me look here, look there, deliver this line here, now turn, now walk; from spoon-feeding me and holding my hand through the process till date. In some interviews when I hear her say that she believes I am one of the finest actresses, for me it’s a huge thing. Somewhere deep down inside for every scene I’ve done, everything I’ve performed, you know like when your parents are around and you are doing something, it’s a different kind of consciousness and you want their appreciation. Everyone else can appreciate you, but when your parents appreciate you it’s a different kind of satisfaction that you feel, so I think that’s what I valued the most after a scene. For instance, if I’ve done an emotional scene, I would wait for her to come to me and say that I’ve done it well, and her saying it means a lot to me because she has seen my journey.
VS: On the first day of the audition, Farah Ma’am asked me, “Are you a good dancer?” So I lied and said, “Yes, yes I am a very good dancer,” because I thought that it would increase my chances of getting the role. But her reaction was “Arey yaar, I needed a bad dancer.” So then I covered that lie with, “No, no, no. I’m a very bad dancer.” The truth was revealed, when we went to Dubai and she actually saw me dance. But it was great working with her and everybody from the choreography team took it as a challenge to help me with the dance scenes which made my job easy.
Tell us about the characters that you play in the film.
AB : I play Nandu Bhide, who earns money by climbing on top of human pyramids and breaking the handi on Janmashtami. He lives in Sangam chawl in Mumbai, and likes to drink. I’ve had drunk scenes, but I’ve never done anything like this. It’s the first time in my career when the character didn’t have any reference point. Usually when you don’t have a reference point, you get your own personality to the character, but this once I couldn’t use anything from my personality for Nandu. I was building a character from scratch and that was fun.
Farah and I spent almost a year working out the character sketch. The first brief she gave me was to become besharam, with no holds barred.
BI: I am a safe-maker and so it makes me eligible as a safe-cracker. I have magic fingers and my character gets turned on by looking at safes! Farah puts a red light in the scene, and with red lights and balloons and all, I start caressing the safe. That is Farah’s bizarreness. I am a Parsi and I don’t know if it is Farah’s imagination or fantasy, but she makes me a stud. Just in case people missed it, then I have stud written all over my hat. The entire Parsi community in the colony, all 80 women that are left are chasing me. I am Shah Rukh’s dad’s best friend. My speciality is safe cracking, but I think individually the main character in the film is the group, in the sense that it’s truly an ensemble piece, it’s not five different people dealing with five different things and then we come together as an ensemble piece. This is five different people coming together and becoming one mighty force, so in that sense, it truly defines ensemble. I think everyone in the film is on screen for 90 per cent of the time, which is quite unique in many ways.
DP: I’ve not played a Marathi girl before, so I had to work on the accent. I’ve never really interacted with a bar dancer and I had to understand how that dynamic works. The film is not so much of a realistic film, in the sense that I did not need to have that much of a background or history, but just a sense of understanding about this character (Mohini) that was so well written and well defined. Although I had to work on the dance, especially for the song Lovely, it wasn’t too difficult.
Mohini is all heart. She is very naive and innocent and gets turned on when she hears a guy speak in good English. She is very passionate about dance; for her it’s her life. Abhishek’s character Nandu and she have grown up together in the same chawl. When the team is looking for a dancer to come and teach them how to dance, he introduces them to her. Mohini then teaches them how to dance or at least tries to do so.
Sonu Sood: I play Jagmohan, called Jag by everyone. He is an ex- army person and because of a bomb blast his hearing is impaired. He cannot hear half of the things said, which adds to the fun element in the film. He is very emotional and doesn’t think before doing anything.
VS: Shah Rukh sir is the mastermind, Abhishek is the wildcard entry, Sonu sir is the explosions expert, Boman sir is the safe cracker and I’m the computer hacker.
I think we are losers in life. My character is someone who doesn’t have any friends. For him the way of being cool or good at anything in the world is through computers. He’s a hacker, a mischievous prankster, but he’s a bit of a loser. There is a great line in the film which sums him up, ‘uske facebook par 600 dost log hai, lekin real life main ek bhi nai hai’.
I decided not to play my character in the way nerds are usually depicted. I think there are a lot of stereotypes in a lot of films including Hollywood films. From the very beginning, Farah ma’am and I made a conscious effort to not go down that nerdy, bespectacled geek route. I have grown up in the ’90’s where computers have been a very big part of people’s life, and it kind of defines their personality in a way. They made me look very normal, cool, like people who are heavy metal rockers, who excel at that one thing which becomes an integral part of them. I have known a lot of people like that, in my school in Mumbai, people who are very cool, but they are not good at anything except for computers, that’s their only forte. I wanted to base my character on these people.
Reportedly, the film has a larger message about winners and losers.
AB: Yes, absolutely and I love the message in the film. There is a lot of discussion about how everybody at some point in life feels defeated and this is a film about six such individuals who have been defeated by life, and suddenly life gives you a second chance. It’s about availing of that opportunity, seizing that moment and doing it. It was very positive and I liked it.
DP: Yes, there’s a message. We are all losers in some way or the other and Mohini comes from a very humble background. Obviously, she works as a bar dancer to support her family and herself and uses this opportunity to become famous and popular. Her dream is to open dance schools one day and teach dance.
VS: I think the film really deals with predominant emotions, and this is something I realised over the last couple of days when we were shooting Dil se nachein Indiawale. In the last two episodes that we shot, something occurred to me. Today, in competitions, whether on television shows or in schools, the emphasis is on winning and losing. During the tour in Ahmedabad, when the winner was announced, it evinced such strong emotions. I just couldn’t watch it, I was very emotionally affected by their reactions; it’s really heart breaking. So that emotion of winning or losing is something that touches everybody’s heart because everybody has felt that, whether it’s in school or your professional life. You know that moment on the podium, when the results are announced— the tension, I think is really one of the strong emotions of the film. This is because that vision is portrayed by two people Farah ma’am and Shah Rukh sir who have a great understanding of winning and losing. Shah Rukh sir, because I think he is the biggest winner in the world, unhone sabke dilon ko jeet liya; actually he’s won everything. And Farah ma’am because over the last couple of years, she’s been a judge of dance competitions. So both of them have a very deep understanding of this emotion and how it feels. This is really one of those special things about the film.
The team spirit is quite evident in all of you, but what went into fostering such great off-screen chemistry?
AB: While shooting in Dubai, we had a stunt shoot the next day. That evening, we were having dinner in Shah Rukh’s room and he said, “We have to concentrate a lot more off-camera than on camera. Because if we are a tight unit off-camera too, then it’ll work better, so we have to work on gelling as a team.”
That set the tone. Even during shooting or during the shows, we just wanted to be together, eat together. We used to finish around four or five in the morning, go to our room, sleep, then wake up and go for breakfast together. We did everything together and that added to the chemistry of the film. Even today, we have an unspoken understanding of one another which doesn’t just happen, it has to be created.
BI: But coming to Happy New Year, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot. I’ve learnt that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It’s a wonderful thing, we’ve gotten very close including the production team, which can be the biggest enemy, but we’ve had the best friend in production, so it makes a lot of difference.
DP: As I said, I think the fact that we are all so familiar with each other because we have worked with one another in some way or the other. Even during our Dubai schedule, it was the first schedule, we were always close and we’ve become much closer now, like one unit or a family. We know each other’s routine, habits and we all love to eat together. And even though we are all exhausted, when we finish all the interviews, we will want to sit and eat together. Even after we wind up for the day and say our goodbyes, we all look forward to meeting each other the next morning. I don’t know what it is that has made us like this, but that’s the way it is. If you’ve seen the promos, it is evident that we are on back-slapping terms with each other. Like I respect Boman, but I can pull his leg and crack a joke. And even though the cast included four guys, and guys can get a little territorial about sports and stuff, I was always included, even if it was as a cheerleader during their gaming sessions. Despite being the only actress (in the film), I felt extremely loved and cared for.
VS: For me every part in its own way, like for instance the Dubai schedule is very memorable because all of us for the first time were together for an outdoor shoot and we spent a lot of time together and became friends. After that schedule, what was really amazing was, when we shot those two-three songs, back to back. I think after that schedule all of us were really charged up. Every time I hear India wale something happens, you know, it’s a very magical feeling.
News is that the shooting schedules were something of a laugh riot.
DP: There were jokes about age going on —you’re the oldest, you’re the youngest’ sort and one day, something happened and I said ‘aye, Boman uncle’ and he was like, “don’t call me uncle, haan”. But now, he’s so used to it that when I call him Boman uncle, he doesn’t react only. We’ve ragged Vivaan, troubled and tortured him so much that even now, if all five of us are doing an interview together and we look at him, then it’s a cue that he has to get up, walk up and down, and answer the question. If you watch these reality shows, you’ll see how much we’ve troubled him.
And now, Sonu has become ‘Shirt Utar’, so when we are at some airport we go like “Sonu shirt utaro.”
In the film too, we have worn some really bizarre clothes especially when we get into that competition round and we are competing in the semi-finals— that Nonsense ki night and all. We’ve had a blast. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but in Nonsense ki night, we’ve taken Hindi muhavras and translated them into English. For instance, so the buffalo going in the water : gayi bhais paani main, whose is stick his is buffalo : jiski laathi uski bhais— that whole song is like that. We’ve done such nonsense and we even dressed like Michael Jackson. When you see it just like that, it may seem bizarre and out of context, but it’s just hilarious when you see the film.
AB: Honestly, in every film I act in, I have a ball because it’s something that I have to do while filming. I have to enjoy the film. It’s great when you have a group of actors who see the same thing and feel the same thing. So it’s quite fun and the story and genre of the film enables us to have that fun.
Given that dance is an integral part of the film, who turned out to be the best dancer?
BI: Humility forbids me, but back in my salad days, I wasn’t bad. Farah thought I was a wonderful dancer in Main Hoon Na, although in this film my dancing ain’t that good because I am in character. In all honesty, I was not bad but I guess I’ve slowed down a bit. All of us have worked really hard for the film. We used to hang out on the second floor (of the Red Chillies Entertainment office) and take dance recordings, watch them and go back, see what the assistant was doing. But it is meant for everyone to have two left feet except our Mohini, who is our dance instructor and Abhishek who’s supposed to be a matki-tod, so he’s also supposed to be a good dancer. Shah Rukh is supposed to be a bad dancer. Although, he claims that he’s a bad dancer, he’s shamming. He goes on telling people “Dusre ache dancers hai, par main nothing”. Everyone looks up at Shah Rukh because he has his own way and he really uses his face very well. His expressions reflect the mood of the dance. Vivaan ‘is’ a bad dancer, I’m supposed to be a bad dancer, so we had to play it accordingly.
But on a more serious note, Abhishek is a fine dancer. He picks it up too fast. It took me five days to figure out one thing, but Abhishek comes in and breezes through it. He breaks it down and learns, which is a wonderful method and he does it really smoothly. Attitude main bhi, he is wonderful. You have seen him on stage right? He’s fantastic, absolutely stunning. Deepika can’t help but be graceful. She has the apsara-like quality and she’s a fine dancer, but suppose she was not, even then you’d say, “Wow, she’s dancing beautifully. She looks lovely, just look at her.”
AB: I was? I am the dancer. My process is to go out there and have a blast. Let everything else go, just enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed dancing. You just have to go out there and have fun with it and it’s a perfect fit.
SS: I won’t say that I was a great dancer, but I always wanted to do a film which showed my dancing skills, whatever little I have. Happy New Year was the best platform, and after working with Shah Rukh and Farah, you can’t go wrong. The way she has shot it, she is brilliant.
I would say Deepika is good and so is Abhishek. But keeping everyone’s characters in mind, all are pretty decent.
Since all of you could not get enough of each other’s company, the film was followed up with the SLAM Tour! How was that experience?
BI: Chicago was outstanding as were London, San Jose and Washington. All six of us would stand on the podium together and perform in SLAM. And even afterwards for the city tours, we had to dance for our introduction in the reality show in Ahmedabad. They had put up a Gujarati song and we learnt the steps in five minutes, but Shah Rukh went into some zone and kept on practicising. I realised he didn’t want to sit down because if he did, he would go off to sleep. It was ten in the night and we started the shoot after the press conference. We had to do three episodes, so he kept on rehearsing this thing, Ahmedabad avya che hamein Indiawala, dil jitva avya che hamein Indiawala. And he did it 90 times! We thought he had gone delirious and he was telling us to do it as well! Without madness and passion you can’t do this.
DP: We’ve become so comfortable with each other and the SLAM Tour only cemented our bond further because it was strenuous and hectic, with flights getting cancelled and airports being shut. But after the show we would all go back and sit in Shah Rukh’s room and chat about how it went. It’s been an emotional journey. In fact, at the end of the SLAM show, I started crying because we did our curtain call and all of a sudden there was the realisation that it was over. Of course, we’ll do a SLAM Tour 2, and we’ll go to London and do the city tours, but this experience was very special.
How would you describe Happy New Year?
DP: When you watch the film, at the end of it, the emotion is similar to that of Om Shanti Om or Main Hoon Na where you are entertained. It felt like a wholesome film in that sense. I think that is Farah’s USP which is love and romance mixed with drama, action and comedy— something that Indian cinema is known for. In the last few years different kind of films are being made and we are trying to move away from the stereotype of Hindi film formula. Farah manages it beautifully, and I think she has done it this time also because the story lends itself to it and there is this patriotic angle because of the whole competition we participate in. So, I would call it a wholesome entertainer.
AB: This is the quintessential Bollywood film. Period. Bold & Italics. It’s also a heist film. The genre is very predictable—there’s a team you put together and then the heist itself. It has the same format. The new thing that Farah threw into the mix over here was that suddenly in a heist film, the dance genre was put together, which was never done before. So, it was a complete new approach, a new genre to work on, and that was exciting.
BI: We want to entertain you. That’s all I expect. It’s not that I think about what the film makes or how many people saw it, but I wish that all the people who see it feel glad when they go back. They have a nice evening and if they go for a family dinner after the movie, they have liked it so much that they discuss it. We remember entertaining films, I remember Amar, Akbar Anthony when I was going through a rough patch; that film bought me a lot of joy. It’s my favourite film. I would love Happy New Year to be the audience’s favourite film even after 20-25 years. It has that spirit. I have done films of all kinds, those with a social message too like Jolly LLB, but I have loved Happy New Year the most. It’s not mindless entertainment— we are talking about brotherhood, friendship, India, responsibility and all that. It’s about lifting yourself after being down and out and is motivational.
VS: I am lucky to have worked in two totally different films (Saat Khoon Maaf and Happy New Year) and I think it was a beautiful experience to work in both, because they are both so different and so much fun in their own way. It was also an eye-opener because I got to see how these kinds of films are made. I personally feel that doing a film like this is more hard work. And I respect big productions such as Happy New Year, because besides entertainment, they provide livelihood to so many people.
— With inputs from Geety Sahgal