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Saturday, November 27, 2021

She’s the man

I started working on Aisha at the end of 2004. Devika Bhagat wrote a fabulous script but we had to knock on pretty much every door before Anil Kapoor Productions finally took over the film in 2008.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza |
April 9, 2010 12:25:22 am

From being turned away to being requested to “alter” her script to suit a male protagonist,Rajshree Ojha fought many prejudices before Aisha finally went on the floors

Why did it take you six years to make Aisha?
I started working on Aisha at the end of 2004. Devika Bhagat wrote a fabulous script but we had to knock on pretty much every door before Anil Kapoor Productions finally took over the film in 2008. Initially,we worked with a big production company for 10 months,but the project fell through. It’s a woman-oriented subject and we had unbelievable,even hilarious experiences when we approached producers and financiers. Finally,in 2008,we approached Sonam Kapoor for the title role and that’s when her father’s production house stepped in.

Do women-oriented scripts still face opposition in the film industry?
One big production house,upon hearing the script,told us that it is a great idea but it’s a woman’s piece. He had just watched Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and cited the example of the film’s poor box office performance. I explained that Laaga was a film about a woman pushed into prostitution whereas my film is about a well-to-do young girl and based on the English classic Emma. Another production house,known for being progressive,told us maybe we should re-write the script to gear it towards an actor they had in mind. It was unbelievable. But for three years I heard similar responses from every single producer I met.

Is that why you took the unusual route of approaching the actress first?
That was not planned. One production company agreed to make the film and that’s when I first approached Sonam. I had not seen her work but had read about her. She was keen on doing Aisha but didn’t want to work with the production company. That’s when Mr Kapoor stepped in. Sonam instantly saw that as a first person narrative,the film would be a great opportunity to showcase her talent. Sonam has a lively energy,but also a certain darkness,which makes her a good actor. This dichotomy suits Emma’s character since it is heavily layered.

How did Abhay Deol fit in?
He is the most secure actor I have met and he didn’t hesitate working in a film with a female protagonist. Abhay perfectly fits the character of the typical British male. He is a guy who can totally floor a woman,like Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and,in this case,Mr Knightley of Emma.

How did you adapt Emma to suit Indian sensibilities given that the original takes a satirical look at early 19th century British society?
Emma,like Shakespeare’s works,is a human story. As for the satire on society,I’ve touched upon that. That’s the reason I based the story in Delhi,where the caste divide has given way to class divide. In Delhi you can find a young girl dressed in a Calvin Klein or Versace who discusses matchmaking with her neighbour. Like in Emma,marriage is about elevating your social status. I’ve hinted on these things but remember,it’s a commercial rom-com.

How close is it to the original text?
Once you adapt,you take the essence of the story and let the rest go. There are places where I’ve curtailed the role of certain characters,like that of Emma’s friend Harriet Smith,or combined two characters into one,like the Woodhouse sisters.

Are you not nervous that everyone will compare Aisha with Emma?
I’m fine with that. This is my first commercial film and it is a journey that I’m taking for the first time. I’ve already handed over the first director’s cut and now it lies in the producers’ hands.

You seem doubtful about the outcome.
The producers know the system better; all I want is to tell a good story. Everyone makes compromises. As a newcomer,one has to listen to everyone because they apparently know better.

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