Ahead of the release of her second film, writer-director Gauri Shinde talks about the inspiration behind Dear Zindagi, becoming more disciplined as a writer and why she won’t settle for a co-director.
For your directorial debut English Vinglish (2012), you worked with Sridevi who is a seasoned actor. For Dear Zindagi you have a new actor like Alia Bhatt on board. How was your experience with the two actors?
When the actors are talented, it does not matter how experienced they are. Sri was great to work with and she never made me feel that she is a veteran working with a debutante director. Alia, too, brought in similar discipline to her work. It is beautiful when people, who are intrinsically talented, bring in their spirit of teamwork and not their stardom. It’s an adventure to work with different actors who have their own unique style.
English Vinglish was inspired by the story of your mother. Is there a personal story to Dear Zindagi as well?
Dear Zindagi is inspired by life in general. It started with an idea about the connections we make in our lives and how such connections can impact us. That’s something that interested me and I tried to develop a story around the philosophy. After English Vinglish, I was not sure whether I would make another film as I am not ambitious about doing one film after the other. I was living my life — travelling and doing other things that interest me. So when this idea came up, I thought of making my second feature.
You’ve written both the films you’ve directed. What’s your writing process like?
My process is to keep on writing till I have a decent script in hand. I don’t even talk about making a film till there is a bound script. Of course, we keep making changes in it. But I have to be confident about the draft before we start production. I can’t have a half-baked script and then lofty goals regarding the film. The script of Dear Zindagi took nearly five months. The writing of English Vinglish took more time. I was not under any pressure or deadline for it. I was doing my own thing and I was not writing it continuously. I have become more disciplined now.
When did you decide to become a filmmaker?
When I was in Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, Pune, I interned as a copywriter. However, since I was interested in watching movies and doing something related to cinema, I chose to join the film department of advertising agencies when I started working. When I made my first short film, Oh Man! (2001), I was not entirely serious about being a feature filmmaker. I assumed it is one of those things we dream of and which never happens. As I made more commercials, somewhere, that slowly changed and I longed to say my own story. In advertising, I was always telling another person’s story — directing someone else’s written word.
How much of your inputs go into an ad based on someone else’s script?
I don’t intervene if it’s written by someone else. I take up only those which I believe in. I have been lucky to work with some very talented and creative people in the world of advertising. There is a lot of discussion and people are open to inputs. I don’t force my opinion. However, if something is good for the film, we definitely discuss it.
Do you have a bigger say when you are directing a film?
There is no point in directing a film if I can’t have my say. A feature film gives us a lot of freedom, but as a creative person one always seeks more freedom. In advertising, barring a few projects, I have never felt restricted. Otherwise, I have always believed that it is a free space where people are open to ideas. Making a feature film involves struggle regarding many other things and handling a much bigger team.
How has your advertisement training influenced your filmmaking?
I have enough knowledge of production because of my background . A director needs to have this knowledge to make decisions on set. I often know what the script needs and what works best for the film. I am a very responsible director. Even in my advertising days, I never had to reshoot or go overboard with budget. At the end of the day, it is someone else’s money. I am really conscious of that.
You married R Balki ahead of his first film Cheeni Kum (2007). How actively have you been involved in his projects?
We’ve known each other for a really long time. Though I have been his sounding board, I have not officially worked on any of his films. I am there for him as a supportive partner. I don’t want to hang out on his sets as his wife. That would be weird. I go there as a worker since I know the team.
Have you both ever thought of collaborating as directors or writers?
He produced my directorial debut English Vinglish. However, not just him, but I won’t allow any other person to be my co-director. Unless you are conjoined twins, I wonder how people can do that. You can’t have two different visions. For my script, I do brainstorm with Balki and other friends.