You have been keen to show your directorial debut feature, Is Love Enough? Sir, to the Indian audience but now its release is postponed.
It’s such an incomprehensible situation, and my first thoughts go to the families of people who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus. We wish people the physical and mental strength to get through this crisis.
As for the release, we are waiting patiently to bring the movie to the audiences whenever the situation allows it. It is really heartening to see the overwhelming response to the trailer. The movie was #1 on the list of the most awaited Indian films/series on IMDb. I’m curious to know how people will respond to it. It’s a love story and Indians love such stories. However, we are also very class conscious.
It is also an impossible love story between a rich man and his domestic help.
This film gives a sense of being real. One can identify with this. If it were a Bollywood fantasy, then it would be easy for people to say such things happen only in movies. This is not very plot-driven. It’s really about the characters. While writing, I tried to reverse the gender of the protagonists. It didn’t work. I thought this is interesting because the male protagonist has got everything, even gender in his favour. Yet, things are not easy for him.
How much did the story change once actors Tillotama Shome, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni came on board?
Since I’m the writer-director, we didn’t change much in the script. The actors were true to the script. The shifts in the story are very subtle. What really helped us is that we shot as chronologically as possible so that it would allow them to be in the moment. Of course, the actors bring their own magic and subtlety.
You had an intense workshop before you started shooting. How much did that help?
We had a workshop led by director Pushpendra Singh. The workshop was meant to help us know each other, get on the same page regarding who these characters are and allow the actors to build their characters. We also went through the script several times.
Having spent your formative years in India and then returning after a gap, did that give you this perspective?
I grew up in India. I went away to university (Stanford University). Then, I was living in India again. Even though going to the university gives you that extra perspective, I remember as a child being really aware of such class distinction. Once you get older, you question such things more. When you go abroad and come back to India, you wonder, ‘Am I really a nice person?”
Did this organically become the story of your feature debut?
The transition for a writer to becoming a director is quite difficult. People have to trust that you can do it. I had two scripts before this one. I pitched another movie but it didn’t work out, Then, I made a low-budget documentary, What’s Love Got To Do With It?. It is about this urban, hipster people who choose arranged marriage. That made me wonder about love. Then, I came back to the subject of class distinction that was in my mind.
Was there a takeaway from commercial projects like Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (2008) and Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin that you worked on?
I believe in entertainment and its power as we look up to stars to be emotionally moved. It is difficult to entertain the audience. Try to do a comedy, it’s not easy. I’ve learned a lot from this experience in terms of balancing my own needs as well as balancing what the audience may want when they go to the cinema. When I was making the film, my French co-producer Thierry Lenouvel said this was not a film for Cannes Film Festival as ‘it’s quite commercial’. However, we got lucky that people connected with the film and they’ve given it so much love.
In 2003, you had made a public service campaign, Stop the Hatred, after the Gujarat riots with 16 top Indian celebrities and that’s being shared a lot recently. How did you manage to get the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Aamir Khan and others to speak against hatred?
At that time, I was working for a New York-based non-profit organisation called Breakthrough. The campaign was about pluralism in India. So, we got people on board to say what it meant to be an Indian. The first celebrity that I got was Abhishek Bachchan as I was working on his movie Kuch Naa Kaho (2003) at that time. He thought it’s a good idea. Once, I got Amitabh Bachchan on board, I wanted to have Sachin Tendulkar too. I wrote to Sachin’s manager, who turned out to be someone I knew as a kid. Sachin was shooting for a Boost commercial at Film City. We took him to another room and shot this.
What’s your next project?
I have started working on it. It’s very early so I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t know if it’s working until I write and rewrite it. Probably, it will be set in India and France. India is where my heart is.
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