With a story about love, longing and loss, Shoojit Sircar could have easily made his film October melodramatic but the filmmakers says he chose not to go overboard as he wanted to give the story a life-like feel. October features Varun Dhawan as Dan, an endearing hotel trainee who undergoes a transformation when his colleague Shuili, played by Banita Sandhu, is hospitalised after a freak accident.
Sircar is elated that both the film and his “directorial craft” from cinematography, music, editing to the treatment of charactershas been appreciated.
“I had never tried this genre. To hold on to yourself, not let it go, not to play it to the gallery, not to be melodramatic while still being realistic was a challenge… I had to restrain myself,” Sircar says.
In an interview with PTI, the director explains the origin of October, why his characters behave the way they do in the film and his biggest take away from it.
Q) You previously mentioned that the film draws heavily from your personal experiences. Were you Dan at any point of your life?
A: “With my mother, I was Dan. She went into coma in 2004 for three and a half months in Delhi. Some of the similar doctors from that hospital gave us medical advice for this film too. I don’t know if I was exactly like Dan, but I went through similar things which any coma patient’s family goes through.
“Talking to her, waiting, sleeping in the hospital, the crunches of the money. Constant debates within the family and doctors- to pull or not to pull the plug. That’s a big debate which goes on when someone is on a ventilator for months. I’ve gone through these dilemmas.”
Q) What did that period do to you?
A: “It definitely had a deep impact, it was a learning (experience) and since then I knew everything what happens in a comatose situation. Coma became my study since then. It’s an absolute uncharted territory.”
Q) So was October one of the first stories you wanted to share with the world before you made Yahaan?
A: “The story came from Juhi (storywriter, Chaturvedi) but my only instruction to Juhi was, ‘Can there be an unconditional love portrayed like a mother and child through a relationship.’ That was my basic idea.
“The starting point was my life, then bit of Shoebite (his unreleased film starring Amitabh Bachchan) also dealt with coma. Juhi’s mother was also on ventilator for a long time. So she came up with this thought and during Piku, we started working on it.”
Q) Is that why the fact that your mother was in coma and Juhi’s was on ventilator that October has really strong mothers?
A: “Yes, absolutely. The unparalleled love of a mother is always there for the kids, specially when they’re growing up and about to leave the family and go away. The mothers play a very strong part. They let go, they love selflessly.”
Q) Was there a debate between you and Juhi about the end. Some people feel Shuili should’ve survived.
A: “Yes, we kept on talking about how it should go but we both agreed that it has to end this way. Because the kind of fall she has, she was not supposed to live. But she pulls through. We thought, in the end, when he takes home the Shuili plant, he got his Shuili back. That was his redemption. Is he still in love? I left that open. May be not, may be yes. But he did this thing very selflessly.”
Q) Did Shuili die happy?
A: “I think so, somewhere down the line. I kept it open for people to interpret. When she calls out his name in the end, she possibly conveyed what she wanted to. She discovered him only through hospital visits. May be she was listening. In medical science, there is a debate that coma patients listen to every conversation.”
Q) The turnaround for Dan happens when he visits Shuili in the hospital and then later he gets completely fixated when he gets to know that her last words before the accident were ‘Where is Dan?’ Did he get obsessed with it because his life was aimless and he saw a purpose in those words?
A: “Well, his life was aimless and he still didn’t find a purpose. When he went to the hospital, he got sucked into that world. When he saw her body, it affected him and that’s what we felt that he never saw her as a patient. He saw her as a normal girl.”
Q) The pace of October is so life-like. What was the trick to make the film engaging even if nothing monumental is happening at the screenplay level?
A: “You have to be with the character, the camera has to be in the milieu, my landing of the audience has to be directly in the middle of the ICU, they should be ‘ghera-oed’ by that situation. My brief to my DoP and actors is just that- the audience should be there with you and not watch you from a distance.”
Q) How has October changed you?
A: “What it has done is, you start building faith in actors like Varun Dhawan who become so brave and jump into your world and give it their all. Same with Banita, for her first film she gave it all, including cutting her hair. These youngsters when they do these things, it inspires me.
“What I’ve realised about Varun is that he can laugh at himself. He’s like a treasure. He’ll do something silly and laugh at himself, if he does something which is the best, he’ll still laugh and say ‘I know you didn’t like.’ That’s his biggest gift.