Sujoy Ghosh directorial Badla, starring Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan, releases this Friday. As Sujoy sits down to speak to indianexpress.com, he reflects on why it took him time to say yes to Badla, which is an official remake of The Invisible Guest.
Your personality on social media is very different from the films you make.
I don’t know. I joined Twitter to have fun and thought that is what it’s all about. Films for me are a little more serious. It is my job. It is my duty to take a stand in my films and I will always do that. So, whatever message there is in my film, first I have to believe in it and second, I have to hopefully try and make my audience hear what I am trying say. I don’t want my audience to believe in what I believe in. That’s not my job. As long as you hear me and make your mind about it, I am good.
But in all these years, haven’t you felt the pressure to also have a certain voice on social media? There must be people, in your audience, who would expect you to take a stand.
Not yet. I don’t think I matter that much, honestly. If there is something to say, I would rather let my work speak because as an individual, I don’t matter in the scheme of things. I don’t think if I did say something on Twitter, it would make any difference unless it’s something horrible or if I am saying something to sound sensational. I never even thought about it until you asked me because I joined it to have fun.
There was this conversation between you and Taapsee on Twitter around the time of Badla shoot, where you were asking for a film recommendation, and she replied, ‘When are you coming for the shoot?’ It’s fun to see you guys chat on a public platform.
I call her mom! She is my mother. She is always disciplining me, which is good. How many people really think about you? Who even has time to spare a reaction for you in this day and age. I take it with a lot of humility and grace.
After Kahaani 2, a lot of people kept asking when you would direct your next. You take a lot of time between your films. Do gaps suit you?
I am lazy! A feature is a lot of responsibility. Like I said, I have to somewhere believe that I am contributing to the story, taking a stand on the story. Feature films also involve someone else’s money. Somewhere, I also have to try my level best to make sure his/her investment is safe. But then I do other things like I made Ahalya and Good Luck (TV movie).
What was it about The Invisible Guest that caught your attention?
When I read its screenplay, my instant reaction was, ‘I can’t better this!’ I really didn’t know how to better it because it is a fantastic, precise, crisp and well-knitted screenplay. That’s why I refused and Taapsee keeps grumbling about it. If you ask me to mess around with it, you are only destroying it. With time, I tried to find a way to maintain the sanctity of the superb script and add my two bits to it, which will not destroy it.
Taapsee Pannu has this grouse against you that you came on board Badla after Amitabh Bachchan was signed to do it.
There is a certain amount of truth in that. I will do anything to work with sir, not that I will not do for Taapsee. It was an attractive project, but again, I wouldn’t have done it with sir also if I felt I wasn’t contributing to it. Taking the responsibility of sir and Taapsee after Pink was huge.
What are the do’s and don’ts for a filmmaker when he or she is remaking a thriller?
First, you have to forget about it because if you think about it, it becomes a baggage. You have to treat it like a book which everyone has read. The challenge is to make you come and see the film even though you know everything about it and yet you enjoy it. Like, when I was designing Kahaani, the challenge was to make someone from Kolkata sit through Kahaani. That’s the fun.
The gender swap between the lead roles in Badla is a departure from The Invisible Guest. How did that impact the film?
This was probably the buying factor for me. There, I could do something. With the change in equation, we could do something interesting.
Did the equation between Taapsee and Amitabh Bachchan come in handy?
They are very comfortable with each other. They have known each other for long, which is great but that doesn’t help because this is a new film. So, no matter how well they know each or how much they have worked, they still have to start from scratch in my film.
The places that you set your stories in, do not merely serve as locations. They become characters. What was it about Glasgow, Scotland that made it deserving of Badla?
More than Glasgow, it was that I needed a community where individuals had no option but to be self-sufficient. That’s the society. It is very independent, little lonely and isolated. Everybody is, in a way, quite alienated. I needed that ambience for my characters. And I am very familiar with Scotland.
You didn’t find these characters in any city in India?
No. Again, it’s not India specific. I am talking about a society, a culture. Like, today, if my wife’s away, I would not have to look for food as I have some beautiful neighbours, who would happily give me food. So, there are always happy families. You are never alone. You always have people to care about and there are people looking after you. You will always have people to run to. That’s the beauty of being an Indian. But then there are other societies, where people have no choice but to live individually.
After all these years, do you feel like an insider in the Hindi film industry or do you still view it as an outsider?
I never saw it like that. This industry has given me a lot. I am what I am because of Hindi cinema, not for anything else. This is the cinema which gave me my grounding, education and money. This is the industry which feeds my family. This is the temple I pray in. I never felt alienated in this industry. I have got a lot from this place.
Do you get complains about not making enough Bengali films?
Now, my daughter will make one. She is hopefully following my footsteps. The only one I wanted to make, my daughter has snatched it away from me.
Is she critical about your work?
Yeah, quite! She can tell me what she feels, not necessarily things that are pleasant, unlike my son.
In the last 16 years, if you look back, what has fundamentally changed in you as a storyteller?
I understand people a lot better. With age, I get a lot of experience, which I can then transform on screen and then use it to explain my logic to people. Also, what I am really enjoying is the advent of technology which is amazing. I wish I could take some time off and go and study somewhere.
In an interview, post-Andhadhun, Sriram Raghavan explained how the film’s producer, initially, wasn’t keen on having an open ending because they felt it wasn’t a safe climax. For someone, who is revered in the genre, do you feel Bollywood producers are still reluctant to take risks?
This is the other side of filmmaking. Somebody has put in their money. He or she would want that money back so, somewhere they would have that say and if there’s anything that they feel would put their money at risk, they would voice it. A seasoned player like Sriram knows what he is doing. So, you have to just trust. Obviously, he has a game plan. He won’t suggest something for the sake of doing it.
So, does it mean that we need to trust our directors more?
You have to. If I am hiring my editor and if I am saying, ‘But this is how you should edit,’ what’s the big deal of hiring the editor? I have never experienced that lack of trust from any producer. I wouldn’t do it otherwise because if you are hiring me, you have to trust me like I am trusting you with whatever skill set you bring to the table.