Remember the first film you ever saw?
I was about three years old. My parents took me to watch Naya Zamana in Liberty Cinema. I have vague memories of Dharmendra,Hema Malini and a wet dance.
Share some screen images that have impacted you.
One of the earliest visuals I recall is of a song that I saw in Pradeshik Chitrahaar where a woman was singing a song on a beach and the fishermen were trying to catch her through the net. I remember Sharmila Tagore in the final scene in Devi where she goes completely mad and I think she bites the flowers. I was really influenced by the visuals of the French film Z,which is the reason I made Shanghai. Theres a scene in Pather Panchali where the kids are studying at the local school and the bania comes over to speak to the headmaster and takes the oil and puts it on his head. For some strange reason,I remember Amitabh Bachchans blue eyes as Babu in Satte Pe Satta.
Which film was the tipping point for you to turn director?
The idea began crystallising when I was around 16. By this time I had seen a whole lot of French,German,English,Hindi and East European films thanks to Doordarshan and film festivals in Delhi. Films such as Pradip Krishens Massey Sahib,Mirch Masala,Shyam Benegals Junoon and Manthan had hugely impacted me but it was while watching Ketan Mehtas Holi that I knew Ive got to do this. It was a film about students I felt if he can say this about us then so can I. Shekhar Kapurs Bandit Queen was also a huge factor I had seen it so many times that I had memorised the credit roll.
What about the first film you ever wrote?
The first film I ever wrote has not been made. It was about a 2nd Lieutenant and his very experienced but sceptical Joint Commissioned Officer (Subedar) caught in an ambush. More than a film script,I feel it was my attempt to show off my English writing prowess. Good writing is not the same as scriptwriting. A film script is about structure,story,character,voice,cause,effect and so much more.
What has been your contribution to our cinema?
I have no idea but recently during an interview Zoya Akhtar spoke about my detailing and said that she watches my films for the background action,so I guess thats what Im good at.
Whats the craziest thing you have ever done after watching a film?
When I was a kid I once turned our drawing room into an obstacle course after watching a Bond film. I threw in cushions,sofas,chairs,paintings just so that I could play Bond with the Bond music playing in my head as I ran around. Also,after watching Gandhi,I spoke the truth for a week.
A recent film you wish you had directed?
Anand Gandhis Ship of Theseus gave me serious doubts about myself as a filmmaker. I seriously introspected for two-three days about my thinking as a filmmaker.
Share a quick fix direction trick?
Often,character actors are nervous so they tend to overact,while main actors underact. So I try and combine my takes in such a way that the equilibrium is maintained. So six-seven takes are done to tire out the character actors and warm up the main actors. Also,whenever Im in doubt,I cast non-actors,or pure theatre actors who have never faced a film camera. Since I tend to use a lot of smoke and dust,my production designer makes sure that either dosas or samosas are fried in the background to get the desired effect. I remember in Love Sex Aur Dhoka,in the last scene with Naina,we had a burning wok off camera just so that I could get the smoke. I also like using lots of blinking lights. And yeah,there is some or the other fight or argument taking place between incidental people in my scenes.
Any filmmakers you would have liked to assist?
Stanley Kubrick because he does things with the craft that I can never do. Martin Scorsese till Gangs of New York Id love to learn how he gels with his actors,how he handles their ego to get the kind of work he does from them. Id like to steal the short divisions of the South Korean director Joon-ho Bong. I love his Memories of Murder and Mother. I wish I could assist Matteo Garrone. I wouldve loved to assist DoPs like Raoul Coutard,Ashok Mehta,Owen Roizman.
Is there any trait you want to steal from any of your contemporaries?
Id like to steal Sanjay Leela Bhansalis treatment of music,dance and women. He knows something about this trifecta. Im enamoured by Anurag (Kashyap)s desire to shock from this urge to shock,he does come out with something new all the time. Id like to learn Shekhar Kapurs method. From Ram Gopal Varma Id like to learn how to be an economical director Ramu takes the minimum time to set up a scene.
What do you think needs to change in our films?
I would like if we dont have intervals in our films but then thats stemming from a Western concept while in India,cinema is still not driven by a story or idea delivery,its still very much a star delivery and community mechanism. I also wish our cinema had more anger in it but then I feel that as it is there is so much anger in real life existential as well as materialistic that maybe cinema does need to be escapist then.