How was the leap from a personalised project like Udaan to the period film,Lootera?
In 2002,my co-writer Bhavani Iyer and I had written a film titled Bombay Talkies. Amitabh Bachchan was supposed to act in it. Since I was a first-time filmmaker,we couldnt get the film off the ground. Thats when somebody suggested a O Henry short story,The Last Leaf. Iyer and I read it and decided to adapt it. It took us a while since we had to adapt the four-page story into 120 pages of a script. I was simultaneously working on the screenplay of Udaan and Lootera. Its just that Udaan happened first.
What was it about The Last Leaf that resonated with you enough to make a feature film on it?
Its like a sweet tragedy,almost wistful. At the end of it,you dont feel weirdly sad,rather you feel strangely uplifted.
A love story only works when you give a new definition of love. How have you defined the love between your protagonists Pakhi and Varun?
Their love is undefined. They are in a situation and they react to in their own ways. Their story is about love,betrayal and redemption. They dont even know there is a love story between them. They come to know it as they find their own path.
What kind of on-screen romances do you like watching?
I like larger-than-life romances like Pyaasa and Guide. Sure I also love Maine Pyar Kiya,Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge,but I love films where anger,ambition,trust,sacrifice,human failures and incompatibility are also present. I like films where these things eventually become bigger than just love.
The schedule for Lootera went haywire with Ranveer Singhs back injury and the snow. How did you deal with the delays?
I had my phases of being angry,annoyed and anxious but over the years Ive learnt that a directors job is to look for solutions before a problem arises. As a director,youve got to keep it together and make the best of the situation. Some days you just have to say,Cool,lets get that bottle of Old Monk out and sit down together and figure out what to do. When we were in Dalhousie in sub-zero temperatures with snow everywhere,there was little else we could do. If you want things to run like clockwork then the best thing is to not become a director.
The promos have a very Sanjay Leela Bhansali imprint. What did you learn while assisting him?
Everything I know about the craft from how to breakdown a scene,use background music,light a frame,when to move the camera,when to pull away from a scene,take close-ups,handle stars is all because of Sanjay. When Udaan released,everyone said it had an Anurag Kashyap feel to it since it looked like an indie film,but as Lootera is a period film,it might look like a Bhansali film. Ive kept Lootera very simple and there are no jump cuts. Technical wizardry annoys me. When a director shows off his technical finesse,it looks like Film School 101 ki main yeh bhi kar sakta hoon. Haan pata hai mere ko,talent sab mein hai but I like to tell a story at its own pace. Of course its not at such a leisurely pace that people fall asleep.
The credits for Lootera mention people such as Anurag Kashyap,Ekta Kapoor,Vikas Bahl,Madhu Mantena and yourself. So who is the boss of Lootera?
Im the boss. Having said that Im not a closed-minded director. I welcome criticism,provided it is constructive. I dont like opinions where people only tell you that its not good. Id rather they give solutions,tell me what needs to be cut,what needs to stay. At the end of the day,the final decision is mine. The idea of Phantom and Balaji coming together for this project is so that different brains can collaborate and make better films.
Sonakshi Sinha hasnt owned a role till date. What made you sign her for the main character?
When I saw her in Dabangg,I couldnt take my eyes of her. Sonakshi is a natural and I couldnt see anyone other than her as Pakhi. If she chooses her roles carefully then she truly has it in her to become one of our all time greats.
For female actors,its about choosing career defining roles. Kareena Kapoor will always be remembered for Jab We Met even though she was in 3 Idiots. That said,Sonakshi owned Lootera completely.