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‘Why are only women directors expected to make realistic films?’

<B><font color="#cc000">Zoya Akhtar</font></B> has scored with her directorial debut,<B>Luck by Chance</B>. In this <B>Idea Exchange</B> moderated by <B>Senior Editor Namrata Sharma Zakaria</B> in Mumbai,<B><font color="#cc000">Zoya Akhtar</font></B> and her mother the screenplay writer <B><font color="#cc000">Honey Irani</font></B> speak about the movie,Slumdog Millionaire and what it is to be a family of scriptwriters

Published: February 22, 2009 1:34:43 am

Namrata Sharma Zakaria: Zoya,why did it take seven years to make this film?

Zoya Akhtar: I wrote it in 2001 after Dil Chahta Hai and Farhan and Ritesh Sidhwani wanted to produce it. We thought we would produce it but nobody wanted to play ‘Vikram’ (Farhan’s role). They thought it was negative. So we went to six actors. But beyond those six actors,I didn’t want anyone else for the role. So we put the script on the backburner. Meanwhile,I was executive producer for Lakshya and Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and I wrote two scripts. Then,suddenly,everything changed: corporate houses,multiplexes,films,stories—everything had changed. So I thought,why not make it now?

Namrata S. Zakaria: Women directors seem more interested in mainstream cinema than ‘realistic’ cinema.

Zoya Akhtar: Every filmmaker wants his or her film to be commercially viable. I don’t understand why this kind of responsibility (of being realistic) is given to women filmmakers. I don’t know anybody who makes a movie and doesn’t want people to see it. Your own vision,your perspective,your style of telling the story should somehow bridge the commercial gap and be able to recover the money because it is an expensive art.

Priyanka Sinha: What sets women filmmakers apart?

Zoya Akhtar: It is a very individual thing; it has nothing to do with gender. It is like saying,what is the difference between MF Hussain’s and Anjolie Ela Menon’s works,in terms of gender. I am surrounded by women who are filmmakers and nobody has had a hard time because they are women. Whether it is Reema,my mom,my cousin Farah or Ruchi Narain,who is a writer. But yes,something of me as a woman does inform Konkona’s character in Luck by Chance.

Georgina Maddox: Is that true of the main male characters in the film—Farhan’s and Hrithik’s?

Zoya Akhtar: Definitely. Look at how Zafar Khan (Hritik Roshan) says in the film: ‘I work for an image’. For me,Zafar Khan was that moment of being caught up in nonsense—I don’t get enough money,I don’t get enough this,etc. And suddenly,you just look out of the window and you think,what is he crying about? For me,that moment is a moment of truth. So you have to put yourself in everything. But there are certain things I have ignored completely.

Namrata S. Zakaria: What do you make of the sudden foreign interest in Indian films,even Slumdog Millionaire—though technically,it isn’t Indian?

Zoya Akhtar: The only film industries that are functioning and haven’t been eaten up by Hollywood are India’s,China’s,and Hong Kong’s. And the only reason they have survived is because they have their own star system. Here,a Tom Cruise will have to wait if a Shah Rukh Khan film is being released. And Americans always want a piece of the pie. So they come and produce Hindi films. If they can’t sell their movies,they are going to make our movies. Sony Pictures made Saawariyaa and Warner Bros made Chandni Chowk to China. It is just a way of getting into the market. Slumdog Millionaire has nothing to do with Indian films even though I haven’t seen it since my film was releasing immediately after it. It is a Mumbai film because it is set in Mumbai,but it is not an Indian film. A film like Slumdog Millionaire will not work in India,it won’t be allowed to be made in India,you won’t get $15 million to make it,Anil Kapoor probably won’t work in it and the censors will not pass it.

Namrata S. Zakaria: But it is a great moment for Indian cinema and for the Indian crew too.

Zoya Akhtar: It is a great moment for Anil Kapoor,Freida Pinto,A.R. Rehman,Resul Pookutty and Loveleen Tandon. They have worked hard. But the truth of the matter is,you don’t work in a vacuum. There is an entire system. Let’s say tomorrow,you took Vikas Swarup’s book and declare you are going to make it into a film. Let’s see how far you will get. You just can’t put posters up and release it. In America,you start doing festivals and screenings and word of mouth builds up and before you know it,you have won an award in some category.

Priyanka Sinha: Are the limitations from within the industry itself?

Zoya Akhtar: Everyone,even your audience. Slumdog Millionaire was surely not for the Indian audience. Slumdog must have made the least amount of revenues in India.

Priyanka Sinha: Within India,there are a lot of audiences. So why not make a movie within India for a niche audience?

Zoya Akhtar: People are doing that. But you will not get $50 million,your film will not be Slumdog Millionaire,it will be a tacky version. So you have small films but they aren’t of the technical brilliance of Slumdog.

Namrata S. Zakaria: How much has life changed for you after Luck By Chance? What are you working on?

Zoya Akhtar: I am just tired,very tired. I am working on a holiday. 

Namrata S. Zakaria: How did Hrithik’s cameo end up being extended?

Zoya Akhtar: Firstly,it is not a cameo; he is part of the cast. In our film industry,when a leading actor does a supporting role or a small role and it is not a parallel role,it is called a special appearance. He was scripted like that. It did not get extended.

Namrata Sharma Zakaria: Honeyji,when you started writing,people in the industry said you turned writer because your husband was one. Now your daughter has become a director. Has the reaction been very different in the two instances?

Honey Irani It was tough for me. Many thought I started writing because I was married to Javed Akhtar,but when Lamhe released,it brought me a lot of recognition. It did very well and everybody started taking me seriously. I feel happy and proud of my kids. I have always known that Zoya would be a writer and filmmaker. When it happened,it did not come as a surprise because I have seen her work hard.

Harneet Singh: Honeyji,what surprised you the most about Zoya?

Honey Irani Before starting work,she takes a holiday. In between work,Zoya takes a holiday. After her work is over,she takes a holiday. And the fact that she is writing all the time. I ask her,‘Tum kya likh rahi ho? Mahabharat chal raha hai?’

Namrata S. Zakaria: You haven’t written any film after Armaan. Why?

Honey Irani Because nobody wanted me to. Honestly,like Zoya has been struggling with her scripts,so have I.  

Namrata S. Zakaria: How do you deal with your children? We hear you were strict with Farhan and not with Zoya?

Honey Irani Zoya was very responsible,but Farhan was a brat. Zoya wouldn’t even ask me if she could go out and I would let her go. But Farhan would ask me if he could go out and I would say ‘no’. So Farhan would say,‘What is this? She doesn’t even have to ask you’. She was more sensible,and I was scared Farhan would jump out of the window and all that. Zoya is very straight and honest. But Farhan has always been making stories.

Dipti Nagpaul D’Souza: Has your opinion of either changed now?

Honey Irani Yes. Farhan has become very sensible and she is a liar.

Georgina Maddox: There is a scene in Luck by Chance where Aamir Khan sees the rushes and says he could have done it better. Was Aamir happy to be a part of this joke?

Zoya Akhtar: It was his joke. We took many takes and then we took a perfect take. But when he got it,he said,“Can I do once more?” Then he suggested I use this dialogue in the movie.

Namrata S. Zakaria: Is Hrithik’s character in the movie based on Shah Rukh Khan? And is Rishi Kapoor Subhash Ghai?

Zoya Akhtar: Not at all. Rishi Kapoor is a mixture of many people. Half of it is himself. I am the writer so there is also a lot of fiction.

Lalita Srinivasan: Why didn’t you market your film the way they did with Ghajini?

Zoya Akhtar: You must ask Farhan and Ritesh. I don’t get involved in all this at all. Also,when we came out,Chandni Chowk to China Town was peaking. Their marketing was out of control.

Priyanka Sinha: People are making movies that they wouldn’t have thought of doing a few years ago?

Zoya Akhtar: I definitely think people are taking more risks with their story ideas and they are doing well at the box office. There are smaller films. People are coming up with very good,fresh ideas. I liked Khosla ka Ghosla and A Wednesday.

YP Rajesh: There are Marathi,Bhojpuri and other language films because Bollywood is not catering to such audiences.

Zoya Akhtar: I don’t really believe that. The industry makes 300-plus films a year. And all of them are not catering to urban India. But if Bhojpuri and regional films are flourishing,then that’s great. Tomorrow,if I had to make a film for an audience in Jabalpur,I can’t make it. So why should I spend my life trying to connect,when there is no connect?

Kavitha Iyer: What pressures do you face when people without Bollywood connections are doing well?

Zoya Akhtar: There is no pressure. Being part of a Bollywood family gives easier access to people. It is easier to get the first meeting,but that’s it. Sometimes you may have to wait for a year—Farhan waited to meet Aamir for a year. Also,the media’s interest is greater before the movie’s release because you are so-and-so’s daughter.

Namrata S. Zakaria: Are you now more comfortable with all the attention?

Zoya Akhtar: I am not uncomfortable with attention. But people used to call me up and ask me to be on the cover of a certain magazine because I have celebrity divorced parents and went through a traumatic childhood. Obviously,I am not going to do press like that.

Harneet Singh: Since you are a family of writers,who is the best editor?

Zoya Akhtar: I think mom is damn good. She says,‘Cut this out,cut that out’. This is nonsense,this is boring. If anyone’s got a script,everyone reads it.

Georgina Maddox: How did you get Farhan to run around trees?

Zoya Akhtar: He had to do it and it was very tough for him because it is very awkward to do that. He spoke to Hrithik,he spoke to Rishi Kapoor,who has been a lover-boy himself,and they said you have to do it with complete abandon—just go for it.

Priyanka Pereira: Zoya,will we see you on screen?

Zoya Akhtar: No. I can’t act. Mira Nair tried to get me to act but I couldn’t do it. 

Georgina Maddox: What about a cameo like Anurag Kashyap did in Dev.D?

Zoya Akhtar: I am not going to spoil my own movie.

Alaka Sahani: Ritesh Sidhwani had once said that he plans to produce youth-oriented shows on television. Are you going to be a part of it?

Zoya Akhtar: Yes,definitely. Farhan,Ritesh and I have a company which is a sister concern of Excel Entertainment,where we want to do television. We have lot of stuff on paper. But we have not actually gotten down to doing anything.

Transcribed by Priyanka Pereira

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