Like countless other Indians, Shashank Khaitan initially aspired to become a Bollywood actor, but he ultimately stumbled upon his real passion — direction and writing. Today, he is the man behind India’s popular love franchise, with two films – Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and the recently released Badrinath Ki Dulhania to his credit. Hopefully, the writer-director will soon add a third instalment to this franchise. In a freewheeling chat with Shweta Kulkarni, Khaitan talks about his love for Hindi cinema and how he wants to continue working with Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan, again and again. Excerpts from the tête-à-tête
Your recent film Badrinath Ki Dulhania is doing pretty well at the box office. Has it lived up to your expectations?
More than the financial expectations, we were really hoping people would like the film and get the message of the movie. The intent was to make an entertaining film along with giving out a message, not the other way around. It’s a love story, at the end of the day, and it should be about that. And we were really hoping for people to connect with that. Everything about this film, right from the day the trailer released, has been beyond expectations.
I feel extremely fortunate that we received so much love and that’s got to do with the fact that Karan is the producer on the film and my actors Varun and Alia are so popular. However, I believe that the euphoria over Dharma, Varun and Alia has subsided, and now people are accepting the film and the message. So, to get back to your question, yes, the film has exceeded expectations. And, yes, we were ambitious about the film but we are also so happy with the love we are getting.
And we came from a position of good intent; we didn’t come from a position of manipulation. We wanted to have this as a very good story. We just didn’t want it to be… I mean, it is a regular story, it is an everyday story, it is a story that happens within so many parts of our country and we wanted to address that and yet keep it to the kind of entertainment we are used to. You know, Hindi films earlier used to be like that, they used to be entertaining and there was also a small hidden message… and I wanted to create that feeling, to offer entertainment and send out a small message that you could take back home with you.
Badrinath… is not only a sequel to the very popular Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, it is also your second film, plus it stars Varun and Alia, who have a huge fan following. What kind of pressure did you feel while making this instalment?
To be fair, even if Varun and Alia had not featured in the movie, there would have been pressure on me to make a good second film. Yes, the pressure is even greater when they come together again. But the good part is, we were always on the same page with the script, with the story and with the kind of movie we wanted to make. So after that, there was never any pressure to try and justify anything. We were all working to tell the best story and trying to be honest to our characters and the story, so the rest didn’t really matter.
There was never an attempt to try and do something so that the chemistry between Varun and Alia was heightened; or because they are popular with young children, we never once thought, ‘Oh let’s do something young here,’ let’s try and do this scene so that their chemistry stands out… That was never the intent of the film.
I believe the film comes from a sense of purity, where we wanted to make a very simple film, a very honest movie, and be honest to every character in the movie. And that is what is being appreciated by the people and that is what I am most happy about.
When you work with the same set of people, the same team, there is a certain amount of comfort. However, sometimes that comfort can hamper the creativity…
Right from Humpty… my team and I had a very strong belief that the script was king and we were not here to work with each other, we were all here to work for the script. When that basic objective is sorted, it doesn’t matter whether you are working together for the first time or the second time, because you are actually committed to the script.
So whether it is Varun and Alia, whether it is my production team, my cameraman or my musician, we all are working towards the script. That makes life easier. Then you are not depending on personal equations. The personal equation becomes very comfortable because now I don’t need to tell most of them what to do as we already know our language; we already know how we communicate; my cameraman already knows how I like my scenes; and Varun-Alia know the kind of reality I like in my performances. So we are all on the same page.
Actually, on the first day, when we started shooting, it didn’t feel like we were shooting a new film. The only thing different was that it was a new language and we were a little careful in ensuring that we got it right from the beginning. Otherwise, it felt like we were back from a long break and we were back to shooting together because a lot of my core team was also the same.
So, in that sense, the comfort really helps because you are now starting from a higher position. You have already made some mistakes in your previous film; now you have come to the next one with a certain realisation, a certain learning and unlearning of a few things, and you are starting a notch higher. Once you draw that line, that the script is king, the script is the hero of the film, then you don’t have a problem even if you are working together, say for the fourth time.