It was always them but I didn’t write the film for them. The difference between that is that because I know them so well, I know their pros and cons but I didn’t write the film to play to their strengths. I just wrote the film and we worked towards becoming the characters and that’s why people are appreciating their performances.
In spite of knowing they would be there, I didn’t make things easy for them. For me, it is always that you become the character because that’s when something fresh will emerge. And they also wanted it that way. They didn’t want it easy and wanted to challenge themselves. So, they were always the first choice and I am very happy that they said ‘yes’.
Will this franchise continue?
We hope it does, especially after the response to this one. But we haven’t discussed this yet; we are soaking in everything now and will decide later. We need to get another good story as well, a story that I feel excited about and will excite my actors as well because we have set a certain standard for ourselves. I hope when I write the third film, I can challenge that even further.
What kind of cinema has influenced you?
That defining moment for me was DDLJ. It was that film that made me decide that I wanted to be a part of the film industry. I was an athlete at that point, I used to play tennis and cricket and I thought that if I don’t make a career in sports, I would join the film industry. That film was magical.
Other than that, I always had the good fortune of watching a lot of old Hindi films as well as a lot of English films, especially, love stories, with which I connected most. So, whether it was Casablanca, DDLJ, Maine Pyar Kiya or Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak… all these films have influenced me. And then at Whistling Woods, we were exposed to great international cinema. I watched City of God… when I saw it for the first time, I was, like, this is brilliant. So there are many films like that. But I am a typical Hindi movie buff.
Clearly, love stories have a strong influence on you. Will we see you making more films in this genre or will you be experimenting?
I don’t know; it’s too early to say right now; I have only just finished Badri… Right now, I just want to relax and soak in everything, and then I will sit down and see what I can write. When I was studying at Whistling Woods, there was a professor who had come from Hollywood and he told us that every story is a love story. Even a thriller is a love story because it is about one person and it’s about his love for something materialistic… a film on an athlete is his love for that gold medal. So every story is a love story, all you need to do is find the conflict in that story. So I am going to search to see what excites me. And if it turns out to be another conflict between a boy and a girl, I will make a love story; if it turns out to be something else, I will make something else.
As a director, what are your strengths?
My training primarily has been of an actor. I was trained by Naseeruddin Shah and I was a part of his theatre company. The only thing I understand for certain is how to control performances and how to write an urgent intention in a scene. And that’s the strength I come with. I can tell immediately which actor is not giving me the correct emotions. And that’s the one thing I focus on completely on my sets, that every scene should be truthful; every scene should come from a place of reality. If it’s going slightly over the top, I don’t like it. I don’t like melodrama in my movies.
So you initially wanted to be an actor?
Of course, that’s why I came to Whistling Woods. But, you know, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I came to Whistling Woods. When you are from a small town like Nashik… no it’s not actually a small town, but you don’t get exposure on how to get into the movie business. At that time, the easiest thing was to think, chalo main actor ban jata hoon. I came in with that thought in mimd.
But when I joined Whistling Woods, I realised that I loved writing and directing because that’s what they taught me in the Foundation Course. I decided to specialise in acting because Naseer sir and his team were my teachers. They taught me how to build great characters. And just because of Naseer sir, I didn’t want to shift from acting to direction. But the minute I graduated from the school, I started assisting on movies as an AD and I was certain that I wanted to move to direction. You can create so much with writing and it fascinated me.
You mentioned that you hail from Nashik, where you have limited exposure to cinema. So what was your perception of Bollywood before you came here?
It is still the same. I am absolutely star-struck. I start blushing when directors and stars talk to me and acknowledge me, and praise me. I am a fan boy; I get extremely excited when I meet actors, or when they talk to me. It’s a great high. I feel extremely fortunate to be here and living my dream.
Do you have a wish-list of people you would like to work with in future?
I can happily say that I want to work with so-and-so but that seems like an empty statement when I don’t have a script to support that. So I want to first write and then I will go to them and say, ‘Sir, I want to work with you.’ That apart, I want to work with Varun and Alia again. They are superstars in the making and I want to continue working with them for the rest of my life. We have a great connect as artistes, and a great connect as friends.