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Creating Magic With Cinema

Actors Manoj BajpayeeKay Kay MenonVijay Raaz and director Sanjeev Sharma talk to Team Box Office India about their film Saat Uchakkey

Box Office India (BOI) : What was your experience with the script?

Kay Kay Menon (KKM): When I received the script I kept reading it again and again. It has rarely happened that I read a script a few more times to understand it. This happened for the second time with me where I took some time to understand the lehja and the gist of the script and that too because I am born and brought up in Maharashtra and the film talks about old Delhi culture, which is kind of alien to me.  Whenever, in a script, apart from drama and emotion you have a story about the place, that story becomes unique in itself. In Saat Uchakkey, you have the location almost as a character. What I liked more about the story was that the characters based in that area are almost like fantasy characters. You just can’t believe such characters exist in reality.

Manoj Bajpayee (MB):  For me it was different as I have studied in Delhi and also did theatre there. I was familiar with old Delhi. I used to visit food stalls in Paranthewali Gali, go there to eat jalebi and kachori. We had few boys who were from Old Delhi in our group. Their way of speaking was different. A lot of my friends used to tease them for their way of speaking. When I got the script, it was like a flashback to those days and for the first time I was reading the old Delhi culture on paper. It took me two to three days to decide on the script. As Kay Kay just mentioned the characters sounded more from a fantasy world and it makes you think, is this real? After reading the script I realised that whoever has written this has actually lived this life for ages. In this case it’s Sanju (Sanjeev Sharma).

In fact, after a few weeks I called up Neeraj Pandey and told him that the script is little long and if it can be edited a bit, it can become a tight, interesting story. There was something about the script which was very compelling. That’s why I said ‘yes’ to the script.

Vijay Raaz (VR): I am born and brought up in Delhi, my instant reaction was that I will become a part of this film. Somewhere I knew all the characters. I have known them from my growing up days. I feel lucky to be part of this film.

BOI: Sanjeev, how did you come up with the concept?

SS: I was born in that world, I studied in old Delhi till my higher secondary. And I was one of those dumb kids who used to look at everyone around me with an open mouth. I have seen these characters in real, and I was very fascinated with them and their lives.

I used to stay close to a haveli where Delhi’s royal families used to reside. The language spoken in my house was very respectful. Ek alag hi tehzeeb thi ghar pe but we were surrounded by people who spoke a totally different language. That is the language you will hear in my film. In those days if we heard some new word, we would ask my father its meaning. He used to explain it to us so beautifully that the whole disgust of that foul language used to vanish.

Gradually, I started to understand that world more closely. I realised that it’s a different world. Today those characters seem like from a fantasy to us but they were real characters. So the inspiration came from there. In Old Delhi there are many such havelis. There is a haveli in Chandni Chowk called Chunnamal Haveli This haveli is Chandni Mahal in our film. There are lots of many such stories in Old Delhi around Chunnamal Haveli.

When the Mughal Empire ended, some of such havelis were taken over by the firangs. When a King loses his crown, it’s not just the raja leaving his throne. The entire trading system and therefore the entire social order gets affected

Now, nobody from the royal family wanted to work as they had royal blood. You might be in loss, without a job but because you belong to a Royal family, you just can’t do any odd jobs.

With the passage of time, there were 12 families residing at the same time in a haveli. With each passing generation, their needs increased and everyone had to take up petty work. I have used those characters in my film. They all belong to blue blooded families. They are surviving the changed social-economic scenario. Everyone is trying to better their economic structure. I have based the premise on these characters.

An important fact about Chunnamal Haveli was that the last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar got arrested but what happened to his descendants?  One of them resides in Mira Road (Mumbai), while one is in Kolkata. The family which resides in Kolkata works as a ragpickers. The Mira Road family gets `200 per month allowance from the government.

BOI: Besides the overall story, what was it about your individual characters which attracted you?

KKM: That is very difficult to say. It is very subjective; When you look at a particular person that you are playing, like I have said it many a times that I don’t play roles, I play people. It doesn’t matter if I am playing five cops in different films. I am not playing a character but playing Mahesh, the cop or Suresh, the cop. So in this film I am playing Tejpal, not a cop but Tejpal, a different person. It’s as simple as that. Normally, we actors tend to play people. When we play people that is when things tend to get interesting and unique. Tejpal has major love/lust for this girl and he is out to achieve it. He is also very gullible so is easily taken for a ride. When you actually play a character that is when you realize there are so many things that you can’t actually explain in words. It is not as simple. So the question about what your character entails is very irrelevant. Also there are too many intricacies in these characters for it to be explained. You have to watch the film to understand it.

SS: Post the script reading when we came down to discussing the character, Kay Kay asked me what I see in this character. I told him that there are seven people along with so many other characters in one place in the film. All of them live in their own fantasy world. I felt that Kay Kay’s character is the only one in the film who is living in reality. On a daily basis, he meets and encounters all these people who live in their fantasies. Kay Kay asked me a very interesting question which was if he deals with all these daydreamers then by now even his reality would be a bit unbalanced. I agreed with him and asked him to feel it and go with it to essay his character.

BOI: Manoj, what was your attraction towards your character?

MB: It’s actually very funny because my character Pappi is basically the local goon of that area. He has been there with a lot of attitude and brashness in his time. What I liked about him was that now he has fallen in love and is smitten, anybody and everybody is taking him for granted. Anyone and everyone is coming and fooling him. The desperation to acquire the object of his love has made him weak. That transition is what I loved the most. The fact that he has become so vulnerable because of the fact that he is in love, he is now ready to listen to anybody. He is willing to take any path to try everything.

SS: Manoj and I have had some discussions on his character. This character was a goon in his hey days but now he doesn’t have as much power as he used to. In the given situation, he goes through a lot of humiliation. That was also in a way a kind of a hook for this character.

BOI: What was it like in your case Vijay?

VR: Actually, I want to know from Sanjeev, what was his thought process while writing my character?

SS: Well Jaggi Tircha, the character Vijay is playing in the film, is one character who is never straight to the point. Like in chess, the horse’s move is never straight; his move is unusual among chess pieces. When it moves, it can move to a square that is two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or two squares vertically and one square horizontally. Jaggi is just like that.

VR: He is the only one who manipulates Pappi and knows his way through things, he is the only one who is curious to know things whereas everyone else is just a yes man to Pappi.

BOI: Each one of you mentioned that Old Delhi is the soul of the film.

MB: It’s not only in the backdrop but is the main character in the film.

BOI: The film has been shot extensively in Old Delhi. Can each one of you share your experience of shooting there, how difficult and extensive that was?

KKM: I found it draining. Firstly I was like a tourist. I saw those streets and it was so overwhelming. And then the people over there, I think they are blessed souls. We shot so many night schedules there and post-midnight a film set can be disturbing for a neighbourhood. I felt people would get agitated and would interrupt the shooting because we were disturbing them in middle of the night. It was amazing our work never got interrupted, they would stand in the corner and watch us shoot, clicked pictures with us and went back to their homes. They were that good, that kind of thing can never happen in Mumbai. This was something I found very unique. People there are large hearted.

VR: I feel one reason for this is that it is such an old city that people have been living there for many generations, I am talking specifically of the old Delhi area. In Mumbai I feel this may be true of the Maharashtrian Koli community which has been living here for centuries.

KKM: It was very fascinating for someone who has never been there. And the perspective was completely new because you can eat the most wonderful food there, meet the most wonderful people there. There are streets there where you feel transport is completely impossible but everything moves without any hassle. To compliment that you can listen to a nice melody of abuses around.

BOI: Manoj you have been to Old Delhi before. Was this still a revelation for you?

MB: Of course, it was! Living there for around 40 days and night you have a different experience altogether. You are not just shooting there but also soaking in the local culture around you. I have been there; gone there to have food, seen it from a very superficial level. This time I was fully there. Their conversation is also very different and weird.

I remember one instance, we were shooting and I was standing at the entry point near the crowd. They were blocking the street for our shoot. In the crowd about seven people were talking to each other. The first man says, ‘yahiManoj Bajpayee hai’. The other replies, ‘Achcha ye hai, itna dubla kyu lag raha hai’. Another one said, ‘kuch nahi, yeactor sab duble hi hote hain’. One guy said, ‘chalo na mil le’. And one said, ‘nahi bhai abhi mood mein hai mood mein’. The first one said, ‘are kya mood, milne mein kya jaata hai’. So their entire conversation was going on and I was standing right next to them.

VR: So Manoj has edited the entire curse words in this conversation. (Laughs)

SS: (Laughs)Wahan pe ek time mein basi hui duniya ka bhi rass haiJo bohot kamal ka experience milta hai aapko. It has such charisma that for a moment you are just so overwhelmed by it all that it silences you and you are just in awe.

MB: After a point it got claustrophobic for me. You are surrounded by houses and the narrow lanes and so many people all the time. Hardly a five feet lane and barely any distance between those houses. Most of them work there only and some go out to work, come back, live there and spend their entire lives in those lanes. Their culture is completely different than the rest of Delhi and that is what the film will show you. It is a culture you might have never seen anywhere.

SS: One thing that worked in our favour was that because I have lived in old Delhi, I knew a lot of people there and was aware of the streets and culture there. Talking about the lanes like these two mentioned, there are such streets there where only three people can walk together, then there are lanes where only two can walk together and then there are such narrow lanes where only one person can walk. Then you will see a lane where two people are clashing with each other and walking. If two people are walking there have to keep a space between them, one will walk ahead the other will walk behind. Then you will reach a lane where only one man can walk. You will get to see all these lane in Saat Uchakkey. Being born in old Delhi and studying there till class 12th had one benefit. Everybody relates to the film, saying it’s their film. Everybody felt connected. You can say the production team didn’t comprise of just 18 people; there the production team was of 200 people.

VR: People were aware that it’s Sanju’s film or else there would be around 600 to 700 people there in production team.

SS: There are many locations in the film where there was no permission to shoot Some locations were governed by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). There were instances where we decided to shoot at a particular place and then you realize this place is under ASI control and you can’t shoot here but we got help from the locals and the politicians there. It was out and out a very good experience for all of us.

KKM: In fact, we got a police station vacated to shoot in that location. 

BOI: The film is ready to release on October 14. What do you think will attract the audience to this film?

KM: The thing is life-long. We only do good things. We are actors and we follow the religion of acting. We work whole-heartedly. The audience may not always give a positive response. When we do a good film, we wish that it encourages the audience to patronize it and take it closer to a film which is a
Rs.100 crore- earners. Good cinema is very good for health. If again and again you do the same thing, like if a good film is out and you don’t encourage it, then one day cinema will die. The future generation will think baahein phaila ke khade rehna is acting, they will think putting your hand on the belt and dancing is acting. This will be the culture and the cinema will die. So the request is to start encouraging good films and help it reach its goal. We have no problem with other films. Let them make money and fulfill their wishes but because of this don’t finish some other things. Let there be a good existence of good cinema as well as non-cinema. But good cinema must exist for the next generation and we all work with the intent that our work will outlive us. We hope that our work will be seen and we work with that intention. When we work with this intention and when we fall flat on our face we have to be careful about it. There is a request to the audience. If there is a good life, good education, good clothes and good nutrition then why not good cinema. It’s very good for your health and moral stability. Munni toh badnam ho gayi na ab apne bacho ko badnam math kijiye. I request people, not just people but the entire film fraternity to consider cinema as cinema and work with the intent of promoting the business of good cinema.

BOI: Manoj, it’s your turn now.

MB: He has said everything. There is nothing I disagree with. There has to be a co-existence. Only one kind of cinema is not good for the industry and not very good for viewers too. Viewers have to understand this more than the industry.  Wherever I go people ask me why don’t we make films like in the US or Europe and I retort back saying, we do makes films like those but it’s you who is not interested in finding out the date of release of such films. You only go to watch a film which is hyped a lot. For you taking your kids for cinema is like taking them for a fair.  Our cinema is different from just a fair. Our cinema is about stories and about characters. It’s the audience’s turn to encourage it, mentor us and patronize us and without their support as Kay Kay said it will one day eventually die. We are already in the second or third leg of our career but the generation which is coming after us who are getting into acting and believe in pure cinema will have a tough time if the audience won’t take the initiative to give support to good cinema. Sath Uchakkey is a film I am proud of. We all are proud of. This film has the kind of comedy that I wanted to do. This is the humor I wanted to create through my character. This is a film which is close to me. The entire experience has been very rewarding. I learnt a lot while doing this film. It’s my first film with Sanjeev Sharma and I really hope that the audience comes out and encourages this kind of a film.

SS: This film is definitely worth watching for its humour. Apart from being artistic and adventurous, the film’s entertainment quotient is very strong.  We have done our part and now we want to see how the audience reacts to it. The things done in this film have been done truthfully. One day I was sitting in the studio and I told my mixing engineer to close down the image and we will just listen today. We won’t watch the video today and we will only listen. While listening, we realised that the audiography of this film is very powerful. Once upon a time, people used to gather to listen to the dialogues in Sholay. This film’s audiography is as powerful. Just by listening to its dialogue you can enjoy the moment.

MB: I always hesitate to say it’s an entertaining film and people should watch it. I feel I am selling a fake thing.  This film is an experience in itself. Cinema should be like this, where there is a lot of variety and it satisfies all our senses; it should be an experience in itself. I am confident that people will love it and encourage it.

VR: This is the USP of the film. This film is close to me. I have never been to so many places to promote any film. This is the first time I am doing it because I loved the film. If you want to watch the magic of cinema, then please go and watch Saat Uchakkey.

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