BOI: Ashmit, what was the narration process like for you?
Ashmit Patel (AP): I had gone to Mahesh Manjrekar‘s office for a film that he was directing. There, I met someone with whom I had worked previously in a film. At the time, I was not doing many films as I had gotten into DJing. He told me there was this film being made on the underworld and he felt I should be part of the film. So I met Hadi for a narration, assuming I would be narrated the lead role. I sat down and 10 minutes into the narration, I figured I was not going to be playing the lead but it was still so captivating that I instantly said ‘yes’. The narration was fantastic and the story impressed me. Also, all the characters were very strong and my character had a pivotal part to play.
BOI: Gashmeer, you are a big name in the Marathi film industry. What was it about this film that made you say ‘yes’?
Gashmeer Mahajani (GM): Just like Ronit, I too consider myself a student of cinema. The language doesn’t matter. It is the team you are making the film with that does. Secondly, Hadi has already successfully produced a Marathi film called Poshter Girl and I had heard some great things about him and his partner Pushpang Gowda. I had heard that these were the best producers and that they pamper their actors. I really wanted to work with them.
A Marathi director had approached me for a film and I got to know that these guys would be producing the film. I was given a narration of that Marathi film but I didn’t like the script, so I didn’t get on board that project. I wanted to work with these guys but I didn’t like the script.
Later, I learnt that these guys too had backed out of that film. Within a week’s time, he called me through a common friend and said, ‘Aur ek picture hai aur main produce nahi kar raha hoon but direct kar raha hoon aur Hindi hai, So aap aake narration le lijiye’. I remember, when I walked into their office, Hadi shouted out to Salim, the writer, saying, ‘Dekho, Salim bhai, apna Dongri Ka Raja aagaya!’
If the director is convinced that you are the character by just looking at him, I think taking the narration was just a formality. Also, I don’t believe in studying a character unless it is a biopic because I always feel that a character is a figment of somebody’s imagination.
RS: When I read the script, I was very excited and I wanted to do my homework on my character. Hadi sir had asked me to go through the script and understand my character. All day and all night, I was with the script, marking points and highlighting scenes, noting my point of view and writing notes. So when I reached the sets, I was all prepared. I went to him with my notes and he said, ‘Yeh nahi karna hai.’ He changed everything I had perceived while reading the script. Even during the audition, I had made the character a little too bubbly and he told me that’s not what the character was like.
BOI: Your film is based on the underworld, a subject that has inspired many films. What’s new about this film?
RR: Our film is not about the underworld; the backdrop is Dongri, where there is a family that rules the area. It is a love story against the backdrop of the underworld. And within that love story, there are twists, there is love, friendship, relationships, deceit, a fight to get what you have promised to deliver while the cop is being badged down. Everybody has their own little struggles. It is not a film based on an underworld gang war. The canvas is the underworld but the painting is a love story.
BOI: There must have been something in the script that would assure you your creative freedom while also assuring the commercial viability of the project.
HAA: There is a lot of talk in the industry about how films like this one will release. But when we have a producer like him (PS Chhatwal), who is willing to take marketing to another level, then we are ready to make more scripts. Our producer has shown so much interest and placed so much faith in us and in the film that he has taken marketing to another level. With this film, everything is falling into place.
RR: First, it was his vision and then Hadi came in, we all came in… So it is someone’s vision that we are following.
PSC: (Cuts in) It is all God’s blessing. Everything is preordained we have to just act on it.
RR: I think we have made an honest film, and we’ve worked hard. Now, the audience will decide it’s fate.
BOI: You just mentioned marketing. Can you elaborate on that?
HAA: I think our producer is best placed to answer this question.
PSC: We will be marketing the film for 11 days only. We will be opening our cards on November 1. (Laughs)
PSC: I am basically a marketing person. In 1972, I joined Sarabhai Chemicals as a medical representative and was marketing medicines for eight years. I travelled everywhere. I know what sells and what doesn’t. Ganjo ke desh mein bhi kanghi bechi ja sakti hain. All you need to know is how to sell. Compared to that, this film is a diamond, which we can sell very easily.
BOI: Can each one tell us how you added to the character that each one of you is playing?
RR: With every passing year and with experience, I have realised that every director thinks differently. Earlier, I used to think differently, I used to go prepared on the sets. But over the years, I realised that every director is different and everyone has a different vision, unless you are Al Pacino or Salman Khan, hum logon ki nahi chalti. And, in a way, it’s good that hum logon ki nahi chalti because I would then bring the same thing to the table with every film I do.
Whereas, if I take the director’s vision forward, I will be adding new dimensions to my work. When I go along with a director’s vision, it helps me grow as an actor. So, while working in this film, I followed what Hadi had asked me to do. There was a lot of crossfire but it was all for the good of the film.
I have said this before and I will say it again, that I had no idea when the film started and when it ended. I was, like, ‘Ho gaya?’ And when you don’t realise you have worked so hard, it is a very positive sign.
AP: I totally agree. I too follow my director. Of course, once you get the script and rehearse, you tend to improve the character on your own. But, in the end, you want to sync with your director’s vision. Like when he asked me about the character and briefed me on the look. I experimented and sent him a picture the very next day.
BOI: Sure, you followed the director’s vision but were there any workshops or script readings that you attended together, to acquaint yourself with the characters?
RR: Readings and I don’t gel. Even when I prepare beforehand, I come to the set with a fresh mindset.
GM: When you prepare, you tend to overthink things. What I find more fruitful than a workshop is a long chat with my director, a very long conversation with my director about random stuff. This tells you where you are starting from and what exactly the director is expecting. It doesn’t make sense to prepare for the scene beforehand as one reacts to the same thing differently, each time. All you need to know is what the director is expecting from the scene. But, sure, we do script rehearsals to acquaint ourselves about the entire story and plot.
RR: I was shooting for Udaan, where we were attending a workshop. The film was directed by Vikramditya Motwane. Before the film started, I met him 40-60 times and we talked a lot – how many buttons should the costume have, should the buttons be open or closed, what I will be wearing, and so on, about every detail.
On the first day of our shoot, we did a light scene but on the second day, we were shooting a very important scene, an emotional scene, and after we delivered the scene, Vikram and I looked at each other and he said, ‘I don’t know where that came from.’
Everything we prepared for was different as the zone we were in while shooting was very different. So we used to sit by the pool, sipping coffee and discuss the film. But when we shot the film, it was a ramshackle bungalow covered by black tarpaulin so that we couldn’t see the sun. And since it was not air-conditioned, it was extremely uncomfortable.
So, sometimes, preparation can get in the way. For instance, you may prepare your dialogue delivery and reaction to the scene but all this changes depending on the changed surroundings and how your co-star delivers his or her lines.
So acting is all about reacting to a situation, and it keeps changing as the situation changes.
BOI: Is it safe to say that the script is the main USP of your film?
RR: I think the spontaneity of every actor and the technicians has made this film possible. Everybody was on their toes and kept improvising as we went along. I noticed the DoP change his lights quickly, according to the situation. Hadi was very spontaneous and kept adjusting to the many changes that took place on the sets. Now I am working with Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma) sir, who is also constantly adapting to changing situations. I think the spontaneity demonstrated by everyone is what made this film.
HAA: Of all the films I have made, this is the first one where the leading actor has the least lines. He has spoken mainly through his eyes and expression.
GM: When I was offered the script, my part had a lot to say but while shooting and discussing the scenes, my lines were summarily deleted. Do line bolta hai herogiri wali aur fir bhao khake nikal jaana, At least, I didn’t have a lot of dubbing to do!
HAA: Since these two guys (Ronit and Gashmeer) are versatile actors and there was so much going on between them, we didn’t need too much dialogue. Actions speak louder than words.