Leading actors – Akshay Oberoi, Ragini Khanna, Pankaj Tripathi and Shalini Vatsa – in conversation with Team Box Office India about their upcoming film Gurgaon
BOI: The trailer has just released. How excited are you guys?
Shalini Vatsa (SV): I am very nervous. I am eager to know how people have reacted, what they feel about the teaser and trailer, and what their thoughts are.
Ragini Khanna (RK): Honestly, I am just happy it’s out. I am yet to feel something. Right now, my mind is working more than my emotions are. But, yes, I am happy people will get to watch this amazing piece of cinema.
Akshay Oberoi (AO): It’s been a very long journey for me, starting with Ragini Khanna, who is responsible for me being cast in this film. I was shooting for Fitoor, when Shanker Raman, the director of this film, asked her who she thought the correct person was for this particular role. She referred me to him and that’s how I am here, talking to all of you.
RK (Cuts In): I am his godmother. (Laughs)
AO: Oh, yes, she is my godmother. I think everybody should watch this film. You will get to see some real good, quality work.
Pankaj Tripathi (PT): I am also keen to know how people have reacted as this film is very special for all of us. My role is very deep and intense and there are some very minute things that are experimented in this film. That’s why I am very curious to know what people think and how they have perceived our roles. I am also excited and happy that our film is releasing next week.
BOI: Akshay just told us how he was cast in this film. Can the rest of you also reveal how you were cast, and what appealed you about this film?
PT: I did a film with Ajayji (Ajay G Rai), who had produced Nil Battey Sannata. After that, he called me and narrated this script to me. Then I met Shanker Raman, the director of the film. He is a South Indian but his Hindi is flawless. I wondered how this was possible till I realised he was born and brought up in Delhi. Anyway, I felt I should ask him to narrate the story to me later. He was very interesting to talk to and you feel as if you are talking to a sadhu. All I wanted then was to listen to the ideas and thoughts behind this story before he started narrating the script. He is brilliant and has an amazing thought processes. I keep telling Shankerji that I would become his first follower if he became a baba.
AO: We are his followers. He gives life coaching.
PT: I was very impressed with his thoughts and the story that he told me. Also, the character I am playing has multiple layers and is very complex, and it was a challenge to play this character, every day, on the sets. And, every day, I was grateful for being a part of this film.
AO: I think all the characters are layered; in fact I would say that all the characters are multi-layered.
SV: I had worked with Shanker in Peepli [Live] and we used to live close to each other. One day, we bumped into each other in a coffee shop and he said, ‘You will do my film with me in December! I was, like, okay I will. When I went home, I wondered what the film and my role were all about. Although I had no answers to these questions then, I knew I would get a good role to play in this film.
I received the script after a month. When I read it, I was very happy but also apprehensive about the character he had asked me to play. At the time, I wasn’t very confident and I spoke to Shanker. As everyone says, he has the ability to inspire people and he explained my role to me. After that, I started working on my character.
I liked the script emotionally. I was very moved when I read the script the first time, and I also loved the powerful plot. That’s why I said yes to this film.
RK: Mukesh Chhabra, the casting director of this film, had sent me a script and asked me to read it. I did and couldn’t stop thinking about it for three whole days. Then he told me to audition for this film and Shanker liked my audition. The first thing Shankar spoke to me about was the ‘wheel of integrity’, and I was, like, this is a man I want to work with. Also, this is the script I wanted to do. I wanted to immerse myself completely in this film. Shankar is worthy of every shred of praise we give him. He doesn’t just deal with people; he understands them. And this is visible in the film.
There are filmmakers who only tell you what you have to do and there are others who go out of their way to make the artiste understand what they have to do. They explain everything in detail and are very generous with their time. That makes for a great collaboration with a director because, then, everyone feels like yeh hamari film hai. Gurgoan is the product of genuine love and affection from the whole team towards our director, writers and producers.
AO: I clearly remember I was at Abhishek Kapoor’s place when I was shooting for Fitoor. Ajay and Mukesh walked in and, after some time, Ajay said, ‘Tonight, I will have a word with you.’ Later, Ajay left and when Mukesh Chhabra and I were walking back to our rooms together, he said he would send me a script later that night and I should let him know what I thought. And, yes, it is also a little bit due to her (Ragini Khanna) that I was cast in this film. (Laughs)
RK: Actually, I was offered a film opposite Akshay. I was shown a picture of Akshay but I hadn’t seen any of his previous films. I was very consumed.
AO: Oh yeah? She was ‘consumed’ and that’s why she wasn’t familiar with my work! Ragini, that is very sweet of you, I feel like hugging you. (Laughs)
RK: That’s very rare, Akshay feeling like hugging me. All he likes to do is pull my leg. I was offered a film opposite Akshay, and I saw his picture and I was, like, wow this guy is so good looking. He said, ‘He is not only good looking but also a great actor.’ I was, like, okay. Then I saw one of his short films and I had to agree that he was talented.
So, when Shanker asked me if I could suggest an actor for this film, I suggested Akshay’s name. After two days, Shanker called me and said, ‘We have gone ahead with your recommendation.’
AO: You must have showed him that domestic violence ad.
RK: Oh yes, that Vogue ad. And that one shot that I couldn’t forget, of his eyes.
BOI: Talking about the amalgamation of energy, how did each one of you balance that on the sets?
AO: I won’t answer this. I have worked with really good actors in this film. This man, right here, I call him ‘Marlon Brando’. I believe he is the Marlon Brando of our independent cinema.
PT: Aur mein bolta hu kam budget ka. (Laughs)
AO: Then ma’am… She doesn’t like it when I address her as ‘ma’am’. She is such a powerhouse. When you work with people like that, acting becomes like tennis. If your opponent is strong, you will give back strongly. So I got to work with some top actors and had a great experience with them.
RK: They come from a theatre background, so they are very good. I think credit goes to Pankajji, Shalini, Shanker, Aamir Bashir and Ashish Verma… They are superb actors.
SV: We never really looked at where everybody was coming from. When everything falls in place, you feel that energy. It was a collaborative effort. I never once felt like I didn’t know these people before.
AO: I feel blessed working with actors like these.
PT: Shanker has contributed a lot to this. As captain of the ship, he handled everything so well. It is very inspiring to listen to him and people automatically get influenced by him.
AO: He is, kind of, a life coach. We have known each other for two or two and a half years and if I need any kind of guidance, or when something goes wrong in my life, I straightaway call him.
PT: Cinema ke alava bhi ek bada career unka intezar kar raha hai
SV: You talking about Shanker… I can go to Shanker and talk about anything.
RK: You can see how much we love and miss him.
BOI: Can you tell us something about your character?
PT: Kehri Singh is a character whose journey has been shown from farmer to builder. He is very close to his daughter but not his son, and he doesn’t feel any kind of attachment to his wife.
SV: She is married to Kehri Singh; I live with him and I don’t go anywhere. In that space, there is a level of love, attachment and concern, looking after each other.
PT: There is a moment in the film where everything is right between both of them and there is a big twist. After that point, the story takes different turns.
AO: I am Kehri Singh’s son Nikki Singh, who doesn’t really have a connect with his father. He is always sidelined by his dad, who prefers one child and ignores the other. This keeps building in my character’s heart. I can relate this to my own life and was able to use this experience while playing my part. It felt real.
RK: I play Preet, who is well-educated and well-spoken. She also understands the power she possesses. She is trying to get it all right and balance everything. She was raised in Gurgaon but studied in Paris and is an architect. Preet Singh is very mature for her age.
BOI: From where did you draw the inspiration for your character?
PT: I believe that if the script is written well, then all the actor has to do is learn to deliver it. And a director like him explains everything to you on a spiritual level. Also, the environment on the set was very different. So I don’t think you need any kind of inspiration to play your character.