Team Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai – actors Arbaaz Khan, Manjari Fadnis and Himansh Kohli, along with director Keshhav Panneriy – in conversation with Team Box Office India
Box Office India (BOI): Keshhav, how did this story come to mind?
Keshhav Panneriy (KP): Producer Purina Mead and I were talking about starting something. We have known each other for a long time and decided to make a film with a good story and cast. Then she came up with a thought that mirrored her own life story. She told me a few instances that had happened in the US and one of them was very inspiring for me. We started discussing it and came up with the structure of the film.
We decided to finally start making the film a year later. There is truth in this film and it makes us feel good. We don’t have many feel-good films. We then started thinking about casting and approached Arbaaz Khan. He said ‘yes’ and it boosted our confidence. Then, everything started falling into place.
Arbaaz Khan (AK): There are a few parameters on which we agreed to do this film. First, the role that was offered to me suits me and this is the kind of film I would like to be associated with. Then the assessment that whether the director who is narrating the film would make the film the way you see the film. Touch wood, the film has turned out much better than I expected.
Himansh Kohli (HK): Keshhav sir made me listen to a melody. We have much better melodies today, but back then, I told him, ‘If you stick to music like this, I will surely do this film.’ When I heard the script and saw the star cast, I was amazed that this was only my second film and I was getting to work with actors like these. It was the best thing that had happened to me.
After my film Yaariyan, people were looking forward to my second film. There is a responsibility to come up with the right film, right subject, right content and the film should be relatable. My character in this film is not very different from my personal life and, more than that, I feel it will relate to youngsters.
Manjari Fadnis (MF): When I heard the script, I felt there was great scope for an actress to perform. Starting with the time the character is 17 to 18 years old and trying to find herself, to when she is successful at the age of 40, it was a huge range to play and that was very inspiring for me. I really enjoyed the script when I heard it.
Apart from that, Keshhav made me listen to a few songs as well. I have realised that every good director has a good ear for music. The soundtrack is beautiful and he had chosen all the songs. I also seized the opportunity to work with such a great star cast.
BOI: There are so many characters in the film and different phases of life. What is the story about?
KP: The story is about never giving up. The film sends out the message that when we want to achieve something, there may be obstacles in the way and we have to struggle and overcome them without compromising on one’s principles. Also, the film has power-packed performances. Prem Chopra brings in his own experiences and plays the role of Shaukat Ali Mirza ‘Karachiwale’. About Arbaaz sir’s character… Aditya Kapoor is a philanthropist and an NRI born and raised in America. The character leads to a story about how he is related to India. Sir’s lines are very beautiful.
Ashutosh Rana plays a royal character, Kunwar Vikram Pratap Singh, prince of Mewar in Rajasthan. Himansh plays a charming boy. His character shines through in this film as does his dialogue delivery. When you look at Manjari’s character’s range, you will wonder, yeh kaise ho gaya ki…
AK: Aap soch rahe hogay ki yeh kaise ho gaya, inse umeed nahin thi, yeh kaise kar diya Manjari ne. (Laughs)
KP: No, it’s a surprising element. You will see her great performance on screen. We have shot the film in 200 locations and have worked really hard. It was really cold.
MF: It was minus 11 degrees.
KP: Despite the unbearable cold, we acted as if we were fine. We were prepared to work, no matter what.
MF: Keshhav’s face was frozen despite all the warm clothes.
KP: Yeah, it was tough. Also, we shot the Mujhko tere ishq mein bhigade song in the sweltering sun.
MF: Yes, I had to walk barefoot on hot sand.
AK: Not really. Sometimes, a role is so well-written and fleshed out and the director is so clear about what he wants that it makes it easy for the actor to perform. Actors usually struggle when there is no clarity. The most important thing is to identify with the character. Once the director casts for a film, he knows the personality of the actor and whether or not he or she suits the role.
In my case, I had played an NRI guy, which the director wanted, so that was half the battle won. So the most important thing when casting is to determine whether the person looks like the character. First, you have to suit the physicality of a role and then performance becomes easy.
MF: I would say Arbaaz is extremely lucky for me. I have worked with him a few times and every film of mine that has featured him has worked, whether Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na or Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon. We had only a few small scenes together and it worked wonders for me and the entire team. He is my lucky charm.
AK: I look at it the other way… I think you are my lucky charm.
HK: Just being on the sets and watching them perform was enough for me because there is just so much to learn from them. Besides, they are not the kind to pull you down just because you are junior. In fact, they make you feel more comfortable so that you can perform better and they even try to enhance your performance.
MF: Working with great actors like them can only motivate you to improve your performance. Acting is all about reacting; it’s a give-and-take in the scene, so even if you are relatively new, it is a learning experience when you are not intimated by them. Actors like Supriya ma’am, Ashutosh Rana sir and Prem Chopraji were very supportive and encouraging. That helped us to perform even better.
HK: There is a scene where Ashutoshji and I are standing together and I am supposed to look at him. While that scene was shot, Ashutoshji said to me, ‘Focus on me or from behind. If a girl is coming running to you, then you have to take charge or take a hold.’ He explained what I should feel in those moments and that helped boost my performance. You will never get an opportunity to learn like this anywhere else.
AK: There are always expectations from any film you do, that it will do something for you or your career. So we are all expecting a lot from this film and are hoping it will be appreciated by the audience.
BOI: What is the USP of the film?
AK: The Qubool hai song. (Laughs)
MF: Himansh, the youth icon right now. (Laughs)
HK: Qubool hai.
AK: There are two songs, Mujhko tere ishq mein bhigade and Qubool hai, which will become popular, provided they are promoted well. They have the potential to stay popular beyond the film’s run. They have the potential that a song like Bheegey honth tere had, which is popular years after the film released.
KP: Even sir (Arbaaz Khan) ka bhi title song Jeena isi Ka naam hai… even that one is very catchy.
MF: Yes, that’s a very beautiful song. There’s one more song that is my favourite from the film. I can’t really talk about it right now but I can say that it is a very beautiful and an inspiring song.
AK: Apart from the USP of the songs, apart from the fact that the film is beautiful and very well shot, it is emotional and sensitive. I would say that a film’s success depends on its music. And we have three-four tracks that will appeal with the audiences. That is the USP of the film.
BOI: Arbaaz, what do you prefer more – producing films or acting in them?
AK: Acting has always been my passion. I started my career as an actor. At this point, I would not say that I would not take on acting work although, in future, I would like to be behind the scenes. Even if acting assignments come my way, I would still want to focus on being behind the scenes.
In a sense, acting is restrictive in that you are performing only your character. You are only doing what you are asked to do. When you make a film, you take a holistic approach towards it – you get the cast ready, you get the locations ready, the costumes, background music, promotions. I want to have that kind of role in a film. These are my plans in the coming years, to make more films as a producer.
AK: Before we go on to that let me add here that Keshhav Panneriy is an amazing director and he has delivered more than he had promised. His commitment is very evident. We all know that certain films need to be made in a certain way, budget, time frame etc. But he set all those things aside. The film has been shot like any other film and is being promoted like any other film.
MF: He knows exactly what he wants. When casting was underway, he saw my audition and knew I would be able to pull off my role of ‘Alia’. He has stood by me throughout.
HK: There were two-three things that I liked… his simplicity and the fact that in spite of being a director, he was looking into every detail of the filmmaking process. When it came to my performance, he used to read my lines and act them out so that I could get the gist of it.
KP: It was a team effort including the technical team.
MF: For me, my next project is Ba Ba Black Sheep, a dark comedy. After that, there will be Red Affair. Arbaaz is in that movie too.
HK: My upcoming films are Sweetie Desai Weds NRI, Gunday And Gudiya and Dil Jo Na Keh Saka.
AK: Dabangg 3 is next for me. As of now, it is tentatively scheduled to go on the floors early next year. So I should be starting work in the middle of this year, in terms of scripting, getting a few things ready, the music, which alone will take six months. So in June-July, I will don another cap and my acting will take a backseat for a year or 18 months.