Team Raabta – producer Bhushan Kumar and debutant director Dinesh Vijan, with leading pair Sushant Singh Rajput and Kriti Sanon, in conversation with Team Box Office India, about the film and what Raabta means to them
Box Office India (BOI): Raabta comes across as an unconventional project, Bhushan what was your reaction to the script and how did you come on board?
Bhushan Kumar (BK): Dinesh Vijan came to me with two films, Hindi Medium was one and then he spoke about Raabta as well. I loved the script and it’s a beautiful romantic drama which is very commercial and entertaining. Dinoo (Dinesh Vijan) was sure about how he wanted the film to look like, who he wanted to cast, the music, etc. That surety made me say yes to this project. Plus, he and I have a similar approach at work and we are very passionate about our work. Easy work partnership led to two beautiful films.
BOI: What is it about these two actors that made you sure they were right for your film, especially since the protagonists play double roles?
Dinesh Vijan (DV): I had met Shushant earlier, when he was in his method acting phase for a film called Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! He was sitting there talking very seriously, and I narrated some ideas to him.
He liked all the ideas and, at the end of the meeting, he walked me out and I started talking about this film. I saw him reacting very strongly to it. He said, ‘Now what?’. And I said, ‘Mil liya, abhi let’s see what happens.’ Two and a half months later, I met him with the script. I said, ‘Do you remember that story?’ And he said, ‘Yes!’ And I gave him the script.
Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR): (Cuts in) After that, I had gone on vacation because I had just finished shooting Byomkesh…, and it was such a good experience but it also felt very serious. So I was in Goa chilling and reading the script, and I really liked it.
BOI: What about the leading lady?
DV: I first met her years ago, before she had even done her first film. I think it was around the time of the Cocktail release. We had met for something else, and, again, as with Sushant, I ended up narrating the script to her. Later, she sent me a very sweet message.
At the time, I had been contemplating whether I should turn director or not, because I was in a very secure place as a producer. Of the 10 films I’ve done, I think seven have worked, and those that didn’t work have also been special to me because they have taught me a lot.
I knew that I needed to take a back seat there and first I needed permission from all the directors I was working with. In fact, Homi (Adajania) suggested that I do this because he said I had it in me. So reluctantly, at that point, I thought, I’ll do it. The confidence to make that film really came when I tested the characters for the first time. It was almost like they had their raabta going on.
As the scene started, it just came alive. The lines were not just lines any more and I realised that something very special was happening. I think the confidence to make Raabta came from the chemistry between these two characters.
BOI: What was your reaction when he broke the news that he would be directing?
DV: (Cuts in) I think, at that point, I was developing the content of the film. When I narrated it to Sushant, I was still undecided. I had developed a lot of content earlier but for some reason, this was one story I couldn’t let go of. I think some stories choose you. Five years ago, I had lost my father and that changed the way I think.
I don’t believe in art; art should be hung on a wall. I believe in entertainment. Take Hindi Medium. It’s an entertaining film, but the people watching it also take something away from it. For me, the film brought back memories from when I was six or seven, and we spoke Hindi and Punjabi at home. A cousin had flown down from London and my mother wanted me to hang out with him. Because his English was really good, meri Angrezi toh saaf ho gayi but fortunately, I didn’t lose my command over Hindi and that memory made me relate to the film.
Similarly, what is Raabta? Why did I make it? I feel that we live in an era of almost too much technology. We have the ability to be connected constantly, but we are still the loneliest people. That feeling motivated Raabta. In most Hindi movies, the hero and heroine meet and there is a fantastic background score, and that’s it. They fall in love. But what is that? Well, sometimes one person connects with another and they get that déjà vu feeling. When Sushant and Kriti did the test for the first time, they connected with each other. That connection is the best kind, because you feel it more intensely.
Is it because of the life I have lived or is there something in our DNA that connects us? Is it chemical? What if the film expands on that thought? There is also Kalyug, where people lie to each other. So you say, main tumse itna zyada pyaar karta hu that I will move mountains, but you are always wondering, does she really love me? We overcompensate in Kalyug. If we were in a Satyug, it would be, ‘hey I love you; oh you love me, we live happily ever after.’
Here, one person is always confused. Ten years ago, it used to be the girl; now it’s the boy who is confused. I had also felt that there were no new conflicts left to explore in love stories. Triangle, done; girl coming of age, done; guy coming of age, done. So what should I do? Shaadi, extramarital love, done.
Raabta is not only about reincarnation. It’s about today’s version of love, where two people are connected and question that connect. There’s a flashback 25 minutes into the film that gives us the conflict. Two relatable characters from this time experience a much more intense version of themselves in another time. The only thing Raabta should do, without any gyan, is represent the two struggles inherent in love today – falling in love and staying in love. And staying in love is difficult because ‘Why should I change?’ That is the core of Raabta.
BK: I would like to add here that Dinoo as a producer or a director is passionate focused and firm. He knows what a film needs and he delivers that. Be it right budget as a producer or right frame as a director. He balances both the jobs perfectly. In fact, we are keen on working on many more films, that’s the confidence we all have in him.
BOI: Each of you play two diverse characters in the film. How challenging was that?
KS: The character, Saira, is a bit of an introvert. Suddenly, Dinesh wonders, why is she like this? I don’t want her to be like this. I want her to be a little quirky. Her parents had died when she was two. She has nightmares. She is fiercely independent.
Saira became my life… the quirks in her character, that something slightly off about her that you don’t understand but you sense is there. At the same time, she was very endearing, very lovable. She can be fun. Even the way she feels herself changing when she meets Shiv and realises she’s different around him, made her interesting.
The flashback character, Saiba, on the other hand, was worlds away from Saira and from me. She’s more like a warrior princess. She fears nothing and no one and was brought up more like a guy. She knows she is the most beautiful woman around and is almost arrogant about it. That took me away from this time and took me away to this other character for whom I had no reference. That made it very interesting for me.
SSR: The character I am playing is an exciting and interesting version of myself. I had no reference for the flashback part. Absolutely none. I didn’t know how to do it and that’s why I did it. The story was number one.
I don’t believe in reincarnation, but during those two or three hours when I was reading the script, it felt like I was being told a very good story. It says a lot for the narrative that it became believable. So I was not judging the tale. I haven’t seen animals talk, but I love The Jungle Book. It’s all about how you tell the story. So, yes, the story and these two characters were a very good opportunity and I think it’s a very challenging job for an actor to convince the audience that he is now somebody else.
BOI: Speaking of challenges, as a producer how challenging was it to make a universally appealing film?
BK: Our audiences choices keep evolving and we as producers have to cater to their demands. We have beautiful writers, directors, musicians in our industry that we all can keep making films, which will be appealing to all. As a producer, I definitely need to be on my toes to ensure I am catering to my audiences with fresh content, good music and entertain them always.
BOI: As actors, what weaknesses and strengths did you discover about yourselves while playing these very different roles?
KS: I identified with the sense of having multiple thoughts running through my head and not knowing which ones to verbalise, or how. Sometimes, you try to do something but it doesn’t come across as you intended. I identified with that too.
SSR: It’s a weird thing, it’s like a paradox. The moment I got to know about this weakness it became my strength too. After a long period I have discovered what I really like doing. And I want to learn the things before I do that thing. So I am a bit control freak only to realise that I have discovered something that I really want to do. And all the takes which are okay takes that public watches are the once where I don’t know what I did. It’s not that preparation doesn’t matter, of course, it matters a lot. More the preparation the more you are convinced about the character or more the frequency or the probability of happening of that things increases. But it’s a fact that I don’t know what I did because of which it was good. And precisely that I don’t know why it’s good so this understanding of that I am not in control of something that I really like doing is the weakness.
DV: (Cuts in) It’s true. One day, you realise that all the takes you have chosen are the most spontaneous ones. That was my journey with him too, because he will measure everything, and for me that’s very good. But my problem is that, knowing the scene myself, I like being surprised. I too am a control freak. For me, filmmaking is collaborative because I want to create the best possible version of it. Since this is my first time directing, I didn’t have any technique. I really didn’t. I just knew my material and I am very instinctive. I just knew that this is what it should be like and then I would try and achieve that.
In the current time, his spontaneity was unbelievable. In terms of performance, among the other three characters, especially the two shown in another time, Kriti Sanon will surprise you because I think she is very real.
BOI: Was it a challenge for you to get out of character?
SSR: It’s not difficult to get into character. You know the kind of things that will define the character. We tend to differentiate between the spontaneous actor and the method actor. But the thing is, there is always a method to spontaneity. Spontaneity also takes method and it takes time.
KS: Those small things that you add to a character. I feel, sometimes they stay with you even when you’re done. For example, sometimes at airports, he still walks like Dhoni.
I spent more time as Saira then Sahiba, so I think I was closer to Saira. The way she reacts to things and the way she walks became a part of me. I had to work to shake that off on the sets of Bareilly Ki Barfi. So, yes, sometimes you have to remind yourself that it’s over.
SSR: That’s why you should just let go and try to be spontaneous.
KS: Even with Bareilly Ki Barfi, at home I sometimes find myself talking like the character speaks in the film. And my family is, like, what kind of language is that? And they’ll ask me to be normal. Those little things you get rid of gradually.
BOI: Dinesh, as a director, have you lived up to your own expectations?
DV: I am very pessimistic. And I am very critical of my own work. This is also a story I have some attachment to and I don’t know why. It’s not a ‘safe’ film. I could have done one of the recent biopics. But there was a voice inside me saying, just do this story. I think what we got out is better than what we had on paper when we started. Because direction is about bridging gaps and creating an atmosphere where people can thrive. Paper cannot help you there.
So you need to have material, you need to be able to bridge those gaps for actors. That’s why we spent two months just on prep, with the actors in our offices, reading their lines and going through the script. Then came the logistics. This was a slightly complicated film to shoot, even though we shot it in 60 days. As a director, I think I have done well on execution. In terms of communicating with them, I think they can tell you how I fared.
KS: He was meant to direct Raabta because when I heard the narration of the film from him, it was with his vision and his passion, which spoke volumes to me. What I loved about him was that he sometimes allowed what we wanted, and gave us feedback on it. Sometimes, he was, like, this is done now let’s try some other way. That would sometimes take the scene in a completely different direction and make it magical. I think he is also an emotional director who connects with the feelings on the set.
SSR: There are two important things I discovered about him and those two things define Dinesh Vijan for me. One, he has been a producer and he has made money from almost every film, so he really understands what kinds of films do well. Knowing that and still taking on something that is not a sure shot takes a hell of a lot of courage. Second, he was very sure about everything that we wanted in the film. Generally, when you are so sure you tend to tell people what to do, but to still be open to collaboration and inputs from the actors – I think that is true creativity.
DV: This has been a journey for me. Our promo has created a lot of buzz – whether that is conversations or confusion, we will find out. We have three songs and a fourth has just been launched, which has done very well. We’ve got a good release date. To me, what is most important about a film is its growth. For example, Hindi Medium opened to `2.75 crore and Monday and Tuesday figures were higher. The second Friday was the same as the first, which is very rare.
Nobody can say what film will do well or won’t. We are proud of our film and I would like it to grow. As a director and producer, my film should open to good figures and on Monday we will have a success party. But this one film is dear to me so I would like its numbers to grow, apart from just the weekend numbers.
BOI: Dinesh mentioned this film is not a safe bet for a new director, Bhushanji were you ever concerned about the same?
BK: Not at all. When you see that final product onscreen you won’t believe it’s by a first time director. For him on the other side maybe he felt the pressure or had his concerns. I as a producer was confident and relaxed. I knew the film was in the right hands.
BOI: When you have such a great track record with your films and music; does it add more pressure when you take steps forward as a producer?
BK: It’s the great backing of my team and our many joint producers who give us the confidence to do better than before. We have had a good report at box office or with critics with our various films. It is because of this we want to make better cinema and better music. There is a pressure always to do our best. This is for everyone in the industry, but how we succeed in all our endeavours is what makes a production house successful. We have received good support and great backing for all our music videos, films or any project that has enabled us to do better.