Often referred to as the duo who have shaped the Indian independent film industry and given a string of mainstream Indie films, director Onir and actor-producer Sanjay Suri caught up with Box Office India to discuss their latest film, Shab
BOI: Both of you have had a long partnership with films. How did that commence?
Sanjay Suri: We first met during the shoot of Daman, which Onir was editing. While shooting in Assam, I discovered that he had great ideas and the potential to explore writing and directing. We connected over cinema and the similar vision we had of the kind of stories one wanted to tell. Our long association is built on trust, respect and friendship.
Onir: We are on the same wavelength. Both of us wanted to make a certain kind of cinema, which made commercial sense but at the same time never compromised the director’s vision. After My Brother Nikhil, there’s been no looking back.
BOI: How does the process work with both of you? Do both of you necessarily work as director-actor in all your projects?
SS: If Onir lets me have my way, why not (laughs)? No, but seriously, that is and will never be the reason for us to do a film. For example, Onir did not direct Chauranga, and the film did not warrant me in a pivotal role. Even Shab (Night),for that matter… We have a brilliant new actor called Ashish Bisht, who is the lead. We both need to like the stories we back, the rest is a process.
Onir: He’s always pulling my leg. Sanjay is right, we make cinema we believe in and that also makes commercial sense, Shab needed a fresh face and so we found Ashish. He is truly a star.
BOI: Your production house, Anticlock Films, seems to have carved a very interesting niche for itself. You make content-led cinema but the packaging of your films has always had known actors.
O: We have been fortunate with that. When I narrated Shabto Raveena, she immediately agreed. The story interested her, the characters interested her. Similarly, we have been lucky with all our films, in that the actors we have approached have liked what we brought them.
SS: We make cinema that matters in the kind of budgets that allow everyone to see an upside. Similarly, we have been lucky to work with the actors we have featured in our films. We have always been transparent and open about the cinema we are making and I think that works. Whether Raveena, Juhi, Manisha, Tannishtha, Nandita Das or Radhika Apte, and other actors we have worked with, there is a sense of trust and belief and that makes a hell of a difference.
BOI: Coming to Shab, you latest film. How did this film come about?
SS: Onir, do you want to, or should I (Laughs)?
O: See what I mean? He’s always pulling my leg. Sanjay was pushing me to do Shab for a very long time, but I always said, ‘one day’. Shab has been my passion project, incidentally one of the first scripts I ever wrote. I believe that everything has a place and time, I felt now was the ideal time to make the film.
SS: He’s had this script for 17 years… He never gave up and I admire that about him.
O: Shab is also my most commercial film, to date, yet the soul of it is intact. I have worked very hard on this film and am proud of it.
BOI: The music of the film is doing very well and Ashish has been getting a lot of praise…
O: Shab is a film which I’ve gone above and beyond to make. I had spoken to Mithoon and he was kind enough to say he would do the music. When I heard the first song O saathi, I knew this was the song for me. Then he just kept sending me one brilliant song after another…
SS: And Ashish was a discovery in every sense. He had done many ads before and we had auditioned many people for Shab, and Ashish stood out. Both of us, and my wife Ambika, all three of us unanimously agreed on that.
BOI: You also have Raveena Tandon, Arpita Chatterjee and French actor Simon Frenay in the film.
O: Yes, they all graciously agreed to do the film. It was a dream working with Raveena and Arpita, who light up the screen in every scene. Simon I had met in Paris, and when I read Benoit’s character, I immediately wrote to him. He said yes without reading the script. As a filmmaker, I could not have asked for anything better. For me, it was a casting coup. I was talking to the designer, Varun Bahl, about something and I asked him if he would do a cameo, and even he agreed. It has been great.
BOI: Is it true that you turned down a digital buy offer on the film?
SS: I think it would be unfair to comment on that. What’s happening in that space is exciting and hopefully, moving forward, the industry will benefit in every aspect. I always knew that the space would grow rapidly. Here, I find myself doing one of the biggest digital shows on one of the biggest platforms, it’s exciting and liberating.
BOI: What’s next for Anticlock Films and for both of you?
O: Right now, I have only Shab! Shab! Shab! On my mind. I am excited about the response the film is garnering and hope the audience loves it too. The initial reviews have been great, so fingers crossed!
SS: (Laughs) On a different note, after Shab, we have a film called My Birthday Song directed by Samir Soni. That film is completely ready under our other banner KAHWA Entertainment. It’s a psychological thriller.
BOI: Before we end, just wanted to inquire… why cast a new actor when perhaps you, Sanjay, could have done the role?
SS: When you see Ashish, you will realise there is nothing newcomer-ish about him. In every respect, he is bang-on. Nobody could have done this role the way he has immersed himself in it. Plus, I have become old for the part (Laughs).
O: The hard work and dedication he and all my actors have shown in the film is something I can never have imagined. Ashish had to say ‘no’ to a few other offers because this film needed to be shot across a few seasons and I needed him to be available for a few workshops. He didn’t hesitate even once. He has exemplary commitment and talent.
BOI: Ashish, you’ve sat here the whole time and said nothing…
AB: I really have nothing to say, I am just overwhelmed that both Sanjay and Onir gave me this film and they don’t stop making me feel special. What else could have I asked for? I got to work with Raveena, Simon, Arpita in my first film and they have all been so encouraging. Andar hi Andar laddoo phut rahein hai and, trust me, if you could get into my head, you’d see how nervous and excited I am at the same time. Besides, ‘Jab do bade baat kar rahe hote hain, toh chhote bolte nahin.’
SS and O: Shut up! He’s full of one-liners! (Laughing)