Team Shubh Mangal Saavdhan – producer Aanand L Rai and actors Bhumi Pednekar and Ayushmann Khurrana – in conversation with Team Box Office India
BOI: Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is based on the Tamil film Kalyana Samayal Saadham, which too was directed by RS Prasanna. Aanand sir, what made you decide that this film should be made in Hindi?
Aanand L Rai (AR): I watched the film and, at the time, I never thought of making a remake of the film. Prasanna showed me the film and I liked the way he had treated it. He wanted to make a remake of the film.
I told him it would be a long process if he wanted to bring the film here. Writing an original concept for a film is much easier than going in for something we have all seen on the screen. It was one and a half years of writing and then we got Ayushmann (Khurrana) and Bhumi (Pednekar) on board.
BOI: Ayushmann and Bhumi, what made you say ‘yes’ to this film?
Ayushmann Khurrana (AK): I met Sandeep Nair, one of the creative associates of Aanand sir, two or three years ago at YRF (Yash Raj Films). He told me about the film in one line, which was – ‘Erectile dysfunction and male performance anxiety.’ This was like the Vicky Donor of the South, and I was really amazed that a topic diagonally opposite of Vicky Donor had been made in the South. It had so much potential. After three years, he came back and narrated the story to me, while I was shooting for Bareilly Ki Barfi. I heard the script and immediately said ‘yes’ to it. Also, the fact that Aanand sir was backing the film gave me the confidence that it would be a clean film and a family entertainer.
Bhumi Pednekar (BP): Honestly, it was the script and the concept. When I heard the narration, I didn’t know what the film was about until the ‘Biscuit girna’ scene happens. Until then, I was just thinking of it as a film with beautiful characters, fantastic dialogue, great story, but this one scene unfolded and it made me clap. I mean, it was pathbreaking, yaar!
In totality, the script is hilarious and it’s a beautiful family film. What intrigued me was that the writers had taken the subject of the film, which is a sexual taboo, and turned it into a family entertainer. Usually, when filmmakers pick up a subject like this, which rarely happens, they turn it into a sex comedy. There is such a strong love story here. The characters will be remembered and that’s the specialty of the film. When a project comes from Aanand sir’s school of thought, the characters are always celebrated. As an actor, that’s a very big ‘carrot’. This is one film I have selected by instinct.
BOI: The film received a U/A certificate. However, a film that deals with erectile dysfunction is a very tricky subject as there is a fine line between keeping the film clean and making it vulgar. How did you walk that line and make this film into a family entertainer?
AR: I have 45 years of experience. My upbringing, my family, my friends, my colleagues, everything has led me to this topic. I know what I had to take care of as I had to show this to my family. And when I say ‘my family’, I mean the larger India. It was not tough but, yeah, we all were very responsible towards it. In fact, even when Ayushmann and Bhumi were shooting, they knew it had to reach the family audience. It was time for this kind of subject to come up. We, as part of the audience, were ready to see this kind of film. This is for the changing middle class. This will make us laugh together, understand each other better and go easy. Let’s not be shy, and open up. You can solve any problem by communicating. This film holds out this promise.
BOI: Do you think the change in the CBFC board helped the movie get the U/A certificate?
AR: I don’t think so. We were clear about what we are doing from day one. We were expecting this.
BP: And there is no double entendre, we used intelligent metaphors. At no point did we use crass language or make fun of the problem that the movie dealt with. Even though the characters faced those problems, they were hilarious and colourful.
AK: Our endeavor was to make a family film. We are glad that even the censor board is progressive and supporting this.
BOI: What made you choose Ayushmann and Bhumi for these roles?
AR: Two intelligent people who will understand why we wanted to tell this story. When they read the story and came up with their own perspectives, you knew from where they were coming, and I’m really proud of both of them. They are brilliant actors.
BOI: Ayushmann and Bhumi, you worked together in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. How has the equation between you changed since then?
BP: I think the relationship has gotten better. During Dum Laga Ke Haisha, we were colleagues and now we are friends. And, as far as our performances go, we always work hard on our characters. Our chemistry is crackling because we are actors who perform to the ‘T’. The chemistry is intact and stronger, if anything. We are very comfortable with each other and it is a lot of fun because we encourage each other’s craft. I think we have evolved even more as actors.
AK: It’s the same with Bhumi. She was a first-timer then but she performed like a pro, and that’s why she got all the debut awards. Apart from that, the chemistry is based largely on the script and the actors, and that thin line which you really can’t define. Onscreen, there can be great chemistry between two colleagues and no chemistry between two good friends. This is something magical that happens on screen.
BP: I think filmmaking is a director’s medium, and we are just pawns in his hands. We just have to get his vision and turn it into reality.
AR: There is a certain synergy among the cast. It is not possible to embark on a journey without holding each other’s hands. You can’t see your characters come alive till your actors understand them.
BOI: What aspects of your characters did you relate to?
AK: There is a flip side to playing the character of a person with ‘performance anxiety’. Men do not talk about it. I have not met anyone who has gone through it or maybe I have but they haven’t talked about it. So I had no reference to play such a character. However it is possible to tune into it, you are always treading a very thin line and are acutely aware that your character is suffering from this and so you can’t go overboard with the fun in the film. The fun may happen around you but you can’t indulge in it. That’s how I tuned myself for the character.
BP: I’m not suffering from anything except for the suffering his character is giving me (Laughs). The beauty about this film is that it’s not about a boy who is suffering from this problem in isolation. It is a love story. As Ayushmann said, boys don’t discuss this issue. Indian men who suffer from this condition are in denial. It’s a big problem. I have met lots of girls who have spoken to me about it but they don’t speak to their partners about it because they are afraid of ruining their relationship. In our country, men have attached so much pride and ego to ‘performing in bed’ that if you say something about it, they get an inferiority complex. The crux of this film is the importance of communication with one’s partner and parents and of treating this as a problem that is as regular as a fever or a broken leg.
BOI: Ayushmann, you are married, and Bhumi you have played a married woman in many films. Does this help you understand your films better?
AK: I have been married for quite a long time and I didn’t have many relationships before that. I think, in every relationship, whether this film or any other, it helps when the couple is in a long-term relationship. You know your partner’s needs and can figure out how to adjust in certain situations. It equips you with certain kinds of experiences.
BP: I’ve just realised that I always go for the ‘wrong boys’ in my films. There is always some sort of trouble, right? (Laughs) So, in real life, I have a checklist… Does he have a toilet? Does he have problem with women who are overweight? Or does he have a problem with himself? (Laughs). But, yeah, luckily all the characters that I have played with these male characters have contributed to my life. In some ways, they have made me more humble as a person. It exposed me to problems I was unaware of and my characters have helped me connect with the real India. I am very grateful to have played these roles.
BOI: Bhumi, all the films you have done to date have been socially relevant, whether Toilet: Ek Prem Katha or now Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. All your films have a social message. Are you consciously staying away from glamorous roles?
BP: Honestly, after doing Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I added a lot of credibility to myself as an actor, actually both of us did, and we are lucky that we have been getting roles like these. Coming from an urban, Mumbai background, the kind of roles I’ve been playing on screen have nothing to do with me. I don’t know that girl, I don’t know that world. So, it is a challenge for me.
But I guess we all want to play challenging roles, roles backed by solid content. But then, again, I want to wear a yellow saree and dance under a tree. We’ve grown up watching films like that and have always appreciated them. But I believe commercial cinema has changed. Now I can do the same kind of thing, like dancing in the rain, playing Tip tip barsaa paani, but with some intelligence and within a meaningful context.
BOI: Aanand sir, being a director yourself, what kind of creative exchange did you have with the film’s director, RS Prasanna?
AR: There was no strategy, as such. All I knew was that I liked the idea, I liked the director. After that, it is a process. The only thing I told my writer and director was, enjoy yourself and see the world. If you are setting the film in Delhi, spend some time there, understand the people and their dialect, that will help them create a better story that the audience can identify with.
BOI: With such an interesting subject, did you ever feel like directing the film yourself?
AR: Nahi, I try to give it to other directors first. If that does not happen, I take it on myself.
BP: Both Prasanna and Aanand sir are very warm-hearted. Prasanna is a very new-age director, he is technically very sound. Since he comes from the South film industry, he is technically very strong and he knows what he wants. His sensibilities are very clear. I think we all got connected and felt the kind of sensibility he wanted us to.
AK: We have this notion that directors down South, especially in Tamil or Telugu cinema, are slightly loud with their sensibilities. But Prasanna is very subtle and he is the youngest director I have ever worked with.
We are of the same age and, for the first time, I was able to call my director by his first name. Otherwise, I’ve always had to use ‘Sir/Ma’am’. Also, the energy on the set was very young. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire journey of this film.
BOI: What kind of preparation did you guys do for your roles? Did you watch the Tamil film?
BP: I’ve not even seen the trailer
AR: Even our screenplay writer Hitesh (Kewalya) has not seen the Tamil version.
AK: Only the germ is the same. The rest, the venue, is very different. The South one is based on the upper class and this one is middle class. Everything else is different.
BOI: Which is your most favourite movie about marriage?
BP: (Laughs) I like how my life is suddenly surrounded by the topic of marriage. Well, Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! is the most epic shaadi film. You know, when you are a teenager, you always imagine that you will attend a wedding function and some Salman Khan like boy will throw gende ka phool at you.
AK: Also DDLJ (Dilwale Dhulania Le Jayenge)
AR: Basically, Indian cinema can be divided into two categories: before and after marriage. So Shubh Mangal Saavdhan… Is a before-marriage movie.
BP: Dum Laga Ke Haisha… is after marriage and Toilet – Ek Prem Katha is half and half.
BOI: What are your expectations from this film?
BP: We hope the film gets a lot of love and respect.
AR: We are happy with the journey. God is kind to us. We’ll sail through.
BOI: Does the thought of failure worry you?
AK: I have been in this industry for almost 5 years. I am somewhere in the middle; I don’t get either too excited or bogged down. I think that’s how you should go about it.
BOI: How do you feel when your competitors’ films do well?
AK: I feel happy if their film does well. I’m always there to support them, to tweet about the film or to promote their films on social media. I think it should be like that, the idea is to have your own space in the industry.
BP: The good thing about Ayushmann’s work is that whether his films are a success or not, he shines in them. As an actor, he is doing his role at his best. I think it equates the whole thing and you know that you have not done a mediocre job.
AR: I’ve been with both of them and they are very hardworking and talented.
BOI: There was another project that the three of you were planning to do – Manmarziyan. What happened to that film?
AR: Yeah, we moved on. All of us, along with the director Sameer, decided that the njourney we wanted to go on was not going in the right direction. So with due respect to the story, we decided to not do something we would not be able to achieve. It was a mutual decision.
BOI: What’s next for you all?
AR: I am doing a film with Shah Rukh Khan and I am extremely excited about it. It will be another two-year journey. December 2018, waiting for it.
BP: Woohoo! We all are waiting for it.
AK: Yes, we all are eagerly waiting. Next, I am doing a film with Sriram Raghavan. It is a thriller, a dark film. I am playing a dark character for the first time, so it’s very exciting. The tag line is ‘Shoot The Piano Player’.