Team Ribbon – director Rakhee Shandilya with lead pair Kalki Koechlin and Sumeet Vyas – in conversation with Team Box Office India
BOI: The trailer of Ribbon has been appreciated on social media.
Kalki Koechlin (KK): It feels damn good to have such a positive response. Why would it not? What’s been great is that people have really analysed the trailer and gone into details about how it has been shot. This doesn’t usually happen with a trailer. So it was very flattering for us.
Rakhee Shandilya (RS): I’m just going with the flow. When I made this film, I had no idea what people would feel about it or how they would react to it. Frankly, I had no idea that people would love the trailer this much. The response we have received so far has come as a surprise, especially to me.
BOI: The title of the film is very unique. Rakhee, is there a story behind it?
RS: Ribbon is very metaphorical and that’s why we have the tag line, ‘Life Between Loose Ends’. What we are trying to say with this movie is that life is very much like a ribbon. Once we are married, we feel that we are tied with the strong knot of a relationship and it will last forever. However, every couple goes through different phases and every now and then you feel like your partner is not right for you. You are not happy with your partner and may even want to walk out on them.
The title Ribbon is apt for a situation like this, where you question whether you are in the right relationship. It is the tying of the knot and then the loosening of those relationships. I was not able to figure out a proper title for the film. Everything I came up with seemed clichéd. That’s how we ended up with Ribbon.
BOI: Ribbon is based on the complications that arise in relationships. Sumeet and Kalki, what are the complications that our generation faces in relationships?
Sumeet Vyas (SV): We live in nuclear families, especially in cities. The other day, Kalki mentioned that we end up expecting so much from our respective partners. Since we don’t have anyone else living with us, the man and the woman in the relationship have to play the roles of all the family members, for each other. You expect your partner to be your parent, your lover, your friend, your colleague, and so on. I think that takes a toll on the relationship. Also, I think we are going through a social evolution of sorts. Twenty years ago, even in cities, there was a set lifestyle. A man would go to work and earn a livelihood and women would stay at home, taking care of the house. I have grown up watching this and most people I know have had the same experience.
KK: Yes, me too.
SV: Obviously, times have changed and both partners realise that they can run the house, they have an equal place in the house and in everything. As long as everything is going smoothly, it’s great. But when you hit hurdles, your brain automatically tells you to go back to your past and the stuff you have grown up watching, and you want to be the man. I think that’s one thing our generation is struggling with.
KK: I think time management is a big thing. We have so much going on in our lives and the pressures of living in a city that is as expensive as Mumbai, that it’s difficult to give time to your partner romantically as well as to your child and your work. It is difficult to be invested in all of them. So how do we balance that? How does the significant other help in balancing these things? It is like a game where we are juggling but we haven’t ever learnt to juggle. I think it is going to take a couple of generations for us to understand this.
SV: It is also because the belief is, once you are married, things are set. There is no way out because we don’t think like that. Maybe that is why people don’t feel the need to work on their relationships. I have seen a lot of old, married couples who don’t get along with each other. They barely speak to each other, they sleep in different rooms, etc. This is not even a relationship. This is just two people living with each other for convenience. Today, people don’t want to live like this. People either want to work on it or let go and move on. That is the struggle.
BOI: Kalki, you said in an interview earlier that one of the things that attracted you to this character was that she’s a mom.
KK: I don’t have kids but I would like to, some day. So I don’t know what it feels like to go through the months of pregnancy, suffer all the hormonal changes that happen, the post-pregnancy stuff etc. Sorry to go into graphic details but I haven’t experienced what happens to a woman’s private parts when they are stretched like that and the baby comes out. The pain you go through as well as the post-pregnancy depression that you feel were all new to me. Then, there is also the feeling of the exhaustion, the lack of sleep because you are up every two hours with the baby, you might have issues with breast-feeding if you are a working mother – how does one manage all that? I didn’t know any of it. A lot of research went into this and a lot of time was spent with young mothers who have just had babies.
BOI: Rakhee, was Kalki always your first choice for this film?
RS: Yes, Kalki was my first choice. I had just seen her film Margarita With A Straw and she had done an amazing job in that movie. When I was writing the character of Sahana, I felt I needed someone who connects with the urban audience to play this role. Kalki looks modern and represents modern India, our urban India. Along with this, I needed somebody who could also look very vulnerable. She had to look very human at times and show what women go through when they are under so much pressure.
BOI: And how did Sumeet come on board?
RS: When I met Sumeet we spent an hour together, just chatting. It was instinct and I always go with my instinct. I don’t analyse things and I don’t look at the pros and cons. If I like Sumeet, I like him. So when I met him, his physical presence made me believe that the character Karan should be like him. Karan is an engineer, he is tall and good looking. When Sumeet started talking to me, I felt he was very sensible and could understand where I was coming from. Then he started telling me about some of his personal experiences. Then we were like, theek hai, this is good.
BOI: Where did the idea of making a movie based on relationships come from?
RS: I like to tell stories where we connect emotionally with the audience. I like to show things that influence us in our lives and impact us. I developed this idea after observing things around me. I also noticed that there are not many things we talk about in our movies. We don’t really talk about working women in our film industry or in our Indian cinema. So I thought, why not take the story from where a woman conceives and where that journey takes her. Then, it just happened to turn into a film.
BOI: What is the one message this film will give young mothers?
RS: I don’t think there is any message. It is a journey that could be yours, mine, anyone’s. In the movie, we are talking about Karan and Sahana’s journey in a city like Mumbai.
KK: (Cuts In) It ain’t easy! Shit happens and you have to clean it up.
SV: Also, there are very few films that trace the journey of two people over the course of years, four in our case here. We see them changing a little every year. They change within themselves and their equation with each other also changes, just as it happens in life.
KK: I think it also talks about how the ups and downs in life are unending. You shouldn’t ever expect that all your problems will be solved and everything will be perfect. There will be another rough patch and there will be another great patch and it will keep going on.
BOI: When you do films that are so relatable, do all of you draw inspiration from real life?
KK: In the beginning, Sahana is a lot like me, a very ambitious woman who likes to do things her way and who doesn’t have filters. She says exactly what she wants to say. But over the course of four years, she changes a lot and becomes calmer but also stronger, yet vulnerable. I don’t know how to explain it. But there is a clear change in her. I guess that took time, and that’s mostly while watching people with kids and how that mellows you. You are just tired by all that and, at the same time, you find a new kind of determination, which is more permanent.
SV: I think, for Karan, it is the opposite. When the film starts, Karan is a lot like me, very diplomatic, doesn’t like confrontation and on the surface, is very sorted. As the film progresses, you see him a little frazzled, getting a little unreasonable at times, a little too confrontational sometimes. It was fun to see what happens to me at a later stage.
BOI: Sumeet, speaking of your life, what has the transition been like, from the world of web series to feature films?
SV: I am not doing anything different. I am just doing what I had been doing. It was a deliberate decision in the last two years. I wanted to focus more on films. I had to let go of a lot of other work because I wanted to do films. The scary part with films is that they sometimes do not release, many of mine have not. Ribbon was the kind of film I wanted to be a part of. Also, I believe that when you start seeking something sincerely, it kind of follows. I was genuinely seeking this kind of project and an atmosphere where I got to work like this. It is about what work I am doing rather than how much money I am making, or how big the set is, or how big your vanity van is. It just came my way. Now I am just wishing for a holiday to come my way!
BOI: Kalki, your choice of films has been very unconventional, yet very fresh. Did you ever wonder whether it would be tough for some of those films to achieve commercial success?
KK: No, it doesn’t bother me.
RS: As a technician, I understand that the film should earn money, be a hit or whatever. But just because your film hasn’t made money, doesn’t mean you haven’t made a good film. If you firmly believe in a film, make it with all your heart. It might not click with the audience but in the long run people will understand you. Look at all the films Guru Dutt sahib made.
SV: Most of our cult films did not make money. The previous Agneepath, as a matter of fact.
RS: It is very simple to make a film which can be a hit at the box office but then you would be written off after ten years. You would rather make just one film and have people remember you for that. In that way, I feel, Kalki’s journey has been really good.
SV: People keep cribbing that there are no good scripts in the market because all the good scripts go to Kalki. That’s the problem.
RS: A distributor once told me, ‘Right after Kalki said yes to your film, half your problems were already solved! You will get distributors for the film.’ This is because of the way she selects her scripts.
SV: You can’t decide whether your film will or will not make money simply because you have spent a certain amount of money making it.
RS: Right now, with Netflix, Amazon etc, there is a good platform for recovery for non-theatrical stuff. So, even if you don’t earn good money at the box office, and if you have good content, producers can make money from these platforms.
BOI: This year has seen many content-driven films doing better than so-called commercial films. Do you feel the audience is more accepting now?
RS: I feel, as long as you believe in what you’re making and have faith in it, it will be all good.
KK: If you look at the long-term history of our cinema, we have seen great art in every decade. We might think we are doing great art right now, because some people are watching it right now. Even what’s commercial now will keep changing. What is considered commercial today is very different from what was considered commercial in the ’90s. That line is also blurring. Something that is more radical will become more commercial, something that we couldn’t even conceive of. That’s evolution. Of course, I don’t see this as a battle. I just want my work to be seen, and that’s logical. You have to balance those things between commercial and art films because you want to bring the crowd in. Ultimately a film is either good or bad.
RS: Even the commercial films that did well over the past few years were actually good films.
SV: Also, I feel there is a time for a film that releases. Right now is when people like realistic stuff, other than commercial or non-commercial stuff. Something they can relate to. Four or five years ago, when Dabangg, Wanted and movies like these were doing great, there was a lack of such films or maybe people were just looking forward to lighter films. Now, they are bored of that kind of cinema and are looking for realistic stuff.
KK: And all this is linked to social and economic conditions. Maybe the recession and other things made people spend their money on different things.
BOI: What was the dynamic like on the sets? Were there any fun moments while filming that you would like to share?
SV: It is a very serious film.
KK: We had some fun moments, like changing nappies, stopping babies from crying.
SV: It looked like fun but it wasn’t, actually!
KK: You actually have to bond with the baby and pray that the baby will like your smell.
SV: I was trying to impress the four-year-old. I felt like I was in college and I was wooing someone, because she hated me. All I wanted was for her to like me. So, I was like, let’s go play with this goat, let’s feed her some leaves.
KK: I watched Frozen with her 20 times! You have to be energised all the time. So I was pretty much a mom on the set.
BOI: What are your future projects?
KK: I am doing a web series in Delhi, called Made In Heaven, by Zoya Akhtar. It is, like, rich Indian weddings that go wrong. I am doing a film called Scholarship, which we actually started at the beginning of the year and got stuck. It has me and Konkona (Sensharma) in it. It will pick up again in November. Hopefully we will be done with it very soon.
SV: I am doing this film called Veere Di Wedding, which is about Indian weddings gone wrong.
SV: And Ribbon is coming up. I am also going to start writing for a web-series called Tripling, writing the second season.
RS: I am just too involved with this film. But, yes, I have almost finished writing the first half of my next feature film.
BOI: When you include aspects like how women are discriminated against during pregnancy, do you believe that talking about these things in a film will change people?
KK: Just like we can get inspired by real life, when you watch a film in cinemas, you feel, ‘Oh, okay, somebody else understands.’
RS: People will at least talk about it, that somebody might have gone through this.
KK: Especially when it is so real! You are not stereotyping the ideas. Art reflects life, life reflects life.