NT: In that one, he doesn’t come out of the room and that’s how the film ends. He realises his daughter has won because the National Anthem starts playing. Then we realised we couldn’t deprive the audience of a scene where we show him holding up a gold medal. We could not deny them this moment. It’s a very festival kind of ending. So, he is in that room and the credits start rolling. But that was not happening as people want to see that ki woh nikla aur woh apni beti ko jake mila aur usne medal usko diya and shabash bola… that was very important.
BOI: Yes, the first time in the movie he says ‘Shabash…’
NT: We never had to look to the other option. While editing the film, we realised that we wanted him to come out and to go all the way there to see the gold medal, warna logo ko lagta kya yaar sukha sukha wapas bhej diya.
BOI: Mukesh, you have been a part of so many films. When do you feel a film has arrived?
MC: I think once we see the trial or the first cut and when the directors call to see how it is. That’s when we realise that the film has arrived.
BOI: When you saw the final cut of Dangal, what was your reaction?
MC: I was very clear about Aamir… the four girls and Omkar would become the talk of the town. After Dangal, I was clear that aur chaar aa gaye. It was clear that inki toh nikal padi. I always told Nitesh sir that they had a fantastic future. After Chillar Party, the kids, and after Chak De! India, what happened with the girls… it was like these were the next four and this was a big thing.
BOI: What kind of response did you get for your casting?
MC: I think it’s the best tohfa of my life. I am used to getting positive responses for my casting but now, every critic and everybody is talking about the casting of this film. I am grateful to Nitesh bhai since I started working with him since Chillar Party. I want to do more films like Dangal and break this Dangal ka image which is going to be very difficult to break. People have started saying that Dangal jaise casting karte hai.
NT: Everyone keeps saying, ‘Dangal, what cast!’ This is what we are hearing, especially about the girl and the two Omkars.
MC: Even people outside the film industry are saying, ‘What casting?’
NT: That they are not conventional girls was very heartening for me. There was always a nagging fear at the back of the mind that they were not conventional heroines. We had cut their hair and made them wrestle. We were wondering whether or not this would appeal to the audience.
MC: While we were casting, we had no idea how they would appear to be in the next six months.
NT: I was super worried. I made my wife Ashwini (Iyer Tiwari) Photoshop their pictures. Once these girls were shortlisted, I kept wondering ki yeh ladkiyan chhote baalo mein kaise dikhegi? Since half their work in film is with them wearing short hair, the film would not work if short hair did not suit them.
My wife knows how to work Photoshop and I asked her to edit pictures of the girls with short hair, just to see how they looked. But I was still not sure. So when their hair was cut, I had my heart in my mouth. Zaira and Suhani’s hair needs to make them look ruthless because, in the film, their hair gets chopped. So we were sure that if Zaira and Suhani’s hair did not really look nice, it would be all right because their hair was just cut. But Fatima and Sanya’s haircuts had to be good. When the stylist was cutting their hair, I was standing outside and it finally turned out very well.
BOI: What’s common to all three films that you have directed is that all of them feature children in important parts. Was that by design or just coincidence?
NT: I think it is a coincidence because I don’t write with the thought that I should include kids in the story. In this movie, the situation demanded that. I did not create much of my own; I wrote according to what I was told.
BOI: How easy or tough is it to shoot with kids?
MC: I love kids.
NT: I love shooting with kids. It’s tough to shoot with very young children, ones who do not understand instructions, ones who do not understand filmmaking, and ones who do not care about your film. If they are not in the mood, it is simply not good!
It is easier to shoot with slightly older kids, like Zaira, Suhani and Parth and, even in Chillar Party, Akram (Rohan Grover), Toothpaste (Shriya Sharma) and Fatka (Irfan Khan). With children below nine years of age, it’s tougher and you have to know how to handle them while shooting. A lot depends on their mood. There was a lot of groupism among the ten kids. I made them sit together and noticed on the monitor that they were elbowing each other. When I asked them why they were doing that, they said, ‘Sir, mujhe yaha nahin baithna mujhe yeh pasand nahin.’ So we talked to them about team building and I told them, ‘If you look divided, how will you defeat the minister?’
MC: The first shot in Chillar Party is of the children riding bicycles. And, not long before that, they had said that they did not know how to ride a bicycle. We had automatically assumed that they knew how!
NT: We canned the scene and reshot it after four days. During this time, the kids were taught how to ride a bicycle. So children always surprise you, especially the younger ones.
BOI: Mukesh, when you are casting, are you looking at discipline or acting skills?
MC: Only the character. If kids are disciplined, then they no longer kids. We have to find kids that suit the character. If you use discipline as a yardstick, then you will find only one child in every thousand. Also, the character of Jhangiya played by Naman was of a child who was not disciplined.
NT: His screen test was the shortest. He said his lines and he did an act which was not part of our script but that caught our attention. Later, we incorporated that bit into our script. I said, Yahi Jhangiya hai. Mukesh bought in such amazing kids, Silencer was never a part of our script but when we were shortlisting the children, he did not fit in anywhere. We felt awful because he was such a nice, chubby kid. The screenplay had already been written and we were unable to make many changes.
So I did a very cleaver thing and made him the character of Silencer, so that we did not have to make any changes in the screenplay. He didn’t have any lines although he was the first one to speak at the office. In real life, he was a very talkative child, and he was in the habit of mouthing other people’s lines.
The youngest was Divij Handa, who used to ask me every day, ‘Do I have a dialogue?’ And I used to say, no, and he used to walk away. Every morning, he would ask, ‘Aaj mera koi dialogue hai kya?’ It’s amazing to shoot with kids, it’s a very nice experience.
MC: My first experience with Nitesh sir… I don’t know if he remembers it but I had gone to meet him for Chillar Party. I was new to casting and I used to work with a lot of children. I went to this place called Just Around The Corner where Nitesh sir and Vikas Bahl were sitting and told them I was from Delhi and that I cast children for the film.
NT: That was in 2008 or 2009.
MC: I told them, ek baar dekh toh lo maine baccho ke sath kaam kiya hai. And they said, acha acha theek hai. I was sceptical about getting the project and I had just left the premises when they called me to say that they had hired me for the project. They had met me for 15 to 20 minutes and I had no idea who Nitesh or Vikas were back then. All I knew was that that were making a film on children and that’s how Chillar Party started.
BOI: What next after Dangal?
NT: I don’t know, I am in the process of writing something. Writing is a very difficult process. You start writing with the assumption that you may like it but there is always a sword hanging over you, telling you that you might not like it. So, only time will tell. Once the screenplay is written and the picture emerges clearly, only then I will be able to say anything. I don’t put any pressure on myself.
BOI: Has Dangal put any pressure on you?
NT: Yes, it has but I have seen enough examples of how people have succumbed to pressure. It would be unfair for me to think that I will be able to repeat Dangal. This film wasn’t just me, there was so much more that went into its making. I need to take up every project on its own merit rather than expect the same thing out of it.
I think people are smart enough to understand that Dangal is a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of film and it may not happen for a very long time. I hope it does but I am practical enough to move on and know that I have to start something fresh and write something new.