Team Vodka Diaries – director Kushal Shrivastav and lead pair Kay Kay Menon and Mandira Bedi – in conversation with Team Box office India
Box Office India (BOI): The trailer of Vodka Diaries released recently, so let’s begin by asking what the response has been like so far.
Kay Kay Menon (KKM): Wonderful. I think it has crossed 2 million views in just two days.
Mandira Bedi (MB): People close to us will always watch it and say it is great and it looks good. The fact that people are watching it in large numbers… These are not our people, these are people who are actually lovers of cinema… If they are watching it, that is testimony to the fact that something nice has been made.
BOI: Kushal, this is your first film as a director. What has the shift been like, from advertising to Bollywood?
Kushal Shrivastav (KS): Even though I started my journey in advertising, my main goal was always to make a feature film. The road leading here has been beautiful. I wanted to make a movie like this and am very confident about it. I am extremely blessed that I am surrounded by a good team and by good actors, which helps me make what I want to make.
BOI: From the teaser, it is apparent that the film is a power-packed thriller. What made you conceive this concept?
KS: I personally love thrillers. I enjoy reading them and I enjoy watching them. So, when I set out to make a film of my own, I had to choose a genre that was close to me. The story it revolves around a cop who is trying to solve a series of murders. The subject grabbed me and I enjoyed blending the thriller with poetry and human emotions. Yeh film reh jaati hai aapke saath even after you step out of the theatre.
BOI: Kay Kay and Mandira, what made you say yes to the script?
MB: I was in Manali, driving a truck for my reality show, when I got a call about a film that was going to be made in Manali. I was, like, ‘Oh my God! This is so cool!’ I heard the one line of the story and thought it was really interesting. I got back from my journey and I listened to the entire narration and said that this is a really nice script. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, you’re not sure where the story is headed. You want to know more.
Whenever a script is offered to me, I have to be able to see myself in that role. I always ask myself this one question, that without the character that is given to me, without my role, will the film still make sense? And Vodka Diaries makes no sense without my character. That was one of the main criteria for me. I could see myself playing this character and I was so glad that I got a chance to work with someone like Kay Kay. He is such a fine actor and all the scenes that I had with him, all the scenes that I had in the film, have come out so wonderfully. I watched myself during the dubbing and I told Kushal that I really loved the final product because I got to work alongside this amazing actor. When you have a great actor in front of you, it automatically lifts your own performance. My reasons to say yes to this script were simple, it was a great story, a lovely character and a chance to work with lovely people.
KKM: For me, the process is usually subjective. I have often said that when I read a script, it attracts you to perform that particular part. That’s what happened, initially. Incidentally, when Kushal told me that Mandira was on board for this film, I was watching TV and I saw her driving the truck on that reality show that she was talking about earlier.
MB: Oh my God! You didn’t tell me this earlier. Such a surreal coincidence! This was all meant to be.
KKM: Yes, it totally was! (Laughs). Coming back to the question, I can’t really be objective about why I choose a particular script. Obviously, there are a few things that are important. First, you get attracted to the script. Second, you meet the director and talk to him and realise that he has invested himself in the movie. That’s enough for you to take off. Those were my first few thoughts.
BOI: Kushal, did you always have Kay Kay and Mandira in mind when you were writing the script?
MB: Hum yahan baithe hain na, so he has to say that we were the first choices for the roles in the film (Laughs).
KS: While I was writing the script, I was doing it with Kay Kay sir in mind. I had not approached him at that point but I was writing around him as an actor. When I finally approached him, he initially rejected the script but offered me many inputs. I incorporated them and the script turned out much better. Then I approached Mandiraji because the character of the wife is very strong. The film revolves around them. It starts with them and ends with them. Shikha’s character was very important to me and I managed to convince them, so I am very happy.
BOI: The film looks intense. Was there any particular preparation or workshop you all went through for it?
MB: Come on, Kay Kay, tell us which TV show you watched to prep for this film? Did you watch Saavdhaan India? Someone actually asked us whether we had watched all these cop shows (Laughs).
KKM: Nothing like that. I just sit down with my script and keep reading it thoroughly for a very long time. It is actually a very boring process. I kept reading it, over and over again, till I got the character of Ashwini Dixit under my skin. It is the same process I adopt for all my characters, which is why I often say that I don’t play roles, I play people. I was playing Ashwini Dixit throughout the film. The title of ACP was incidental for me; the actual person is more important. People think I lie about how I approach my roles, but it’s the truth.
BOI: From the teaser, we can see that you all shot in beautiful, snow-clad Manali.
MB: Originally, we were to shoot in Manali during the summer, but he (Kay Kay) had an injury and the surgery took place, and everything was postponed. Hence, we ended shooting in the winter season with snow everywhere and it just made it better. This is another reason I think the film looks even more beautiful.
KS: It looked like everything was planned.
MB: Yes, I mean, it kind of was, by the Almighty.
KS: Yes, the divine blessings operated. Pun intended (Laughs).
BOI: The title is very interesting. What is the significance of Vodka Diaries?
KS: The story is about a club called ‘Vodka Diaries’. A series of murders takes place there and ACP Ashwini Dixit is investigating them. Everything connects to the Vodka Diaries.
KKM: And the inside story is that, he loves vodka. (Laughs)
BOI: Kay Kay, you have been part of many thriller movies. How do you exude an aura of suspense so naturally?
KKM: It’s how I become the character I am playing. If the person is boring, I become equally boring and if the person is interesting, I become an interesting person. That is the insight you get once you follow the script. I don’t believe in realism but I believe in ‘believe in it’. It might be science fiction or something else but I believe in it.
Realism can be boring and it can be a myth. It is governed by time. The idea is to make whatever you are doing believable and real. That is why Avatar is believable for me; they created a world that was believable to me. Here, the director and the producer have used their own logic. Sometimes, I think our films are anti-gravity. We make it on Earth but everybody starts flying.
MB: Wow! You are on a roll, man.
KKM: (Laughs) Anyway, we try to make a film as believable as possible. It’s all a part of the art, making it believable and as real as possible.
BOI: Mandira, we will be seeing you on the big screen after a long time. How does it feel to be back again?
MB: Ittefaq happened because the second serial I ever did was for BR Films and Renuji called me and said ‘I want you to play this role, and no one else.’ It felt very good. And, you know what? I stayed away from films but I kept getting offers for item numbers in South Indian films. It happened again, recently, when I was offered an item number in a Telugu film. But I once did an item song and I was able to tick it off as ‘done’. No more after that.
The reason I have stayed away from cinema is because the roles I was being offered were not those in which I would invest my time and energy. Now, after a hiatus, someone came to me and the script was provided to me, and a lovely cast was part of the film, which was another reason for me to do it. And, of course, there was Manali (Laughs)!
So, it is because of Ittefaq that I was offered this movie and it was nice coming back after 20 years. I don’t know, there is something about the stars aligning together also… During these 20 years, being away from the entertainment industry, I kept on doing a whole lot of other stuff. I was busy with sports, music reality shows and a lot of other things. This is the year for me to get back to acting. I have a web series that we have finished shooting and I have a Tamil and Telugu film coming up. A lot of exciting work is suddenly coming my way. I don’t know why or how but a lot of movies are coming my way.
BOI: What was it like to work with each other? What was the dynamic on the sets?
KKM: You can already see a small prelude to that.
MB: I have always thought Kay Kay was a very serious guy! When he called for a rehearsal for the first scene, I was, like, okay! I like reads, I love a proper reading session. We almost moved furniture and did a proper rehearsal. As we got into the scenes and our scenes got lighter and more fun, there was a lovely chemistry that developed on screen. I saw the scenes when I was dubbing for the film; it was visible. I enjoyed shooting with Kay Kay. I can’t remember when I last took up a romantic role in my career. There was a little romance, shararat, nok-jhok, it was really nice to perform with an actor like him.
KKM: What you give is what you get and that is what takes it further and makes it a perfect association.
MB: We had a script but if we show you the bound script and the finished scene, they will look like two different things. With every rehearsal, the lines changed a little and we reached a position where the scene had been elevated to a different level. There was a lot of improvisation. You can improvise only when an actor is open to improvisation. There was a lot of fluidity and what was nice about Kushal is that he knew what he wanted but he allowed us to perform in the best way we could.
KS: I was lucky they never made me feel like it was my first film, so it was very easy for me to work with them. I was told that it would be very difficult to work with actors like them. People had advised me on not involving them in the script sessions. But I found that it was very different from what I was told. It was really helpful to get inputs from everyone.
MB: That this film was made in just 20 shooting days says a lot about everybody being in sync and the synergy with each other. This worked out in record time because of the meeting of minds.
BOI: There are other films releasing along with Vodka Diaries, coincidentally two of them are thrillers.
KKM: As part of the industry, we wish all the films the very best. We hope the audience watches all the films. We do not represent below-the-belt competition. All we know is that we have made a fantastic film. Now we will put it out there for the audience. We can guarantee that you will not come back disappointed.
BOI: What are your future projects?
KKM: For me, it is one step at a time.
MB: I have a web series lined up. I also have a Tamil film lined up, which we have completed shooting, and a Telugu film, which we haven’t yet started shooting. And I have one more Hindi film with maybe someone sitting on this couch, but it is too early to tell. As Kay Kay says, one step at a time.
KS: I am writing about certain subjects but nothing has been decided yet.