Team Calendar Girls – featuring Ruhi Singh, Satarupa Pyne, Akanksha Puri, Avani Modi, Kyra Dutt; director Madhur Bhandarkar; and producer Sangeeta Ahir – in conversation with Team Box Office India.
Box Office India (BOI): Madhur is known for content-rich films. What was the idea behind Calendar Girls? What was the idea behind introducing five new faces or spending money on the look of the film instead of signing big names?
Madhur Bhandarkar (MB): There are two things. First, presenting very high-octane content and, two, this film required new girls. It is basically a platform for newcomers. We wanted talented newcomers and ones we could groom for the industry as well. The film is edgy, it has a lot of drama and obviously it is a very contemporary film. It talks about the realism of today. Around 75 per cent of the story is real. It talks about morality, values and what is going on in high society and the glamour world. When I told Sangeetaji (Ahir) about this concept, she was very excited about it. Sangeetaji and I go back a long way and we have always wanted to work together.
When I narrated the script to her, she instantly said we should make this film because the title ‘Calendar Girls’ is very catchy. She said coming from Madhur Bhandarkar’s stable, it will be fresh. That’s how the journey started.
Sangeeta Ahir (SA): The concept is an eyeopener for the public, people who have not seen this industry but have only had a glimpse of it on television or read about it in the papers. They all believe that this is a platform for Bollywood or the glamour world. So there is this crazy curiosity to know what calendar girls are all about. That was one reason I thought newcomers would be the USP of the film.
Madhur never makes films that are filmy or have unnecessary drama but he does open a lot of cards. The film is a message to empowering women. We talk about equality, but are you ready to accept a woman who dons a bikini or will you judge her? Would we accept it if our daughters wore bikinis? Do we have the courage to accept that? Are we just paying lip service to empowerment? The film shows the bold journey of these women and how strong they actually are. It looks easy but their journey is very tough.
This film gives you a perspective on women’s empowerment. We see so many women wearing sarees and championing different issues and protesting but how challenging is it to achieve something like that? That’s what inspired me to take on this film. It was very important for me to show this journey, especially to parents, because nowadays everyone wants to be part of the glamour world and Bollywood. Is this the first step towards Bollywood? So, yes, this film does open up a lot of cards. And Madhur has done that fabulously.
BOI: Madhur’s films are always high on content and then he chooses an actor, whether Bipasha Basu, Tabu or Priyanka Chopra, who enhances the script and takes it to a different level. Was it a risk giving five new girls such a huge responsibility?
MB: Definitely but the film business itself is a very risky business, as we all know.
SA: The content in this film is so big that it takes the film to another level. Today, the participants on dance reality shows showcased are amazingly talented, and it leaves you stunned. So, today, apart from films or regular careers, reality dance and music shows are also becoming career choices. There is a first step for everyone and, for each of these actresses, this is the first step.
MB: If this film had five established actors, I couldn’t have made it the way I wanted to.
MB: Absolutely! When we started looking for faces, we zeroed in on 60-70 girls, whom we filtered to 35-40-20, and then we finally locked five girls. Obviously, they all auditioned very much like my earlier films Chandni Bar and Fashion. Then we decided on who would play which character. We did workshops and they had to also get the right chemistry among themselves. Calendar Girls is not about bikinis; in the song Awesome mora mahiya, you see a bikini for only for 60 seconds. The film hinges on the performance of the characters, its content and on the drama. It’s shocking, it’s edgy and sometimes very emotional.
When I was sure about their performances… we had a team including my writers, assistants and DoP… we sat down and discussed the potential in each of the girls and chose the leading girls. We did look tests. When you look at these girls, each one looks like the girl-next-door. You feel that, yes, this girl is from Rohtak, this girl is from Pakistan. Established actresses would perhaps not get the characters right, so the script demanded fresh faces. Secondly, the Kingfisher Calendar platform is for newcomers; they become actresses or achieve stardom later. Initially, they are just new faces.
BOI: If we ask all five of you about the process before you started shooting, how difficult was it to meet Madhur’s expectations?
Satarupa Pyne (SP): We did a 15-day workshop where we got to know each other. The best part about the film was that we were asked to be ourselves. I am Bengali and in the film too I play a Bengali. My Bengali accent helped me play my character. To make your debut with Madhur Bhandarkar is a huge achievement. You also have to be lucky to get a break under such a fantastic director. I also feel lucky to play who I am. I have been a model in real life too, I have posed for a calendar, so I already had the elements that my character demanded.
Ruhi Singh (RS): Madhur Bhandarkar is a perfectionist and we kept wondering whether we would meet his expectations. But since he is a perfectionist, he knows how to bring the best out of his actors. That’s why his films are perfect too. He got all of us to play our respective characters perfectly. Madhur taught us how to act and how to react. We were all very nervous but even if we had just one line to deliver, he would narrate it to us, and show us how to do it. He made sure we were always comfortable.
SP: On the day we started shooting, I was nervous and emotional. I felt like crying and it so happened that the scene I was doing required me to cry. Before the shoot, when I felt all choked up, someone accidentally pushed me and I started crying. That was so real, and it came naturally to me. But the other day, when we were shooting another scene which also required me to cry, I was trying to act because I was feeling quite normal. So he (Madhur) came to me and asked, ‘Why are you acting? If I slap you, how will you cry? Cry exactly like that.’ He wants things to happen naturally.
Avani Modi (AM): I was the fourth one to start shooting. One day, just before my schedule, I met Madhur sir in his office. I was very nervous about playing a Pakistani in the film. I have never met anyone from Pakistan in my entire life. But since Madhur had cast me in this role, I had to prove myself. So I told him I was very scared and he said just one thing, ‘Tu kyun tension le rahi hai? Tujhpe toh main bahut confident hoon.’ That was enough for me to know he had faith in me and knew I could do it. It boosted my self-confidence. Uske baad toh humne aag laga di.
Akanksha Puri (AP): From day one, none of us felt any pressure and we all were in our respective comfort zones. That’s exactly why we are in the film. I am playing a South Indian actress in the film, Nandita Menon, and although I am not South Indian, I am very close to Nandita. He (Madhur) saw that in me and allowed me to portray it in the film. From day one, energy levels were very high and there was no pressure, we were like a family. He kept saying ‘my film is my baby and all my actors are like my family’. He treated everyone like family, that’s why the atmosphere was so much fun.
AM: I want to add something about Sangeeta ma’am. She is a lady producer but she made sure we were comfortable.
SP: When we were on the sets, we were treated like queens. We felt even more motivated because we felt like stars and our performance naturally came out as stars. (Laughs)
AM: We just didn’t just have a stylish director but a stylish producer too.
SP: When she used to walk in, we used to try and make out what brand she was wearing. She was an inspiration to us. The food on the sets was amazing too!