The Babumoshai Bandookbaaz team – actors Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bidita Bag, director Kushan Nandy and producer Ashmith Kunder – in conversation with Team Box Office India
BOI: How was Babumoshai Bandookbaaz conceived?
Ashmith Kunder (AK): It is all because of this young boy, Kushan. He will explain how.
Kushan Nandy (KN): Yeah, basically, the whole idea was to make a film that was very real, very raw and centred on this character called Babu, who was a contract killer. So we worked out a few things in the film which we thought would be plot points one, two and three. After that, we met Nawaz Bhai. And I think it was when he got excited about it that we sat and penned some more of it. As we started doing that, we started sketching characters that were real, that were based in that area of Central India, and we tried to keep it very real and very raw.
AK: It all started when Kushan read an article in the newspaper about small-town contract killers, young boys, who can take a life just for the price of just two bananas. That stayed with him and he developed this plot line. He discussed it with the writers and developed the script. So the thought was real but he built a fictional world around it, and Babu and his world was created.
BOI: Nawaz, what went through your mind when you heard the narration of the film for the first time?
Nawazuddin Siddiqui (NS): I like quirkiness and weirdness in a character, and there is a lot of excitement from me if the character I am playing has scope for this. As I have said many times before, when there are sapat (flat) characters… like the roles of heroes in our Bollywood films are very straight and there is no scope of performance there. I don’t enjoy characters like that and have no interest in playing them either. I really liked this part since this character had so many qualities and, after watching this film, people will hopefully feel that this character is different from what they have seen before. He is not your regular hero; he is the opposite, a complete 180˚. He doesn’t have any social or moral values but he does have a sense of humour, a weird sense of humour, and is also quite professional. One of the best qualities of this character is his sense of equality. In the film, he treats even his girlfriend, Phulwa, as an equal. He is not a male chauvinist or anything like that. The equality bit has crept into our script unconsciously.
BOI: Babu’s character is very rustic, on the lines of what you have already done, Nawaz. Is this a comfort zone, of sorts, playing characters like this?
NS: No, no. I don’t ever do roles that are in comfort zones. I think the role of being a Bollywood hero is in the most comfortable zone, and these are the kind of roles I do not do. The roles I play fall in the most uncomfortable zone. When I think I will find it difficult to do a particular role, that it will be tough for me to portray someone like that, I purposely do it because it is not in my comfort zone. Whether it is in MOM or Munna Michael or Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, these are characters from the uncomfortable zone for any actor. Usually, we have a very set structure for the hero and the heroine’s characters, and those are the most comfortable characters. Roles like these are so simple and have very clichéd body language, so much so that you can pick up almost anyone from the street and make them do it. I think since the last five or six decades, we have had very similar roles for the hero. It is such a set role that you don’t really need to train for it; there is no innovation or discovery needed for a character like that. It is very simple and clichéd. So it is one of the easiest roles to play in the industry.
BOI: Bidita, at what point did you come on board, and what was your reaction to your role?
Bidita Bag (BB): I came at a very critical point, when the film was already 40- 50 per cent complete, and they were waiting for a heroine to come on board. I was selected at the very last moment. I was a little afraid because one heroine (Chitrangda) had stepped out and I was not sure if I should do this. But when I received the script, I was dead sure that I had to do this role because it had so much to do and the range, the emotional range, was so much that I was dying to do a role like this. When I arrived on the sets, everyone was waiting for me including Nawaz sir. I quickly changed into the character’s look and was asked to sit in a corner. This corner was completely filled with old shoes. I was asked to wear an old, dirty sari because I was playing a mochi (cobbler) in this film. That was actually one of the best things as nobody has played a mochi on screen… a female mochi, a hot, sultry female mochi, and I am really glad I got this part.
BOI: Did you get any tips from the leading man, Nawazuddin?
BB: He always offers acting tips but he gave me some important life tips too. Luck plays a part in whether or not you will be successful in this industry but so does hard work. Of course, success also has different parameters. But Nawaz sir is someone who observes life. He has worked in several different professions. He has observed thousands of people. He has also worked in theatre. His story as a struggler in Mumbai, when he didn’t have enough money… all this touched me and I was very inspired. Now, regardless of what happens, I will never give up.
BOI: Bidita, with this film you have played a de-glamourised role pretty early in your Bollywood career. Did that worry you?
BB: It is not really early in my career. I started working when I was in the 11th standard and have been struggling for 10 years. I have done glamourous roles before. I was a fashion model. I still am a fashion model. I have seen the glamour world in modelling and it is not interesting enough for me. Besides, there are so many heroines doing the glamourous roles, so if I don’t do something different how will I make a place for myself in this competitive industry? That’s why I chose this role.
BOI: Ashmith and Kushan, when you started making this film, did you think it would be so difficult to get it released?
AK: Of course, not. I thought it would be a cakewalk. We had a director, a script and a good actor, so I thought it would be extremely easy. I was thinking, why do people make so few movies every year? Why do producers make only one film at a time? I had three to four projects lined up with this. But then I soon learnt the bitter truth. Aate daal ka bhaav maalum pad gaya. Now I have a new respect for producers who keep making films. I have also started respecting myself more. It’s, like, beta tere mein kuch toh hai, tu abhi tak zinda hai.
KN: I never expected this kind of difficulty. There have been controversies around the film, there have been stumbling blocks while making it. But I believe it was for the best, everything, the cast changing and stuff like that. I feel the film is now much younger, it’s much brighter, it’s much spunkier.
BOI: The Censor Board have demanded 48 cuts in the film.
KN: I have nothing to offer the censor board but I can assure the audience that the film will come out in its original version, without the cuts that they have suggested. I am very hopeful of that. People will see the film in its full-blown version.
BOI: How do you deal with disappointments since so much effort goes into making a film?
AK: We work on a script for one and half years… the actors put in so much time and effort. After all this, if we are asked to omit 15-20 things, it’s not justified. No one has the right to do that. After suggesting an A-certificate, it’s very silly to impose cuts as well. It is an insult to adults, that they are incapable being adult enough to watch such content. It is silly is an understatement.
BOI: Do you feel that censoring the film would lead to a different outcome for a film?
AK: It will not be censored. The censored version will not release. We have applied to the tribunal and we are hopeful that the original version will release.
BOI: Did you always have Nawaz in mind when you were scripting this role?
KN: I went to him in the very initial stage of scripting. I never had anybody else in mind and it is the truth that I would have shelved the film without him. Let me tell you why. He plays a contract killer. What Nawaz Bhai brings to a film is a quirkiness that you could even call ‘madness’, and I don’t think there are too many actors out there who can do this. So there is a very young, spirited, quirky guy behind this contract killer. And that’s what I found in him. Without that, it would be just a regular story of a contract killer.
AK: I think Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is 50-60 per cent what it is due to Nawaz Bhai’s contribution. He has taken the script to another level. The film has exceeded our expectations due to the good luck of having a director like Kushan and an actor like Nawaz Bhai, and of course the able contribution of Bidita.
BOI: Nawaz, what would you say your director unlocked in you?
AK: I always try to get an idea of the director during the first meeting. The character is of a contract killer but Kushan is majorly responsible for the characterisation and the detailing, and that takes the character to another level. A director always advises the actor about key points and there’s a fair amount that’s not scripted. It’s the vision of the director that takes an actor forward and inspires him to deliver his best performance. The quirkiness and weirdness that I have brought to the character of ‘Babumoshai’ has happened only with the help of my director.
KN (cuts in): Babumoshai is a character sans inhibitions. He is, in a way, unapologetically honest about everything he does. People will fall in love with the uninhibitedness and the ‘besharmi’ of the character.
BOI: Nawaz, what was your first impression of Bidita?
NS: I met her for the first time on the sets itself. It was probably the second day… the day jab wo steamy scene bhi shoot hua tha jispe kaechiya chal rahi hai. To be frank, I haven’t seen much of her work, but I have heard that she is inclined towards art-house films. There is a difference between an actress and a heroine and I found her to be the former. Mahol garaam tha, toh humne bhi socha ki chalo hathora maar du (Laughs). You do not discover her acting prowess while talking to her. It’s only when she’s in front of the camera that you realise she is a fabulous performer. There is a lot of honesty in her performance and that’s what appeals to the audience.
BOI: One trait of the character in the film that you relate to, Bidita?
BB: She is very passionate and so am I. Other than that, ‘Phulwa’ is very different from me. I had no idea I could pull off a role like this. My director has always been a guide to me. The character has a lot of extremes. She is very raw, manipulative, eccentric. She is also very cunning and money minded.
KN: That’s what she is like in real life too! (Ha, ha, ha, ha!)
BB: No, I have lost a lot of money.
AK (Cuts in): No, I was talking about you being manipulative.
BB: Yes, that’s true. Hats off to the director who took care of my performance before each scene.
NS: Look at how cunning she is. Director saath mein hai toh abhi ye unki tareef kar rahe hai.. warna ye mere baare mein bolti hai.
BB: I have learnt a lot from you and I say this all the time.
NS: To be cunning?
BB: No, to play any kind of character.
KN: She used to challenge me all the time on the sets… and ask me to perform everything before the scene. She even asked me to perform the passionate scenes with Nawaz!
AK (Cuts in): That’s quite kinky, huh?
BB: It is nice to get a demo, it makes it easier for me to understand the emotions. Saves a lot of time.
BOI: What was your perception of Nawaz and how has that changed now, Bidita?
BB: Initially, I thought he was a very serious guy, who does not like talking to people. Since he is a star, I thought he must have a lot of attitude. But, later, I found out that he was really entertaining. He would talk about his struggling days as well. I really enjoyed talking to him.
BOI: Ashmith, talk about your challenges while the film was being filmed.
AK: That’s an archive which has to be opened, and I suggest we don’t. No point going back to the past. I would rather look to the future, looking at a product that has gone beyond our expectations.
BOI: Kunder, talk about your learning as a producer.
AK: Oh! I learnt a lot, I have changed as a human being and in a lot of other aspects ever since the film started two years ago. Whether as a person, businessman, technician, producer, etc., the way I look at things, the way I look at people. I am really enjoying this phase.
BOI: The equation between the team.
AK: Nawaz Bhai has treated it like a home production. He has been with us in every aspect, from the beginning, and I am very fortunate I never had to flatter the star to get him on the set. Nawaz has been a great support. Apni picture ki tarah. Because there’s so much happening around, this is one of the last things one would want. Bidita is comparatively new and has been behaving up until till now.
BOI: What are your expectations from the film?
AK: I hope people will notice what a great director Kushan is. People already know Nawaz. Yeh toh har hafte jhande ghadte rehte hai.
KN: It is an entertaining film. Watch the film and have fun.
BB: People will love the character of this contract killer named ‘Babu’. But I hope children do not watch this film; I hope people are not inspired by the characters. I just want them to enjoy our performances. Kyunki hum bohot hi besharam hai.
BOI: Projects in the pipeline?
AK: I am working as an actor in a film called Aagam.
BB: I’m doing a biopic on Dayabai, a social activist who works for the empowerment of the poor people of Madhya Pradesh. In another film, I play a female gangster. These two are very realistic films.
NS: Till the 25th, I want to focus on this film. The post-production is underway for Manto.
KN: I want to sleep. Later, I might think of making a romantic film.