Team Rukh — director Atanu Mukherjee and actors Manoj Bajpayee and Adarsh Gourav — tease their upcoming film in a conversation with team Box Office India
BOI: Rukh’s trailer looks intriguing. What inspired you to make a film like this?
Atanu Mukherjee (AM): The primary reference was from real characters and situations around us. That is what initially motivated me to develop the story and as we kept on developing, we made it more fiction than fact.
BOI: Manoj and Adarsh, talking about your characters, whose has real-life references and how relatable were they for you both?
Adarsh Gourav (AG): To start with, while my character has grown up in Mumbai, I came to the city in 2007. So, in that sense, I could relate to the characters. In the places where I couldn’t relate to the characters, I decided to speak to my friends. Something happens in the film due to which my character is sent to a boarding school. I gathered information from my friends about their boarding school experiences. That helped me understand how that changed my character’s perception towards life, how the distance from his family changed his opinion towards them. That’s how I started preparing for the film.
Manoj Bajpayee (MB): I come from a middle-class family and the problems that middle-class families go through is not only a problem of the family that we are showing in the film. This is a common problem faced by each and every middle class family in their day-to-day lives. The struggle is always on. It starts from getting up in the morning till the time one goes off to sleep. There is not a single moment where the family isn’t facing the difficulties of survival; it is all about surviving the next moment. Some families crumble and some don’t. This family is trying very hard to keep afloat in troubled waters.
Adarsh plays the son where he feels strength from his father but also feels the misery his mother is going through. This has also affected his school life. It is the circumstances his family endures that sees him attempting to unravel the truth about the death of his father. It is intriguing, suspenseful, full of realism in terms of relationships, friendships, conflicts and betrayal.
BOI: Manoj, what is that one thing about the role that made you decide that you had to be a part of this film?
MB: It is the script. Koi aadmi aise kaise likh sakta hai? There is so much simplicity in it. It is something that anybody can read and understand. Yet, he talks of such complex things in a relationship, a middle class family, his life. He is also trying to tell the story of a mature father-son relationship. In this one single story, many complex relationships are explored with a lot of suspense, drama and intrigue. That is why I wanted to be a part of this film. Adarsh is playing the main lead and we’re playing the secondary roles, but I wanted this film to be a part of my career.
BOI: How was the dynamic on the sets?
MB: We were serious while shooting but we had our own share of fun and
jokes going around. I like to relax on set because the subject is very complicated. It needs a lot of focus and attention. I keep pulling everybody’s leg. That is my time pass!
AG: I think Manoj sir was the first villain I saw on-screen in Satya.
MB (cuts in): That was not a villain, by the way!
AG: Okay, it was the first gangster I saw. Although I was too young to understand what the film was about, his work was so realistic and powerful, it impacted me, deeply. I was very nervous when I found out that I was playing Manoj sir’s son, because I had Sardar Khan and Bhiku Mhatre on my mind. When I met him, I realised he is such an easy person to work with. He makes you feel extremely comfortable. He never made me feel that I’m working with such a big actor. I got to learn so much from him. Even at this age, he gets up at five in the morning.
MB (cuts in): At this age? I am not 70!
AG: What I mean is a person with so much experience is still so dedicated to his work. And it is very inspiring to work with people like him. I think he treats every film like it’s his first. It is a big learning curve for somebody like me who has just started his career. Atanu is very clear and focused about what he wants.
MB (cuts in): He is not even on social media. So focused.
AM: He is just behind me to get on social media.
AG: Yeah, we all want that. I think it is very important for an actor to not be confused when playing a part. Even before the film started, I was so sure what Atanu wanted. We were both on the same page.
BOI: Atanu, did you always have Manoj on your mind for this project?
AM: Yes, he was my first choice. Even when I was writing the script, I wanted to meet him and pitch the film.
MB (Cuts in): You better give me the lead role in the next one!
AM: Sure! So then I got in touch with him and narrated the story. We had shot a small clip as a treatment scene and I realised that he kind of liked it. Obviously, he wanted to read the script. He was quite interested to come on board. That was a very exciting moment for me. I wasn’t expecting that. He was my first choice and he said yes to me.
BOI: Being a first-time director, did it make you feel nervous to work with an actor of Manoj’s calibre?
AM: Initially, yes, I was nervous. But then, we met a couple of times during the reading sessions. We began understanding each other. I understood his interpretation of the story. So that made us comfortable.
BOI: Since this film deals with a sensitive issue, was it sometimes emotionally draining? Was it difficult to come out of that zone?
AG: Absolutely. I feel there are some scenes where you need to invest a lot. There are different ways of doing it. Once you are off set, you go back home. It is quite refreshing. Returning home, for me, was a breather to be myself again. It gave me an extra boost of energy to go back to set the next day. Even though the scenes were emotionally tiring, I had an incredible time doing them.
MB: There are two sequences where I felt I was just there. Some magic happened. It is one of those times when you are completely in the zone and your co-actor is also in the zone. There is a scene where I am talking to my wife, where she is worried about some family problems. They might have to sell everything; I still remember some magic happened during that scene. My co-star, Smitha Tambe and I were simultaneously in the same zone. Another such scene was with Kumud Mishra, where I am bewildered about how to deal with a friend’s betrayal. I just hit him with my finger while enacting the scene.
AM: These are the scenes where you, as a real person, go through the same thing as the character. The mental status is similar. The scene with Kumudji and Manojji and the scene with his wife reveal the involvement of the actors.
MB: In the shot, I just nudged him with my finger. It was immense betrayal I experienced as the character. Kumud actually felt the pain when I hit him in the scene. I didn’t mean to hurt him though.
AM: Everything was improvised. I remember Manojji telling me, ‘I feel like doing it, so let’s just do it.’
BOI: What were the challenges you faced while making the film?
AM: We did wonder if we would pull it off because the budget and resources were quite limited. However, the way everything came together, right from our creative collaboration to the execution of the entire project, with even Drishyam Films contributing, was commendable.
MB: For me, the main challenge was when we were shooting in the suburb of Calcutta, in a leather factory. They took us to a real one. Don’t even go to a leather factory. Forget about acting, you can’t even stand in a leather factory. The stink is unbearable. That was very difficult for me. I couldn’t take it, though they did try to spray a scent and get rid of the smell. It didn’t quite help.
AM: The main challenge was when we went for a location recce to Calcutta. Obviously, we liked the space. My concern was would my actors pull it off in this space? Finally, it all worked out.
BOI: How did the audience respond to the trailer?
AM: The trailer was accepted very well. I felt very excited seeing everybody appreciating it.
MB: I was quite surprised the way people responded to the trailer on social media. I thought they must be lying. It is not that kind of a film where there is a dance number, guns are drawn, or horses are running. Also, I love the songs of this film; Amit Trivedi has created some magic in terms of composition. The acceptance
of the songs and the trailer has been beyond my expectations.
BOI: Speaking of acceptance, this year a lot of content-driven films have made their mark and it is, in a way, making it easier for films like Rukh and Newton, which has been selected at the Oscars, to gain more acceptability.
MB: I feel, Atanu, that we have come to a point where we have matured remarkably, especially the new generation. The new generation of audiences are not watching one kind of film. If they are watching Indian films, they are simultaneously watching western films as well, along with European films. They have Netflix and Amazon, so their mind is completely open as opposed to the audience even five years ago. For them, cinema was of one kind. It was either comedy or action with heroic dialogues. Now, people are looking for varied experiences and they are looking for things that can entertain them. When the audience goes to the theatre to watch Newton, they are not going inside with an expectation to have a Judwaa experience. They are prepared for it. They know what to expect from a film. There is a need to make these kind of films on a regular basis, for all genres to co-exist.
AM: It is encouraging for filmmakers of this type of content. People are looking for such storytelling. As Manojji said, right now, people are exposed to world cinema and new-media content and that gives us the maturity to appreciate certain kind of films.
BOI: Atanu, a small film like Newton, travelling all the way to the Oscars… Does it hint at a changing phase of Indian cinema?
AM: Yeah, definitely. This is like a transition period that I am feeling right now. The audience is reacting to such content and these films are getting noticed. And if that is happening, then that is really good for the film industry in our country.
BOI: Manoj, your choices of films have been quite varied. What are the elements you look for in a story to say yes to it?
MB: When I agreed to do Atanu’s film, I didn’t have any concrete answer for it, even to myself. Somewhere, I also feel like I don’t want to let go of a great script. Maybe I want this film to be a part of my filmography. Maybe I wanted to contribute to the growth of independent cinema. Apart from the script, which is beautifully written, and Atanu being a brilliant director, there are certain factors, subconsciously going on my mind that I can’t pinpoint. It is the timing, luck and choices that we make. If I want to do a film like Baaghi, and it is offered to me at that point of time, I will do it. Same with independent films. Sometimes, this is also the case when I am willing to do an independent film, but there isn’t any offer. You just need to be desperate to be a part of that script, that’s all.
BOI: Adarsh, with films like MOM and Rukh, how do you think your career is shaping up?
AG: They aren’t exactly choices I have made. At the age I am right now, there are very few roles that are written. So I just feel that I have been lucky to have auditioned for the roles that I wanted to do. I am basically looking out for characters that are as different from me as possible because the journey of becoming that character helps me explore my limits. Till I am of a certain age, or I stop looking like a boy, I think I just have to be patient and wait for the right things to come in. At least, for the next two-three years. I would rather work on my facial expressions, read and watch as many films as I can, travel and be with the right kind of people.
BOI: Both your characters in MOM and Rukh are polar opposites to each other.
AG: I think it is incredible. For MOM, it was such a different headspace I had to be in. I remember, when I auditioned for the film I imagined the character to be a very dark guy. The reference that I can give is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, like fully pierced and tattooed. Ravi (Udyawar) sir wanted me to look like an innocent guy. He wanted me to deceive the audience, so it was deception I had to work with. Some scenes, like when I went to prison, were heavy duty. You had to understand what it is like going to prison. Similarly with Rukh, I had to imagine how I felt when I was 17-18, the kind of energy that your body has when you’re of that age. It starts changing when you cross your 20s. Also, understanding how it is to go to a boarding school. For Rukh, I had to learn how to swim. They sent me for swimming classes because there was a scene in the film where I had to float. After three months, when they asked me to perform, I goofed up. They asked me what I had learnt. I replied that I could only do a backflip! I just had a great time preparing for both these films.
BOI: What are each of your projects in the pipeline?
AM: I am developing a couple of more ideas.
MB: Only develop the idea which has me for the lead role!
AG: I was in drama school for a year, so I was writing stuff and directing plays there, apart from acting in them. I wrote a play called Aiyyo Raju and I am taking that play to Thespo. We keep making short films as well.
MB: I have Aiyyari, Baaghi 2 and two international films, Love Sonia and In The Shadows (Gaali Guliyaan) coming up. According to me, Gaali Guliyaan is my best performance so far and it has created a lot of buzz. I will also shoot for a film Bhosle, which I am co-producing. I have been looking for a producer for four years to make this film. It is slightly controversial which is why it is difficult to find a producer. It is about an old man, who, after retirement, does not want to return to Mumbai. He happens to have an affair with a 25-year-old girl from UP or Bihar.