Milap Milan Zaveri’s short film Raakh has become a game-changer for the writer-turned-director. Zaveri, who has directed a thriller for the first time ever, says it is also the first time the trade, critics and the audience have unanimously applauded his directorial work. Post the Mastizaade debacle, Zaveri tells Soumita Sengupta that he will no longer work on adult comedies
You are known for your comedy films. What made you move out of your comfort zone and direct Raakh, a short film?
My feature film Mastizaade bombed at the box office this year. Worse, I received even more flak because it is of a genre that is no longer respected. The genre worked a few years ago but the audience has since moved on and is looking for fresh concepts. Although I started as a writer with films like Kaante, Shootout At Wadala, Musafir and Ek Villain, I got typecast because of Heyy Babyy and Housefull. So even as a director, everyone wanted me to do comedy.
This year, there were a few scripts I wanted to direct; these were thrillers. But everyone I approached rejected my scripts, saying I was best with comedy and why did I want to direct thrillers? That frustration kept building in me, frustration and fear that I would be typecast with one particular genre. No one was prepared to give me a chance to make full-length feature films. I had no option than to do a short film.
Was it easy to get a producer for your short film?
I would like to give credit to my producer Prachi Thadani, my co-producer of Raakh. She was the one who pushed me to do something in the short format and directors like Sujoy Ghosh and Shirish Kunder have done it successfully. It was a platform for me to do something I had never done before. And it was especially good for me because it gave me the confidence to direct a thriller. It started as something small and then our lives vegan to revolve around this film. If I had gone wrong, I was afraid that people would judge me, saying ‘he can’t even make a short film, how will he make feature films?’
Why cast Shaad Randhawa and Vir Das?
It was a make-or-break situation for all of us. As I mentioned, for me, no one was giving me a chance. Vir Das is a famous stand-up comedian and Raakh gave him a chance to prove that he can do something outside comedy. We were all out of our comfort zone. Shaad Randhawa has never got such a strong dynamic role. So we were scared, it was the first time that I was not joking or being jovial on my own sets. I was constantly working towards the film; Vir was always all silent as he was into his character.
With the Internet, you don’t have to be afraid of Fridays any more. So, a lot of people who didn’t watch Raakh when it released are watching it now and I am still receiving feedback. The response has been very positive. It is the first time in my career as a director that critics, the trade and the audience have unanimously loved a movie of mine. I was not bashed by the critics.
Your magazine, Box Office India, itself praised it so much when the team watched it. For me, it’s a big high because I have never received so much love from the trade and the critics before. We have been nominated for an awards show, which is another first in my career… to have my directorial film nominated. I am very humbled and grateful to finally rise from the ashes, from Raakh, and prove a point.
Has the perception of the industry changed now?
Yes, everyone’s perception towards me as a writer has changed. Today, people look at me differently, directors and producers treat me differently and there is a lot more respect. In fact, so many people have messaged me, saying ‘this is your genre’, which is so funny because when I had approached them with thrillers, they had rejected me. But there are people who supported me throughout, like Kumar Mangat sir, Rohit Shetty and Nikkhil Advani, and I guess it’s the goodwill of the industry that kept me going. The actors I worked with in Raakh worked not for money but for goodwill.
In fact, my first film Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai also didn’t work but that was all right as it was my first film but when Mastizaade didn’t work, it was much more difficult. Raakh is the first directorial film of mine that has worked.
Now that everyone believes you have found your genre, will we see you writing and directing more thrillers? Also, does that mean no more adult comedies?
Yes, I will not do adult comedies again because I feel I have done enough in that genre. Also, I have a son now so I want to do work that is respectful. Today Raakh has brought me respect. I have tasted blood with Raakh, I have got so much praise and respect that I would like to do more such stuff. So I am totally done with the adult comedy genre. I will balance thrillers, comedy and clean comedies. I want to attempt thrillers some more, especially with longer formats.