Team Baaraat Company – producer Archana Chanda, director Syed Ahmad Afzal and leading ladies Sandeepa Dhar and Anurita Jha – in conversation with Team Box Office India
BOI: How did this concept come about?
Syed Amad Afzal (SAA): Basically, I got a call from her (Archana Chanda) production house. When I met her, she narrated the script to me. But I felt the first draft did not justify the concept, so I asked her if she would let me write. The next day, I returned with the first scene. Archana liked it and, within a few days, I prepared a bound draft. We met in September or October, and from November 29, we started rolling.
Archana Chanda (AC): We met a writer whose concept this was, and when he narrated the script to us, we went ‘Wow!’ But the story needed to be brushed up, so we worked on it. Then I met Afzal and narrated the concept to him. He understood what I was saying and he got my vision, which was great because there are a lot of directors who cannot really connect with someone else’s vision. When he (Afzal) came up with the script, a few scenes was so apt. So I told him this was what I was actually looking for.
BOI: Can you take us through your writing process?
SAA: When you receive a concept, you first try and get a clear understanding of what the story wants to say. Later, you try to bind the series of scene to it. So the concept relates to a baaraat. We have tried to make it quirky but I have made it a point to see that it is not slapstick. We want it to relate to people’s daily lives so that people can connect with it easily. Also, we aren’t trying to send out any kind of message. We simply want to entertain our audience.
When we started shooting, we tried not to get sidetracked from the concept. I had one thing in mind, that when I make a romantic comedy that has two to three tracks, with a central character and two protagonists, the entire film should focus on them. But I believe there are more characters in the film and you can focus on them as well. Like Rani, who is a protester, and Diljala and another character called Bhura Jackson. So these three to four characters stay with the main protagonist.
They share good chemistry, which helps to establish a platform. Then we move to the romantic portion of the story. What you need to do to grab the audience’s attention is to use elements like fun and comedy and then gradually move to romance. This is the graph we have followed.
BOI: How did you come to cast Anurita Jha in the film?
SAA: I have heard about her from Gangs of Wasseypur to Jugni, which I liked most, and I needed someone to play a character that was very layered – an open-minded girl who is in love and takes a decision but she feels bad for her family. She does not elope as she is concerned about her family and loves her family too. That pain is visible and that’s why her character is very layered. So we needed someone who could show this pain and maintain the layering of the character. She has done a beautiful job.
BOI: Anurita and Sandeepa, why did you say ‘yes’ to this character?
Anurita Jha: Because of the multiple layers of the character. I had auditioned for this film and they liked my audition. But my instant ‘yes’ was because Afzal was the director of the film. I had heard so much about him and I have always wanted to work with good directors who portray different stories in different ways.
My character has multiple layers and I have never played this kind of role before. It was intense but funny. There was also a certain sweetness to it. The relationship I share with Mehak (Sandeepa) is very beautiful. He has written it so beautifully and I wanted to explore this.
SAA: There was a lot of improvisation on the sets.
AJ: He used to give us plenty of liberty to play around with our characters. Like the friendship between me and Sandeepa on screen is real. Also, Archana used to visit the sets every day; I don’t think any other producer comes to the set every day.
SAA: She used to take care of everything, from lending her support to all the arrangements for the equipment. You felt as if someone was there to look after you.
AC: Yes, I was on the set; it was fun being there. I was very clear that our film had to relate to the audience, as if they were events from their own lives. Anurita mentioned the friendship in the film… I believe everyone has seen a friendship like that. There are lots of scenes that relate to yourself. I also got to know how far a director’s vision can be. There is a scene where Anurita hurts her Dad badly. Every girl will relate to this scene as every girl would have hurt their dad like that.
ASS: Also, you get a feel for the film when you are on the sets. So, for instance, some scenes give off a certain energy that you want to highlight in the film. And you need to appreciate your actors if they deliver an extraordinary performance.
AJ: Aachi wali daat bhi mili hai.(Laughs)
Sandeepa Dhar (SD): I knew he was making the film. And I had seen his work in Laal Rang, which was still in my head. Like Akshay (Oberoi), he is there in the film and I know the kind of fabulous performance he had delivered in Laal Rang. And I knew it was because of him; he is great with actors and I wanted to work with a director who can draw great performances out of an actor. I was craving that.
So when I got to know that he was making a film, I told all my close friends and my manager, who is the casting director for the film, that I had to meet him. I did and I must say that he is a great story teller. When he narrated to story to me, I was very excited and I really wanted to do this film. I did the screen test and that’s how the film happened.
BOI: Speaking of women’s relationships in the film, and being a man, you had to shoot the father-daughter scenes and those of two friends. What was your thought process?
SAA: The first thing that came to mind was the relationship between my mother and my sister, and the way they used to interact. I took something from that and from past memories. In my family, we are the only two brothers and the rest are girls. I didn’t have any real issues writing or shooting this.
With a film like this, you are walking a very fine line. If you cross that line, you could be overplaying it and if you stay inside the line, you could be underplaying it. You have to be very focused on what you want to deliver.
BOI: Archana, were you creatively involved in the film?
AJ: I had a few things very clear in mind, like the kind of story and music I wanted in the film. Since he understood that, I didn’t need to be involved in the film. It went very smoothly because I explained what I wanted and he got it done perfectly.
BOI: What was the environment like on the set?
AC: The entire set was very positive, from the day we started writing till the last day. I was multi-tasking and it was not difficult because everyone helped me. Everyone was very supportive and it made my work easier. There was no negativity and we would sort out all our issues together.
BOI: As a director, do you feel any kind of pressure before the film’s release?
SAA: Yes, people asked me why this genre? And I told them I didn’t want to get stuck to a particular genre. I did Youngistaan, which was a political love story; then I did a social drama Laal Rang; then I straightaway switched to a romantic comedy. Next, I would like to do a completely different genre, so that I keep evolving as a filmmaker. Techniques also change with the genre, like Baaraat Company needs a more classical way of shooting whereas it was rather unconventional for Laal Rang.
I have adapted to all these genres perhaps by gut feeling or intuition or because something within me wants to do something different. But it feels good when you attempt something you haven’t done before. But people were, like, why did to opt for this, from real and raw films to romantic comedy? The concept and characters were so quirky that I wanted to feel them.
BOI: Was it challenging to shift from one genre to another?
SAA: It was not all that tough. I had started thinking about it when I was writing it. I told myself that I was halfway there already and that I just had to go on the sets and execute it. No, I had never imagined that I would straightaway away take up this genre.
BOI: Did you have any preconceived notions about what it would be like to work with him?
AJ: I didn’t. He is very sweet and was honest about wanting me in the film. And he went out of his way to tell me that, which is very sweet. That was one barrier-breaker, so when we were on the sets, the work flowed smoothly and there were no communication problems. There was only this one time when he came up to me and said, ‘This is not happening, try to improve it.’ I was apprehensive but it turned out fine and he was justified. After the shoot, we would talk about my progress or things that needed to improve. So it was easy for me.
ASS: She wasn’t there for the workshop but she still managed things very easily.
AJ: Everybody was very serious about the workshop but I had some work commitments in Europe at the time. I promised Syed I would try to be a good actor. For Jugni, I learnt Punjabi in 14 days. I said ‘I will do my best in your film, please have faith in me.’ Then he said, ‘Hmmm… par workshop bhi zaruri hai…’ I said I would manage without the workshop.
BOI: Can you take us through the process of the workshop?
ASS: These days, workshops are hyped so much that you have do lines and everything. But I don’t go for lines, I just need to build camaraderie between the actors. We have certain theatre exercises that we did. We sat together and kept praising each other. I gave them just one thing for home-work – writing three pages on the character and why they are playing their respective roles.
One good thing was that we had a lot of theatre people coming in from different states and it was like a pan-India reach. We can see different faces and that introduced freshness. Second, you don’t have any expectations from anyone sitting there and you don’t know what will be the next dialogue coming.
BOI: Tell us something interesting about the characters.
AJ: Can I guess…which is your favorite?
SAA: They are all my favorites. But interesting…
AJ: I know, it’s Rani’s character, right?
SAA: Yes, it’s a very interesting character. Basically, Jaihind Kumar told me about this character, Rani. She is a transgender and they believe and respect their gurus. There is a situation where Rani had to answer back to her guru. So the rest of the members start fighting with her. And at that time, the central protagonist crosses by them and he saves her life. Rani starts believing in the central protagonist. She cuts her hair and her tone changes slightly and she discovers a man in her. This was a very interesting character, one which has multiple layers.
AJ: Frankly, I don’t know any backstory. As all the characters are beautiful but I personally like Diljala. He has so much energy and it’s a treat to watch him. Diljala and Rani are superb as they make you feel the emotions and pain they go through. If you take them out of the film, you will take away all the colour.
SD: I could not attend the workshop and came in only a day before the shoot but I knew the back story. When I read the script, I really wanted to play one of the three guys. He has written such amazing characters. They are quirky and crazy but real. And they are so different from each other. I would love to play a role like that.
BOI: Sandeepa, tell us about your character.
SD: I am playing Mehak Sharma, a girl from Lucknow who is working in Delhi as a wildlife photographer. She is a very confident, independent girl and quite a feminist. She stands for what is right. She has been in a serious relationship for five years but it didn’t work out. She is very disturbed by
that and, at that juncture, she comes
BOI: How did you prepare for your role?
SD: Syed had given me a lot of material, so half my work was done. Where I had to work was on my energy. I had to lower my energy because the character is very calm and subtle. By nature, I am a bubbly person and Mehak is the polar opposite of who I am. So, that took a little time.
BOI: As the director, was it difficult to train her on this front?
SAA: It was not difficult. When she gave her look test, I made her enact a scene. I also told her, ‘Chaar notes niche aao.’ She understood what I meant and she followed it throughout the film.
SD: He has a brilliant way of working with actors. I am sure Anurita agrees. Another quality I admire is willingness to make time for his actors. He explains and narrates the story to us, and thus tells you in advance what emotion you need to portray on camera. He is the reason all his actors perform extremely well.
Working with such fabulous characters like Trimurti, Diljala, Bhurajackson and Rani was a great experience but it also kept us on our toes. They are so good that they inspire you to do better.
BOI: Tell us something about the relationship between you and Anurita in the film.
SD: One of the most amazing things about doing this film was Anurita, and, in her, I now have a genuinely nice friend. I don’t have many girlfriends and I am so glad I met her. She is one of the most sorted, intelligent, grounded and brilliant human beings I have ever met. Apart from that, she is a brilliant actor too. We shot that first scene and it we were always in sync after that. We are very different people but our energy is completely in sync.
SAA: That’s why it’s working.
SD: We kind of complement each other. If she is weak, I am the strong one and vice versa.
BOI: How did the protagonist come on board?
SAA: We have a hidden strategy that male protagonist is not here actually dulhan joh hai, woh taiyaar ho ra hai. Ranveer Kumar was involved in the writing process and I noticed that he was a very a hardworking and honest person. He also has eight to ten years’ experience in theatre and he has that macho and bad-ass kind of personality, which I had to extract from him as it was required for the character. You will see the rest when you watch the film.
BOI: How happy are both of you with the final product?
AC: I have been pleased from the first draft, where I had a clear idea about what I wanted. About the final product, well, it is at a whole new level and my reaction to it is, ‘Yeh toh mein socha hi nahi tha.’ Right now, I am very happy.
AJ: I just want people to go and see. I am very happy. As you have seen in the trailer itself it has crazy energy.
BOI: What was it like working with the director and producer?
SD: I thought he was a very serious person, who would discuss only cinema and other serious stuff. As it turned out, he is the craziest person I know! He cracks the most stupid jokes and he is a big foodie. Yes, my perception definitely changed but not in a good way! He is my mentor and my friend too. (Laughs)
It was the smoothest journey ever. It was a planned 40-day shoot but we wrapped it in 37 days with a two-camera set-up and sync sound. Technically, he got whatever he wanted. As an actor, it was the most comfortable environment to work in.
I think her (Archana Chandan) approach to making a film is right and she is very caring as a producer. And now we have Viacom on board and this has given us a lot of confidence. All this has happened because of Archana and her persistent efforts. The great thing is that this is her first film. She was always very clear about what she wanted from it. She just wants to make a good film with good content, regardless of the stars.
SAA: I have a script, which was my first script, and I am going to work on it in winter. That could be my first production. I have had this script with me for seven years and I pull it out every year and update it. But, this time, I am going to work on it for sure.
AJ: I am doing two projects.
AC: We have a couple of films in the pipeline and will announce our second project soon.
SD: I have bagged two films and will soon announce them.