Box Office India (BOI): Obviously, you are here to promote 2 States…
Arjun Kapoor (AK): (Cuts in) No, I am still promoting Gunday! (Laughs)
BOI: As we all know, 2 States is based on a book. Have you read the book?
Alia Bhatt (AB): I had read the book long before I did 2 States, while shooting for Student Of The Year.
BOI: What about you, Arjun?
AK: I still haven’t read it. In fact, we just launched the book with a new cover and, at the event, Chetan (Bhagat) said, ‘Ab toh padh le.’ I am not a voracious reader. I was aware of the book when it became a success and I was aware of Chetan’s writing but I never imagined I would be offered a film like 2 States. I read the screenplay and then told Karan (Johar) that I was on. When I met Abhishek, the director, I was talking to him about the character Krish and said I wanted to read the book now. He said if I hadn’t read it already, I shouldn’t read it now. His interpretation was enough for me to know that I was on the right track.
AB: When I read the script for the first time, I was happy. Some portions from the book have not been included in the film to keep the film as crisp as possible. And there are some portions from the book that we have alluded to. But Abhishek, as the director of the film, has retained what he feels was required. He understood the world and the characters very well. Yes, we have tried to stay true to the book as far as possible.
BOI: You have worked with veteran directors like Karan Johar and Imtiaz Ali. What was it like to work with Abhishek Varman, who is making his debut with this film?
AB: I am a newcomer myself so it is not my place to make this comparison. Abhishek is very sorted and knows exactly what he wants. He also knows exactly what he wants his characters to look like and makes sure his shots are taken the way he wants them to be taken. He is a nervous wreck 24x7 but that’s only because of how passionate he is as a director.
AK: I have worked with Habib (Faizal), who made Do Dooni Chaar but he is a seasoned writer and has always done an excellent job. So, in that sense, I have had the best of both worlds. Homi (Adjania) is an established director now. But I can say that Abhishek doesn’t look or behave like a debutant. It’s always important for a director to be very clear about what he wants or doesn’t want, and Abhishek is like that. Also, he has kept the film very real.
I have also worked with Ali Abbas Zafar, who is very filmy and dramatic. Abhishek was a contrast to what I was working on in Gunday. So, every director has their own take on their material. I loved working with Abhishek in 2 States due to his simplicity. He is a fantastic find for Dharma.
BOI: Both of you are industry kids. Does that help while selecting a project?
AB: I am the daughter of Mahesh Bhatt and Soni Bhatt but they are simply Mamma and Papa to me, not ‘industry parents’. I have been raised by them, not the ‘industry’. Hence, calling me an ‘industry kid’ is not quite correct. I mean, would you call the son of an engineer, the ‘engineering industry’s son’? It’s a myth that, as actors, we don’t work. But it probably helps that you have parents in the same field or people who you know work in the same field. It does give you an edge. Say, you’re stuck or need some advice, you can approach them.
AK: I agree with Alia to some extent but I also understand where you are coming from, in that, we have grown up in this industry.
AB: (Cuts in) I haven’t at all.
AK: Alia hasn’t. She kept away from conversations like, ‘Arre, yaar, apki film ki opening kaisi thi?’ I’m sure doctors discuss what happens in the medical profession all the time. We did discuss the film industry; it is in my blood. But, with her, it was different. To answer your question… my background does not affect my choices. I use my own instincts and that’s why I think Ishaqzaade chose me before I chose the film. I think Aditya Chopra was smart in choosing me for that role rather than a generic, run-of-the-mill rom-com. That’s why 2 States puts pressure on me. He was very clear that he wanted me to do an Ishaqzaade.
With Aurangzeb, I was excited by the material because it was a song-less drama and thus very unique. Gunday played to the gallery and 2 States meant doing that rom-com that I always wanted to do, while Finding Fanny was niche. So I have tried to different stuff. The audience is more important to me than being an industry kid. If I believe a film is entertaining, I say ‘yes’.
AK: My parents have always encouraged me to make my own choices, including the projects I sign. Of course, I always tell my dad in advance and take his advice. I do the same with Aditya Chopra. But, eventually, it is up to me. I respect my father for giving me the freedom of choice. He has never tried to mould me in any way. That’s why, when I choose to do a film with him, it’s his choice. I want him to make his kind of cinema, which is larger than life. So I work backwards where he is concerned, rather than him telling me the kind of the films I should do. I would rather be in a position where he can make his cinema with me. I had thought about this very early on. I never wanted to be his weakness; I want to be his biggest strength because he is a big-budget filmmaker and that’s not going to change. I can’t see him getting excited about making a Finding Fanny with me.
BOI: So Gunday is more up his alley.
AK: (Pauses) But even an Aurangzeb was, for that matter. He related to Aurangzeb because of the family drama, conflict and emotion portrayed in the film. He loved Ishaqzaade too because, as a producer, his films are always larger than life. So when Tevar came to me, I worked with him with his mindset and wanted him to celebrate cinema the way he always has.
AK: Ironically, my first pay cheque came from Dharma, when I was an assistant and was 17 years old. It was signed by Yash Johar. So you can say that I started my career with Dharma and made my debut as an actor with Yash Raj. I have had the best of both the worlds from a very young age. It is surreal because pehle assistant ke kaam ke liye Rs 3,000 milte the, now suddenly I have been approached to do a film as an actor by the same producer and it felt really good. I felt as if I was coming into my own with Karan (Johar), who offered me a film with me as the main lead. It’s a small victory for me on a personal level because of where I started from.
But, today, there is no difference between a Dharma and a Yash Raj as they are both home to me. I believe Adi has helped me become a better actor while my rapport with Karan is emotionally. I am very fortunate to have worked with Karan so early as a producer and Sajid too. I am very lucky to work with two producers on one film. Most actors would love to work with both these producers but mujhe dono ek saath mil gaye.
BOI: In the industry, we believe that a film is destined to have the actors it gets. Your role in 2 States first went to Shah Rukh Khan, then Ranbir Kapoor and it then came to you…
AK: Yeah, it went to lots of people. But, like you said, har film ki ek kismet hoti hai. In this case, the film went to many big stars, and many big directors, producers and actresses were interested in doing this film. It speaks for the merit of the material. I think we are the fortunate ones to be in the right place at the right time and it came to us. Let me not forget Abhishek for trusting us to do a good job in the film. It’s a very big deal to do a book like this. We received 6 million hits in the first week and Dharma too was in shock. The trailer of Agneepath only just clocked 6 million, a year and a half after its release. And Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani got 3 million before its release and four after. It is over whelming that there is so much love for the book. It’s not for me and Alia; it’s the material.
AB: It’s the curiosity about a book being made into a film.
BOI: How do the characters in the book compare with those in the film?
AB: There are many readers and they will obviously be excited to see what the film is like.
AK: This film came at an opportune time for both of us, after the release of Gunday and Highway. We are fresh in people’s memories so they are inclined to see a film with a fresh casting and material that has been adapted from Chetan’s work. A lot of factors came together and worked in favour of the trailer.
BOI: People will inevitably compare the film with the book…
AK: Of course!
AB: That happens with every adaptation.
AK: Woh toh hum bhi compare karenge ki humne jo script padhi thi aur film bani, woh same hai ke nahi.
AB: The film is an adaptation and every film takes some cinematic liberties. But we have tried to remain sensitive to the plot, in that, the general skeleton of the book has been retained, with a few changes. The surprise is the song and dance included in the film.
AK: It has been made for more universal appeal. Also, a film is always less elaborate than the book it is adapted from. Hence the length of the script is 20 pages less than the book but we have retained the essence of the book, with the romance, family and emotion.
AK: It’s very important to get the audience to see you from a new perspective.
AB: Everyone has been speaking to me in Tamil.
AK: The film is set in South India and attempts to break the stereotype by portraying Tamilians accurately.
AB: It was a lot of fun. Initially, I thought I would have to learn to speak Tamil. Thankfully, I didn’t as my character is a modern girl. She doesn’t speak in Tamil all the time. Nor does she have that accent. Also, the family has travelled all over India and didn’t always live in Chennai. So the accent hasn’t stuck with her. So when she is talking to Krish or out of her home, you would never know that she is Tamilian. But when she moves to Chennai, she starts wearing a saree, gajras, bindis and salwar kameez. Then she speaks in Tamil to her mother.
BOI: Tamilians are known to be conservative.
AB: Correct. Her family is conservative but my character is a modern day girl. Krish and Ananya are independent-minded. Even Chetan has described how strong and forward-thinking Ananya is. She is traditional in many ways and has strong family values. Actually, both characters are like that. For instance, they are sure they want to get married to each other but want to convince their families as they want their families to be happy.
AB: (Cuts in) None of them is caricature-ish. We have tried to avoid that.
AK: Yaar tu kya kar raha hai, arey oye hoye. It’s not that kind of film. In fact, when Ananya and Krish are together, you can’t tell he is Punjabi and she Tamilian.
AB: What was interesting for me was the body language. Since I was Tamilian, I am supposed to be a Bharatnatyam dancer and my body language reflects that. South Indians have a certain way of looking at you and they have a very rich culture. I had to observe certain people that Abhishek asked me to observe. It was very interesting, even for Krish…
AK: Oh, talk about Krish also naa…
AB: No, why don’t you?
AK: The thing with Krish is he is not a typical Punjabi guy. She comes with the baggage of being Tamil; he doesn’t have any baggage. He all but laughs at the way his own family behaves. He is the strong, silent type. Woh thoda apne family ko leke sochta hai yeh thoda zyada ho raha hai. He mocks it in a fun way but he doesn’t carry that baggage because his family carries it anyway.
I didn’t really have to work on playing the character because I relate to him emotionally. I know Punjabi hai toh aise behave karega. It’s like how any Delhi family behaves. It was more about connecting with the character emotionally than where he was from.
AB: I took some Kathak classes to get a touch of that Indianness but I don’t think it helped at all!
AK: (Cuts in) It didn’t… because you know a film like this…
AB: (Cuts in) I had to learn Tamil for a month but I still have to mug it all up because you can’t learn a language in a month.
AK: I think the most important thing is to be honest to the moment. You can’t prepare for the film because sab kuch baat cheet mein hai. There is no room for baggage like thought processes or emotions. Most of the scenes are conversational… where we are walking together; we are at the library or in a car or, talking over the phone.
BOI: 2 States enjoys two advantages – it’s based on a bestselling novel and both of you have delivered hits in your last films. What kind of pressure do you feel with this film?
AB: To be honest, people were not very happy with me accepting this role. The announcement was made just after Student Of The Year released and I think the audience felt I should not play a mature character. So I would love to have that confirmation that I managed to pull it off.
AK: I am very clear that sabki picture chale, meri film thodi zyada chale’. Main hamesha maanke chalta hoon. That’s how selfish I am. But what makes 2 States special is that I made two good friends in Alia and Abhishek. I am really keen to see how the audience reacts to our on-screen pairing. Since the audience liked me in Gunday and Ishaqzaade, I want to know whether they like me in this film too. For her, they liked her in Student Of The Year and in Highway, will they accept her in this film?
BOI: Speaking of Highway… what did you think of Alia’s performance in that film?
AK: I haven’t watched Highway and she hasn’t watched Gunday.
AK: What excites me is what the director saw in me to do a particular role. Like in Finding Fanny, the director could see me as a makapao mechanic boy speaking in English and Konkani. I never imagined I could do a role like that. Every film has its own reason. But I am also very commercially aware as I have grown up in that milieu. It is important for an actor to know whether the producer will make money on a film or not. Maybe that’s because my father is a producer. There are some films I don’t end up doing because it is too early in my career to attempt them, like, macho roles. I would rather do realistic films which will have the recovery.
Of course, one isn’t always right, otherwise main Aurangzeb kabhi nahi karta. I was excited to do a song-less drama. Ram Gopal Verma used to make films like Aurangzeb. Although it may have commercial prospects, if it doesn’t translate, I can’t help it. It was a Yash Raj and was a multi-starrer serious film, a double-role film with no songs and drama. I was very excited to see whether we could make a film like that.
Adi and I discussed it and set aside a range. Agar film blockbuster ho gayi, toh Rs 50 crore ka business karegi because uska range utna tha. You hope for the best utna chalta toh kar leti but it earned Rs 23-24 crore. If Aurangzeb had released after I had done seven to eight films, it may have earned Rs 45-48 crore. But nahi chali toh nahi chali.
AK: Obviously, I will not call distributors in UP-Bihar to know the numbers. But I get to know anyway as it is sort of instinctive for me. I always know more or less what the numbers are. It’s not like I think, ki arey uski film ne itna business kaise kiya? It’s more like, achcha iss film ka itna scope hai. Queen went on to make Rs 56-57 crore in spite of so many films releasing after that. It’s about a few things, like, if the film is good, it will do well. Like, Raanjhanaa released along with three to four big films after it did but that didn’t stop the audience from watch the film. Theatres ne laga ke rakha Raanjhanaa and was assigned maximum shows. Which means good films have scope. It makes you realise that you don’t need to look for bad reasons as it why your film didn’t work. Achcha doosri film super hit ho gayi issliye theatre ne nikal di meri film. Picture achchi hai toh chalegi, Friday, Saturday nahi chali toh Sunday evening se toh chalegi. Queen started picking up from Sunday and Monday.
BOI: That happened with Highway too.
AK: I was very happy that Highway did great business. It was a big achievement. A director may have a certain credibility and value for the multiplex audience. But beyond that, it’s a film for the audiences and it’s a solo heroine film, which went on to earn Rs 30 crore. That’s a huge achievement because every film does not earn Rs 100 crore.
BOI: Alia, he’s all praise for you.
AB: I know. (Smiles)
AK: I honestly believe that while signing a film, one should not worry about whether it will work in UP-Bihar or not or whether it will work in single-screen cinemas or not. Picture achchi hai toh chal jayegi. Queen ka kisko pata tha but it did more business in its second and third week. Sometimes you expect Rs 100 crore or Rs 200 crore and it doesn’t even approach Rs 50 crore.
AB: I believe there is a change in the audience’s tastes. They are now accepting the new story lines.
AK: They are much more open to giving new things a chance… new story tellers, new actors.
AK: That depends. We are making a new kind of cinema and also commercial films. Audiences are coming to cinemas to watch Queen as well as Main Tera Hero. If they watch Hasee Toh Phasee, they also watch Gunday.
This did not happen overnight. I think the change started with Dil Chahta Hai, the way the dialogue was spoken, the way the film was styled, the way the actors portrayed their characters. Dil Chahta Hai was the first step in that direction. The film was devoid of melodrama and, after that, melodrama became uncool. We have always said that Hollywood films are subtle, simple and relatable, and Dil Chahta Hai started that movement, which expanded to making better films.
I think it is a really good time for us to be actors. Who would have thought that Highway would be her second film and Imtiaz would cast her in that film. Now, people are willing to take risks.
BOI: But you haven’t watched the film.
AK: I’ve been shooting for Tevar yaar. I was shooting in Mathura, which has just one theatre. It had one show of Highway and three shows of Gunday. I want to emphasise that having Gunday release in Mathura was an achievement. When I went to Mathura and Agra, the people there were calling me Bala, which is my character’s name in Gunday. After Ishaqzaade and Aurangzeb, I didn’t get the reach that I enjoyed post Gunday. So things progress slowly, na. I am sure if Highway was her 7th or 8th film, all four shows would have been hers like Vidya Balan or Kangana Ranaut. Our audience is a very visual audience. I mean, if people see me without a beard, it confuses them as it’s hard for them to recognise me. So after 2 States, they will be a little immune to me without stubble. The man on the street still doesn’t know us.
AB: People still call me Radha because of the song from Student Of The Year.
AK: But this is a really fun time to be in the industry obviously because so many young people are being given a chance.
BOI: Also, you guys work like a team.
AK: (Cuts in) I don’t see it as a team; we just co-exist.
BOI: So there is no competitiveness?
AK: Yes, because there is no insecurity when it comes to appreciating other people’s work. I feel very happy when I see Varun’s (Dhawan) film taking a good opening because I know how hard he has worked, starting his career with a two-hero film. The response to Main Tera Hero suggests that people are ready to see him as a solo hero. Sometimes we all need to do a Main Tera Hero. From that point of view, I feel very happy when a Ram-Leela does well because it will eventually help a Gunday release. When I liked his (Ranveer Singh) work in Lootera, everyone else said Sonakshi (Sinha) was very good. But I feel he was equally good. No one appreciated Ranveer back then. But his personality was so boisterous that people thought ke bahut zyada acting kar raha hai. (Laughs)
AK: Pari (Parineeti Chopra) and Alia are best friends.
AB: Why are you saying it like that?
AK: Because you did Koffee With Karan with her.
AB: Yes, and it was nice. We are friends and there is no animosity at all.
AK: We are all so new right now. Ask us this question five to 10 years later. Abhi toh bas shuruat hui hai and we all are just walking jab running shuru hogi na, tab poochna.
BOI: Do you keep tabs on which one of your contemporaries is signing which film or under which banner?
AK: Subha paper kholo toh pata chal hi jaata hai. (Laughs)
AB: With so many newspapers and social media sites, everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
AK: Ours is a very close-knit industry and news travels quickly.
BOI: Alia, after SOTY and Highway, what does 2 States mean to your career? And where is your career headed?
AB: I don’t know, you tell me. (Laughs)
BOI: Do you have a plan?
AB: No, I don’t. I don’t plan, at least not yet. I go with my instinct. Too much planning takes away the fun and spontaneity of not knowing what’s going to come your way. I always believe that the best things in life happen when you least expect them to. As for 2 States… I hope it puts me in the big league. I started when I was 18 and I am 21 now. Unfortunately or fortunately, I look much younger than I actually am.
AK: (Cuts in) It’s fortunate.
AB: Sometimes it is. Being paired with Arjun probably can give me that edge because Arjun can work with me and Priyanka Chopra and he has worked with Parineeti too. And he has also worked with Deepika. So I think that screen age may help.
AK: (Cuts in) The interesting thing is that I make her look more mature, which works for this film because we both have to look the same age. If people like us in this film, it would mean that casting us together, like chalk and cheese, has worked out really well.
AK: Aukat pata chal jaegi ke kahan khada hoon. (Laughs)
BOI: You were always keen on doing a rom-com.
AK: Adi (Aditya Chopra) once said something really interesting thing to me. He said these are the kind of films that either open the genre or shut the genre. So I am very keen to know because I’ve had back-to-back volatile films. They were dramatic in their approach with a sense of violence. Even though Ishaqzaade was a romantic film, it had violence. So I am very interested to know if people will approve of me doing a regular, romantic film playing a normal character.
I have always played front-footed, larger-than-life or edgy characters. So my character in 2 States is real and normal and I would love to do more films like this. I don’t want to be slotted as an action or aggressive kind of person because I am not like that.