BOI: The first question is for the captain of the ship. Please introduce your star cast.
Suneel Darshan (SD): First, we have Upen Patel. He plays Sunny in our movie, a lover, a man with a beautiful heart. Then we have Natasha Fernandez. She plays Natasha in the movie, a new talent who will go places, God willing. And, lastly, Shiv Darshan. He plays Dev in the film, a protagonist of sorts, and is looking for a bright career in films and needs everyone’s blessings.
And me, Suneel Darshan. I have worked in the industry for over three decades, made 15 movies and launched several careers, trying for one more attempt at bringing these three actors into the front line.
BOI: How was this film conceived?
SD: I was flying from London to New York a few years ago and I was reading a magazine. There were some very interesting posters in it. I had to spend five and a half hours or six hours in the aircraft and my imagination took wing as I ran through them. A filmmaker doesn’t think politics or finance; he usually thinks about cinema and that’s what I did. I wrote a story around these posters and came back to India and started writing. That’s how the story of Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha was conceived.
BOI: You worked with Upen ten years ago, and with Shiv a few years ago, in Karle Pyaar Karle. From then to now, how have they changed as actors and how have they progressed?
SD: When I met Upen, he was much younger, full of life, enthusiastic and a little over the top.
Upen Patel (UP): (Cuts in) Brash…
SD: Brash, is correct. Since then, he has mellowed a lot and has started understanding cinema, which is the most beautiful thing that has happened to him. He understands the nuances of performances, he understands so much more, and with a little more work, he will perfect his diction and voice modulation as well. That’s how he has changed over the years. All big stars take time. I worked with an actor once, who took 10 years to emerge from his shell.
For Shiv… As a father, it’s very difficult to define him because he has been a lovely child. As an actor, he has matured and is more intelligent now. He is subtle and not very aggressive. He is a thinking actor.
BOI: And how was the leading lady cast?
SD: Almost a year ago, in June 2016, I spotted her across my table at a restaurant in Bandra. She is more polished and refined now. She was casual, just sitting there, placing her order and talking to a friend across the table from her. I saw an interesting face but what was even more interesting was her body language. And in that little conversation that she was having, I saw a hundred and one expressions.
I said I have heard of actresses who have remarkable careers because they had ten good variations. And here’s a girl with a hundred and one variations. I introduced myself to her and offered the movie to her. She was smart, she knew she should take it up. Next, she did a photo shoot.
I called Upen and Shiv, who had already been finalised for the film. We shot together and she was perfect in front of the camera. She needed a little grooming as she was new to acting and cinema. So she had two to three months of grooming, after which she learnt horse riding. She is already a champ in martial arts… So we put all this together and in three months’, we were ready to shoot.
BOI: Since the director has complimented each one of you, it’s your turn to tell us about your director.
Natasha Fernandez (NF): My first reaction was I blanked out because it was like a dream. It’s the moment you have been waiting for, and when it’s right there, staring you in the face, you don’t know what to do – should you believe him or not? It took me two hours to recover.
I don’t think there’s a proper word to sum up everything that’s happened to me. It’s been a learning experience for me as well as an emotional one. Despite being a newcomer, he never once made me feel I couldn’t do it; he placed his faith in me. I decided I should surrender to my director and I learnt it’s very good to be a director’s actor because you connect with his creation and the vision that he has. I was like a blank canvas, who had no knowledge and Suneel sir has been a great mentor and anchor to me.
And these two lovely gentlemen here made sure they guided me in any way they could, they never bullied me. I learnt from them that one must be focused behind the camera, whereas in front of the camera, while rehearsing, one must be very honest. The word ‘honesty’, comes from our director. He is very honest and very passionate about his work, about his cinema, and he has passed that on to us.
Upen Patel (UP): Suneel Darshan… I wouldn’t call him a director or a producer. I like the word ‘filmmaker’. He is a very modest man and was involved in every aspect of this film. That makes him a filmmaker, not just a director or a producer. He was involved in the screenplay and the music. I remember he made me listen to a track, which was a scratch track of the title song and I was, like, it’s amazing! And he was, like, I am going to add guitar and another instrument as he has a lot of knowledge about music. He was a part of every aspect of the process, not just selecting the company.
Suneelji has been a mentor throughout my life, even when I started out. Now, my growth as an actor and the ability to stay calm has all come from Suneelji, who has made me a part of his family. What really gets me to do my best is his faith in me. He knows what he can get out of me and knows exactly how to handle me. I am grateful to him for that.
When Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha happened, I remember him calling me. He showed me the first half of the script and the first thing I was attracted to was the title. I am happy he sees me as a part of cinema. Also, it was wonderful working with Shiv and it doesn’t feel like he is a newcomer. Just like Suneelji, he is very calm and composed. I am the very opposite.
Shiv Darshan (Shiv): Ours was a very professional relationship on the set. He was the filmmaker and I was his actor. He has never yelled at me or scolded at me in my personal life. But when I fumbled with a line or made a technical error, he would give it to me. It was a fabulous experience working with him. My previous movie was only produced by him and, yes, I have learnt a lot from this movie. The one thing I really learnt from this movie was how to get the best work in the least amount of time. So I had a fantastic experience.
UP: (Cuts in) He never called him ‘Dad’ on the sets; he always called him ‘Sir’ while shooting the film.
BOI: Right now, we see people ‘putting projects together’ rather than ‘making a film’. What are your comments on the changing phase of cinema?
SD: Cinema was always a passion. Earlier, the filmmaker’s passion translated onto celluloid; and one day celluloid disappeared and cinema went digital and cinema became ‘content’. It’s not about using a different word; it’s about a change in attitude. When ‘content’ replaced cinema, it was great because technology was very helpful.
But I feel that the restraints have come because everything has become a business. Of course, cinema is also a business but you can’t create content keeping only business in mind. We, as filmmakers, never did that; we tried to build cinema. Cinema used to be big and its scale came from one’s vision, not just budgets. So that is one major way in which cinema has changed in the last few decades, especially in the last decade. I think the entry of corporates is a great thing because we have better studios and working conditions, equipment and technology have improved.
BOI: Your films don’t follow a set formula or genre; they usually have elements of different genres, whether thriller, romance or comedy. While scripting, what process do you follow?
SD: I wanted to communicate with a large number of people. When I made Jaanwar, I knew I was going to communicate with the man on the street and win him over. I wanted to be sure that every common man connected with the movie. With Ek Rishtaa, I did the reverse. I wanted to communicate with the family and the film was planned and designed that way.
Today, when making Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha, I understand that the number of people watching movies in cinema halls has gone down dramatically. You wouldn’t watch a film in a cinema hall unless you found some kind of USP in the film. So a film with three newcomers, a new location, and the challenge of getting the audience to cinemas was going to be a very difficult experience. But nothing is difficult if you are honest and if you are focused. And with this belief, we set out to make this movie.
Now about the music… Nadeem has always delivered good melodies in most of my movies. I think we have done seven or eight films together, and he has always done such a wonderful job. He is also staging a comeback of sorts, so I believed we will deliver a great music album and it will attract viewers and bring them back to cinemas.
BOI: Can each one of you tell us about your respective characters and what this film means to you?
NF: My character’s name is Natasha and she is very honest and fearless. She believes in taking life as it comes. She is one of the most loved members of her family, everyone looks up to her and looks after her. She has a very protective father and a very protective best friend, and that has always been her world.
When she discovers another world, she realises she is very hungry for love. Even though she has more than enough love in her life, she yearns for the kind of love that burns a fire in her soul, and that fire can be quenched only by that one person, and for her that person is Dev. Then there is another side of her, which is very passionate and aggressive. She is a very strong character who transcends every emotion.
UP: I play Sunny, who thinks with his heart, not his head. Even though his head might tell him not to do something, he still goes with what his heart is telling him. He believes in love, he believes in hope, and he believes in standing by the person he loves. There is a famous saying which goes, ‘If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they are yours and if they don’t, they were never meant to be.’ That’s what my character lives by.
He is very protective about the people he cares for and that’s the most beautiful trait about this character. What really got me is the graph of this character. There is no single line that can describe Sunny. I believe everyone would like to possess some of Sunny’s traits or have someone like him in their lives. I always ask Suneelji whether there are people like him. His cinema is all about hope and this character also stands for hope.
Shiv: My character can be summed up in three words – mysterious, enigmatic and passionate. Everything about Dev is perplexing, right from the way he dresses to the poetic flair in his language and his deep, intense and unshakeable love for Natasha. He radiates an eternal charm of soulfulness, of love. You know, that feeling when someone completes you. I am sure the audience will be hooked to this character and intrigued by him.
BOI: From storyboard to final product, how happy are you with the film?
SD: I am quite delighted. When you set out to make a movie with relative newcomers, you have a certain vision and certain expectations, and then you get this uncertain feeling when you wonder whether these newcomers will be able to deliver what you set out to make. But not for a moment did I feel unsure, all of them were very mature and very focused. I must say that on most evenings, after pack-up, we actually wanted to clap for ourselves. I hope I am not sounding too pompous… the thing is, we enjoyed working on the film.
UP: When you are working with someone of the calibre of Suneelji, who has worked with some of the biggest superstars in our industry, we automatically feel the pressure to perform well and not let him down. Not many know that he is the only director who directs without sound. When he watches a scene on the monitor, he doesn’t watch it with the sound; instead, he only views the scene to see if his actor was able to convey what he needed to through emotions.
Also, when he likes a shot, he doesn’t praise you; he just says ‘okay,’ And when he doesn’t like a shot, he blinks his eyes twice. That’s how I always knew it wasn’t good enough. So I have a lovely tuning with him. It is just such a wonderful experience to work with someone like him.
He knows exactly what he wants from his actors and from a scene. I remember Shiv and I were doing a conflict scene together. We gave an okay shot in two takes and I still wasn’t sure and asked Suneelji if I could give another shot. He said, ‘You can give another shot but I will use this one.’ The clarity he has is just amazing!
Shiv: And when I ask for another shot, he says, ‘Chalo, aage badho.’ (Laughs)
BOI: You have worked with some of the biggest names in our industry and have also successfully launched many new faces. Does that add to the pressure on you and affect your creative choices?
SD: I have never actually looked at cinema like that. As a filmmaker, I always set out to achieve something. The thing is, I need to be comfortable on the sets. In fact, there was a movie I was about to start once upon a time and it was designed for a very big star who had dropped out of the project. Then I was approached by a very successful and a good actor of that time who wanted to be in that film. I almost okayed him till I met another actor who was down and out and had given 15 flops.
UP: Sir, give us names…
SD: Akshay Kumar. The only thing I felt about him was that he came across as genuine and sincere. Mujhe laga agar ye 10 per cent bhi jhooth bolta toh who 90 per cent toh deliver karega… In that process, I did lose out on a big table profit but that was okay for me.
BOI: Talking about profits and money, what are your expectations from this one?
SD: I am a man of figures and, yes, I have a background in distribution. I must have distributed over 600 films and some of the biggest money makers of today started their careers with me. But, personally, I am more into cinema content and creativity, and all I want for my film Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha is for it to be watched and loved by people.