Director Soumitra Ranade and actor Manav Kaul in conversation with Team Box Office India about their film Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai?, and more about the craft
BOI: How did the journey of Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai? begin? What was it about the original film, made by Saeed Mirza, that made you want to remake it?
Soumitra Ranade (SR): In 1980, the film resonated with the political scene at the time. It was a very interesting moment in Indian history. It was the post-Emergency period and the Janta Dal movement had failed. The people had to choose and, as a country, we were at crossroads. I believe we are in a similar situation now, when India has to choose. Our film also reflects the current political and social situation.
Manav Kaul (MK): I have done a film with Soumitra, Jajantaram Mamantaram. I still love that film. While in the lift here, I recollected how I used to play Jeran. So I know Soumitra very well. One day, he just landed up at my place with the script and asked me to read it. I did and messaged him at two at night, to say that this was an edgy script. I said, ‘Let us make this film.’
I had watched Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai long ago and faintly remembered some of the scenes. This film, of course, is absolutely different but the soul and spirit of the film is almost the same, besides the character’s name. The film is a journey, a kind of thriller, and it is very exciting, different, edgy and very now. So, I was like let us make this film. Of course, he has himself produced it and all of us, Nandita (Das), Saurabh (Shukla) and I did it for free, including our editor Arti Bajaj and the DoP. Because the script was honest and very refreshing, we thought we should make this film.
BOI: Manav, how easy or difficult was it for you to approach ‘Albert Pinto’, given that it has been done before by Naseeruddin Shah?
MK: I have a theatre background and we do the same roles and are still doing the roles that someone did 20 or 30 years ago, so there is no pressure. We are interpreting it differently. Albert Pinto is very close to Soumitra and how he is in real life. I understand Soumitra very well as we have been friends for a long time. So it was very easy for me to do Albert Pinto because he was the director and I was performing for him. Also, it was a lot of fun, because you let out your anger, it is so relaxing, it is therapeutic. Acting is therapeutic and this has been one of the most amazing journeys. I always wanted to do a film with him again, and I kept telling him that. But theek hai, der aaye durust aaye.
BOI: For any film, casting is very crucial, more so when you are remaking a cult classic. How did you zero in on Manav and Nandita?
SR: Every film I have written after Jajantaram Mamantaram, I have conceived them keeping Manav in mind. You can call it an obsession or you can call it…
MK (Cuts in): …true friendship!
SR: Yes, completely. I have taken these decisions to make my life easier. So I don’t have to look for an actor now, yeh toh fixed hai. Then I had to look for other people. Nandita is also a good friend. She connected with me and the script. So she was also an obvious choice. Saurabh is the odd one out. I didn’t know him at all. We were considering whom to approach for this role and it was Manav who suggested that we ask Saurabh to be part of the film.
I pointed out that Saurabh is a very busy actor and I thought he may not have the time or may ask for remuneration. But Manav was, like, at least ask him and see what he says. So I asked him and he loved the script. He said ‘yes’ in 10 minutes. It was absolutely amazing!
BOI: Soumitra, Manav and Nandita are well-established directors as well. What was it like to direct three directors?
SR: All three of them, Manav, Nandita and Saurabh are actors, writers and directors. They have made feature films, so it can be a huge disadvantage as they can always have something to say in every scene. It can also be a great advantage. I used it to my advantage. Honestly, if you are working with intelligent people, half your job is already done. All three of them were aware of their respective roles in the film. In this film, they were actors. Of course, they offered suggestions, but after a point they agreed with my point of view. But the discussions I had with them were very fruitful. It was very exciting for me.
BOI: Manav, you are a playwright and a director. How has that helped you in your craft as an actor? Do you look at it as an advantage or a disadvantage?
MK: Sometimes it feels like a hurdle and sometimes it is a great tool. What I like to think is that because I have written so many plays and directed so many actors, I understand what I like in an actor. I like to know how much of a layered performance he can give. I know how much beyond the obvious he can go. And that is what I have loved in actors and that is what I want to go close to all the time. So what happens is that because of my understanding of acting, direction, writing, the basic character sketch, the screenplay and storytelling, it helps me understand the character and the director.
I am able to give them options within the boundaries. I give them options because I believe that the director is the captain of the ship. At the end of the day, I am working for him, I am performing for him and he has to be satisfied. But at the same time, I should surprise him. He should be excited that I am giving him more than he expected and, of course, he can choose what he wants. So I always give options as often as I can.
But nowadays, I downplay the playwright and director part in me because I don’t think it is working for me. People think that since he writes, he is going to ask many questions. Of course I am going to ask questions! But I think I should downplay it, so I say I haven’t written plays, it is my brother! (Laughs)
SR: People get intimidated by intelligent actors, but I find it a great thing.
BOI: Soumitra, what do you think is the formula to make a good thriller?
SR: I wish there was one but there really isn’t any. But I think that’s a good thing. If there was one, then everyone would have chased it. Every film has its own challenges. And our film is not a thriller in the regular sense of the word. It is about his mind, it is about uske dimaag mein kya chal raha hai! It is about that. So it is much more difficult, but at the same time, it is exciting. This is an exciting film that operates on multiple levels of reality. It is about the present, it is about the future, it is about the past. At the same time, it is also about what is happening in his mind.
BOI: Manav, do you think that doing a commercial film like Tumhari Sulu has changed the way you are looked at as an actor by the audience and the film fraternity?
MK: As an actor, you are always at the receiving end. It is not that I have chosen to do this or that. When I read the script of Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai?, it was as exciting as the script of Tumhari Sulu was. Also, I think that Tumhari Sulu is one of the most honest and real films that I have done. People are calling it commercial because it worked. And because it worked and people have liked it, I am being offered different kinds of roles.
The roles I am being offered are not grey or that of a villain, which I used to be offered earlier. Now I am getting everything, so it worked for me. But I want every film to work, and every film I do to work. I want every film I do to become a commercial film. At the end of the day, I am an actor who is performing for films, for the web, for theatre. For me, the medium doesn’t matter.
BOI: How do you look at Bollywood today and the impact of the digital space on the films that we are making?
SR: The star system in Bollywood is sort of collapsing. People have got exposure now due to the Internet and OTT platforms, they are seeing better content out there. So their expectations are also higher and they have higher standards. So the pressure is also on filmmakers to do something seriously exciting. No longer is it ki ek star ya superstar ko le liya, aur film hit hai.
MK: As a filmmaker, aapke shoulder se Friday ka pressure hat gaya hai. I think it is a huge thing to happen in our country because no matter how good the film was, it always used to come down to Friday ko kya hoga, weekend mein kya hoga. Nobody talked about how good the film was, how amazing the writing was, what the direction was like. So the best thing that happened to me is that there is no pressure. You put whatever you have done out there and people will watch it. It will find its own audience. It is always going to be there and you can watch it any time. I think it is a very exciting time and one should experiment a lot.
BOI: What do you want the audience to take back from the film?
SR: A lot of questions… I wanted to make a film that is sensitive to the reality around us. We have dumbed down, we have shut ourselves off from reality. That is not good for society. We have to be aware of what is happening around us. At the same time, I want them to enjoy the ride. It is an entertaining film. All the performances are very good and I want the audience to enjoy that.
BOI: What are your future projects?
SR: I have been in the Albert Pinto phase for a very long time. It is a very dark space. So I want to get out of that space for the sake of my health. So I am now doing a poetic film, a very beautiful film. It is about love, it is about compassion. It is a totally different kind of film.
BOI: With Manav in it?
SR: Of course.
MK: Soumitra, I want to read this script, especially when it has poetry, love and compassion coming from you. (Laughs)
BOI: Manav, what is next for you?
MK: My next film, which is a Netflix Original, is called Music Teacher. It will release on April 19. I am excited about it. So right now, there are these two films that you need to know about. (Smiles).