With De De Pyaar De raking in good numbers at the box office, debutant director Akiv Ali and producer-writer Luv Ranjan talk to Bhakti Mehta and Titas Chowdhury about the film’s collections, the instinct behind the idea, and how they deal with naysayers
Bhakti Mehta (BM): Congratulations, the film crossed the `50-crore mark within five days. Akiv, what is the headspace you are in right now, considering that this is your first film?
Akiv Ali (AA): Well, the numbers are good and I pray for more. (Laughs) I’m hoping that the coming weekend is also good for the film. People are appreciating it, which is very nice. And I hope they recommend it to more and more people.
BM: Luv, as writer and producer, does the film’s box-office success validate the instinct with which you went ahead with the film?
Luv Ranjan (LR): Any kind of success validates your instinct. It is not just box-office success. That is coming our way but it has not completely converted into the numbers we wanted to see. Hopefully, the film will see those numbers by the end of its second weekend. But more importantly, for me, validation comes from the fact that people love the film. When a film grows, it means that people love it. Sometimes, a film opens to huge numbers but doesn’t sustain those numbers for long because people don’t like it. In our case, the film did not open to huge numbers but the numbers grew, and that validates the content. Not just instinct, the numbers validate the content.
BM: We have noticed that DDPD has recorded only a very slight drop in collections from Sunday to Monday. In this category, it stands at number three of all the films that have released in 2019 so far.
AA: As Luv said earlier, this shows that people like DDPD. Word-of-mouth is a very strong tool, and it has really worked for our film. Initially people were not so sure about the subject. The thing is, good content always has value. It is not about making an unconventional film. DDPD has entertained the audience and has good content. That is a reassuring thing for us at this stage. As Luv said, we are obviously aiming for bigger numbers. The fact that people are saying good things about the film and we have an audience that is appreciating it is a beautiful thing.
LR: There is this phrase, ‘film sahi banaayi hai’. That is the first and foremost assurance that you need as a filmmaker. People are appreciating the film. Box office success definitely matters but if people don’t have good things to say about your film, then that gets a little sad.
Titas Chowdhury (TC): Speaking of content, what made you tell this story about complex relationship dynamics?
AA: We’ve been dabbling with this idea for a long time. Luv has been pushing me to direct a film for a long time. When he narrated the idea to me, it seemed very interesting. Inherently, Luv is great at writing stories and I believe he is one of the best writers – if not the best – that we have. Well, I’ll say that he is the best since he is the writer and producer of my film. But the fact is that even as a one-line idea, it sounded very good. He has been pushing me to direct and I’ve been procrastinating. We have been discussing a number of things and watching a lot of films together and thinking about doing something.
One day, we finally sat down and he told me that he had an idea for a film. He narrated that one-line idea. I thought it was damn good! Then I decided to direct it. It was instinctive. It wasn’t a thought-out process where we wrote the entire film first and then discussed it. We had a discussion with the creative team next and he decided to start writing. I’m very happy with the way it has turned out. We started working on something that we thought was good and took a few risks, and we are happy with the final product.
LR: When you ask me, why did you do this film, it is similar to asking, why does the audience love this film. You either like a film or you don’t, and then you analyse why. Even when making a film, you can analyse it. But the decision of whether you want to tell a particular story is an instinctive one. If you instinctively like a story, you want to tell it. Analysis comes much later, mainly in terms of whether it can be made correctly. Just as the audience reacts to a film, you, as a writer or a director or a producer, also react to an idea. If you think that an idea sounds interesting, you decide to make it.
BM: You said there were certain risks you took with the film. Were there any apprehensions about how these risks would be accepted by the audience?
LR: For me, what was very new was the fact that when we talk about estranged couples, we usually don’t see them as friends. In this film, Aashish and Manju have a very good rapport, they are good friends and understand each other. People have asked me why we haven’t delved into their story but that was the idea. You don’t want to show everyone’s backstory. That is what Manju also says in the film. She tells everyone that she and her husband share certain emotional upheavals and she doesn’t want the rest of the family to get involved.
When people get divorced, only they know what they are going through. And in this case, they aren’t happy doing it. My logic as a writer is that they don’t want me to get into their equation either. Their equation and backstory is not what my film is about. Besides, you have to decide what your film centres on. Speaking of risks, there is a way to make films. You know that there is something that is always accepted and you keep making that. But the truth is that today, even that is a risk. You never know when the audience will get bored of that.
AA: They might reach saturation point when they watch the same things over and over again.
LR: There might be something that has been made for the last 10 years in our industry and then suddenly they will reject a film that you’ve made along those lines because it has become boring. So while telling a story, the risk is always there. If you are averse to that risk, then you shouldn’t be making films.
What we can do, when presenting a newer idea or a new kind of relationship, is try to pad it or balance it out with so-called commercial elements, to keep it entertaining. Then it doesn’t look completely unfamiliar. Think of it like this: If you’ve never tasted a chilli, and I give you one to eat raw, there’s a high probability you won’t like it. But if I add it lightly to the palate so that you get used to it, you might begin to enjoy it. You have to balance out and mix new concepts and commercial elements in a way that people are able to accept.
BM: We spoke to Ajay sir last week and he said that despite incorporating of a lot of comic elements in the film, it conveys something important. How did you as filmmakers go about striking that balance?
LR: That is the biggest question mark, not only in this industry but in any artistic field. And there is no single answer. I’m very aware as a writer, producer and director, and I’m sure that Akiv is also, that how your film is set up needs to match the sensibilities of your audience if you want it to resonate with them. Only then will your film fall right.
Making films is not like mathematics; you cannot calculate with absolute certainty. It is about timing and several other things coming together. So if you are out of touch with society, unable to understand it, you won’t be able to strike a chord. But if you let your instincts dictate your work, and find characters that are relatable, then people will like it. There is no rule book to follow. I believe that there is a reason Raju Hirani is Raju Hirani and Rohit Shetty is Rohit Shetty. It is because, at some level, their instincts work.
AA: Sometimes, a film is ahead of its time. Luv is talking about time ka sahi padh jaana. There are no equations. You can’t make a film on a simplistic formula, and say, it has four songs and 15 comedy scenes and so it will work. It’s all about whether you have your finger on the pulse of the audience. Of course, with every film, there are people you cannot reach out to. It happens with a lot of films unless it is a universally accepted subject.
LR: Those are called ‘history hits’.
AA: Apart from those movies, with every film, you gain new fans and you lose some. The idea is to get close to as many people as you can who appreciate your film. Then you will feel like you have done something correct.
TC: What you just said is very interesting. Every film, no matter how much it is applauded, has naysayers. Many people felt that DDPD glorifies misogyny and infidelity. What is your reaction to this?
LR: They haven’t watched the film. How does our film glorify infidelity? Manju is not Aashish’s wife; she is his ex-wife. My whole point is that the justification for whatever happens is in the film itself. Life isn’t perfect. Hence, the lives of the characters in a film cannot be perfect. We are so used to watching characters who lack shades of grey. But people are not like that in real life. Just look around you and you will find that people have many shades of grey. Some of these shades are acceptable while others are not.
AA: Sometimes, people don’t like to see the grey as they choose to ignore it. But we did not think it like this. Humne socha hi nahi tha. We just said that it happens, let us play on it. But when people watch it on the big screen, they feel that yaar, yeh kaise bol diya. They do not accept it because they feel there some things that should be addressed only behind closed doors. Somewhere, that is what happened. And then we said, okay, we didn’t get through to everybody but that’s all right because we learnt something and they too learnt something.
LR: It is also very subjective. One has to understand that morality is like spice, everyone has a different scale and barometer for it. There are people who think the film is perfectly fine and normal. They understand the justification given in the film. Then there are people who are not convinced with the justification. But isn’t that something that we face in real life as well?
AA: In every argument, actually.
LR: In every argument, everyone has a different take on the issue. There are be two opposite opinions among different people and there are often some who are undecided. But that’s just how it is in life. It is naive to assume that there will always be a consensus on everything. I feel a consensus is achieved only on frivolous issues. The less substance there is in the discussion, jahaan mudda nahi hoga, there you will find consensus.
If I make a film that is filled only with jokes and entertainment, there will be nothing to debate and discuss. Something that doesn’t talk about anything evokes no reaction. So, if there is agreement or disagreement, it means there is something to agree or disagree about. People will agree or disagree with you only when you have anything to say, right?
TC: So you are happy that this discussion has taken place.
LR: It should!
AA: I always believe that, before all else, cinema is a form of entertainment. Second, it is a business, for which you need the audience. And any discussion will only benefit you as a filmmaker. It helps you figure out where you have gone right or wrong and helps you grow. Discussions are crucial and the fact that they are taking place means you have made something interesting.
I believe that if things are being discussed, people are watching the film and paying attention. Any conversation is good because it means people are consuming your content. Like he said, there cannot be a consensus on an issue that addresses something important. I went to watch James Cameron’s Avatar with a bunch of friends in the theatre, and one of my buddies who is a writer said that Avatar seemed like The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. One would think there was no discussion to be had on that film but every film evokes opinions and that is good. That is how you learn.
LR: I believe that instinct also plays a huge part. Pick any film from five years ago and recall its storyline or the talk around it, the reviews, etc. You will find a lot of things that were not accepted back then are accepted now. Acceptance takes place, gradually, over time.
BM: Or vice-versa. You might not like what you approved of back then.
LR: Absolutely! There is no rule book that Akiv or I have. Hum dono antar-yami toh hai nahi. Society is a very interesting thing. While it takes about a year to make a film, society could change in that one year. So you might think that something that is not acceptable when making the film might be acceptable a year later. Or the other way around. You cannot do anything about that. So, we are very happy that the film has clocked huge numbers, like `100 crore or 150 crore.
But you can also look at it the other way around, that there are films that have earned `400 crore and yours has earned only `150, matlab baaki 250 crore ki janta dekhne nahi aayi. There is talk of all films being universal these days but that is not necessary. Even food is not universal! My parents don’t like Italian but they don’t stop me from eating it.
BM: Luv, we don’t see many rom-coms these days but you have given us some successful ones. People have said that you have turned yourself into a brand.
LR: (Cuts in). I don’t think I have yet and I will tell you why. Brands are not usually built in 6-7 years and they are justified as brands when they have a wide acceptance. We are still dabbling in a space where I don’t think we have universal acceptance.
AA: We have a certain amount of value.
LR: Yes, maybe in a certain segment After the Pyaar Ka Punchnama series and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, we are seeing that De De Pyaar De is a film that has worked with the family audience, people who are above the age of 25. When you think about it, my filmography to date has been built on a 16-24-year-old audience. If you are saying I am a brand, where were those 16-24-year-olds for this film?
It is extremely difficult to create a brand today. We don’t see people coming to theatres just because of a particular name, or the stars, or the director attached to a film. That phenomenon is rapidly diminishing. Now people come to watch a film because they liked the trailer or heard reviews from their friends and family.
The system of a brand no longer exists because it suggests that a film would run on someone’s name, which does not happen any longer. Today, word-of-mouth and social media strongly influence the fate of a film at the box office. And if one indeed has any kind of brand value, it might have some impact only on the first day of the release. From day two, the brand does not matter.
AA: It is the film that eventually matters. Also, there is so much content available now and people have limitless choices. A friend of mine once said something that scared me as a filmmaker. He said that when a film releases, he considers whether or not it is a film worth going to the theatre. To watch a film in a theatre has become a decision.
In terms of entertainment, there were fewer things that people had to do 15-20 years ago. Now there are multiple options, people think why shouldn’t I just sit at home and watch a web series? That is why there is a struggle to hold onto your audience and keep them engaged. And it is a good fight because it means that you are also pushing yourself when it comes to content. You are making sure that you are giving them something they care about.
LR: (Cuts in). You are giving them something that is worth their money. Tickets are expensive these days.
AA: Yes, it is not just a simple outing any more.
LR: There are so many entertainment avenues now. It’s all evolving. It is scary as a filmmaker but it is important because that’s what drives you.
TC: Akiv, with so many successful films in your kitty as an editor, was direction always the end goal?
AA: I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to do it. It was something I wanted to do for a long time. Luv is the one who pushed me, saying I had to take this step. He pointed out that I kept discussing ideas and then went back to editing. I think it was there but I don’t think I would have done it if Luv had not pushed me to.
LR: I think he always wanted to do it. He just needed a push because he’s a lazy guy and I am a lazy guy. He has been an editor for quite some time now. He has worked on 35-40 films, for 15 years and became comfortable. And that’s the best time to do something new. The fact that he was comfortable at that point meant he needed to start directing.
AA: Yes, I think it was that. Luv told me I needed to grow, creatively. Today, I can say that I have grown and my respect for directors has changed immensely. People say it must have been easy for me but it wasn’t. It was extremely difficult. While sitting in an airconditioned room, editing, I have passed a lot of judgment on Luv and other directors. I figured it was very easy to sit there and say arre yaar aisa kar lena chahiye tha. But now that I have been a director, I know it is not easy to get that done when you are on a timeline.
I met Siddharth Anand in between and he asked me if I was okay, to which I responded, saying I absolutely was not. Then he asked me ki kam gaali dega na abhi. (Laughs) I told him I would abuse him much less from now on. It is a very tough job. Somewhere, there was a little fear. I was established as an editor and I was getting good work. I was considering whether or not to take the plunge because you have done good work as a technician and now there is the fear of being judged. And people should not be like ki yaar yeh kya kar diya tune.
There was that apprehension but with these guys and the creative team that I had with Luv and Rahul Mody (Creative Director) and Anshul Sharma (Creative Producer), it was great. Our core team was very much the same as it has been on previous films. I think that made it easier because I felt like I had people to fall back on. I had four of my buddies to go to if I ever felt I needed support. I want to say once again that direction is a very tough job.
BM: It was quite evident that there was a seamless transition from paper to the script.
AA: That is what I’m saying. As a creative team, four or five of us, we have always been attached.
LR: We have done a lot of films together.
AA: Yes, that is why there is no ego. We are happy with the way it has turned out because we like setting our egos aside. You might be a director, a writer, a producer, a creative director or a creative producer but you need to know how to come up with a good product.
LR: Those are just titles.
AA: The whole process has been very collaborative. We were all very open to inputs.
LR: There were no formalities among us. It was not like we had boardroom meetings or discussions about how to go about doing things. I would have casual conversations with Akiv about what needed to be done. I trust him enough, so I offered my inputs and walked away. This is how it has always been with us. While directing, Akiv has given me so many inputs while shooting for certain scenes on the set. He has shot a couple of scenes for my films. There have been so many occasions where I’ve called Akiv to be on the set before filming a scene. Akiv, were you on the set while filming the climax of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety?
AA: I was present almost throughout the shoot of the film.
LR: Oh yes, he was there for more than half the shoot of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.
AA: When we were in Georgia, I had asked him to help me out because there were too many junior artistes. When the intention is to do good work, nothing else matters and the order of the credits shouldn’t bother you either. The effort should be focused on making a good film. We have always been focused on this fact.
LR: Akiv and I have fought the least. In a creative team, there will always be discussions, arguments and moments where you will be irritated with the other person. The point is that we have worked with each other for so long that even if there are tiffs, there is nothing that a few drinks cannot solve (Laughs). Even if someone argues with me or with him, it’s all right because he is doing it for the betterment of the film. We have barely fought. After minor tiffs, we would be upset. We are way past that phase of fighting with each other. We finished all the wrangling with our first film. With every successive film, we got to understand each other better. Akiv started editing Pyaar ka Punchnama 2 just 50 days before the film released.
AA: I came and I saw the line-up. I asked him to stay at home for the next two weeks and I would edit the film and show it to him at the end of it. That is the kind of belief, faith and trust he had in me. Eleven days later, I showed him the film. It was then that we realised that our relationship had evolved to a point where we just sat down and had a healthy discussion on why certain scenes had been deleted. After that, I included some things and threw some things away as he gave inputs from the point of view of a writer. Luv’s sir is very important because his writing is based a lot on the tonality.
LR: Basically, hum log dil pe nahi lete. The instinct that this is my work and what I’m doing is right destroys everything.
BM: Will we get to see this collaboration again any time soon?
LR: People get ‘back’ only if they get separated.
AA: Yes, there will be a role reversal, where he might shoot and I might edit. That is part of the plan. Mody is supposed to do a film. Anshul’s movie is about to start.
LR: He will finish editing the films that are being made by the time we write his next movie.
AA: That is the circle of our life right now. And that is the only thing that is important.