Karan Johar is all set to launch three new talented actors – Siddharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt – in his next release Student Of The Year. The young actors visited Box Office India to share their experiences during the making of the film and their feelings on the eve of the film’s release
BOI: What kind of preparation went into the film?
Alia Bhatt (AB): I absolutely walked out of school and walked into this film. I had no training for the film. We had workshops for a month, where we enacted different scenes from Karan’s (Johar) films and others too. For instance, one day we had to lip sync to three different songs. On other days it would be something different. This was just to warm us up. But I was actually learning throughout the film. So I was a very different person on the last day of the shoot than I was on day one.
Like, the song we shot last was, and if you compare that with my first song Radha, my confidence levels and the way I performed were completely different. What I had to really rehearse was walking in heels! I really couldn’t handle that as I literally ran out of keds and into heels. (Laughs)
Varun Dhawan (VD): I think it was a similar road for Sidharth and me as we were both ADs (assistant directors) on My Name Is Khan. Karan says those two years he watched us keenly. It was like our audition on the sets because we would stand in for Shah Rukh-sir and Kajol ma’am. Once that happened, he called us and did photo shoots for us, separately and together. Obviously, we also attended the acting workshops under Abhishek Varman, who is a creative AD on the film. And then the three of us attended the joint workshops. Of course, a big part of the film is sports so we brought this guy down from America…
Sidharth Malhotra (SM): … He was the sports director and we went to Bangkok to shoot for those bits. Americans are very technical about scenes so he was very particular about the minutest of details. During the race sequnces, I had to run at a certain distance away from him (Varun) and if that distance wasn’t up to his mark, he would make us shoot again and again. So it was very tough. And Bangkok was very hot, so we were getting tanned and roasted in the heat.
VD: We literally changed colour. (Laughs)
AB: It was really tough on these boys. They had to show off their bodies in many scenes so they had to work out every day even during the shoot.
SM: We would shoot for 12 hours and we worked out at least an hour during this time.
BOI: How much time did you have for your preparation before the shooting began?
SM: We prepared for almost a year before we started shooting.
AB: No, almost two years.
SM: I think the whole process took a year and then Alia came in a little later. We started rehearsing and Karan took us for dance rehearsals at the Pineapple Dance Studio in London.
VD: You see, at Pineapple, you dance for half an hour but stretch for an hour, and we aren’t used to that. Sidharth and I didn’t understand the culture at all.
SM: It was like a dance boot camp. I think that was the first time we did a scene together. It was the first time Karan wrote a scene for us.
VD: In fact, we even have that scene in the theatrical cut of the film. It’s the part where I say, ‘Akad ki bhi aukaat hoti hai.’
BOI: To go back in time a little… did you guys approach Karan or did he decide to cast you?
SM: When we were assisting Karan, he knew we wanted to be actors. I think he had kept us in mind for a film by Dharma Productions.
VD: One day, he called us and told us not to sign any other film.
SM: I think he asked you not to sign your father’s films. (Laughs)
VD: (Laughs) Maybe. You know, I thought Karan perhaps didn’t want me to become an actor. But one day, he showed me this script although he didn’t tell me he would be directing the film. All he said was Dharma Productions would be making the film. It was only two or three months later that he revealed that he would be directing it.
SM: Yes, everything was like an ‘announcement’. Alia cast hui, that was an announcement. Everything about the film was an announcement.
BOI: What is Student Of The Year (SOTY) all about?
SM: No one remains the same and everyone changes with time. Karan
Johar too changed with time and now he will take the audience back to school.
So there is a lot of hope, fun, a lot of male bonding in the film. It’s not just a love triangle.
AB: It’s not just a love story.
SM: It’s not at all about who gets the girl in the end. The girl has a strong character in the film.
VD: The girl has her own standing in the film, just like girls are perceived as individuals in India today. The girl makes her own choices in the film. There’s no melodrama either.
SM: The surroundings may look larger than life and unlike any school in India but the issues or problems Karan has showcased are…
AB: (Cuts in) … very relatable.
SM: Yes, very real. Like how you compete with your friends in school and college, and you meet them and you fight with them. The film has all these real elements.
BOI: Since everything about the film was on such a huge canvas, did you feel any pressure?
AB: The movie is so grand and, to top it all, the promotions are also so grand. Like we appeared on Kaun Banega Crorepati the other day and…
SM: (Cuts in) No one would take newcomers all the way to London to learn to dance for their first film. And then we saw the lavish sets. And then Farah Khan yelled at us over the microphone to choreograph our dance steps, and there were the grand costumes. I think we went to Manish Malhotra’s house umpteen times. And you will only see half the costumes we tried on. We tried on close to 50 costumes for a few scenes. And every costume, every pair of shoes…
VD: … Yes, we can almost open a shoe shop with the number of shoes we tried on! (Laughs)
SM: So, a lot of hard work went into the making of this film. As in all his films, Karan has made sure that everything is grand in this movie too.
VD: He has made sure that we looked grand too!
BOI: Since both Alia and Varun are from filmy families, did you deliberately decide to make your debut in a film other than your fathers’?
AB and VD: (Together) Yes.
VD: She had her own reasons and I had my own.
AB: We have a readymade platform but I wanted to work for it. I didn’t want it to happen easily. For instance, if I had started in a production of my father’s, he wouldn’t audition someone along with me. With SOTY, I was auditioning alongside 400 other girls so I knew I had to work for the part. It’s a kind of psychological thing.
VD: My father has made over 40 films and he has never launched a newcomer. He has a brother in this industry too, but you can count the number of films he has cast him in. I have a cousin who became an actor but my father has not cast him in any of his films. I saw that happening even with my brother. My mom always told me that I should achieve what I want to on my own. If you don’t make it as an individual, you will not learn.
I think the younger sibling is under pressure when an older sibling does something special. My elder brother has bought a car on his own steam, so now I feel the pressure to do that too! (Laughs)
BOI: Now that the film is being promoted, what do your parents have to say?
SM: My parents have no idea of what’s going on. When I told them about the first screening of the film for cast and crew, they thought they would be attending the film’s premiere! They are in awe of the film industry just as I am. They are also picking up things about the industry just as I am. They are very positive and very excited. They are not aware of the pressure I feel, they are just excited that their son is doing a film.
VD: We went to Delhi for the promotions and Sidharth’s mom and dad took me and Alia out for lunch. We could see the same love in his parents’ eyes that Alia’s parents and mine have in theirs. Sidharth’s dad is a very cool guy and he was cracking jokes with us but his mom was looking at him just the way my mother would look at me after I came home after a long time. Parents will be parents and they react to all children the same way.
AB: To the world, my father maybe Bhatt-saab but, to me, he has always been my father. Now suddenly, ‘Bhatt-saab’ has entered my life. For instance, he would tell me, ‘Stop smiling, you will drain your energy.’ He has been in the industry for a long time and feels I am not in the zone. So I am dealing with his aura around me.
VD: My dad also tells me, ‘Salman ki tarah kar na….Chi chi, kaise karta hai!’ And I tell him, ‘Main main hoon. And just let me be.’
AB: Yes, all our parents are excited.
BOI: SOTY is very different from the type of films your fathers make.
AB and VD: Totally!
BOI: Did that help?
AB: Just because my father makes a certain kind of cinema doesn’t mean he has no idea about other kind of films. It’s cinema, and you have to be open to any genre. At the end of the day, it’s acting. I am sitting on the fence for his reactions, but I am also waiting for everyone’s reactions.
VD: My dad has directed so many two-hero films and knows all about the chemistry between actors. So he wanted to figure out my personal equation with Sidharth… whether we talk after the takes, whether we are chilled out with each other, etc… He said, ‘If your off-screen chemistry is good, that will definitely translate on-screen.’ It is a very valuable advice for me.
SM: The fact that Varun and I had worked earlier also helped. We did not meet as actors, we met as ADs. The two years we spent on My Name Is Khan was like training for us.
BOI: Was there any competition between you guys?
VD: I wouldn’t say there was competition. Because as ADs, I was in charge of tracking continuity and Sidharth used sound the clapper board, so we had to keep communicating.
SM: And we both were terrible at it. I used to sometimes make mistakes and he would make some errors too. And we would both get screamed at by Karan Malhotra who was the first AD.
VD: Since I am from Mumbai and he is from Delhi, even the way we speak was different. If he made a mistake, I would call him an ‘idiot’ and he would say ‘bewakoof hai tu’. I felt like I was being scolded by an elder and felt awful.
BOI: What was it like working with Karan in the context of first assisting him as an AD and then as your director?
SM: Karan is very close to his ADs and takes keen interest in everyone’s life. He knows who’s happy and what the other guy is going through. And so we became like friends and would hang out often. It was during one of the scenes being shot in London that we realised that we were actually working with ‘the’ Karan Johar.
It was a small scene and we had our lines down pat. He made us feel comfortable and erased all the wrong notions we had about how a scene should be done. No other director would have invested so much money or effort on a newbie. His only reference was us being on the sets before and he used that.
BOI: Which was your toughest scene?
AB: I think the parts where I had to cry.I didn’t know how to cry at the drop of a hat. I am also not all that emotional. But… Glycerin always helps!
SM: My toughest scene was the one that was shot in Kashmir. It was really cold and even though it’s easy to lip sync to songs in the cold, it’s very tough to say your lines. We had to enact a full-on action sequence which had three to four pages of lines. It was freezing and I was shivering. I had to emote anger and I almost lost my voice and even began stuttering. The lights dim, the DoP asks you to rush, and then you start stuttering so the sound guy gets annoyed. It was physically very tough to get the emotion right in such circumstances.
While enacting the scene, I used to think of Kajol ma’am… her confrontation scene with Shah Rukh sir, where she scolds him after losing her son. She would hug a hot water bag and then do the shot. We were ADs then and we had watched her and were awestruck. It’s really physically distracting to do high-drama scenes when it is so cold.
VD: When I signed this film, I had already done some theatre with Barry John, who had advised me against using glycerin. I had this confrontational drama and very emotional scene with my character’s father in the film. I thought I would not use glycerin. I executed the shot with full gusto and was very happy that I had done such a great job. Then someone said the shot needed to be taken from a closer angle. I was in a fix. I too eventually discovered glycerin!
BOI: What was it like to share the screen with a stalwart like Rishi Kapoor?
SM: He plays the dean of the school in the film. He is a superb actor and he behaves like that off screen as well. He even scolded us when we were making too much noise after and before cuts and takes. And he loved doing rehearsals. The first time he was on the sets, I was very nervous but we learnt so much from him. You pick up certain things and then the vibe changes.
VD: My first scene with him also had Sidharth. I felt I would forget my lines. They were just two lines but someone had reminded me, just before the scene, that I was working with a legend. I was super-psyched. So I wrote down my lines and stuck the paper on a chair in front of me. I was all set. Karan saw the paper eventually and took it off. (Laughs)
BOI: You are visiting plenty of colleges to promote your film. What is the response like?
SM: They always ask us to do the Disco song.
AB: I remember Varun saying he wondered if people would actually come to see us. We were shocked at the turnout everywhere.
VD: He gets a better response when we go to any place. The entire crowd cheers for him.
SM: We both get the same response.
AB: These guys went to Sophia College and the girls had a great time. I was in Delhi then so I couldn’t go. I called Varun and he said, ‘Alia, they were actually screaming for us!’ In Dubai, a girl gave Sidharth a big gift too!
BOI: Alia, you didn’t get any gifts?
AB: Sadly, no. People have come up to me and said, ‘Alia, I love you but I have lost my heart to Sidharth.’ There was this time a girl came up to me, then rushed past me and said, ‘I want to hug Varun!’ (Laughs)
BOI: Is it overwhelming?
SM: We don’t know. We are overwhelmed because we don’t know how a film is marketed and this is all part of film marketing. Earlier, the hero of the film was Karan Johar and now it’s Nilufer (Qureshi).
VD: I honestly don’t understand this. I know marketing is equally important but all that matters is how the movie will be received by the audience.
AB: Yes, if Varun had his way, he would run around the globe in a spaceship and scream, ‘October 19.. October 19.. October 19!’ to everyone.
BOI: In his column, for our third anniversary, Karan Johar had said that making this film was a picnic for him. How about you?
SM: No, it wasn’t!
AB: This is our first film and there was so much happening. It was a very enriching experience, one we won’t forget for the rest of our lives.
SM: You never get back your first film.
BOI: Do you track the progress of a film, like, its first-day business?
VD: We have heard the word ‘tracking’ a little too much!
BOI: No, since you come from a film family, do you keep track of the business?
SM: Yes. Varun knows everything about a film’s performance at the box office. First-day openings and first weekend.. everything.
VD: Arjun Kapoor is another star son who talks a lot about business. So I have grown up with people who know the business and I have heard them talk about such stuff since I was a kid. I know what territories are and about the Hindi belt. Like, I know that if a film works in Indore, it means it will work everywhere. But when it comes to your own film, you lose track. For example, English Vinglish didn’t open all that well but it picked up. On Saturday, it did amazing business and same goes for Oh My God!…
BOI: So you are tracking the business.
BOI: It’s been a while since we watched a film set in a campus. Can you name the last campus film?
VD: Mujhse Fraandship Karoge was the last campus film. It was a smaller film and it did well. Before that, 3 Idiots did very well, Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na also did well. But there was quite a gap between all three. But the scale of this film is so big that it’s not just a campus film, it’s much more.
BOI: What next after SOTY?
All three: We plan to start our own magazine and track business! (Laugh)