With Chhichhore out in the theatres, actors Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Varun Sharma and Tahir Raj Bhasin talk to Bhakti Mehta about why this film is special to them, the genius of their director Nitesh Tiwari and the real-life inspirations behind the story
Bhakti Mehta (BM): The film has released just yesterday. Let’s begin with the feeling you all had when starting this film?
Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR): Going back to the time when I heard the script for the first time, I realised that it was just not a friendship story but it was actually saying a lot many things that I generally think about in my life. And I thought, what a way to say everything in one film! I thanked Mr Nitesh Tiwari and told him that I really want to do the film.
Tahir Raj Bhasin (TRB): You know, for me, I felt like it was a very special script and I knew that instantly. It was because this is a story that Nitesh Tiwari has lived himself. All the characters are inspired by people whom he had met in his college days. I was amazed that something so close to his life was brought on paper. So, yes, I am thankful to Nitesh Tiwari. And I am also thankful to Sushant and Shraddha because I don’t think that films like these with a cast of this nature where everyone is on an equal footing, are made often and they have lent their stardom to a film like this. It would not have been possible otherwise.
Shraddha Kapoor (SK): If I would not have done this film then it would have been a big loss for me. So there was no question of me not being part of this. (Smiles). As far as I am concerned, like Tahir and Sushant said, I would also like to thank Nitesh sir and I say this to him too, for honestly, just thinking of me for this part. To have come to Nitesh Tiwari’s mind, to realise that he wants to cast you, is such a big thing. He is a true creative genius and who doesn’t want to work with a person like that. I am very lucky to be part of this film.
Varun Sharma (VS): When I first read the script of the film, the first thing that came to my mind was, like they said, that it was a soulful story told in the most entertaining manner.
BM: Sushant and Shraddha, Tahir said that it was important for you two to lend your stardom to this film. Do you feel so too, that an ensemble film gets a push with the presence of stars?
SK: Absolutely not! I need this film more than anything and I need to be part of good films. (Laughs). I feel that all the actors, all the technicians, whoever has been part of this film is only going to gain a lot of respect, simply because this film is so special, so well-written and is from the heart of the director. It is a beautiful nostalgic story and I would say that we are the lucky ones.
BM: So what moment of nostalgia from your college life does this story bring back?
SK: The college days. The feelings that one had at that time.
VS: The friendships, the romance and the madness that every college student goes through during this age. All the stupidity that we do, all the wise things that we do, all the bonds that we make, it’s everything. You just kind of go back and relive your own college days when you see the film, which is what Nitesh sir is trying to do. All the characters in the film, Mummy, Sexa, Maya, Anni, Acid, Bevda, etc. they have actually been around him when he was in college. He knows them personally and that is why it is a very special film for him also.
TRB: I remember that from my own college times. You would really like a girl, approach her, have a crush on her but then there are 10 other people who have the same feelings. There are learnings in many areas when you are that young. It teaches you about fun, romance and heartbreak. I think heartbreak is an important topic in this whole scenario.
BM: Does it get easier for you to draw inspirations from that part of your life for a film like this?
TRB: We have an engineer here, Sushant who has gone through that.
VS: But I think, apart from the subjects, college life and for that matter school life too, is almost same for everyone. The things that you do, the rites of passage that you have, it’s unanimous. Obviously, it varies from person to person but around 80 per cent of the time, you kind of feel the same. You are doing that in different languages, different scenarios and even different states or countries but you are doing the same thing. I have not studied engineering but when we were shooting in IIT for the film, there were some things that were so familiar and I realised that I have also done it but have done it in a film institute in Chandigarh. It is all related.
SSR: You know, it is easier to relate but that’s not the whole point. That is just 50 per cent of the job done. To understand and observe something could be anybody’s job. But an actor’s job is to understand it and then replicate it in a manner that makes the audience believe that they are the characters they are playing. That’s a different thing altogether. Knowing the engineering college inside out, yes that is 50 per cent. I know my engineering, I know physics, chemistry and math. I know what it’s all about and I know the kind of chemistry that gets punctuated in love stories also. (Laughs). But that’s half the job done. Actors have to come, chip in and collaborate to tell the story.
BM: In this film, you all transition from college kids to middle-aged people. How did you imbibe the characteristics that were required to play the older roles?
SK: Actually, I was enamoured by the challenge and at the same time I was nervous as to whether it will be possible to pull this off, would I be convincing, Nitesh sir thinks I can do it, but to play both the age groups is a different ballgame. There were so many questions in my mind and I thought that I can relate to certain aspects of the college life bit but this other side, being in my 40s, being a mother, having been through more experiences which I have not personally been through, I would think of how that will turn out.
But I also got excited about this because that is the journey that one had to imagine and then enact. Based on your life experiences and those of your characters, you have to construct a reality, which is also a unique experience. It is something that I have never really done before. I did that in Haseena Parkar so I had an idea but that character was completely different. Something that is probably the most helpful thing is that you are entrusting yourself completely to a director like Nitesh Tiwari. You are entrusting the way he sees the film, his writing, it’s coming from his heart. The important thing is that it is coming from his life. He has lived this so you just want to surrender.
BM: People say that acting has more to do with the reaction. Is that something that an ensemble film heavily relies upon?
VS: The most important thing in a film like this, where you are talking about college and pure friendships, the bond has to be really there. And it helped that before we would start shooting, we would all get together and just hang out. Sometimes Sushant would call us to his place and we would all just chill together. When we were shooting the film, it did not feel like we were shooting a film because it was mad fun. We were already very comfortable with each other and that is very important when you are in a scene and improvising something because you don’t want to think about how the other person will react. You are not like usko yeh bura lagega ya phir kuch aur bura lagega. When you are comfortable with someone then you can do it however you want to, even if it is going wrong. You are not hesitant about anything. That is a very important aspect of the film. And as far as our bonding is concerned, I am sure that it will still continue even though the film has released.
TRB: But the thing is that it did not start like that. I remember the first meeting where everyone came and shook hands and the ‘Hellos’ and ‘How are yous’ were going around.
BM: The ice-breaking moments.
TRB: Yes! But now when you see us together, I am sure you will feel that we have lived together through our hostel life.
BM: Turning old is not something that human beings look forward to. What were your respective reactions when you saw yourself in that avatar?
SSR: I think I was assured. I was like, ‘Alright! I am doing fine!’ and that too at 45. So, I was a bit overconfident about it. (Laughs).
TRB: Because he was not the one who was going bald!
SK: But he did have a receding hairline.
TRB: Yes, that he did but mine was receding a bit too much. (Laughs). When I saw myself in that 45 year old avatar, I felt like you should just make every moment count. This is something that is inevitable so you should just live in the moment.
SK: I am actually really glad that they added more grey in my hair. I really wanted more. When I saw myself, I felt even more grown up. I felt wiser because I was playing a mother as well. To tap into that natural instinct that I think a woman has somewhere inside her, it was very interesting to see myself do that.
VS: My character Sexa is a very cute character. He is that friend in the group who always manages to smuggle things into the hostel.
BM: The jugaadu friend.
VS: Yes! Exactly. He is the jugaadu friend. It was too much fun. It was one of those things that the humour that Sexa has or his mannerisms, his language, his nuances, everything that he does is something that you will find very cute. It is basically how people are, how they talk. Yes, he is a guy who is desperate, he is what we call a ‘despo’ but…
SK: (Cuts in) But he is a very cute despo, yaar.
VS: True. When he talks it will go into the zone of being vulgar. It will just be fun. That is what I felt after we saw the film. And about looking older in the film, I remember that when I was in this getup and came out on set, many people came to me and pulled my cheeks and that is when I felt ke yeh toh set hai. I was like this is how I should be when I am actually 45. (Laughs).
BM: In a recent interview, your director Nitesh Tiwari..
VS: (Cuts in). Was he praising us?
BM: Not quite in this particular context.
VS and TRB: Oh sh**! (Everyone laughs).
BM: Coming back to the question, Nitesh Tiwari said that if it was up to you guys, you would name him as the biggest chhichhora…
VS: (Cuts in). Correct.
TRB: Bilkul sahi.
BM: But why would you say that?
VS: Arre, puri picture bana di unhone Chhichhore naam ki. Imagine that what every character in the film has experienced and what you will see in the film, things that we are talking about right now, he has actually lived through it all. Unke liye sab aankhon dekha hai toh socho woh kitne bade chhichhore honge!
TRB: Let me tell you an incident of Nitesh Tiwari after which will you know why we call him the biggest chhichhora. The thing is, that he loves desserts. And his favourite is gulab jamun and after that there is a hierarchy which has items like milk cake, kheer, kalakand, etc. So one day, in between our two shooting schedules, I just gave him a call. I asked him how things were going and he said, “Sexa ne parso kheer bheji. Shraddha ne bhi mithaai bheji.” And I am thinking in the back of my mind if this is a hint for me, should I also send something? Then he asks me, “Toh tu kuch nahi bhej raha?” I was like I have to send something to him now. But it was a thing that he played with everyone. It was a great thing also because due to it, even on our days off, we would connect on something or the other. But since Nitesh sir had said that, my mom came to Mumbai from Delhi to make kheer at home and then it was sent to him.
BM: That’s a very sweet thing.
TRB: Yes. He has these sweet chhichhora moments.
BM: Now you know all these things about him but in the beginning, he was the director who gave the industry its biggest Hindi film with Dangal. Did that intimidate you at all?
SK: Not in that manner. But I would say that there was a lot respect there. Of course, I love Dangal. It is an absolutely brilliant film. After watching that film when Chhichhore happened, I felt great because I was getting to work with Nitesh sir and on a film which is from his heart. And as for the intimidation, when you meet him, you do not feel any of that because he is just so normal, he is really humble and approachable. You just feel like you are meeting a normal person who wants to make a film that comes from his heart and you are just enamoured by it.
SSR: I do not pay respect or give regards to rich people or to somebody who knows how to earn money. It is definitely not because something did more than `500 crore business and it is `400 crore more than `100 crore. I am not like that. Of course, I have been a fan of his films and I know he is a craftsman. And in the first narration I understood that he is trying to say something about education that we have never touched upon yet, even in politics. That brings responsibility and then you have an assurance that you have a director of his capability. This is why I respect him.
SK: When I saw Chillar Party, I went completely mad. I thought that it was the best film that I have seen in my life. It was a film to do with children and the way that it was made was brilliant. I remember that at the screening of the film, I met Vikas Bahl but Nitesh sir was not to be seen anywhere. I did not find him then but I just wish that I had met him that day because just after finishing the film, I was filled with the feeling of wonder. I couldn’t stop talking about it. It is one of my all-time favourite films.
TRB: I just had blind confidence in anything that Nitesh Tiwari sir directed me to do. Dangal was outstanding and I do not think that a film like that has been made in the last 10 years and maybe never will again. But in the same breath, I also feel that when you work with someone, whether it is an actor or a DoP or a director, you have to see their new work as an independent entity. I know majority of people will come with the baggage of the film that he has made before this but it is a different story, a different cast and a new vision. I would just like to give it its due and say that every film has its own destiny.