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Sonakshi Sinha and Jimmy Sheirgill talk to Team Box Office India about their upcoming comedy film Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi

Box Office India (BOI): When you made the first film, did you have a second part in mind?

Jimmy Sheirgill (JS): When we made the first film, we didn’t have a sequel in mind. I don’t think anybody had a sequel in mind. It is just that the first one got a very good response, and after that, Mudassar (Aziz) was writing something else, as far as I remember. Then, one day, while he was sitting with us, he came up with this one-line thing, saying what if there is another Happy… and the whole thing of running away happens in China. Everybody thought it was a great idea. He started working on it. After that, everyone told him to set the other thing aside and concentrate on this.

BOI: Both of you have been part of sequels. As actors, how do you approach your roles?

Sonakshi Sinha (SS): As an actor, I treat every film as a separate film, even a sequel. If you have been in a film before and you are taking the story forward, you still to have to play the character to the best of your ability. Like, for this one, I am the new entrant. Everyone else has been a part of this before. So, for me, it was a completely new film. It was a completely new experience. I had the liberty to play it the way I wanted to, without it having any references from the past. So, I think you approach every film differently, every sequel also differently. For me, it was a different experience.

JS: Mere paas toh koi option hi nahin tha. Somebody says Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster ka next part ban raha hai, I have to play Saheb. You can’t say, no, take somebody else. And in this one, I am playing Bagga. In Tanu Weds Manu, it was Raja.

BOI: Jimmy, in the first part, the character had already been established. How did you add to it in the second part?

JS: I think it will be established in this part; Bagga was barely established in the last one. For a film that was shot for over 60 days, I shot for just 15-20 days. In this one, everyone is running from the beginning to the end, you end up shooting more. Aur aapko yeh pata nahin chal raha hai, kaun kiske aage bhag raha aur kiske peehce bhaag raha hai. Kya ho raha hai? It is a mad chase. So, in terms of my character, this film is far better than the first one.

BOI: Sonakshi, the character of ‘Happy’ was established in the first film and you are reinventing it in this film. What kind of nuances did you introduce to make it stand out?

SS: I am just playing it as I am supposed to as I am not that Happy (Diana Penty). She is also there in this film. It is just as if I were playing someone whose name was something else. So I could very well be a ‘Lovely’ too. But, no, the whole thing is because of the mistaken identity, because of their names. They are both Harpreet Kaur, they are both Happy. That is where the confusion begins. So I am not referring to that character at all. She is a different girl, I am a different girl. I have been given certain personality traits, certain ways to follow, and that is exactly what I did.

Mudassar said this is the new Happy, she is so-and-so. She has certain goals in mind. She loves her family. She is a professor, actually. So she is not brash and loud. She is not like the previous Happy, who was always spoiling for a fight. This one thinks before she acts. They are very different personalities.

In fact, what Mudassar was saying the other day was that everyone thought Sonakshi would play the boisterous Happy and Diana would play the softer one. But he has changed us both! So, even as actors, we were challenged in those ways. Diana, in real life, is a very soft-spoken and sweet girl. She is not like the character she plays. I am not like the character I play. That is where the acting comes in. It was a lot of fun being these characters.

BOI: Sonakshi, going back to when you were offered this part… what went through your mind before you said yes to it?

SS: I loved it from the word ‘go’. The minute he (Mudassar) started narrating the role to me, I enjoyed it. I loved the story and I loved the way they were bringing all these characters from the first part into the second one. That was the essence of the first film. The characters made the film what it was. Everyone had their individual importance in the film. The way they were brought into this part and woven into the story was amazing. That’s the only reason I said ‘yes’. I have seen the first part and I really liked it, so why not?

BOI: In a comedy, it is very important for all the characters to get along, because that vibe translates on screen. When you are a part of an ensemble cast, especially in a comedy, does your approach to your roles change?

JS: We get along doing while serious films too.

SS: Yes.

JS: But I believe this is going to be one of the most memorable shoots, in terms of what we have been through and how we started. How we shot Punjab first and then Bombay, then moved to China, Thailand, Malaysia, and then coming back and finally wrapping up with a song and everything over here. It’s a journey and I think we all enjoyed it. At times, the weather was very hot, but we were still laughing with our ice coffees in hand and saying, ‘it’s okay, it’s not too hot’.

SS: It was amazing. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was an outsider or I was the new one coming to this unknown territory. Everybody was so warm and welcoming. We had such a good time shooting. Like he said, we went through some major weather conditions like rains and heat and all of that. We just didn’t know where the time went and the film wrapped. They are also very funny individuals, whether Jimmy sir, Piyushji (Mishra), Mudassar, Ali (Fazal) or Diana… they are all very chilled out and very funny people. That just makes the process so much easier.

JS: Also, it’s a very happy unit and that reflects in the kind of film they make. In her case, I don’t know whether it was just coincidence or planned by Mudassar. Since he is a very intelligent guy, he must have planned it…

SS: What?

JS: So what he did was, he introduced her to people step by step. Obviously when you enter a family and everyone is sitting together, you feel that ye main kahan aa gaya? But when you meet only two people at first and then meet another three, and finally saari family ikattha hoti hai climax mein. But it was great fun and I feel it will show on screen.

BOI: While doing a comedy, what extra preparations do you need to take care of because people keep saying that comedy is the toughest genre?

SS: It varies from film to film, not the genre per se. We are given a character and if the character requires certain preparation… For example, for Akira, I had to train in action before doing that film, here not so much. Mudassar is a wonderful writer. Honestly, I feel comedy is more than half the writer’s job. If it’s not written correctly, we won’t be able to translate it as well. Everything was written so well for this film, the punch lines, the funny dialogue, the funny things that are happening in the scene… it was all etched so well that it made life for us really easy.

BOI: Sonakshi, people say comedy is a genre that actresses cannot pull off. With films like Son Of Sardaar, Welcome To New York and now Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, do you think comic roles are being written for women? And what does it feel like to be a part of it?

SS: I enjoy it because I love to laugh and make people laugh. For me, possibly it’s the best genre to be part of. It also depends on the individual. I don’t find comedy as tough as I find crime. Right from the beginning of my career, even in films like Dabangg, Rowdy Rathore, Son Of Sardaar, comedy has been woven into these films. I started with films that had romance, drama, comedy, action, everything and then expanded to doing a lot more. I enjoy it, so I hope people are able to write more funny roles for women. 

BOI: Jimmy, you have dabbled in a wide variety of roles, especially this year, where we have seen you in serious roles and now in a comedy film. How do you switch on and off from one character to another?

JS: I love doing light-hearted films. My brain is phatao-ing because of the intense roles. Bahut buri haalat hoti hai. When I go into a slightly serious character, I tend to think a lot. The moment the director tells you this is the space and what you are looking at, that’s when my mind starts to work. With people like Tigmanshu (Dhulia) and Aanand L Rai, it is better to not prepare and go on the sets. The moment you have read your scenes, there are 500 things in your head. You reach over there and they have got the six-hundredth angle to it.

With directors like these, I don’t even read the scene. I just go there because I know the story and everything. So I just let them read it out at that point. They might read it out to you the previous night with a certain take in mind. And all night, you might be thinking ki aise hoga and waise hoga. Aur iss hisaab se yeh hoga. In the morning, they change it! They say it would be better if you did it like this. And you think this is amazing! You told me something else last night and I prepared myself according to that brief.

So with such directors, it is best that you stay blank till you arrive on the sets. And once they tell you that this is my shot, and this is how I want it, you let your mind start working. The slightly serious characters drain you. That is the reason I love doing these light-hearted characters. You can have a ball!

BOI: When do we see you getting the girl at the end of these films?

JS: It is a simple thing, yaar. These guys are very clear with me. Sir, ya toh ladki le lo, ya toh linein le lo. I prefer to take the lines. 

BOI: Does the method of acting change with the director you work with?

JS: It does. I feel that if the director has also written the script, it is easier because he has visualised everything the way he wants it. So no matter how much you say, Mudassar, what are you making me do, once he tells you, you do it. You go with the story, you have to listen to the director. You can’t be stubborn and say I am not going to do this. So you do it and three months later, when you watch it and people are reacting to it, you say that I followed what he said and this is what happened.

So abhi last mein, we were doing a song and I was like you are making me dance also! Mujhe dance kiye hue pata nahin kitne saal ho gaye. He said ‘sir aise karte karte poori picture kar li. Yeh last ka bacha hai.’ (Laughs). I laughed and I did that also. That is how it is for me.

SS: It is the same for me too. My method is that I have no method. I reach the set and I ask, aaj kya kar rahe hain. That is when I get my lines and my scene. That is when I switch on, basically. It is very important for me to understand what the director’s vision is as that is what we as actors are trying to execute.

Humne likhi nahin hai. Hum bana nahin rahe. Hamara kaam hai camera ke samne jaana and give life to those characters. That is exactly what I try to do. I understand how they want me to play the character and then if I feel that it is a great way to play it, I will play it exactly like that. If I feel I can add something to it, I will do that.

BOI: Jimmy, you have played some memorable characters. Whether Munna Bhai MBBS or My Name Is Khan, regardless of the length of the role, you always leave a mark. So when you choose a project, do you look at the character or the overall plot?

JS: If I have a choice, I look at the script and the character and how well it has been etched and all that. But, very often, you don’t have an option. Like in Happy Bhag Jayegi, the first film, they had already finalised everybody. So when I sat in front of Mudassar… I don’t know what frame of mind I was in. I said it is a nice, breezy story. He said this one is doing this and that one is doing that. So I said, agar mere dates ke hisaab se aap ka match ho jata hai toh, main kar doonga. So we did it. It wasn’t that I had a choice and I wanted that particular character. Like in Bang Bang! Sid (Siddharth Anand) wanted me to do that one long scene in the beginning of the film. He said that he wasn’t looking at anybody else. Toh chala saara dheere dheere.

It was just ten days, but it was spread across 2-3 countries. So somehow we managed to do it. And I was shocked at the response I got for that one scene. Main toh ek scene karke bhool gaya, but it got a crazy response. So, sometimes, you do things for people and forget about it. And suddenly it comes out nicely. So kamaal hai.

BOI: Early on in your career, you were a part of films like Dabangg and Rowdy Rathore. After that, we have seen you choosing women-centric projects like Akira and Noor. Was it a conscious decision to shift to films like these?

SS: Honestly, a film is a film. When a hero is the protagonist of a film, nobody calls it a hero-centric film. Hence, we should get rid of the term ‘women-centric’. It does not work. The films that I did earlier in my career were big commercial potboilers. I thoroughly enjoyed and learnt a lot from them. They are the films that gave me the confidence to take up roles, where I carried the entire film on my shoulders. They are the films that gave me the kind of reach and the kind of audience that accepts me or allows me to shoulder a film on my own.

It has been a really, really productive and fruitful journey, from the very beginning. Today, I am proud to say that I can do that kind of film as well as this kind of film. As an actor, you should have the kind of confidence and comfort where you can put yourself into anything, whether big or small. I learn from every film that I do. That is what is most important.

JS: Not many actresses are willing to take a chance and do something that carries so much responsibility. I think it is a great shift and this decision will only increase your longevity in the industry. You will get roles like these because the makers know you are prepared to take risks.

BOI: How diligently do you follow box-office numbers?

JS: Box-office numbers are very important because a producer has invested a lot of money into your film and it is important that he recovers his investment. The only thing that makes me feel bad is that we have created a tricky situation for ourselves by making huge numbers. People outside believe that there is a casino in the industry. Almost every film rakes in Rs 100 crore. The bigger films make Rs 500 crore. To top that, GST of 18 per cent has been imposed on us. We are responsible for this. I request the people concerned to reduce the tax rates. It does not affect us but it directly impacts producers. A film makes Rs 500 crore but what are the people involved in it taking back home?

SS: Right from the very beginning, the box office is not something I have looked into and got carried away with. Having been a part of a lot of Rs 100-crore films, so to speak, it is not something that I bother myself with. 

BOI: Don’t the box office numbers of your previous films affect your subsequent film choices?

SS: Everybody who is involved with a film – whether it is a technician, a director, a producer, the actors – wants a film to do well. Nobody wants to make a flop film. Everybody goes on the set thinking that they will be building the Taj Mahal. You obviously want a film to do well because it affects a lot of people involved with it. Unfortunately, that is not in our control. Today, the benchmark of a good film is not how much it made. There are a lot of amazing, beautiful and meaningful films that get out of theatres in 3-4 days because they are not making good numbers while the biggest films, whose quality may not be up to the mark, are raking in huge numbers.

The audience is very unpredictable. You never know what is going to work and what is not going to work. It is not in our control. I believe that for something that is not under our control, we should not stress over it. As an actor, I will give 150 per cent. I will make sure that I deliver what is asked of me. But the end result is not in my control.

JS: Also, there is a huge difference between a film being genuinely good and its circulation on social media as a brilliant film or a masterpiece or the best film of 2018. There is a huge difference between these two kinds of films. If a film is genuinely good, irrespective of whether it is small or big, the audience can smell it from the trailers. Those films will do crazy business.

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