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Laughing All The Way

As the cop-comedy Arjun Patiala is all ready for release, producer Dinesh Vijan and director Rohit Jugraj, talk to Bhakti Mehta about how the idea of the film came about, the right casting of the actors, turning the script on its head to give it a unique spin and providing fresh content with each project

Bhakti Mehta (BM): The trailer of Arjun Patiala looks quite interesting. It is a novel thing to see a film where the actors are making fun of themselves…

Dinesh Vijan (DV): (Cuts in) So, you have really got it, have actually understood it because someone recently asked me that was it okay if I made fun of other films. But honestly, we are not making fun of any other film, our film is only making fun of itself. 

BM: There are spoofs which follow this line of thought.

DV: Yes! For example the Hollywood series of films, Scary Movie is all about making fun of other horror films in the West. Here, in Arjun Patiala, we don’t have a reference to any other film. It is basically the genre that we are talking about.

BM: Dinesh, you have actually been at the forefront of introducing or bringing back certain genres in the industry with films like Go Goa Gone, Stree and now Arjun Patiala too because we have not seen spoof movies in a long time.

DV: I think maybe because I am not from this industry, from this business, I might have this perspective just like a kid also is not scared get electrocuted if he puts his hand in the socket, I also did not have any fear like that. My first film was Being Cyrus in 2006. If someone had to tell me now about a film like that in that time, then I would be like, ‘Pagal kutte ne kaata hai kya?’ (Laughs). So, sometimes knowledge is actually detrimental. Not having any fear has been one thing that has pushed me to try these things and purely because of not having enough knowledge. And the second thing is that I have always been the person who asks, ‘Why?’

BM: Or why not?

DV: Exactly! For me, films are a product of instinct. If I hear a script or an idea, most of our films are home-grown, then I would be like ‘I have to make this film.’ This film, Arjun Patiala, has some emotional reasons attached to it also. Ritesh (Shah) and Sandeep (Leyzell) came to me with this script and Sandeep is someone who has worked with us on a lot of films. He has line-produced our films earlier. Then I saw the Punjabi film Sardaar Ji, which Rohit directed. After watching that, I realised that Diljit, who has done so many serious roles, has an incredible comic timing. You know like Saif (Ali Khan) has this American sitcom type comic timing, which no one else has, Diljit has this real, natural, innocent and cute type of comic timing. It is very nonchalant and it fit properly with this film. I don’t think this film could have been made without any one person. It could not have been made without Rohit, Diljit, Ritesh, Sandeep, they all made a great team. And the fourth pillar here I think is Huzefa (Lokhandawala) who has edited this film. So many people have asked us why this film has taken so long to release but the reality is that the edit and post-production took long. Any film where you break the fourth fall which is with the edit, you need that kind of time to do it right. Then there is heavy VFX to underline those things. I feel that a film gets written twice- one as it is written on which the director makes it and then during post-production.

BM: Rohit, you have written other films that you have also directed. How did you adapt to the vision of Ritesh Shah and Sandeep Leyzell for this film?

Rohit Jugraj (RJ): Firstly, the interesting thing was that when Dinu sir (Dinesh Vijan) called and narrated this idea after which I heard the story from Mr Ritesh Shah. I knew that these guys are stalwarts. So one can get nervous when guys like these call you because you have seen their work, how successful they have been. I mean jitna meri saat filmon ne nahi collect kiya utna inki ek film ne kar liya hai box office pe. (Laughs). But then you think that these are people who will allow me to do what I want to do and at the same time, they are very clear as to what they want. Comedy itself has many genres and they were willing to bet on this kind of a different genre in comedy. That was exciting. Then there were times I was trying to understand the rhythm of comedy. Now all of us are happy with it but first, we all took our time to come around. Then I saw the confidence that Dinu had on this project. If there was something I did not understand then we would discuss it and when Ritesh would talk, the way that Dinu would talk, it would help me. Ritesh Shah is a very senior artiste and he understands the genre very well. All these things gave me a lot of confidence that it doesn’t matter if it is someone else’s material, I was okay with it. The confidence came from the material and these guys. It was something I had to do.

BM: Dinesh, you have always been a very involved producer. The conviction that Rohit is talking about, what was about this genre and this film that inspired it?

DV: You know, someone’s unusual is your usual. For me, it is your gut instinct on the decision to make the film and then you have to work hard to cast the right guy, back the director so that he can do his best possible, all this is there but that first call about what story to tell, that you have to get right. If you are wrong there, then it will take a lot of time to correct it.

BM: You also said that you put a lot of trust in your directors.

DV: They need to feel fearless na? If you are good on paper, you have someone who knows his craft and you give someone good actors to act, it is more difficult to screw it up than one would when you are not good on paper or you cast a guy who is not a good actor. You have to back the right person for the right job.

RJ: I also feel that I have worked on seven films and hence with seven producers or production houses. With Dinu what is brilliant is that he maintains objectivity about the project. I will tell you a small incident. There was this MLA character in this film that we had penned as a male one. I remember Dinu was walking from his cabin to the place we were sitting and discussing that we are not getting the right actor for this part. All the other supporting cast is brilliant in the film with names like Pankaj Tripathi, Ronit Roy, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub but we had an issue with this character. Dinu just came in and looked at me and said to change it, make it a female MLA character. That can only come from objectivity. Suddenly, you see things differently and cast a Seema Pahwa for it and things just fall into place. It was like you are playing the slot machine and things just click. The colour and the texture of those scenes change. This decision making skill comes through objectivity. We get engrossed in it, get emotionally attached and lose that objectivity. That balance is critical and he is one producer I have seen who does that.

BM: Dinesh, how do you do that? Some producers are extremely attached to their projects.

DV: I would love to say that I have always been like this but it is actually experience and time. I have realised it along the way that it is very important to do that. If I am choosing the scripts based on the audience, then I need to have that. My process is very simple; I am there on the first two days of the shoot to see that the actor-director relationship has been formed, the actor is getting the pitch of the character the way we all have envisioned it and then once in a week or once in 10 days, I just watch the rushes. If things are going well, then I don’t feel the need to go back. Only on Irrfan’s (Khan) film, (Angrezi Medium), I was there throughout that schedule but that was stemming from an emotional reason. I then let the editor and the director finish their cut and I come in after that. That is when I am the most critical. I am very objective and detached. If something works or doesn’t work, I am very decisive on that. I have maintained that distance. Along the way I have realised that for a director, a film is like his lover. He doesn’t want to hear that there is something wrong. But fortunately my directors trust me enough to know that besides the film, I have no other love at that time. That trust is there. I am very secure in what I do. Also, I am open to a counter argument. My company does not work in the way ki maine bol diya toh bol diya. It can be a conversation, a discussion, an argument, depending on what we are talking about. The fact of the matter is that I have a very strong point of view but my directors don’t have to guard their words with me. That is important.

BM: You said you needed to cast the right actor for the right part. Coming to your lead and supporting cast in this film, what prompted your decision?

DV: I was very lucky that Diljit had only done serious films in Hindi. His comic timing is absolutely unreal. In a way, for me it was easy that by just putting him here, I get to reinvent him as an actor in Bollywood. He has had it all along but we have not seen it. Varun (Sharma), whom I call Chucha, is almost like a younger brother to me. He has done really well in this film.

BM: Rohit, you have a comfortable relationship with Diljit Dosanjh because you have worked together before. Did that help while making Arjun Patiala?

RJ: I developed a comfort level with all the actors. Like Kriti, when she heard the script for the first time, the questions she asked both Dinu and me were pertinent. And I felt while shooting that she got the hang of her character even before I did. Another actress would take into account things like the hero’s height being shorter than hers but she never did that. She was able to perceive, see through the superficiality and travel the distance with us. Varun comes with his own style, own brand. The best thing about him is that he knows his positive and his negatives. He is quite self-aware.

BM: Maddock Films is now well known for its novel ideas.

DV: What has happened is that with the new age content, the writers and filmmakers, Maddock becomes a place to go to. It is a good thing and this is something that is happening in the country on a larger level. It is becoming more open and there seems to be less corruption. Interestingly, our digital company is called Outsider.

BM: What expectations do you have from the film?

DV: Arjun Patiala is the biggest risk that we have taken because we have broken the format of the film in a sense. The others were new themes, new concepts. This is a true experiment because it changes the style of storytelling. There are a lot of layers which we have not given out in the promotions. If you have liked the trailer, I want you to like the film and I am happy. I am not chasing a number.

If you ask me, when we made Stree, in merging horror and comedy, the risk was that whether people will get it. Luka Chuppi was much safer that way but the idea of live-in with your whole family was something we explored. Here, we have changed how you tell a story and that is why the post-production took that long and I want that to be appreciated.

RJ: I am very excited and anxious. It is Dinu’s courage that I am riding on.

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