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It’s her first film outside the YRF banner and his first as the solo male lead. Parineeti Chopra and Sidharth Malhotra in conversation with team Box Office India on their Hasee Toh Phasee journey

Box Office India (BOI): How did Hasee Toh Phasee begin for both of you?

Sidharth Malhotra (SM): It started with Phantom wanting to do a film with Dharma. Vinil Mathew has been associated with the film for a while now. Then Phantom liked it and they came to Karan (Johar) with the script. And at that time, there were two young boys in Dharma, me and Varun (Dhawan). So our names came up when they were deciding who should do the film. Luckily, the script came to me. Meeting Vinil made it interesting as I had watched his ad films.

Parineeti Chopra (PC): I went to Vinil-sir a lot earlier and I had read the script. I thought that it was lovely and I loved my role in it. They were planning to shoot it when I was doing Shuddh Desi Romance, so I wasn’t able to do it then. About three months later, Karan called me and said he was now on board with the film. He also told me, ‘We know you want to do the film and we would really like you to do it.” So it all worked out.

BOI: What was it about the script that attracted you?

PC: My role really grabbed me. It was very new and this character is a scientist and not a normal person. She doesn’t blink at all, sticks her tongue out when she speaks and is always breathless. I have not seen this in characters which are not medically unfit. I had not seen it in a normal rom-com. So I thought it would be great fun playing it. Then Karan told me that Sidharth was doing the film, and I thought it was perfect casting for Nikhil (the character).

SM: When you read the script, there are so many odd situations and you feel these two characters are really quite bizarre. There is a love seat and we get stuck in it. And the female character likes to eat toothpaste. I wanted to meet the director. So when I met Vinil, we chatted at Dharma and I analysed my character because the character is a little odd. He is breathless, he is always moving, he doesn’t say things correctly. It gave me a sense of confidence that the director is capable of making a film like that. When I met Vinil, I was convinced that he would pull off this quirkiness in a funny way.

BOI: Now that the film is complete, how close is it to the script that first attracted you?

SM: It is exactly what we had read.

PC: Exactly the same.

SM: The writing itself is quirky. The comedy is not like maine punch maara…

PC:aur koi gir raha hai, koi pad raha hai.

SM: The comedy is in the situations, in the expressions, in the subtlety, in the newness of getting elements like getting a love seat or her eating toothpaste. So it’s come out in a quirky and different way.

BOI: Sidharth, in your first film, you had an experienced Karan guiding you as director and producer. However, this is Vinil’s first film. Did it feel different?

SM: There was a big difference! I think you feel more pressurised, you have to have some of the answers because the roles have changed. Now I am one film old and the director is new. He tells you things like this is not right, what do you think? Do this scene in a different way, rehearse it like this. Sometimes they listen to your suggestions, which is dangerous.

I think it was a little scary as there was more pressure on me as a performer, there was more expected of me. But we are answerable to Dharma and Karan because he had made a decision to launch us and this was a chance to prove our mettle. So there’s a lot more expectation but also a lot of excitement. Eventually, doesn’t everyone want to do a solo film? And that’s what I am doing now.

BOI: Both of you had strong backing when you made your debut – Sidharth with Dharma and Parineeti with Yash Raj. What kind of leverage did that give you?

PC: It was a great start because I never really wanted to become an actor. But because I had my first three films with them, I have always been protected and have had great mentors in Yash Raj Films. Also, the way they make their films, their ethics, the way they manage films, the crew they choose… it’s all very professional. So I think I have been disciplined very well, at least in my first three films, and I carried that forward in Hasee Toh Phasee. They back you, they market you, make sure your films do well, they make you look good.

BOI: Was it difficult to get out of the YRF comfort zone and getting into a new set-up?

PC: Not at all. I think Adi and Karan are very cool producers. They don’t think like regular producers, ki arrey, yeh meri heroine hai aur isspe itna paisa lagana hai. They treat all their actors, their staff and crew like their own. You can talk to them any time you like. Or you can talk to Adi any time you want. So there isn’t any difference, really. Everyone is really cool and young and happening there. Another thing is that YRF didn’t tie me down with my contract. My first film had to be with them and I was free to choose my films after that. I coincidentally ended up doing two more films with them.

BOI: Sidharth, for you Phantom was a new set-up.

SM: Yes. Dharma had obviously launched us in a big way and this was another script that came to me from them. Luckily, Phantom and Dharma got together and this film came to me. When things started to roll, Phantom took over and that’s when I realised how spoilt we were at Dharma. Budget constraints meant we couldn’t take anything for granted at Dharma. But it was good to get a taste of what other people were doing in terms of how they functioned on a set. But we are Dharma talent too and we will do more Dharma films. But we are also trying to do films outside and, hopefully, I will get to work with many other production houses.

BOI: And many new leading ladies.

SM: (Laughs) Yes! Many new leading ladies, which is always more exciting! This film required only so much interaction with my character and her character. If it doesn’t work, the film won’t work. Hopefully, the chemistry and the fun element will come across.

BOI: From the trade’s point of view, what attraction does Hasee Toh Phasee hold for the audience?

SM: It has everything for the whole family. You could say that SOTY was aimed at a younger audience but this film is for the family. It has joint family elements, and we are playing these characters that are not restricted by age. So the pan-age group factor will create a lot of appeal.

BOI: Is it certified as a U film?

SM: It’s U/A certification. Everything these days is U/A, I think only cartoon films get a U certificate nowadays. (Laughs)

BOI: With just one film under your belt, are your decisions to sign a film based on commercial or purely creative considerations?

PC: They are purely creative. I can’t decide what a film is like when it is still on paper. You get an idea when the songs are released and you start shooting. That’s when you realise, ‘Oh, this is the scale of the film, so maybe this is going to be the future of this film.’ I choose from a creative point of view, as far as the story goes, my role goes or the director goes. That’s how I should choose because I am not making the film; I am merely acting in it.

SM: It’s the same for me. The attempt is to do a film that is different from your previous film. I have tried to be this guy in the film who doesn’t pay attention to his hair, his clothes, or how I look in the high-speed shots. People did say I was looking younger and cuter but that’s just how I look. This boy is nowhere near the boy I played in SOTY. So the attempt is to make something different from my previous film.

BOI: But, Sidharth, isn’t the box office important to you, especially since you are a hero and our industry is very male-centric.

SM: The box office will work for me when I do good films. I can’t choose to do a film simply because the director or the film sounds commercial. I don’t know what ‘commercial’ means. Barfi! is the most non-commercial film in Indian cinema and yet it made so much money. So I think nothing beats good content.

BOI: Speaking of Barfi!... Parineeti, female actors have a lot more scope to bag meatier and meaningful roles these days. How open are you to experimenting?

PC: I have been experimenting since my very first film, which was with four other girls. Ishaqzaade was completely non-glamorous and in Shuddh Desi Romance the girl was blusterous in her thinking. And Hasee Toh Phasee is different from those. I would like to believe that my next two films will also be very different. I experiment because I have a very short attention span and get bored very easily. I will continue to experiment because I genuinely love doing different things.

BOI: How clued in are you to box-office numbers? For instance, do you know how much Ishaqzaade earned in its first week or the lifetime collections of SOTY?

PC: For my own films, yes, but not otherwise.

SM: I am a little more clueless. Oddly, I don’t remember the first day or lifetime business of SOTY but I have heard it was around 70 or 80 something. After this film, I will probably pay more attention to numbers because one does feel the pressure. Whatever opening we got was because of Karan Johar and his brand and Dharma’s brand and the marketing. But here, when the numbers come in, they will reflect our chemistry, our performances, our brand. So, sure, I think awareness is necessary. So you can weigh the risks you can take in terms of spending money on a film.

BOI: Both of you have had a pretty young journey so far. Where does Hasee Toh Phasee stand and what does it mean to you?

PC: It is very important for me, personally, and I am sure it is very important for him too as it’s his first solo film. For me, it is very important because it is a very tricky place to be in. Up until now, people have said good things about my performances and I definitely want to carry that forward. But I have also tried to look different, which is very important for a heroine.

I am not saying it is a glamorous role but it is definitely different from the Indian thing which I have done. I would love to see if I have taken my acting prowess forward. It is the first rom-com I am doing. There are many firsts for me in this film. My first film with Dharma and Phantom, first film outside YRF etc. So I want to see where I stand.

SM: It is very important for me, yaar. SOTY was like an entrance exam, with which we were launched. It trained us to become stars and perfect looking people and high-speed shots. Here, there is no glitz and glamour and no extravagant locations. The content is the only thing we are playing on. So I think it is very important for me to prove my mettle as an actor, and to Karan and Dharma.

BOI: How much input do you (SM) take from Karan and you (PC) from YRF while selecting projects?

SM: After SOTY, Karan told us it was up to us. I think he was trying to train us in a way by trying to leave us on our own too. One has to make one’s own mistakes and I think the choices we make right now will define our careers. He believes in our instincts. So I think he would be careful when he tells us there is this film. For Hasee Toh Phasee, he asked us to meet Vinil and then decide whether we wanted to do the film. So there is no pressure or influence but he is always ready to offer his opinion.

PC: For me, it’s basically two people. One is Maneesh Sharma, who is the reason for me being an actor today. Naturally, his opinion and suggestions are very important to me. The same goes for Adi. They both always think for me and they tell me what is good for me and what is not. As friends, they will give me their honest opinion but as mentors, they leave it up to me.

BOI: But, Parineeti, you seem to be your directors’ pet, with both Maneesh and Habib repeating you in their films.

PC: (Laughs) It’s a good thing because my first film which won me all the awards was with Maneesh and he repeated me. So I felt great. And Ishaqzaade was a big film for me, with the National Award and everything. All my talked-about performances were with both of them and both of them repeated me. So I am very proud of myself!

BOI: Speaking of chemistry… What was the first day like for both of you during the shoot?

PC: I think we met well before that.

SM: It all started on the first day of rehearsals at an office like this. We were sitting on two wheelchairs pretending to drive a car and doing a scene in front of our director. But I suspect it was more for him as he was directing a film for the first time. It was meant for him to see whether we could pull it off with the comedy element. We hit it off with a sense of humour. Being a Punjabi and being from North India, it required us to get out of our comfort zones. I think we improvised a lot there and contributed to the inputs.

PC: There can be a lot of friction between two actors who don’t know each other. But we knew each other socially and I never felt the need to explain why I was doing something. There was no discomfort at all. It was a very healthy working relationship. Like, I could just tell him, ‘Listen, you need to speak louder’ or ‘It’s my close-up so I need to do this and that.’ We were comfortable with each other and we got along very well, which really helped. So if you don’t mind spending lunch breaks with your co-actors, it is fun to work with each other.

BOI: February has a very interesting mix of films. Is the fate of your film at the box office a concern for you?

PC: But every Friday is booked with one great film this year. So there is a fight every Friday this year.

SM: I think Feb is really interesting for Bollywood as lots of films are coming up and luckily we have a clean week. Today asking for a second week is too much. You will never get a second week. We were planning to come on January 31 but then Jai Ho, no one wants to come with Jai Ho. It is an interesting month and hopefully it will be good for Bollywood and it makes everybody happy.

BOI: Both of you belong to this young brigade of actors where each one is very talented. Do you keep tabs on who is signing which film and does that affect your career choices?

PC: No, not for me. I don’t think about things like that at all and it’s not because I am selfish or naïve. I feel it really has to do with destiny, and if I don’t do a certain film, it will go to someone else and vice versa. We can tussle over films but it doesn’t matter because it is the audience that decides whether they like us or not.

BOI: Do you have a vague plan about the genres you should be doing?

PC: There is no plan. I feel like doing different things at different times. That’s just how I am. I think planning is absolutely futile in this industry. Films will do well when they have to and when they don’t have to, they won’t even if you have acted very well or people are bored of you. It is really not in your hands.

SM: The only plan I have is to do different stuff. Hasee Toh Phasee and The Villian, which I am doing, are two very different characters. Different films, different directors, different characters. Hopefully, they will showcase my acting ability in different zones. Other than that, I don’t plan ahead because you cannot create content as an actor. Content comes to you and then you choose. The only plan is to make choices that are different and interesting. I have two very different films this year. So maybe I will have a plan next year.

BOI: And, Parineeti, what is your line-up for this year?

PC: Hasee Toh Phasee on the 7th and, next, Daawat-E-Ishq with Aditya Roy Kapur. Then I have Kill Dil with Ranveer Singh.

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