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Of Love, Life & Longing

Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal along with director Anurag Kashyap talk to Bhakti Mehta and Titas Chowdhury about their upcoming film Manmarziyaan and their colourful journey with the movie

Bhakti Mehta (BM): Taapsee, it’s a funny story. The last time Vicky (Kaushal) came to our office and we asked him about you, he told us that Taapsee means ‘Shakti Nagar’…

Vicky Kaushal (VK): (Laughs) I have never been to Shakti Nagar, but I know where it is. It is in Delhi.

Anurag Kashyap (AK): That is true. She is a complete Delhi girl.

Taapsee Pannu (TP): When I feel hungry, especially, the entire Shakti Nagar inside me comes out (Laughs).

BM: Anurag, you are known for a certain genre. You have made it your signature style. Is Manmarziyaan an attempt to break out of that classic style you are known for?

AK: I have no style. I just stick to the subject. It is always the content that dictates the form. Jaisa subject hai, uske hisaab se hum karenge. I wanted to shoot the love story in a certain way. The film is driven more by the two male characters and the energy of the story is driven by their energy. From their energies, we shoot her (Laughs).

BM: Love stories used to be a staple of Bollywood at one point. Now, there are fewer love stories being made. Do you think Manmarziyaan can revive the genre?

AK: No, it’s not like that. When we watch a love story on the screen, we fantasise about having a romance like that in our lives. I love Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. You would love to have that kind of romance in your life. That is the aspirational kind of romance. For me, Manmarziyaan is the kind of romance that we actually have in our lives. This is how love is. This is the nature of love. I have been dying to tell a love story for a long time. I have attempted it in my own way. Dev D was an attempt. Mukkabaaz was another attempt. Manmarziyaan is an out-and-out love story. It talks about relationships. I was not getting the subject. Jab mila toh maine hadap liya (Smiles).

BM: This casting for a love triangle is surprising in a good way. What was your reaction when you found out who was on board?

TP: I have never done a love story before this. It was a good thing for me that I finally got to play a part in a love story, after eight years.

AK: She is just not used to men fighting over her.

BM: But Taapsee, in your first film, Chashme Baddoor, you had guys wooing you.

TP: Yeah, but that was a hardcore comedy. It was not really a love story. When I heard the script, I knew why they wanted me to do it (Laughs).

Abhishek Bachchan (AB): She was like, ‘Oh, achcha (Laughs)!”

AK: After my first meeting with her, I took Kanika (Dhillon) aside and said to her, ‘This is Rumi! She need not do anything to play her’ (Laughs).

TP: That was my reaction too. Anurag directing a love story… the surprise factor was not really the first thing that came to mind. I have not watched too many of his films. I have only watched two or three. I didn’t come in with any ideas of doing things in a certain, structured way.

BM: What did you feel when you found out that Vicky and Abhishek were on board?

TP: Vicky’s character in the film, which is also named Vicky, seemed like his alter ego, and Robbie is a Ramji type, just like Abhishek (Laughs). The characters were exactly as we are. They came very close to our real lives. The only person who was out of character was Anurag.

AK: Actually, I was the most in-character in the film.

VK: Alter-ego!

AK: My alter-ego directed my other films. (Laughs).

TP: This is the first time ever that Anurag Kashyap was his real self in a film.

BM: The closet romantic!

TP: Yeah, very. Where do you think fyaar and all are coming from?

BM: Abhishek, what about you? What connected you to this character?

AB: Firstly, I think every actor brings a part of themselves to the characters they play. Also, there is something in the character that they associate with and that pulls them towards it. You will always try and find a similarity, a link. Maybe that is how an actor accepts the role that he is doing. How do I make it mine? How do I make it seem as natural as possible? My character Robbie has a lot of qualities that I would love to have, starting with patience. I am a bit impatient. He is very resolute. He is very strong. There is always a give-and-take between actors and characters. You always take something away from the character that you play, because in the process of living it, you always end up learning so much.

BM: Vicky, what about you and your bizarre character?

TP: (Cuts in) That is his alter-ego.

AK: This is the most relatable character for him.

TP: Yeah, that is his alter-ego. That is he himself. Tell them!

VK: Should I speak?

TP: Yes, speak.

VK: Only an Anurag Kashyap or an Aanand L Rai could have seen Vicky Sandhu in me. Only they could have cast me for a part like this. I am grateful that I had a director like Anurag Kashyap, who did not want me to just showcase characteristics, but also explore the character. It was an experience that I cherish. It was an experience that I really enjoyed, just being Vicky Sandhu. He does not think of consequences. He is not programmed like that. I am programmed like that. I think of consequences a lot. Just to be that character for four months and try to play him every day was a liberating process for me.

BM: Vicky, this is the third film that you are doing with Anurag as an actor. You had assisted him before as well. Does the comfort level get better with every film?

VK: I think so. We say that our journey has gone from him being my mentor to now a buddy and friend.

AK: I realise that the way in which I talk to him now is very different from the way I used to talk to him during Raman Raghav 2.0. During that film, I was constantly telling him what to do, where to push, where not to push. Now, we talk like friends. The change happened very organically. All of the characters in this film are realistic. The only character that is slightly aspirational is Robbie. A lot of men wish to be like him, but are not like him. They do not have that kind of patience. This is something that Neeraj Ghaywan told me after he saw the film. He said that Robbie is that character all men want to be. There are people like that, but they get there much later in life.  

BM: We have heard that on an Anurag Kashyap set, scenes are often changed at the last minute. Abhishek and Taapsee, you were working with him for the first time. What was the experience like?

TP: Yeah, but it is not just he who does that. I have worked with other directors who do that.  

AK: It is not that we are changing the scene. We are finding the best version of that scene.

TP: It’s improving the scene. You should know what the scene should convey, and then you probably change it here and there. The agenda of the scene stays the same. We build on it.

VK: Anurag sir thrives on the unpredictability of a scene – what can happen in that situation then and there? He really thrives on that. He loves it when a scene goes wrong. He doesn’t say cut. When a scene is not going according to the script, he explores what might happen next in that world. If a scene goes a different way, he really wants to see that take. That is exactly where he would not say cut.

AK: That is how some very good scenes come about (Laughs). One of the most famous instances is the chase sequence in Gangs Of Wasseypur. It happened like that.

VK: Can I give a gist of that chase?

BM: Yes, please.

VK: I was an assistant director on that film. There was this sequence where Definite walks into Rajkummar Rao’s house with a gun, saying maar doonga, and Rajkummar is shitting in his pants ki arre nahi nahi nahi, and the gun is not working.

AK: In the shot, the gun stopped working. The actor was fumbling with it. I didn’t say cut and the actor was so scared about what to do, but they continued with the scene.

VK: Rajkummar picked up a stick and now that guy was afraid. Raj was now the one with the weapon, and he ran behind Definite. Definite had come on a bike and was supposed to escape on the bike. Instead, he forgot about the bike and started running in the gullies. Raj started running behind him. We shot all of it and then we needed a culmination.

AK: That’s how it became a chase sequence. Then we decided to shoot a chase sequence, one hour each day, for nine days.

VK: That was a guerilla shoot and that was Chhi chha ledar, a song in GOW2. It was a unit of 12 people who did the guerilla shoot in the streets of Banaras. I was the only assistant director on the shoot.

AK: We used to create real traffic jams by parking three scooters here and there.

VK: We were shooting the whole song with one camera and that’s how that song and that chase sequence came about, because he didn’t say cut.

AB: I can believe this. The first two or three times that he doesn’t say cut, as actors you just stop. Then you realise that this is by design. Not a case of shayad ye bhool gaye ho, ya so gaye hain, ya the shot was so bad that you put the director to sleep (Everyone laughs). You realise that this is part of his approach; that he is not going to say cut. And you don’t want to let go of the shot either. It kind of gives the actor leeway to become the character.

AK: This is when an actor becomes a character.

Titas Chowdhury (TC): Abhishek, you have been sharing a lot of memories from Manmarziyaan on Instagram lately. Looking back now, what has this journey been like for you?

AB: It’s been magical. It is one of the happiest professional experiences of my life. I feel so blessed and thankful to whoever the powers be that made this happen.

TC: What about you guys?

TP: I just had to be myself (Laughs).

BM: We could see that from the trailer.

VK (imitating TP): Bas yeh mere ghar pe hi nahi aaye the, baaki toh, I felt at-home.

TP: It was so nice to arrive on the set without having to get ready after I coloured my hair. Vicky used to arrive on the set while I was still waking up because he had to start getting ready two hours earlier, for his tattoos and hair colour. I used to arrive aaram se just 20 minutes before the shoot. We ordered pakodas on the set and I didn’t need to remember long lines. It was almost like saying whatever came to my mind. It was, like, ja, Simran, jee le apni zindagi.

VK: I was pretty much the same. Ja, Simran, jee le apni zindagi.

TP: You are also Simran (Laughs)?

VK: I was the only heroine in the film, na. It has been a very liberating process. Something I used to look forward to every morning. When you get a chance to just let go, it is always a process that you end up enjoying.

AK: (To AB) For you, it was, like, ‘Aa, Simran, jee le apni zindag (Everyone laughs).

TP: This is what used to happen on the set.

AB: So true. You put it in a cool way but I was thinking that I never felt like that. It was the complete opposite (Laughs).

TC: Anurag sir, at a time when filmmakers are trying to cut down on songs, what made you decide to have a film with 14 songs in it?

AK: I love music.

VK: Best time to come out with an album like this.

AK: Hollywood movies have albums jisme 20-25 songs hote hai. Those songs are used in the background but we used to stop the narrative for the song to begin. Now we’re seeing that less and less. Ab, humari kahani rukti nahi hai.

TP: Why did you put those nachne-waale gaane in your film, can you please say?

AK: Because humara narrative aage jaa raha hai naachne se. The first song I shot was pure exploitation. I know Vicky Kaushal, we used to shoot for Gangs of Wasseypur, and when everyone sat around at night wanting to be entertained, we used to tell Vicky, who was the youngest there, ki naach.

AB: He is a superb dancer.

AK: Not just a superb dancer, from Sham Kaushal sir I have seen his videos of action and all. I was like, you people have made him an achha bachcha. No one makes him dance, no one makes him do action, so I have decided that I will change his achha bachcha wala image in every film. That’s how I took him on for Raman Raghav…, opening mein hi dance karta hai, and in this also he dances. That was Vicky’s exploitation (Laughs).

TC: Abhishek, there are a lot of comedies in your recent filmography. With this film, are you trying to signal a return to the intense roles you did in Yuva and Guru, which we all loved?

AB: I don’t think there is any such plan of marking any return. I have always been very instinctive about the films that I do. How they release or when they are made is not something that is in my hands. I instinctively react to a script and I say yes based on that instinct. It was never like ‘Oh… I am going to do this kind of film’. That has to be a very emotional process. That can’t be a strategic process.

BM: Vicky, 2018 is practically your year. We have seen you in Love Per Square Foot, Raazi, Sanju, Lust Stories and even in ads. Do you ever fear over-exposure?

AB: Arre haan. Vicky has proudly sent us videos of the ad on WhatsApp and told us, ‘My ad, my ad’. (Laughs).

VK: I’ll tell you what. That ad was very important to me because three or four years earlier, when I was doing the rounds of auditions, knocking on doors and asking, ‘Sir, am I fit for the part?’ they were casting for an ad. There were already a hundred boys in the room. I went in and this person just looked me up and down and said, ‘It’s a deodorant ad.’ I knew what he meant, but again I asked, ‘Sir, am I fit for the ad?’ I would not leave until he said ‘no’. So he said, ‘Okay, come.’ Everyone in that room was like a Gladrags model and I was this tall, lanky fellow who was nothing like them but I wanted to give that audition. I gave the audition and it was kind of humiliating. That day I was like…

AB: Ek din main deo ki ad karoonga…

VK: Yes! That’s why this ad is so important to me. When I got a call for this ad, I said I don’t want to think or listen to anything; I am doing this ad and let me know the shoot date.

BM: Anurag sir, last year, when things were not going well for the industry, a lot of people feared it was because the digital medium was taking over. As someone who has been a director for both mediums, what is your take
on this?

AK: I feel they will complement each other. The digital medium has made my life easier, made my audience visible. I am learning that if for some films people don’t come to watch them in the first weekend, or the theatre can’t sustain it, I can straightaway make it for digital. Other than that, everything is for the cinema. It has very cleanly separated my life. I have had four films that are sustainable on digital, That Girl In Yellow Boots, Ugly, Raman Raghav 2.0, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. I know that the audience is there for these films and they do not come to cinemas. These are people who watch on their own time.

BM: Do you think differently when you’re making films versus a web series?

AK: It is very simple. I make a film that I want to make. When a producer is reluctant, it’s like let’s take this film to Netflix. It often happens that producers feel a particular film won’t have an audience.

TC: Finally, for all of you, when the audience goes to watch this film, what would you suggest to them, pyaar or fyaar?

AB: The message this movie gives is, you don’t have to choose, you do what you want to do.

TP: That’s the title of the song.

AK: That you’ll find out after watching this film.

AB: Do what’s good for you.

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