Himesh Reshammiya on his new film, Teraa Surroor, his casting coup and wearing many hats all at once.
Box Office India (BOI): Apart from the music and your look in the film, people are talking about the look of Teraa Surroor as well.
Himesh Reshammiya (HR): Credit for that goes to the one year we spent on pre-production. In terms of production design, the idea was to work really hard and get our two-hour edited script on paper, which saves which saves half the cost since you know exactly what you have to shoot. Dublin, Ireland, played a very important role in the film and the place is a character in itself in the film. The film is set in Dublin and the girl Tara and the boy Raghu are madly in love. Tara gets caught in Dublin and gets framed in a conspiracy. The film is an escape thriller about how Raghu goes to Dublin and gets her out of prison. He designs her escape with a plan hatched by Robin Dharamraj Santino, played by Naseeruddin Shah, who has fled jail 14 times. Raghu has to find out who the man behind the conspiracy is, and who this man called Anirudh Brahmin is. We don’t know who Anirudh Brahmin is and why he is after Raghu and Tara. So how Raghu finds this out and whether he is involved in the conspiracy is a big question mark. It is an edge-of-the-seat thriller but the core of the subject is the love story. The term ‘surroor’ is all about romance. So this is the love story of Raghu and Tara. The music takes the story forward.
Had we shot the film in any other country, it would have been very expensive to get the kind of permissions we got in Dublin. We also had 14 hours of daylight, so we used to shoot from 7am to 10pm and managed to complete the film in 35 days and with `6.5 crore. A lot of workshops and nine to 10 months of planning went into the film, and we have used a drone in a very big way. It is a savior for filmmakers because using a drone can be cheap yet it gives you those grand, chopper shots which we usually can’t take in India due to lack of permission.
And, of course, credit goes to the planning and support of all the artistes. They are veterans and they helped us finish the film on time. I mean, Shekhar Kapurji was not even well, which we learnt only after we completed the schedule. He was running a high fever as it was very cold in Dublin. It was difficult to shoot from 7am till night in Dublin but that schedule was very important and an integral part of the story and it went off very well.
BOI: You had a very interesting supporting cast, particularly Naseeruddin Shah, Shekhar Kapur and Kabir Bedi. How did that come about?
HR: This film is very fast-paced, so we didn’t have time to spend on screenplay in terms of establishing each character. There are scenes with Naseer saab and Shekhar Kapur and Kabir Bedi which take the story forward, so we needed actors and personalities who could establish a character in two minutes flat. For instance, you are familiar with a character like Robin Dharamraj Santino, who has fled jail 14 times and wrote his autobiography while in jail. He designs the escape plan for Raghu to get Tara out. A newcomer would not have justified this role and the actor would have also taken a lot of time to establish the character.
But when you introduce Naseeruddin Shah as Robin Dharamraj, you know what he means in a fraction of a second, and he means business. The characters of Rajveer Kaul, the Indian ambassador in Dublin played by Shekhar Kapur, and Kabir Bedi as the commissioner Afzal Khan, were larger-than-life and their personalities were such that you could immediately relate to them. Therefore, you don’t need to spend time establishing their characters.
I believe that casting the right actors is half the job done and we couldn’t have made this film without them. So when Naseer saab read the script, I requested him to do the film and he very graciously obliged. It was the same with Shekhar Kapurji and Kabir Bediji. It was a casting coup but the film is something… I mean, our tagline now is ‘A lethal love story’ which was earlier supposed to be ‘In their supremacy, he was an extreme’. That was the whole concept. Yes, it was a casting coup but working with them was also a learning experience for me. I am obliged and also inspired.
BOI: Everyone expected you to make a sequel to The Xposé after the success of the film. How did this film come into the picture?
HR: The script for The Xposé sequel was taking a lot of time to complete but it is now ready. Nowadays, it takes at least a year to get a good script ready and get things right. Otherwise, you tend to over-shoot and the editing, planning and pre-production take at least a year too, to give a film a grand look and simultaneously be cost-effective. And, at HR Musik, we wanted to do something in the whole module of how the Bhatt’s function in terms of the costing and give the film a grand look. I have experience in production design as I was producing TV serials and my music videos. So I always want to deliver a good look with the right budget. Now that it is ready, we are starting The Xposé 2 from May-June and have begun casting. In the meantime, we were ready with this script for which we got the right light in Dublin, as also the permissions and facilities. And then the cast and everything else fell in place.
The challenge was to find the girl. The word ‘surroor’ has been very lucky for me and it has also been lucky for Deepika (Padukone), who was introduced in the music video. It was the same was with Hansika Motwane, who is a big name down South now. The girl in the film is very important and her character is very important as it is a love story and she needed to carry the songs and also get the look right.
For the character of Tara Bronson Wadia, we needed not only a good performer but also a stunning looker. We auditioned a few girls and finally got our Tara. And with the action sequences in the film, it was very important that I seriously hit the gym to get into shape, which I did.
BOI: How many months did it take for you to get in shape?
HR: A year, because to get abs naturally takes time, otherwise you can also develop them in six months. To get them naturally, one needs to follow a strict eating and exercising regimen. It took me a year to get the look. So after The Xposé,I started working on the look and the script. I was also busy with my music, reality show and music shows. But finally the film was shot in one schedule, between September and October.
BOI: Did you also undergo action training?
HR: Yes, Abbas Ali Moghul, our action director, gave me a lot of training. I am very grateful to him for being patient while we were practicing as it took me some time to learn the tough action scenes. We also had to make it look real.
BOI: Creatively, how demanding is it when you are making the music for your own films?
HR: Very, but nowadays I am doing barely any music for films. I actually want to do one or two films so that I can live up to the track record of 658 songs. And this is my 100th film with T-Series. I have completed 120 films and ‘Surroor’ is a very important part of my life. It is also a huge brand name. So I have to live up to the expectations of the music.
First, I used to have around 300 tunes; now I do 700-800 tunes. Now I also do ‘sampling’. I call people, sample and select 30-40 and again select eight to 10 songs so that I can live up to expectations because I don’t want to spoil my track record. The songs Bekhudi and Main woh chaandare doing very well. And we have retained Assalam vaalekum and Tanhaiyaan from the original track. We have them as background tracks in this film. So the music takes the story forward.
BOI: How did the collaboration with T-Series happen?
HR: Bhushanji was always there but he came on board once the songs and the script were locked. It was a big task to work out the costs because nowadays it’s all about pricing and this is the new mantra – to create a good product on a tight budget. That was something we designed together. Then Dublin fell into place and the rest of the cast offered tremendous support in terms of the budget.
BOI: Is it true that you have already recovered your investment?
HR: Completely. It’s not a very big-budget film and it’s been sold to distributors in various circuits in India at a very economical price. So recovery is not an issue because I am very happy with the product. I am looking forward to the film’s release as eventually it’s all about word-of-mouth publicity. We are hoping that March 11 works for us.
BOI: In terms of story, does it have any connection to Aap Kaa Surroor?
HR: No, it’s not a sequel. The zone of the film is the same but it is not a sequel. We have taken the brand name forward, which is very important these days and we have also taken songs from the first part. That was the story of a rockstar; this is the story of an assassin or the guy next door. He is just a car dealer for the girl and for the cops, I am the assassins but no one knows what he is all about. He is this intense guy and we get to know who he actually is only in the end. But in terms of the zone of the film… with grand visuals, overseas locations, good music, a love story with a thriller, action, a completely reinvented look for me and a different supporting cast, it is in the zone of ‘surroor’but is not connected to the previous story in any way.
BOI: Although the meaning is the same, why have you titled it ‘Teraa Surroor’? Why not Aap Kaa Surroor 2 or something similar?
HR: These days, brand recall is very important. The background score goes Tera tera tera surroor, and Assalam vaalekum and Tanhaiyaan are there as action and romance background scores, that really helps take the story forward. We wanted to use those tracks and that is why the ideal title was Teraa Surroor. So the title is the song we have recreated and used as an integral part of the film.
BOI: Tell us about the response you have received for the trailer.
HR: It has been very good in terms of my look, and the girl (Farah Karimi) is getting a very good reaction too. The casting by Kunal M Shah is being talked about, the way the film has been shot is being talked about and, of course, the music is catching on. People are saying it is a grand looking film at the right price.
BOI: What was it like working with Naseeruddin saab, Shekharji and Kabirji?
HR: Naseer sir is a genius and, when he is acting, you can’t take your eyes off him. He completely gets into the skin of the character and that was something I tried to learn from him. He goes into minor details while acting. He is also a thorough professional and a very good human being. He is simply amazing as Robin Dharamraj Santino, the character he plays in the film. Shekhar Kapurji has also done a fantastic job. No one else but he could have played an Indian Ambassador so well. It was a tailor-made film for Shekharji, which he didn’t accept initially but I pursued him and he was gracious enough to say ‘yes’. It was the same with Kabir Bediji, who plays a commissioner in the film. Everyone keeps wondering whether he is a good guy or a bad guy!
BOI: Before a film goes on the floors, you as the producer want to keep the budget in control. But once you start shooting on the sets, do you also look at the production aspect?
HR: No, once I start acting, I don’t look into anything else. I have my team who does that. But in terms of my look and production design, a lot of hard work goes into pre-production, where I am completely involved in the music and the look of the film. To get it economically right, the most important factor is the location and that facilities should be available at a very low cost.
BOI: What do you expect on March 11?
HR: The economics are already set but I am expecting good feedback. We are happy with the way the film has shaped up. Also, we have a solo release, which is difficult to get these days. I am just hopeful that we will sail through positively.
BOI: And then onto The Xposé 2?
HR: Yes, then I have Xposé 2, and then I have signed a film as a composer, and a reality show, and then I have an international album as well. The live shows are already lined up, and there are new songs and again, I keep composing because today it is all about reinvention.
BOI: So is it Wembley again for Himesh Reshammiya?
HR: Yes, I will definitely visit London again very soon. I just performed at the World Forum theatre, which was a historic show. I performed at Heineken and it was a huge arena.
BOI: How much does your music composition career help you as a producer?
HR: Completely, not only as a producer but as a singer and as an actor too. As a singer, I was able to get those compositions to sing. Otherwise, if a great singer gets average compositions, he cannot be a hit singer. In much the same way, as a composer, it helps me sell my film at a price which helps me recover my budget and my cost. Hit music is a very important factor in terms of bringing down marketing costs. When you have about five songs to promote, you don’t have to spend that extra `3-4 crore, which is needed if you don’t have songs. So people think it is expensive to have songs but it actually covers your costs and reduces your burden. If music was not an integral part of my career, it would have been difficult for me to survive. Music is definitely the main pillar of all that I have achieved.
BOI: Reinventing oneself is easier said than done. How do you manage it every single time, especially with your songs?
HR: I think motivation and keeping track of what young composers are doing, and learning from them is something you really have to be open about. What will work in 2017 has to be tracked now and then one has to start working on it. I have also been reinventing myself in terms of sound design. I also wanted to test myself with the music of Sanam Teri Kasam,which did really well. It was a small film and I knew the promotional budget was low. The tracking is going to be zero, the directors are new, the producers are relatively new even though they have been in the industry for a while. So it was a test case for whether a good song can work on its own with very little promotion and less tracking.
It is easy to deliver a hit with Salman bhai because his presence is half the job done, Jumme ki raat worked because of Salman bhai. It can’t work with everybody. In Sanam Teri Kasam, I am happy that Keench meri photo and the title track worked with very little promotion. That is what reinvention is, in terms of music. The compositional flavours were in the zone of RD Burman but in a new zone. So I tried that and, again with Teraa Surroor, I had to completely mix those old tunes and then keep three to four fresh songs.
BOI: Which singer do you think suits your voice when you are acting?
HR: Dard dilo ke kam ho jaate was sung by (Mohammed) Irrfan, who is very good. Arijit (Singh) has done Wafa ne bewafai. And I gave Darshan (Raval) a break with Bekhudi. So, as a composer, I felt these two songs had to be sung by Darshan and Arijit and not in my own voice. I sang the title track with Badshah, Teri yaad, and used the older track Ishq samundar which was recreated. Nowadays, it is not about the voice suiting the hero but about the singer suiting the composition.
If there is a singer who is doing well and surviving, it is Arijit. I think he is the best. He is a music director’s delight He has great pick-up sense and you never get bored of listening to his voice. That is very rare nowadays because even if you like a voice, you don’t want to listen to the same singer after, say, five songs. It wasn’t like that when I started my career, when we used to work with singers who used to sing 100 songs and we still did not get bored.