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Mixing It Up

Exploring the unique genre of horror-comedy, the team of Nanu Ki Jaanu, including director Faraz Haider, lead actors Abhay Deol and Patralekhaa, and writer-actor Manu Rishi, talk to Team Box Office India about their upcoming film

Box Office India (BOI): Faraz, you are returning to direction after five years. Why such a long gap? And what was it about this particular story that prompted you to don the director’s hat again?

Faraz Haider (FH): Five years ago, I directed my first movie, which was War Chod Na Yaar. It was a war comedy in a genre that had never been attempted in Bollywood before. For a new director, it is very important to do something unique. Hence, I did a film which had a novel concept that no one had thought of earlier.

After that, I did another movie called Ticket To Bollywood, which unfortunately couldn’t be completed due to an accident. We were shooting in London and an accident had occurred there, due to which we still have to finish some filming for the movie. After that came Nanu Ki Jaanu. The screenplay, story and dialogue have been written by Mr Manu Rishi here. The story was originally taken from a South film. But, when I heard the plot I thought it would be great if the horror comedy genre could be adapted to this story. I thought it would make for a very interesting script.

The reason I say this is because no matter how much you include the fun, entertainment and emotion factors in this story, there is also a message. That is very important to me. As a filmmaker, we have the responsibility to send out a social message along with our films, along with entertainment. Only then is it a great medium.

When the script of this film was finalised, I fell in love with it. And then, Abhay (Deol) came on board. His was the first name that came to me. I thought he would love the story too because ever since our Oye Lucky Lucky Oye days, where I was an assistant director, I knew the kind of films he likes and prefers to do.

We narrated the script to him; he liked it and said yes. I had seen Patralekhaa’s performance in her film City Lights. When I was looking for the female lead, who is named Siddhi in the movie, or you could call her the ghost character, I wanted a strong performer. Hence, I approached Patralekhaa.

BOI: Abhay, your choice of films has always been unique. What was the unique element in your character in this movie which made you say yes to Faraz?

Abhay Deol (AD): First, let me tell you that both Manu and Faraz were both very badly behaved. The producer of this film, Sajid Qureshi, had come to me with another film and they crashed that meeting. (Laughs). I was confused between the two then. I was, like, Sajid bhai you are talking about this story but Manu is saying this… which film are we talking about?

Then Manu said that meri film alag hai and ismein Faraz bhi involved hai. Woh doosri movie ke baare mein Sajid bhai aap baat kar lijiye. Then I heard what Sajid had to say and I asked Manu if I had to listen to their script also. He then pitched his own film. This is how it all started and I think people should know this (Laughs). But, because we have a rapport, we have worked together before, they were obviously welcome to the meeting.

When I heard that they had something for me, I was happy and excited. I was hoping that I would like it because the comfort level was already there. I heard their script and really liked it. Also, another advantage in their favour was that their script was ready and the one that Sajid bhai was pitching was not yet complete. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and while going through it, I could see both Faraz and Manu’s inputs in it. I have known them for so long, so I knew how much work they had put into it and that it was a brilliant collaboration. That made me even more positive about doing this movie.

Also, I think the combination of these two genres, horror and comedy, is very unique. These are two completely opposite emotions and we have straddled them perfectly in this film. These two things together give the film an edge, and keeping that edge going throughout the story, with that character, that plot, was a fun challenge for me.

We knew it worked on paper, and if it combined well with performance and direction, we would have a great product in hand. The hope actually stemmed from the product itself. This one had a quirkiness that attracted me. It is a fun, family-friendly film. There are moments that are somewhat scary and mysterious but it is largely a comedy, an entertainer.

I try and do that middle-of-the-road kind of film always, whether it is a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Socha Na Tha or Dev D. All these films have been on this middle path, that have the superficial trappings of mainstream cinema but the approach lends some kind of originality. This combination of horror comedy in Nanu Ki Jaanu did that for me.

BOI: Manu, what was the germ of the idea that helped you write this story?

Manu Rishi (MR): There was a one-line plot to the movie which I really liked and then I wanted to figure out how to get this idea across to people. I have known Faraz for years and both of us think that no matter how deep or philosophical the subject is, if we put it forward in an entertaining way, it can always be improved.

The one line that drew me to write this story was that there is a ghost who falls in love with a living human being. Then, we found our message, our philosophy around which we conceived our story. Faraz and I started working on it quite a bit aur hum iss plot ke aas paas khichdi banate rahe. Phir khichdi bante bante biryani ban gayi. It was fun. This is a process that rarely works. You cannot say that you created the whole script based on one line but this script stemmed from there and so it is extra special. After that, you adapt from everything around you, people around you, and use them as an experience to write the script.

BOI: Patralekhaa, when were you approached for the film?

Patralekhaa: Sajid Qureshi, who is the producer, told me about this film and gave me the script. When I read it, I really liked it. It’s funny, it’s quirky and it has its heart in the right place. Then, I met Faraz and it clicked. So, I thought, why not?

BOI: Abhay, you said earlier that you like to do middle-of-the-road films and you have been doing that since the beginning of your career. Do you think the audience is more accepting of it now than they were before?

AD: There is definitely more acceptance from the audience, which makes filmmakers stray from formulaic films, a little. It has not gone the distance, though. You can’t say that we are completely there. You cannot be provocative and get away with it, which ironically, is the essence of art. The essence, the idea, is to provoke something in the audience. The most provocation we do is using sex, with so-called ‘bold’ films coming out. That is their idea of being different.

But that is a beginning. It is easy to be provocative through sex and violence. When you are allowed to stray a little from the mainstream, people will jump on the easiest things first. I think that is happening with us right now. People are taking the easy route to being different. After they have had their fill of that, they will take the next step, which is being provocative in thought or in use of our culture or in your stand against something, maybe the cast, for example. When we start to look at our culture from the outside, looking in, that is when we will make the real jump from formulaic movies to non-formulaic ones. Right now, it is just the beginning.

BOI: Faraz, your first film was a war comedy and this is a horror comedy. Why is the comedy aspect important to you in your films?

AD: He is actually a comedian in real life. (Laughs)

FH: Each film director has their own different style. Some make emotional movies, some make slapstick comedies and others make pure horror films, among many others. I thought that I should also set a pattern for myself. I also want to make films in all kinds of genres. My first film was a war movie, which had comedy attached to it and this horror film also has comedy attached to it.

I am fascinated by comedy because I have written many scripts on these lines. I have a thriller film with comedy, a political film with comedy and of course a romantic movie with comedy. I believe that any situation, message or subject, if said with humour and entertainment, is easier to get through to the audience. And, because this is the entertainment industry, it is an aspect I want to have in my films.

BOI: Manu, as a writer, how did you balance these two different types of genres?

MR: It is not all that difficult. As I said before, there is one thought that gives you the inspiration to create a whole story. And, then we add the things that we experience to the story and woh add karte karte ek formula ban jaata hai. So, it is not really difficult.

If the first thought connects with you properly, it is not difficult to go with the flow, especially since you have an upbringing of a writer as well as of an actor. Then, comes the part where the director has to understand what you want to say. If I want to say something which is very deep, and I want to say it in a funny way because that is the kind of person I am, then I will mix these two emotions and write a scene accordingly.

The director has to understand where I am coming from. It is not rocket science. If you don’t connect to that one-liner, then it comes across as fake. But, if you connect, that is how you conceive the story or dialogue.

BOI: Taking that question forward, when was it decided that you would also play a supporting character?

FH: Let me answer this question. If I had announced early on that Manu Rishi would be playing a character in the film, it might have influenced his writing (Laughs).

MR: No, no. That is not possible.

FH: I didn’t give him any inkling that I would make him play a part in the film, even though I had always intended it, especially when Abhay came to mind for his character. I knew that in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, their pair was liked by the audience and it just might be the same for this film also. But, Manu bhai never told me that he wanted to do this role nor did I ask him to be a part of it, initially. It came into the open only when I narrated the script to Abhay and told him that this is what I had been thinking.

MR: People think of things like this, like Faraz did, but I think I enjoy writing more than I do acting. My commitment is stronger to writing. When scripting, it is important to meet deadlines as there is a lot riding on it. If a role you like comes along while you are scripting, you are not able to take it up. But, yes, I do look for a chance to satisfy the actor in me.

FH: Yeh greed actually Oye Lucky se hai, when I was the first AD of the film and I used to prepare the schedule of the film. Manu bhai came on board at a later stage for the role. The dates for Abhay were being matched with those of other people, and Manu was keeping an eye on me, to see if I would have removed his name.

MR: And, I used to always catch Faraz for this. Baakio se darr lagta tha, hence I used to catch a hold of him. All of them are friends, the others who were considered for the role. For example, from UTV, there were Raj Joshi, Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav and Pawan Malhotra. And, Pawan was almost finalised. But, he got involved with Delhi 6 and hence it became difficult for him to come on board.

FH: Par dates mere haath mein the and I had control over it. I was making the schedule and Manu bhai had promised to treat me on the old streets of Delhi if he had been finalised for the film. So, the moment he was, when we told him he was doing the role, he kept his promise. Unfortunately, he didn’t treat me for this film (Laughs).

MR: Khilaunga na abhi, Delhi ka curry meat khilaunga.

BOI: Abhay, comedy comes naturally to you and we have seen you comic side in many films. Are you more comfortable acting in this genre than in others?

AD: I wouldn’t say that I am more comfortable in one genre compared to another. I change my approach to each one of them; I am as comfortable in drama as I am in comedy. It is just that with comedy, it is a lot lighter and a lot more fun making a film. For example, when it is a comedy film, you can goof off and joke around on the sets, and in between shots. That is what makes it easier to stay in that zone.

When it is a dramatic film, it is difficult to have a good laugh on the sets, and if you have a certain scene with your co-star, it takes a little concentration. But, I enjoy both genres. I like to believe that I am comfortable in both. I am essentially an actor first, which means I should be comfortable in all genres. My public can tell whether I am better in one genre or another. That’s criticism you also take from the filmmakers you work with or the audience who watches your film.

I have, kind of, been accepted in both. People have enjoyed Happy Bhaag Jayegi, Socha Na Tha as much as they have enjoyed Shanghai and Dev D or an Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, or Manorama. So, I have always made an attempt to explore all kinds of genres. My personal favourite is dark comedy. This film too, kind of, straddles the dark and the comic zones. It is a very, very tragic film, and comedy is about tragedy. It is a very funny film; the comedy comes out of its tragedy, so to speak.

In a comic scene, you are not playing up the comic character; then you are just laughing at yourself and that isn’t funny. You actually have to cry in pain and writhe in your misery, so that the other person laughs. It is more drama than comedy.

BOI: Patralekhaa, we have seen you do a lot of dramatic films and thrillers. We last saw you in a historical series, Bose: Dead or Alive. Was this film a breather for you?

Patralekhaa: Of course. When I walk onto the sets of a film which revolves around drama, the people on the sets kind of get into the same zone, because it is their job. They are restricted to behaving in a certain way so as to not break the mould, so on and so forth. But, this film had a happy bunch of people laughing and goofing around. We had a great time working with each other. For the first time, I walked onto a set without the stress of performing because Faraz sir would tell me not to stress about anything. He gave me the space to perform the scenes in the way I wanted to. I thought this was really cool.

BOI: How do you conceptualise a scene where there is an invisible character?

FH: It is an integral part of filmmaking. For instance, when we take a close-up of an actor, it is possible that nobody is present in front of him. But, still the actors are required to perform, so it is already a part of filmmaking… how to act and how to direct even when there is nobody in front of you.

This film has many scenes where the ghost is not present and there are scenes where the ghost is present. There is a process we share with the actor to enact such situations. When we have actors like Abhay Deol and Patralekhaa, it is easy to make them understand the situation. The performance unfolds naturally and it is not very difficult to make someone perform when one of the characters is invisible in the film.

BOI: In the trailer, we see Manu and Abhay perform so naturally, reacting to the invisible entity. How did you execute that part?

MR: The writer inside me also helped me to imagine the situation very clearly. I could imagine that the ghost was somewhere around me, and when a ghost is present, we are supposed to get scared. If the writer has written that there is a ghost in the story, and also an actor, I am more prone to reacting rather than acting. Hence, if there is something that has been written, I am supposed to react. It is a little easier for me since I know what there is in the script.

AD: It was a funny thing because when I read the script, I realised that half the time I would be talking to the freaking wall! But, I was excited because I hadn’t done that before. It was a bit of a challenge. As Manu said, it is easier when you have an actor in front of you to react to. Here, you are kind of imagining stuff and then reacting. But, since it is also a comedy, it made it slightly easier for us.

BOI: As actors and the director, how diligently do you follow box office numbers?

FH: Box office numbers definitely matter to everyone because when the numbers are high, we are encouraged to make more films. And, if the numbers are not good enough, we are disappointed because of what we have put into it. There is also a sense of responsibility, the need to respect the trust of those who have invested in our project.

We also want the film to work and connect with the audience. More and more people should watch the film, and that in turn will help increase the box office numbers. It ultimately gives us makers a lot of courage to make different films.

Patralekhaa: Does it matter? Well, as an actress, not as much as the leading men in the industry, but, of course who doesn’t want their film to make a lot of money? When that happens, we get more offers.

MR: In our industry, we follow the commerce of a film very closely. Nobody shares the numbers when a film makes a profit but when an independent producer comes on board and invests his own money in a film, it is important for his film to become a hit because he has just joined the industry. He has contributed something to cinema in terms of money as well. When a film is made, a spotboy gets a job, or an assistant cameraman, or a production person. In fact, the entire industry is impacted.

Film ka hit hona, or the numbers made at the box office, is different. I have worked in a lot of small films jinhone kuch kuch kamal bhi ki hai, like Phas Gaya Re Obama. When independent producers come and if their film works, they should make more films and not venture into construction and invest in another industry. This really doesn’t contribute to the survival of the industry in terms of good films.

AD: I don’t really keep tabs on the numbers except for my own films. I think it all depends on a lot of other factors. First, if the product is bad or good, then the marketing and distribution, and for you to understand how that comes together, you have to look at the box office numbers. 

BOI: What are you expecting the audience to take back from the film?

MR: The film is in a good space and we can expect it to be watched by a lot of people. The box office factor should get underlined and this film should become a hit, that’s what we are hoping.

AD: Oh, yeah, for sure. I hope people are entertained. Since we have made this film with so much passion, we are expecting the same reaction from the audience.

BOI: What is next on the slate after Nanu Ki Jaanu?

MR: I have written a film called Rajma Chawal to be directed by Leena Yadav. I have also done an important role in the film. I am also working with a new director and a new producer. I am writing a web series for Amazon. Kabir Khan is involved in it as a producer. Megha Ramaswamy is coming up with a new film, The Odds. Abhay is also in the film.

AD: You don’t even have lines in the film, in the sense that his character is really wacko and weird.

MR: The way she has directed me, it is just amazing.

FH: I am ready with my two scripts; I just have to decide which one I am willing to go with first. I am busy with promotions of this film right now.

Patralekhaa: I am reading a few scripts and am talking with Hansal Mehta sir.

AD: I have a good mix of films and I am really grateful to have got this opportunity. They are JL50, which is the name of a flight. It is a Canadian production but a Hindi film. I have two Indo-American productions The Field and The Odds, a Tamil film IVSK, and a cameo in Zero. I will also start a film called Salat in June and some other films that I have said yes to.

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