Box Office India (BOI): Amole, why do you make films with only children as protagonists?
Amole Gupte (AG): That’s because Partho is a kid. Once he grows up, I won’t be able to make these films, na! No, I am just joking. I am using cinema as a medium because I am a student of cinema. But the whole point is that issues that affect children are never or anybody’s agenda because kids have no voting rights. I am raising consciousness about children in this wonderful nation which does not know how to treat kids.
BOI: After Stanley Ka Dabba, this is your next with Partho. How much has he grown as an actor over the course of these two films?
AG: All of us are evolving and I find it extremely preposterous when people say that, haan, he can become a good actor. I say, ‘Donkey, he is already a good actor! Or do I have to show more of the 11 awards he has won?’ He got a Best Actor award in Germany at one of the most important children’s film festivals, among 140 protagonists. This is the problem with this country. We do not recognise that something has already happened. You have to underline it in red and say, dekho na idhar zara. It’s such a shame.
Partho Gupte (PG): Dad was also my director in the film but mainly he was my dad. So we had such a blast during the shoot. I don’t know to say this but I could see everything so clearly. It was like since dad told me to do something, it wasn’t a task; I could picture everything he was telling me to do. The way someone can make the actor visualise a scene is great and I would say, hats off to dad.
BOI: Is he the same at home as he is on the sets?
PG: Definietly! Same fun dad. He can make me laugh any time. At home, we watch movies and have a blast. Over here, it was the same, only we were making a film.
BOI: And what made you cast Saqib?
AG: He is the next Delhi boy that I have seen since I was on Kundan’s writing team for Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, and I was in the Circus team also with Aziz and Syed (Mirza). So he is the next boy after what that boy had done here after Fauji. You know who I am talking about.
BOI: Shah Rukh Khan?
AG: Yes, and because I was witness at that time ki what is charm. Having seen that, having worked in proximity of at least two of the three Khans, I thought Saqib was quite charming.
AG: It’s an ideology that had to be tamed. The question was, how to tame it? I had this four-year-old son who I was taking to skating class, tying his shoelaces, and there was this group of moms with their kids. I would take him skating, which is a metaphor for speed and that’s how the idea came into being.
BOI: Amole, you are Chairman of the CFSI and a champion of children’s rights. Is that the reason you’re making a special effort to make sure child actors are at ease when you shoot?
AG: Yes. They have no lawyers or anyone else to look after their issues. In India, children sometimes work 24x7 and parents tend to support that. Like say on reality shows, the channel supports that, producers support that and parents too. No one raises an argument. If this happened in another country, everyone including the parents would be behind bars. If you take a child actor to a European country to shoot, you have to follow the rules for children’s rights there? We even have an animal welfare board here, but none for children. As CFSI chief, I have tried to write to the Child and Women’s Welfare Ministry, and several other government organisations for child rights but I have got no response. If the CFSI Chairperson does not get a response, what will common citizens do? Time lagega but then it took so many years for Dashrath Maanjhi to make that tunnel. You have to keep at it.
Saqib Saleem (SS): Maine poocha kahan sign karna hai, sir? I have been a big fan of Amole sir’s work, whether as a director or a writer or an actor. I have been very selective about my roles because I want to work with people who I think I can learn from and improve my craft. My first film chose me and from my second film onwards, I have tried to be very selective about the people I want to work with. I worked with Karan (Johar) specifically because I wanted to know how I would work in a different kind of environment and with a different kind of director, and now I am working with Amole sir. I think I have become better as an actor because I have started understanding things a little better.
AG: (Cuts in) He was superb in Bombay Talkies. I saw that and I reached out. I mean, to play easy is not easy at all. It takes a different kind of DNA to do that. And that’s the same ease he brought onto our sets. His body speaks and that works!
SS: When I read the script and realised I had to play a coach, I knew I had great material. I knew I could do justice to the role only if I bonded with the kids. So I didn’t bond with them as Saqib, the actor, who has worked with YRF and Karan and is now going to work with them. Kids are so pure that if they don’t like you, they say it to your face. And I didn’t want to be in a situation where the kids tell me, ‘Sir, hume aap pasand nahi aaye.’ They accepted me and gave me so much love.
AG: Not really, yeh sab workshop ke hi bacchhe hain. My kids have been with me for seven years now.
SS: Main naya bachcha hoon. (Laughs)
AG: These kids are so good ki Chaplin ko phod denge. They are extremely challeneged financially, they are from a municipal school, but they have been with my son also.The idea is to raise consciousness in such a way that everyone enjoys the film. Cinema is not an exclusive art form. It should be accessible to everyone.
BOI: After Stanley…, Partho must have received many offers?
AG: Yes, hundreds.
BOI: Was it your decision to allow him to do only Hawaa Hawaai?
AG: That is a very responsible question and I will give you a very reasonable answer. Are you the flavour of the month? Television is the worst enemy because it has no memory card. People are not really studying the effect of TV shows on children, but they should. So when you have endorsements coming your way, cinema coming your way, the question to be asked is, should you work on Saturday? That’s how we work, we do it as a workshop on weekends. We do these workshops in schools.
AG: I think Vijay Singh is a darling and again this film was something I wanted to do after Taare Zameen Par but Stanley Ka Dabba happened in between. The time was not right as Partho was not mature enough then. I think every film has its time. We started on our own, got it to the prep level, and we started the first schedule in April. That’s when Deepa (Bhatia) reached out to Vijay. He asked for a meeting and I think I gave him a 20-minute narration. We were already at the shooting stage. He agreed instantly to come on board. It took 22 drafts to lock the script. I don’t think anyone else would have understood my vision to make this film other than he.
BOI: Also, they took Stanley Ka Dabba to many new markets. What plans do you have for this film?
AG: I believe they are planning something this year as well. The idea is to discover markets where it stands on its own, unlike like diaspora NRI segment, which waits for that one Bollywood film that is larger than life. They wait to watch a film where they feel good about India. Toh humko toh cinema lovers chahiye, as cinema has no boundaries. We are trying to attract those circuits. We did Korea, where we had 168 shows and in Japan, they are re-running the film. Then in Shibuya, the film district of Tokyo, it had six shows a day during its first run, and all six shows were house full. I think this is the first Indian film that did so much business at their box office. Humare yaha chalta nahi hai. But I have grown up in the era of re-runs.
SS: Totally different. Actually extremely different. I was launched by YRF, so I was pampered a little more as you have vanity vans, a make-up dada and people around you all the time. This set had no vanity van, no make-up. In fact, we were shooting where everyone was shooting. Aisa nahi tha ki mera personal spot boy hai mere pass set pe. We prepared for the scenes together, got ready and ate lunch together. In fact, for the first few days, I was thinking, sahi toh kiya na maine yeh film sign karke…. But then when I saw how everybody collaborated, how everybody was motivated to make the film... Film se upar kuch nahi, tum kitne bhi bade actor ho, akele film nahi bana sakte.
The common goal is to work towards making a good film. I also realised it was very important to gel with the child artistes, make them feel comfortable with me. If you can gel with kids, you can do anything.
BOI: There are plenty of films releasing on the same date as your film. Do you think that will affect your film in any way?
AG: Finally, it’s content that sustains. While making the film, we have been sincere to our content and we are very proud of our film. Finally, the audience will decide which film they want to watch.
SS: Yaar har Friday films release hoti hai aur kitni hoti hai. The best we can do is to work hard on our film and let the audience decide. We want our industry to grow, so sabki film chale humari bhi chale.
PG: I don’t want to sound preachy but I want to work on a film which teaches me something, from which everyone learns and which has a message. I can’t decide now ki bees saal baad I want to act in such and such films. I am not very fond of acting, I want to make films.
SS: (Cuts in) You have to see him on the sets. He has a camera in hand runs around everywhere to capture scenes. Uske teen chaar bachchon ke saath woh hamesha wahi karta tha. Tu yeh line bol, main yaha se capture karunga. It made me go back to my childhood and ask myself what I was doing at the age of 12. I was playing cricket with my friends whereas he is so evolved. He is very lucky to be born into a family where everyone loves cinema and he can learn so much about films.
BOI: How much does your sister Huma (Qureshi) guide you while selecting films?
SS: We are very honest with each other and we only like to point out the wrong things we have done. We don’t praise each other because we both know that I have my own set of friends who will always praise me and she has her own set of friends who will do the same for her. But there should be one person who is like an anchor in your life and that’s what we are for each other. That’s why Huma’s opinion is very important. More than my parents, it’s Huma’s opinion of my films and performances that really matters. I love her a lot and I think she is a fabulous actor and bhaiya woh training karke aayi hai, hum toh nau sikhiye hai uske saamne.
BOI: Amole, are you arranging a special screening for kids like you did with Stanley Ka Dabba?
AG: I have shown the offline film to many school principals in Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata. I have shown the film to more than a hundred schools. Convincing school principals to come and watch a film is very difficult because the teaching community seems to have a very bad opinion of Indian films and I don’t blame them. I also engage with children so I know exactly what their point of view is. Taare Zameen Par was like a critique of teaching methods and fortunately the teaching community took the critique in consideration and the way they look at children. That was a very hearty development.
SS: (Cuts in) Don’t you think the kind of roles he does and the kind of films he makes are just so diverse? When I saw him play Bhope Bhau’s character in Kaminey, I felt this guy wrote Taare Zameen Par and now he is playing a character like Bhope.
BOI: How can you do such a variety of work?
AG: Since I have not tailored a suit for myself, I can slip into any shirt. It is important to enjoy what you do. Doctor ne bola hai kya agar bolta toh baat alag hai ke bhai ek picture mein acting karlo aur ek direct karlo. Main chai bhi achhi banata hoon. It’s all about pleasure.
BOI: But will we ever see you directing a film like Kaminey or Singham?
AG: I can act in them but I need a purpose to direct a film and figure out a revenue model. I don’t know, I can’t say. I didn’t promise myself a film like Stanley... but it happened. Also, look at how glamorous Hawaa Hawaai has come out in terms of its visual aspect.
SS: I would love to and I think if he can act, direct and understand what the director of that film wants, I am sure he can do an even better job. I have worked very closely with him and what I love about him is that he is a hardworking guy who wants to do what he wants to do. And he has always believed in himself, whether it’s acting or directing. I have taken back a lot that I learnt from him. I never I felt like nahi, yaar, maza nahi aya.
He never put any pressure on the kids and never put any pressure on me. While doing this film, I never once wondered about the outcome or the money it would make. All I knew was that I was doing a film that I will be proud of even 10 years from now.
BOI: Do you feel this way about all your films?
SS: Of course! Just two years after I became a part of the industry, I did Bombay Talkies, where I got an opportunity to do a film that was celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema. I don’t choose my films. I didn’t consider that I had to play a gay character in Bombay Talkies or that there was a kissing scene with Randeep (Hooda) in the film. I didn’t think about all these things but yes I was apprehensive. I told Karan (Johar) that I was from an orthodox Muslim family, mujhe ghar se nikal denge. But the moment he told me about the story and each character, I didn’t ask him even once after that because I knew he wouldn’t do something that I would be ashamed of and it would be something I would be proud of all my life.