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One ‘Happy’ Family

Team Happy New Year – director Farah Khan with Sonu Sood, Vivaan Shah and Boman Irani – in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Let’s start with you, Sonu. How did the journey of the film begin for you?

Sonu Sood (SS): It all started when I got a call from Farah and she told me that she wanted to cast me in a film of hers. I told her I was shooting for a film and that I would not be able to assign her dates. She said that she wanted to cast me and I would have to promise to give her dates. Straight away, I flew from Bangkok, where I was shooting a film, to Dubai, and I flew back and forth for three days to shoot for Happy New Year. That’s how I came on board.

BOI: Were you aware of the role she was planning to cast you in or did you think it was another villainous role that you were going to get?

SS: I knew that Farah wanted me in a positive role and I also knew that she would have a great role in mind. I have played positive characters in the past too. But I was sure that since this was a Farah Khan film, it would have a lot of dancing. In fact, this film has given me a platform to showcase whatever dancing skills I have and it has also helped me try my hand at comedy. The film has such a brilliant star cast and that was another reason I knew I had to do the film.

BOI: Boman, can you tell us how you became a part of the film?

Boman Irani (BI): My journey began around 10 years ago. It was literally the silver jubilee function of Main Hoon Na and I was driving to that function. Farah asked me if I was on my way to the function. I said yes and she said, ‘I have news for you. We are doing a film called Happy New Year.’ I said, ‘Wow! When are we shooting?’ She said, ‘Probably next year,’ and I said. ‘Wonderful!’ But Happy New Year didn’t happen then and she started working on Om Shanti Om instead. Then, when Farah and I were shooting Shirin Farhad Ki Nikal Padi a couple of years ago, she and I spent a lot of time together and that’s when she told me she was reviving Happy New Year. She asked me again if I was interested in doing it. I said, ‘Without a shadow of a doubt.’ A couple of months later, Shah Rukh came on board and you know that when Shah Rukh comes on board, everything begins to move, and fast! So it’s been precisely a year and a few days since we took the first shot of Happy New Year in Dubai although it feel just like yesterday. But that’s another journey and we can talk about that later.

BOI: Vivaan, how were you cast?

Vivaan Shah (VS): Huh?!

BI: You scared the hell out of the poor boy when you asked that question. Did you see the jhatka you gave him? You have that look on your face when a schoolboy is caught doing some badmaashi.

SS: Vivaan, they asked you about your safar.

BOI: Was it a safar or did you suffer?

VS: (Laughs) No, I didn’t suffer. The journey started a little over a year ago. Before we started shooting, we went for a screen test and I auditioned for my part. I got called back for another round of auditions and another, and I didn’t know what was happening because I didn’t believe that I was going to get the role; I was simply auditioning. Then Farah attended one of the auditions. That’s when it dawned on me what this film was about. Up until then, I didn’t know anything about the film. I used to audition just like that. It was the day Farah came in for the auditions that I realised it was a Farah Khan film and that Shah Rukh Khan sir had to be in it.

So, at the audition, she asked me if I was a good dancer. I lied outright, saying I was, in fact, a brilliant dancer as I assumed it would increase the probability of me landing the role. But she went, ‘Oh, damn! We need a bad dancer.’ So I said, ‘No, no, I am a very bad dancer!’ When she saw me dance, I guess she believed me and that’s how I landed the role.

BOI: Sonu, action is a cakewalk for you but dancing is integral to this film. Was dancing tough for you?

SS: No, not at all. I have done a lot of dancing in my South films and in the Hindi films I had done in the beginning of my career. However, I never got noticed in those! But, certainly, when you do a film like Happy New Year, which revolves around dancing, along with lots of action and lots of comedy, it’s the perfect film to showcase your talents. With a director like Farah, you can never go wrong. All you need to d is arrive on the sets and everything falls in place. Also, with Shah Rukh, who was a great co-star, I think Happy New Year was one the most special films for me, to date.

BOI: What was SRK like as a producer and as a co-star?

SS: I have done 60-odd films during my career, including my South films, and I can say on record that Shah Rukh is the best producer I have every worked with. He is also the best co-star I have worked with. He is always on his toes. He also goes out of his way to help other actors and is very committed. You have to really love cinema like Shah Rukh does, to deliver the kind of films he does. When the film was being shot, I behaved like a good student of cinema and so I learned a lot from him.

BOI: Did he behave like a producer on the sets?

BI: Never! In fact, he is one of the few producers who actually asks us, ‘Yaar, aaj mood hai shoot karne ka? If not, then let’s chill and party.’ He was the one who taught us how to play FIFA. In fact, Sonu, SRK, Abhishek, Vivaan and I used to spend hours in his van playing. He pampers you so much that you get addicted to being on the sets. That’s the beauty of working in a film which has Shah Rukh as producer.

BOI: Boman, you have worked with Shah Rukh on many films. Can you tell us how your friendship has blossomed over the years?

BI: (Smiles) Shah Rukh hasn’t changed much, thankfully. I met him on the first day of the shoot of Main Hoon Na. We were shooting in Darjeeling he came in late, and knocked on my door. I was in my pajamas. He introduced himself, saying, ‘Hi, I am Shah Rukh Khan. Welcome to my film and thank you for doing it.’ It was very gracious of him and he told me that he was put up in the room next to mine, and I could reach him any time. If there was anything I needed, all I had to do was knock on his door. Well, I didn’t knock on his door but during the making of Don and Don 2, his doors were always open for me. I don’t think his door is ever shut for me, till about 4-4:30 in the morning, when everyone finally leaves.

Let me narrate a funny incident. I was once sitting in Shah Rukh’s room and we were chatting, and two guys were sitting across the dining table. Shah Rukh asked me, ‘Who the hell are those two guys?’ I said, ‘How the hell am I supposed to know?’ The same thing happened when we were shooting in Germany during the making of Don. Two guys walked in, Shah Rukh offered them drinks and asked them if they wanted to eat something. Then he turns to me and asks, ‘Woh do log kaun hain, yaar?’ (Laughs)

But as a producer, he has this ability to fuss over you and his team makes you feel like a prince, like you are on this very special mission and you have to be treated like royalty. Moreover, every actor is treated the same way, with dignity, grace and, more importantly, luxury. It’s not about whether you can afford to do it or not; you have to have the heart to do it. If you work like that, you deliver better quality work. On the set, he is a huge star. In fact, he is the biggest star. But I think he leaves that for his fans. For his crew, he is an actor and a producer, and he plays that part very well.

BOI: Boman, since you and SRK are such good actors, did you guys improvise on the sets? Did you help him or vice versa?

BI: Helping each other while acting is a very subtle thing. When we are acting, he feeds me stuff, I feed him stuff. We have our discussions and we know immediately if some notes are not in tune. We instinctively know what could be done differently. We know when we need another take. And if something goes awry, then we are, like, you know what, let’s do it another way. There is no ego when it comes to acting. If egos come into the picture, we are not playing our characters correctly.

BOI: Did you share that same equation with the rest of the cast?

BI: I don’t speak for Shah Rukh and myself alone, I speak for the entire team. Everybody is willing to listen to everybody because I think the film is about a team. So the work process has to also be undertaken by a team. It is not a story about individuals; it’s a story about six people. If six people are not in unison, the film doesn’t work. We worked marvelously together. This was one of the best experiences of an ensemble cast. I have worked in many ensemble cast films but this was the best experience so far.

BOI: Sonu, what were Boman and Vivaan like as co-stars?

SS: The biggest thing Happy New Year has given me is Boman, Vivaan, Abhishek, Shah Rukh, Deepika and Farah as friends. I miss them when we are not shooting. I hassle Boman a lot but I think it comes automatically when you love someone so much. It was he who taught me FIFA. I used to trouble my son a lot by switching off his TV and video games before I knew how to play that game. After Boman taught me the game, I started to play it with my son too. My son must really love Boman for that. Apart from that, I think it’s very important for any actor to have great co-stars. When you have the right crew, you have the right suggestions coming your way. That’s the USP of Happy New Year.

Each one of us has our own body of work, and when we all were put together, we all looked good and complimented each other. That’s the specialty of Farah; she really got us together. I always say to Shah Rukh, that after Happy New Year, it will be very tough for me to choose my next film because I would always look out for a producer like Shah Rukh, a director like Farah, and co-stars like Boman, Abhishek, Deepika, Vivaan and Shah Rukh. I think life is going to be tough after this film.

BOI: Was Farah a task master on the sets?

SS: Farah has a golden heart and works very hard. She has seen it all and she knows how tough it is to make a mark in this industry. I connected with her very well. If Farah didn’t scold us for 24 hours, we used to think something was wrong! I remember, one day, Farah said very politely, ‘Sonu, chalo ek shot de do. Boman, chalo shoot kar lo.’ We asked her if she was feeling all right. Then she shouted at us and said, ‘Aye, idiot, jaake shot de!’ Then we knew she was fine. We loved hassling her. You will see a great equation of six actors with a great director. A film like Happy New Year needed a director like Farah and without her the film would not have been possible.

BOI: Now that the film is complete, it’s all about the numbers game. There are huge expectations attached to this film. Does that put any pressure on you as an actor?

SS: No, this film will exceed all expectations. Numbers are for the trade. For actors, producers and directors, we want to make a good product. And we are really proud of Happy New Year. Every time we see the rushes, every time we see our film, we feel we are blessed to be part of it. Numbers will follow automatically but our target was to create a good film and that is what we have done. And full credit to our director.

BOI: Vivaan, this is your first big commercial project. How nervous were you?

VS: I was very nervous.

BI: (Cuts in), no Vivaan, don’t lie. Tell the truth.

VS: I will tell the truth…

BI: Don’t pretend, yaar. I just hate this pretense.

VS: I was not nervous, thanks to them...

BI: C’mon, don’t lie…You are giving such diplomatic answers! What a sham this is, Vivaan!

VS: Arrey, hear me out. Not being nervous speaks so much for them because they made me feel so comfortable.

BI: Who is ‘they’? Actors? People? Creatures? Who are ‘they’?

VS: Everybody, the whole gang. They made me feel so comfortable and at ease …

BI: What? I tried my best to make you feel uncomfortable. I have no idea you were comfortable!

VS: That’s what I am trying to say. They prevented me from feeling nervous. It speaks so much about them as people. They are so friendly.

BOI: They didn’t bully you at all?

VS: No, they did bully me. (Laughs)

SS: That’s what he is saying… we bullied him and that’s the kind of people we are.

VS: (Laughs) No that’s not what I am saying at all! The things I learnt from them, the friendship, the acting… all that has been schooling for me on the sets of Happy New Year. I learnt a lot, especially about team work. As Boman said, this film is not about one person, it’s about a team. It’s been a profound experience for me.

BI: (Cuts in) Give me a tissue, man. I want to wipe my tears of joy! (Laughs)

VS: I think everybody in their own way guided me. So whether Boman sir, Sonu sir, Abhishek sir or Deepika, they all guided me.

BI: Liar! Deepika didn’t spend one second with you.

VS: Don’t listen to them. They looked out for me before every shot.

SS: That’s true, we looked out for him before every shot. Vivaan, kahan hai? Vivaan ko bulao! He was on the run and we had to look out for him during the shoot. He would simply disappear. Did you know his favourite film is Mr. India? So he loves disappearing.

VS: No, but seriously, it was a life-changing experience working with these guys in Happy New Year.

BI: (Cuts in) These guys?

VS: I mean the whole gang.

BI: Gang?!

VS: Ok, with the team, with the family. I guess that’s the most appropriate word to describe us. That’s how they made me feel on the sets. What more could a new actor can ask for? Friendship and great learning.

BOI: Who bullied you most?

VS: I was definitely scared of Farah ma’am. She kept me on my toes. Her approval scared me and I kept pushing myself to give my best shot. She is always honest, she is always looking to get the best from her actors, and she is truly a visionary, she has a special way of working. I never once felt like I was going to work every morning; it was more like a fun shoot and I used to look forward to visiting the sets. I can speak for everybody in the crew as well. Everyone was in high spirits while working in Shah Rukh Khan and Farah Khan’s film. They make it a point to make everybody feel comfortable on the sets.

BOI: Vivaan, what was your father’s (Naseeruddin Shah) reaction when you told him you had signed Farah Khan’s film?

BI: He said, ‘What an idiot soul!’

VS: (Laughs) Arrey, no sir, In fact, he was very happy for me when I told him I was going for the audition. When I finally landed the part, he was very happy. In fact, Farah ma’am told me that he had called her…

BI: (Cuts in) And he told Farah, ‘Mera beta kuch nahi kar sakta, usko kyun sign kiya?’

VS: No, she told me he got very sentimental when he spoke to her.

BI: Did you tell him that we are not paying you for this film?

VS: (Laughs)

BOI: Naseer saab has worked with Shah Rukh. Did he have any pointers for you?

VS: No, I don’t think so.

BI: So you gave him pointers?

SS: Boman, pointers are pointless.

VS: But it was the other way around, where Shah sir gave me pointers.

BI: Which Shah sir are you talking about? Shah Rukh Khan or Naseeruddin Shah?

VS: (Laughs) Shah Rukh Khan. He gave me pointers. Having worked with my father, he kind of knew where I was coming from.

SS: (Cuts in) His father gave Shah Rukh pointers, who gave him pointers, and there were all these pointers. (Laughs)

BOI: The film also talks about the friendship between the six protagonists. Did you bond and spend time together and get to know each other well before the shoot?

BI: We had too much time to bond.

SS: We bonded so well during the shoot and this went on for a year.

BI: Just like we are taking digs at him (Vivaan Shah) now, it was the same on the sets too. Sometimes they all took a dig at me or Sonu or Farah or Abhishek, and Abhishek would do it with the entire crew. Once you know you’re in for a ride and you know it is going to be a long ride. It was not even a 30-day shoot, which is a long time; this was a 120-day shoot. That’s 120 days together on sets plus rehearsals plus travel time. You are bound to become friends unless you are a bunch of idiots who miss the point. The point of having a wonderful opportunity and the privilege that we had of spending time together, Shah Rukh, Deepika, Abhishek, Sonu and Vivaan. We have learnt a lot from this kid (Vivaan). He is very good-hearted and I will have to lie, extremely clean hearted, there is a lot to learn from that. You must think we are extremely rude with all the digs we have been taking at him but we are not.

VS: (Cuts in) It’s a way of expressing their affection.

BI: Shut up, nobody asked you. So if you miss the point and let your egos come through, you miss out on an experience of a lifetime. You don’t miss out on something like that. You have to embrace it.

BOI: What can the audience expect from the film?

BI: I think the trailer is a great indicator of what the audience expects. Sometimes you watch a trailer and you still don’t know what the film is all about. With Happy New Year, it is very clear it is black and white in colour.

SS: It is very difficult to visualise what you can expect from a film like Happy New Year. We were awestruck by the spellbinding sets and visuals. I have always wondered how Farah visualises on such a large scale. It is not about just one song but everything that was shot, each frame, the entire film. Happy New Year was not just an experience for us but it will be an experience for the audience as well.

VS: I would have to agree with Boman sir. The film will surpass the audience’s expectations. It is truly a vision of Bollywood wrapped in one film by someone who is a master at her craft. This is a film made by someone who loves Indian cinema and knows Indian cinema inside out for an audience who loves Indian cinema. In today’s times, where we have all kinds of cinema, whether world cinema, regional cinema, Hollywood and so on, it is very important for someone to uphold and restore our own Indian cinema. Farah ma’am loves Indian cinema.

BI: But only the other day, you were bitching about her. (Laughs)

SS: Yeah, wasn’t he saying, ‘Mere kaaran Happy New Year chalegi.’ (Laughs)

VS: It will be a refreshing yet classic and traditional film.

BI: You sound like a wise old man, a philosopher. They are impressed, Vivaan, and they love you.

Director’s Cut

On The Film
I got the idea of the film in a dream! We were celebrating the release of Main Hoon Na at the time and I remember telling Boman about it. I asked him to be a part of the film right then and he agreed.
When I began writing the script, I didn’t have a title for the film. Shirish (Kunder) was writing a film on the Indian Airlines plane hijack at Kandahar. If you remember, the hostages were freed on New Year’s Day and Shirish had come up with the title Happy New Year for his film. I loved the title a lot and stole it from him and he sweetly parted with it.

But the reason it took me so long to write the film was because it was two genres rolled into one film. People may say that they have watched a lot of heist films in Hindi and even more sophisticated ones in Hollywood but, you know, I don’t care what people say. I can guarantee that they have not seen a film like this ever before. It’s a heist film with dance, comedy and drama all rolled into one. We needed an ensemble cast for it. All heist films need an ensemble cast with a mastermind, a hacker, a person who is a lock-picker and someone who is a detonation expert, who knows about explosives and weapons. So that’s how each one has their part to play.

On Shah Rukh Khan
For Shah Rukh and me, it was like coming back home. We had shot together for Om Shanti Om so long ago, and once we began shooting for this film, it was like all the years in between had vanished. I have to say this about Shah Rukh, as a producer, he spoils you silly. And he’s not just like that for one person on the sets, but for everyone. He has given me all the support I needed to make the grandest and most expensive film that you have ever seen. For a director, there is always pressure from the producer to keep a check on the budget, but he gave me the freedom and peace of mind to make the film as I wanted it. I told him that I wanted to shoot the World Dance Competition at the Atlantis in Dubai and he didn’t question me even once about it. It has been shot in the most lavish manner.

On Boman Irani
Boman is the only person who was cast on my casting couch! I had pursued him ever since I was shooting Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi with him. He was our punching bag on the sets. We used to always joke about him and his sex life. I am saying this as a director, that as an actor, he lent such a stress-free environment to all of us to work in. He is a brilliant actor and he would give me five different variations of the same shot. He was so open about trying new things. I have to say that despite the number of films he has done, he behaves like a newcomer. It seemed as if Boman was the newcomer and Vivaan had done around 20 films!

On Vivaan Shah
I cast Vivaan because of his unique look. You know, we auditioned over 100 boys for the film and I was very disappointed by how similar all of them looked. They all had a six pack and ripped muscles and not one of them looked like the boy-next-door. Vivaan was the only one with the unique look that I wanted. He has this certain vulnerability on his face, which will fool you into believing that he is this sweet boy but he is actually this genius hacker who is a criminal in the movie.

On Deepika Padukone
Deepika is very special to us because we launched her and we knew her even before she became the biggest star in the country. But the only difference we have seen in her since we worked with her in Om Shanti Om is that she has now become a superb actress. I think when we cast her in Om Shanti Om, she was in kindergarten and now she has graduated to the 10th standard. She has become so good at her craft. I feel so proud of her today.

On Abhishek Bachchan
Abhishek is like all my three children rolled into one. He is such a kid! He is the one actor I had to fuss over most in the film. He is a bundle of energy. I felt like I was dealing with my kids when I worked with him because he would run away and hide behind the trees, and I would have to catch him and bring him back. Then, he would run back and hide behind the vans. But he is such a good actor. I think Abhishek’s comic timing is perfect and very few films have been able to showcase that talent. I think he is one of the most underrated actors that we have in the industry.

On Sonu Sood
Sonu was literally a last-minute entrant to the film. I didn’t have anyone for his role and I called him up at the nth hour. It was, like, I called him at 9’ o clock and he was in Bangkok shooting for Entertainment. We emailed him the script and the story and he was in Dubai to shoot with us the very same day!
I have cast him in a very different role from the kind the audience is used to seeing him in. He has this very macho image and he plays this comic role in the film. I can tell you that the kids are going to love him. I have exploited his comic timing like no one has before.

On Music
The film is a musical. In fact music is one of the main characters in the film. We have worked hard on making sure we give the audience the best songs and I have stressed the music just like I do in all my films. Vishal-Shekhar have done a great job on the songs. I am very spontaneous about the music in my films. If I hear it the first time and I like it, I will go with it. I don’t mull over it too much. This is the first time I worked with Irshaad Kamil (lyricist) and it was one of the wisest decisions I took because he has done a fabulous job. The lyrics are so beautiful that you will find poetry even in a tapori song.

On The Response So Far
People are responding to the trailer as if I have released the film! I have got a warm reception from across the board. The launch of the trailer was one of the most widespread in the sense that we explored it not only on YouTube but on the entire digital platform, from social media sites to apps and so on. It is a grand film, so we had to make sure that the trailer reached far and wide.

On Expectations
Whatever money the audience spends on the movie ticket, I promise them four times the entertainment! We haven’t left any stone unturned to make this film a unique experience. It took us 18 months to perfect the script, and the film has production values that have never been seen before. There will be high points in the film, which will be surpassed by higher points. I am guaranteeing the highest level of entertainment. Lastly, it is a film which has Shah Rukh and me coming back together. He has an eight pack in the film!

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