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Packing A Punch

Riding high on the success of Badlapur, here’s the producer Dinesh Vijan, director Sriram Raghavan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Let’s start with Sriram. How does it feel to come to a film trade magazine’s office?

Sriram Raghavan (SR): (Laughs) Yeah, how time flies! I remember when I was a part of a trade magazine and we used to get these telegrams saying ‘creating havoc in Mysore’. I hope my film is creating some minor havoc somewhere.

Dinesh Vijan (DV): Sriram, how does it feel to have your first hit?

SR: Feels good, yaar, aur kya?

BOI: This is what Dinesh does when he comes here. He takes charge of the questions.

SR: He takes over?

BOI: Yes.

DV: Tell us more… how does it feel now?

SR: It feels good, aur kya?

DV: Among all your films, how would you rate this one?

SR: No, I can’t rate my films. This is a different film. I have received a tremendous response from all over, not just the trade. I believe a lot of people took their parents to watch the film and they really liked it.

DV: Has this film received the best reviews of all your films?

SR: Yeah!

DV: Is this your best box-office success?

SR: My best box-office business is yet to come! (Laughs)

BOI: Nawaz, you always wanted to work with Sriram. Is this his best film?

Nawazuddin Siddiqui (NS): This is just the kind of film that Sriram is known for making. It is very well made.

BOI: Dinesh, were you apprehensive of how the audience would react to the climax of the film?

DV: I think this film proves that the audience is willing to accept different kind of cinema. I don’t think we accept that because we are comfortable with the way things are. We are not willing to accept it but it is happening any way. There is no question that the audience is changing because we recently watched the film at Gaiety and it ran to a packed house. And the reaction also surprised me. When we saw the film in the mix, I watched it with Varun (Dhawan) and my driver. After that screening, my driver has watched the film five times. That’s why I decided to go a little wider with the film. When I was promoting the film, I kept asking him if he actually liked the film or whether he was watching it because he is loyal to me. But then I saw the reaction of other movie-goers too.

One of the surprise packages of the film is Nawaz. The climax works because his character works. It says right in the beginning that ‘this is our cast, and this is right and this is wrong’. And then Mr Raghavan takes that and splashes that on your head and you are rooting for Nawazuddin when he explains to Varun’s character and says, “Tera toh thanda dimaag tha.” I have seen people at Gaiety hooting and whistling at that line. I think Badlapur and Finding Fanny are my two most uncorrupted films.

SR: When Agent Vinod did not work, both Dinesh and I decided to do something else, to get that good taste back in the mouth. We worked on a couple of story ideas and then I got him this story, assuming he would definitely say ‘no’ to it. I thought that if he did, I would make the film in my own small way some other time. But as soon as I narrated one line, he said it was superb! He made me promise I wouldn’t dilute it. It gave me such a huge boost and I agreed. After that, Dinesh, Anil Mehta and I decided that we would make it on a low budget. By that, I don’t mean that it should look low on production values but, luckily, the story did not require us to shoot overseas. I could have set the film in Delhi but I decided to shoot it in Pune-Bombay because I am familiar with these cities. I made it with the intention of making a contained film.

I had shot Agent Vinod in 120 days, of which I spent 30-40 days just watching the action being shot by someone else. That left me very frustrated. This time, I felt I had to be very involved in the action. I didn’t want it to be like 7 days shoot karo, 7 days doosron ko dekho. I told Anil Mehta we had to make the action look real, which is why it is more effective.

BOI: Casting Varun Dhawan in a film like this was quite a surprise.

SR: Let me answer that… When I discussed the story with Dinesh, we decided that we needed to cast an older actor. The story was about a man, his wife and child and I had intended to cast someone aged 35-40. Ageing was not the big thing for me; the big thing was the heart of the story, the change in the protagonist and the antagonist. Dinesh asked me who I wanted to cast. Just then, the phone rang; it was Varun calling Dinesh. He answered the call and then said, ‘What if we take a younger guy and he gets older rather than taking an older person who gets even older?’

DV: I thought why not cast a younger character whose pain starts when he suddenly has an accident. He thought for a moment and said, ‘Yeah maybe…’ But Sriram takes his time to say yes and before we know it, Varun was doing the film.

BOI: Varun didn’t have any reservations?

DV: I don’t know about that but we narrated the story to him and left him in a room. We did not have to convince a single actor. We told everyone that we would not corrupt the film. We told Varun to take his time. He came back five days later and told us that he wanted to do the film. Sriram was still apprehensive, though.

SR: You know, the world that he comes from… I thought his father would call me and say, ‘Paagal hai, kya?’ (Laughs)

DV: Actually, Varun did the film because he liked the story as did Nawaz.

SR: When Varun was more or less on board, we had a one-line story with us, and when I developed the script for Laiq’s character, we didn’t have a name in mind. We just added the name ‘Nawaz’ and thought we would change the name if Nawazuddin said ‘no’. Laiq was a schoolmate of mine and now lives in Saudi Arabia. I don’t know how he will react when he watches the film!

BOI: What was your reaction when you read the script, Nawaz?

NS: When I read the script, there weren’t any full sentences, only points jotted down. The thing is I always wanted to work with Sriram. When I went to meet him at his office, he narrated a line to me about these two men, a good guy and a bad guy, and by the end how they switch roles. I believed there were many possibilities and a good chance that this film would turn out well as it was directed by Sriram Raghavan… and a lot of things can happen between the main guy going from good to bad and vice versa. I had confidence in him and I immediately said ‘yes’.

There was this scene that we later deleted… a scene where Laiq is making a chair in prison and we were to show that the chair is being transported somewhere else in a truck in the end, which we didn’t even shoot.

SR: I felt there would be a back story to the chair where we show it being transported for sale and ends up in some random person’s house. But we didn’t even shoot that sequence because sometimes things look much better on paper. Like there is this beautiful 3.5-minute scene which we shot, which I will release on YouTube. It is a scene where he runs, but I didn’t want him to seem like Buddha. I wanted the film to end as it does now. I didn’t want people to feel that he has turned into a saint.

DV: The film leaves you at a point where it expects you to imagine. That is new. Sriram doesn’t spells it out that the angel becomes the devil and vice versa. Nothing is clearly spelt out; it is all implied. So when the film ends, you go home and think. It’s the kind of film which you will love watching a second time.

SR: During the edit, when 90 per cent of the film was complete, I decided to have a preview at Eros theatre just to get an idea of what people feel about it. I came out of the auditorium and told my editor that the film was fine but it was not the content that the audience is used to watching. Even the language was different. I felt this should not alienate people. I wanted to set the pace from the very first scene, where the bank robbery is shown. I knew I wanted to make it exciting.

DV: Also, you have to keep it edgy. It should keep the audience on the edge of their seat, like when the kid falls out of the car and the wife is shot. Then you see this guy going up to Huma (Qureshi) and you think what the hell is he doing?  Then he wants to kill himself. Him eating and also making everyone laugh but as an audience I don’t like this guy because he has killed two innocent people. That’s how people react when watching you on screen. There is good and bad and bad and good. So far, we have always seen revenge films from the hero’s point of view; we have never seen the other point of view. That’s new in this film. When promoting the film, I always maintained that Nawaz’s character would be a surprise but if I had revealed why, I would have killed the film. Ultimately, Nawaz is the hero of the film so we twisted the end. It’s not that the guy has become a villain; we just left him very grey. You realise that revenge is hollow even if someone has wronged you.

SR: (Cuts in) Someone told me the end is like an interval, where you wonder, what will happen now?

DV: A journalist asked me whether we were going to make Badlapur 2 as Divya Dutta’s character is alive. What will happen now?

SR: Some of the movie reviews have revealed the entire story.

DV: You have seen the end and when you watch the film a second time, you realise that, no, it’s the proper end. One fine day or after watching the film, you are left wondering where the money is… is it with Raghu? Or was it in that van? Or did they donate it to an ashram? It could have been anything. There is no end to the imagination. I felt we should underline the fact that Nawaz and Varun almost switch roles. So we included a voiceover, removed it, and I included it again. When he showed it to me, I was, like, ‘Arey nikalo isko, bakwas hai’.

SR: David Dhawan was there at a screening and he told me, ‘Arey, bahut achcha hai par yeh voice over kyun daala?’ Since David Dhawan was the most commercial filmmaker among the lot of us, I listened to him.

DV: Both Homi Adajania and David Dhawan felt the voice over should be removed. Revenge is a hollow emotion, and that is the end. It’s very deep… you get revenge but you gain nothing. It’s not a satisfying emotion. People must be wondering why he killed Radhika Apte’s character even though you enjoy the murder on one level. This film does that to you. This is the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the script, that it was twisted entertainment. Gaiety Galaxy’s audiences were laughing at some scenes and after going home, they must have been thinking ‘why did he kill them?’ Other, more literate audiences, might wonder ‘why am I laughing?’ We look at society and judge people by their actions. Have you ever looked at life from a murderer’s point of view?

The success of Badlapur is not a victory for Sriram Raghavan, me, Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. It’s a victory for cinema that films like this can make money too. That makes me feel very alive.

BOI: Nawaz, how much did you improvise and how much of your performance was in keeping with the script?

NS: Improvisation as in… before we started shooting, our director would tell me what he wanted. Like sometimes Pooja (Ladha Surti), our dialogue writer, used to change some lines on the sets as per the atmosphere. Some scenes had dialogue and others did not. Like the last scene, where I am in front of Varun, telling him ‘Tu pagal ho gaya’… That scene was improvised on the sets.

SR: As a writer, you can’t tell exactly how an actor will perform to the script. I write full sentences like ‘Maine tujhe kya bana diya, tune yeh kya kar diya’ which sounds quite awful when you read it. I told Nawaz, ‘This is it now you think, how you want to deliver the dialogue’, and he would modify the lines. It’s not easy. That scene where everyone is so intense… everyone was in a strange mood on that day, even Varun was Raghu on that day, he was not Varun Dhawan. So Anil (Mehta) and I decided that we would not cut and shoot it like a play, instead. That’s why there are very few close-ups in that scene. He is standing, he is sitting, someone is talking… we just shot it at a stretch. They did so well by themselves.

BOI: Nawaz, can you share your experience of shooting for this film?

NS: We always used to discuss scenes before we shot them. I was a little uncomfortable in the beginning but I noticed how Sriram speaks… he usually speaks in half sentences. What was interesting was that with every scene, he used to tell me, ‘Don’t make the scenes emotional as the character you’re playing is a haraami.’ But there was a scene with my mother. Now how could I not introduce some emotion into that scene? So I became emotional during that mother-son scene. When I used to ask him how to execute that scene, he would say, ‘Just say the lines.’ I would wonder why he wanted to keep it so dry. But I also believe in this theory, we put a lot of emotion into the shoot. We watch people crying with glycerin but the tears don’t flow from our eyes because we are only watching them crying. I believe it is an actor’s job to create emotions and let the audience decide how they want to react to that scene. You need to act with restraint – show emotions and let the audience cry. I enjoyed his way.

BOI: Nawaz, on one hand, you’re doing a commercial film like Kick, and on the other, an art house film like Badlapur. Then you have another commercial film, Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Is there a strategy or a plan here or do you go purely by scripts?

NS: I have never made deliberate decisions. I look at the director… to me, a story can be weak but if the director is creative enough, he will make that story look beautiful on screen. To me, there are no stories; even one line can attract you, which is what happened with Badlapur. Sriram gave me just one line, that there was a bad man and a good man, and they both change by the end of the film. That was enough to make me decide to be part of the film.

BOI: What was the shoot like?

SR: It wasn’t difficult at all. We decided early that we would shoot on location. Hence 90 per cent of the film was shot at real locations; the rest is dressed up like the police station. Like, for the opening scene, I didn’t want to block the road as it’s a busy road. So we put a few of our men there and we shot on location. That was logistically challenging because 80 per cent is real traffic and people… someone selling balloons, someone driving a car, the stuntman. We were a little worried as it could have gone wrong or we could have made a mistake. So we did a full rehearsal before we started shooting. That was a tough scene. We also brainstormed about what would be the most effective climax.

DV: The film has two endings, one was where Nawaz says to Varun, ‘Tera toh thanda dimaag tha’, picture wahi khatam ho jaati hai. And the other high is when he turns himself into jail and the film ends. Sriram discovered that high while shooting and editing the film.

SR: (Cuts in) The story had that…

DV: (Cuts in) No but the way you revealed it. It’s the way Nawaz says that, which is the cherry on the top. With most films, you figure out what is going to happen next, and in that scene, if Nawaz had done it 20 per cent more or if Sriram had kept it 20 per cent wider, we could have predicted that. The scene where Nawaz says, ‘Good night’ and ‘murder kiya hai maine’ to Zakir Hussain… to show that side of him. And that makes the film very uncomfortable towards the end. It is meant to make you uncomfortable. This is the kind of story it is.

SR: Entertainment means a film should be engaging. It’s not only about comedy and fun.

DV: What I am trying to say is that the film shifts in tone after that. The intermission makes the audience pause to figure out the ending. These are the things we discovered. I think 80 per cent of filmmaking is instinct and 20 per cent is about things falling into place. Everything just fell into place here, like the cast and getting every character we wanted. Radhika was fantastic in the film. Anil Mehta was indispensible. This is his third or fourth film with us and there is no one else like him. The energy of the film translates through his cinematography. I don’t think Sriram Raghavan had fun and I don’t mean doing masti but I don’t think he was all that excited every day and the main idea was to back him and protect the film from any dilution, even if it was from him.

BOI: Nawaz, you are always appreciated for your work but was there any special appreciation for Badlapur?

NS: This is the first film where I didn’t expect to get as much appreciation as I have got. I have got more appreciation for Badlapur than I did for Gangs Of Wasseypur… or Kick and I didn’t expect that.

SR: He is very humble.

BOI: Any compliment for the film?

DV: I think you should check Twitter, which is filled with compliments for him. Sharmao mat, bol do.

NS: I was unsure of what they were making me do and what I was portraying with this character… would it go across to the audience the way we had perceived it? I was apprehensive of that up until the film’s release. But the audience did grasp all of that.

BOI: At what point did you feel you had achieved what you wanted to achieve? Was it during the edit or with the audiences reaction?

SR: At some point during the edit, I knew we had made a good film, and I especially knew I had got powerful performances. And because the film was not expensive, I knew it would not lose money. That was my main concern, that we should recover our costs.

DV: It is a very intelligently made film, where 80 per cent of the budget has gone into making the film. We have not compromised on quality, whether on camera or sound or locations or even costumes. Sriram went to shoot with the thought that ‘Yeh time pe khatam karni hai.’ And I think he found a perfect companion in Anil sir. The intent was that at the edit, we knew what we wanted to do and we have done it. That is a good feeling. You cannot engineer a film to do well.

BOI: Leaving aside Agent Vinod, Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddaar received fabulous reviews but Badlapur has translated into commercial success. What was different between Johnny Gaddaar and Badlapur?

SR: Johnny Gaddaar wasn’t marketed at all and was made at a time where it had a limited release. I met Sachin-Jigar for the first time and I thought it would be a content-driven film that could have three or four small songs. I didn’t think I would get songs that related to the story emotionally. The first song they came up with was Judaai. It is a beautiful but I didn’t know where to insert it. We decided to place it in the action scenes so that it had a combined effect with emotions. After that came Jee karda, which I loved so much and after that we got Jeena jeena, which we had to sync. We had shot Varun dancing alone, we didn’t want to shoot him just sitting in a corner but wanted to show him living in his own world and being there with his thoughts. So we shot Varun dancing alone to some English song, which we later synced to this song. Jeena jeena was just a three-shot song and I was thinking that Guide and Aradhana had songs which were three shots long and I was so happy that this song fit into three shots. Then there was Badla, which I liked a lot as it is my kind of song.

DV: I think the music of this film really connected with the audience and that is always very important. Sriram had also included some very difficult references in the film. We started working on the song after he had shot 60-70 per cent of the film. I didn’t want to corrupt the film, so the sound of the album is unlike any other. It is not a very commercial album. I didn’t want to dilute the film so I would listen to a song and like it then ask him to listen to it.

SR: I am much more of a ‘let’s go and see’ kind of person but he is very hands-on when it comes to music.

DV: I think for me to have a good equation you should have a strong opinion but you should not require convincing. My insecurity was that if I give Jee karda to Sriram, he wouldn’t use it. But he called me the next day and said, ‘Bahut sahi jagah gana baith gaya hai.’ And they had made the song Badla badla long ago. I told Sachin-Jigar that we would use that song in the background. I asked them to play that song for Sriram, who liked it as the words ‘badla badla’ are so in-your-face in the track.

SR: Yes, the word ‘badla’ has two meaning and the song engulfs both meanings at the same time.

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