After winning accolades at international film festivals, the team of the just-released Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota – director Vasan Bala along with actors Abhimanyu Dassani and Radhika Madan – talk to Team Box Office India about how special this film is for them and what their journey was like
Box Office India (BOI): Vasan, the trailers for Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota have been very interesting, particularly the second one. Were they your idea?
Vasan Bala (VB): The first trailer was cut for the festival release, so the second trailer was mandatory. The trailer for a Bollywood film just doesn’t feel right if it doesn’t show a hero, a heroine and a villain. I just added few of my elements to it. And, since it’s an action comedy, there had to be these masala elements as well. It was necessary to show people that this is not a festival film, this is total dhamaal.
BOI: You had said that you got this idea from a kid at a dentist’s clinic. Can you shed some more light on that?
VB: The wife of my friend, Shlok Sharma, he’s the filmmaker who made Haraamkhor, is a dentist. A patient, a kid, once visited her clinic. That kid didn’t feel any pain. When they studied his reports, they realised that such a condition exists in real life, where a person does not feel any pain, and they read about how life-threatening it is.
During our childhoods we used to think that it would be a kind of superpower to not feel any pain but actually not feeling pain makes it hard to even survive. I loved the idea of this and I realised how essential pain is to our lives. I didn’t want to give this film a philosophical angle. I wanted to make an entertaining film with martial arts, a hero, a heroine and songs. The first concept kind of merged with the second, and that’s how Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (MKDNH) happened.
BOI: Speaking of making a different kind of film, from the trailer and the songs, the films looks quite quirky. Given the medical condition being focused on in the film, what made you give it such a treatment?
VB: I actually like such films. Take the Italian film Life Is Beautiful, set during the Holocaust, or the early Charlie Chaplin films, which had amazing stunts, they each also have a story that comes from the heart. If you observe these films carefully, you will notice that they involve people who are orphans or who are fighting poverty. But these films were still presented with a comedic flavour. And they touched me, which is also what I wanted to do with this film.
Heroes like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan, they had weird childhoods. Chaplin had a very tough time with his mother, who had schizophrenia. All these great people who provided so much entertainment to the world were battling a lot of sadness in their own lives.
My first film never got released. After that I was sure that whatever the idea of the film, I would present it in a slightly more fun manner.
BOI: Coming to the cast, this was the first film that Abhimanyu (Dassani) and Radhika (Madan) shot. What made you think they fit the bill?
VB: The first time that we met Abhimanyu and Radhika, we felt that these two just were Surya and Supri. More than thinking, it was the feeling we had on seeing them.
BOI: Abhimanyu and Radhika, how did this journey start for you?
Radhika Madan (RM): I actually went to audition for Laila Majnu and got smuggled into MKDNH somehow. Before I got to meet the director of Laila Majnu, I was introduced to Vasan sir and got locked in for the film so that I didn’t go anywhere else. I was never interested in action and I never even watched action films. When my father used to watch action films I used to go and watch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai… (Laughs) I was not very sure in the beginning, but then I got on board and then ho gaya jo hona tha.
Abhimanyu Dassani (AD): I gave a lot of auditions with sir.
RM: Even I have worked hard. It’s not like I got it on a platter. (Laughs)
AD: It was about five weeks of auditions. Every day sir used to call me and say, come tomorrow, we’ll do something. Every day I used to think, I have goofed up today and they won’t call me tomorrow. But at the end of the day he would always call me for the next day. That made me think that kuch toh ho raha hai, there is some hope since he has called me again. (Laughs) One day, as I was leaving, Mukesh Chhabra called me back and he took me to this room and said, ‘Okay, you are Surya’. At the time, I didn’t get who Surya was. Then he told me the story. And I had spent so much time with Vasan sir in those weeks, auditioning, that I knew that whatever he did, I wanted to be a part of it.
BOI: As newcomers, did you have boxes you wanted to check off when it came to the kinds of roles you were looking for? How many of them got ticked with this film?
AD: Those checkboxes are going to change for the whole industry once they see MKDNH, and Vasan sir is going to top the list of directors to work with. Mark my words, that is what is going to happen. Vasan sir will be on everyone’s list of top three directors to work with.
VB: Yes, the actor who has had two or three hits before can take the risk with me.
RM: Well, if I talk about my checkboxes, they were erased and written afresh with this film. Mere checkboxes baal udne wale the, Mohabbatein ke patte wale the. Those are sidelined now and new ones are in their place.
AD: If the film is travelling internationally, that’s a checkbox.
RM: Yes, that is a checkbox. But apart from that I have realised that whenever I plan stuff for myself, it doesn’t work for me at all. But if the universe plans it for me, it definitely works, be it Pataakha or MKDNH. In dono films se dhamaka ho gaya hai.
BOI: As you said, the film has travelled internationally and got a lot of praise. Did you ever expect that response?
AD: Not really.
VB: We definitely wanted to win at the festivals, but the truth is, when you see all the legendary filmmakers, actors and directors there, you’re happy just to be in the same place. So we were just very happy to be part of the festival. I have been to Toronto before and I know it is the best festival out there. It’s almost like a 1,200-seater in an old single-screen with a vibe like Chandan cinema. People are screaming and shouting even before the film starts. It is like Canada’s Chandan, with a lot of people from different parts of the world there, waiting to enjoy the film being showcased. Which is very rare. I think nowadays most people go to watch a film only so they can criticise it. Of course, you will have both good and bad experiences, but at least here you are going in wanting to have a good time and that is how we used to watch films earlier, in our childhood. Bas maza aana chahiye.
AD: Yes, we wanted to be entertained.
BOI: Abhimanyu and Radhika, what were your reactions after winning at the Toronto Internation Film Festival?
AD: Well, to sum it up in the smallest story…
RD: Oh yes, yes. That story! Do you want to narrate it or should I go for it?
AD: We can both say it together.
RM: So, when you imagine a premiere…
AD: You see these big cars arriving…
RM: You call it a limousine.
AD: A dozen bodyguards step out of those cars… But we arrived in an Uber. I stepped out and was paying the driver.
RM: Then I adjusted Abhimanyu’s bow tie.
AD: Then I fixed Radhika’s hair. (Radhika laughs) Then as we were entering, a bouncer stopped us. We tried to explain that we were the actors in a film that was going to be screened. We saw an assistant running towards us and telling the bouncers that we were the actors. (Laughs)
It was amazing, because we entered as nobodies and we left with a standing ovation after the film got over.
VB: And there was so much love for both of them and the film. After the second show, when they emerged, they were surrounded by so many people wanting to talk to them.
RM: The same bouncers who had tried to stop us from entering were trying to shield us from the crush.
AD: For any of us, what the film is supposed to do, it has already done, and now we are looking forward to people just going and enjoying the film. That’s the expectation we all have.
VB: Also, this is our home ground. Of course, you feel really special going there, but if people here did not watch the film, then what would be the point?
BOI: Do you think the fact that MKDNH won at the Toronto International Film Festival will help its theatrical release here?
VB: I don’t think things like that affect the Indian audience. They decide whether to watch a film or not based on the film and the songs. I think the Indian audience is quite independent in that respect. No one can manipulate them.
BOI: The action in the film is quite unusual. What kind of preparations went into it?
AD: Making the action different was a deliberate effort by Vasan sir because he said, ‘I don’t want just the punch or kick. I want a story in every action scene. I want emotions in every action’. So obviously we went through a lot of intensive training, for nine months straight. Gulshan, Radhika and I were trained together and separately too, on different aspects. We had a great support team and sir got some directors from LA.
VB: Yes; they were not superstar action directors but YouTube filmmakers. They were also stuntmen. They understood stunt people and they understood the kind of action that we love. It was a lot of fun working with them.
AD: All the action in the film has been done without body doubles, without safety equipment, without wires and without jumping boards. It’s been just pure us, and the excitement at the time was, karna tha, kar diya, josh mein. I think this is probably the first time that a whole unit has done something like this. There are a couple of scenes where people are really getting punched and really getting kicked. You can see that in the scene and that never happens in Bollywood.
In every action scene, there is a different emotion. You are having fun, you are playing in one scene, then you are irritated in one scene, and then you are mad. The style of the action changes and you can see the difference.
BOI: Radhika, you said that you wanted to be a quintessential Bollywood heroine. What did you think when you went from that to doing crazy action scenes?
RM: As I said, I was never fond of action, but when I came on board, karna toh tha hi. As Abhimanyu said, we got trained for it, and apart from that I had to watch an action film every day. These people spent their childhoods watching Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee but I had no idea about anything. Everything was going over my head. So I had to watch all those films. Vasan sir told me in simple words that it should not look like a girl is trying to punch or kick. It should look real.
VB: Generally, when there is a female centric action scene, a lot of effort goes into it. But what Radhika has achieved is she has done it for real. I didn’t have to do much editing, didn’t have to create the impact. That is very rare and I think it will grow in the coming years. After watching the film a lot of women told me, ‘I want to learn to do what Radhika is doing’. That is how we experienced films while growing up. We wanted to learn things. They didn’t have any violent impact on us. It was more like participating in a sport. If that happens then it would be a great achievement.
BOI: Vasan, this is your first film to get a theatrical release. Does that make you feel like a debutant and excite you or does it make you nervous before the release?
VB: It is my debut film but right now, more than being excited or nervous, I am relieved that I have made something like this. Maybe I will feel nerves on the day of its release or probably a couple of days before the release. (Laughs)
BOI: What about both of you?
AD: There is some calm excitement because I want my friends and family to watch the film and like it. There is a lot of effort the whole team has put in. Everyone has been so passionate about making this film. I want the audience to appreciate everyone’s effort. It is integral because we get to comment in the interviews but they don’t get to do so. They have worked as hard as we have and probably for a greater number of hours than we did.
BOI: Apart from what all of you have done in this film, what other genres or characters you would like to explore?
RM: Well, right now, in terms of the auditions I am giving and the scripts I am getting, I am just trusting my gut. I am not thinking or planning anything right now but just doing what I feel I would enjoy doing. If I feel that I can play with this or I can explore something new through this, I go for it. I don’t think, I have done two conventional films so now I should go for some commercial films that get good numbers at the box office. This is how an actor’s life is. You go home and sleep peacefully if you feel you have performed well. At least for me, that’s how it is.
AD: Like she said, I want my characters to live larger lives than I do. I want my characters to be more famous than I am. But definitely since I have done this film, and it has been such a disruptive film that we have done, if I may say it myself, I think doing commercial films is extremely tough. That will be a challenging experience. Maybe I might give that a shot.
VB: I will think about the next films after March 21. Once this film gets released, maybe then I will look forward to something else. Right now I am focused on this particular film.