Box Office India (BOI): The film released on Netflix this week on Valentine’s Day. How has the response been?
Anand Tiwari (AT): The response has been quite amazing. It is overwhelming. On one hand, because the film is on Netflix, the kind of response we are getting from across the world is amazing. It includes expats and other Indian diaspora residing all over the globe. From the time the film released on Valentine’s Day, people from the Australian continent, South-East Asia, of course our own country, and as the day progressed, from America and such regions, have been really liking the film. It is great that the movie has got such an international reach. In my wildest dream I didn’t imagine my content, my movie would be loved by people all around the world so much. On the other hand, we have got great reviews from people within the industry. Filmmakers like Sujoy Ghosh, Meghna Gulzar, Habib Faisal, Suresh Triveni, etc. who are great directors and writers themselves, have said some beautiful things on public platforms and to us directly. That has been absolutely overwhelming for a first-time director. People generally make films which either please the audience or critics in the industry. And it is amazing to see a group of people as varied as Habib sir, Sujoy Ghosh, Meghna ma’am and Suresh Triveni who are so different in their own ways as filmmakers, picking up the nuances one always hopes that someone, somewhere might see it and understand what one is trying to do in the background. All these great makers are so beautiful and detailed in their own craft, to understand what I was trying to say on screen, has been great.
BOI: Anand, can you tell us how you conceived the script?
AT: I think life conceived the idea for me. I was born and raised in Mumbai. I have seen Mumbai then and the Mumbai I live in now. I have seen the transition Mumbai has gone through and I have lived with the aspirations of today’s India. I have lived with the pressures and the virtues of yesterday’s India. The need for space has always been a real one for me, so the idea of a romantic comedy will always stay with me in modern India. I have always wanted to make a mainstream, Bollywood romantic comedy film, where we see romance in the gallis of Mumbai or the crowded trains and terraces. That is why I thought of making this film.
BOI: What is your take on these two phrases – ‘shaadi hai reality check’ and ‘ishq hai la la land’?
Vicky Kaushal (VK): I agree with the phrase ‘ishq hai la la land’ because if you have a perfect life and if you think everything is going well with you, then ishq is like a la la land for you. In this film, the story is about the marriage of convenience. In this movie, you will see so many elements of marriage and love because the film shows not only love but also the complications that arise in marriage and love. It also talks about two individuals, Sanjay Chaturvedi and Karina D’Souza, who hail from middle-class families in Mumbai. Their only dream is to buy a house in Mumbai, and the size of the house is not a concern for them. It is very interesting to see how these two characters meet, and how they fall in love with each other, and how they plan for a small house for themselves after they get into a relationship.
Angira Dhar (AD): I have seen marriages that believe in the practical side of things. I would not call it a matter of convenience because every married couple has their own perspective on what marriage looks like. This film shows the practical side rather than the unrealistic side of marriage.
AT: This film is a practical take on love stories and the romantic song in it is all about the aspirations of (owning a) house and what we will see of the house. It is interesting to note that I have found all this in things around me. For example, the relationships I see around me are based on likes and dislikes, the region and religion somebody comes from, and also what kind of backgrounds they come from. They are not based on pure love and this is what I wanted to show the audience.
I strongly believe that the little things we experience in real life are not represented in movie-making. The attempt was to capture that side of romance as well. This film is a mixture of real-life situations while also being a masala movie. Though there is song and dance in the movie, the interesting part is when the two characters come together and how they have to fight for their virtues. Hence ‘shaadi hai reality check’.
BOI: Vicky and Angira, can you tell us about your respective roles in this film?
VK: I am playing Sanjay Chaturvedi, who lives in a rented house near the railway tracks. It is interesting to see how he shifts from Dahisar to Mumbai Central every year because his father works in the railways. He has just one dream – to own a house in a city like Mumbai. He doesn’t want to stay in a rented house but wants an identity for himself by owning a house in Mumbai. He is a banker by profession and he has one dream which he wants to fulfill. Also, Sanjay knows how to find a solution when confronted by a problem. He is always on his toes to find solutions as quickly as he can.
AD: Karina D’Souza is a good, Catholic girl raised in Bombay. She represents today’s modern woman who is extremely independent. She doesn’t want to be dependent on anyone. It is almost a fear because she was raised by a single mother and the saddest part was that she did not have a home to live in. She and her mother lived in her uncle’s house. Her biggest fear is being dependent. She has never had a roof over her head, which she can proudly call her own. Hence, that’s all she really wants. She is a banker as well. She earns well and can afford to dream of owning a house. She wants to break the mould.
BOI: Vicky and Angira, did you identify with the characters that you play? Personally, have you faced problems of the kind that your characters encounter?
AD: It is not a problem but a choice – do you want to live a pragmatic life or a life that is far from being practical? In my own life, there were judgments to be made and I had to take on that responsibility. Here, I take full responsibility for what happens in my life and I don’t feel angst or guilt.
VK: I have gone through relationships where either I take a practical decision or live in la la land. I think everyone goes through a phase where they have to take a decision. There are times when one person is practical and the other lives in la la land. When this happens, there is no space for common ground. If a situation like this arises, there is a possibility that both people may be right.
BOI: Anand, did you always have this cast in mind?
VK: I think the cast always had this director in mind!
AT: (Laughs) The script was written when Vicky and Angira were probably still in school. I directed Angira in the web series Bang Baaja Baaraat and I know Vicky from the theatre circuit. We all know him from his movie Masaan. No, I did not have them in mind for this movie. It was Honey Trehan who conducted an exhaustive casting process where both of them were tested for these roles. I was very keen on casting good actors for these roles. It wasn’t about playing just the hero and heroine that we usually get to see in theatres. At the end of the day, it is a pure Bollywood film with song and dance, with both characters dancing. Therefore, the casting for dance was done separately.
We had invited both Vicky and Angira to our success party of the web series Girl In The City. By then, we had locked our casting process and were sure about Vicky and Angira playing Sanjay and Karina, respectively. So we invited them to the party to see how well they could dance. This was the process we followed; some things were deliberate decisions while others were an unconscious process.
BOI: Anand, was it decided in the very beginning that the film would release only on Netflix or was that decision taken later?
AT: No, it became part of the process. It was always shot like a movie and even now, although it will be a Netflix original, we are looking at it like a movie. The film doesn’t change depending on where you end up watching it.
Also, this happened when the film was completed and Ronnie Screwvala took it to the digital people to do the pre-sales. It was Netflix who came back to us and said they were looking forward to a Netflix original from India and that this movie sat in the right space where they could take it to 160 countries and dub it in many languages so that it quintessentially became the Bollywood film that the world would see as a Netflix original.
It took us a while to wrap our heads around that because we are conditioned to think of movies in a certain way. Earlier, we used to think that a movie would be screened first in theatres and run for two to three weeks, depending on its success. Later, it would move to satellite and lastly the digital platform. We have also seen the advantages of screening a movie on the digital platform and how a movie becomes international.
At the end of the day, this is a film about urban India and it takes you to urban areas, where space has always been a problem. You could go to any city in the world, whether first-world cities like Paris and New York or second or third-world cities and space is always an issue. The aspirations are the same for everyone across the world. So, we thought we were suddenly opening up our story to millennials all around the world, not just in India.
BOI: Do you think this benefits the business aspect of the film as well?
AT: Ronnie is better placed to answer that question. As a filmmaker, selfishly, the best part is I will suddenly be viewed by people all around the world and very few Indian films get to cross that border. Most Indian films do not go beyond the diaspora in South Hall or New York, unless they are screened at film festivals like Cannes or unless it is a breakthrough success like The Lunchbox. Getting to be on a platform that has this kind of reach increases the chances of more and more people watching the film.
BOI: The movie has been widely shot in Mumbai. Were there any challenges you faced while shooting the film?
VK: More than challenges, it was a lot of work for us because it was the first time we were seeing Bombay in a different light, especially the local trains. We shot from Parel to Uttan, which is beyond Bhayandar. We covered the entire stretch of Bombay.
AT: Gateway of India on the first day!
VK: Yes, that’s true. For me, it wasn’t a challenge, it was fun. I felt like I was in a park playing around, the entire time.
AD: There were a lot of places I hadn’t visited before even though I live in Mumbai. They were eye-openers. We shot in a small village called Khotachiwadi, in Girgaon. Oh my God, it was so beautiful! It is connected to the main road but as soon as you enter the lane, you can hear the birds chirping. It is just gorgeous. They have cute little houses in there. These are places I have never ever stumbled upon in Mumbai.
VK: People were super-excited that there was a film shoot going on. There were hundreds of people at the location, shouting, “Shoot chal rahi hai, shoot chal rahi hai!” And then there were places where people didn’t give a damn. It was interesting to watch how differently people reacted.
AD: We were shooting a train scene, which was quite a challenge, shooting at a railway station. We could hear different kinds of sounds in the station, people talking around us, and this was all required while we were enacting our scene.
VK: I also feel that Mumbai city is a primary character in the film.
AT: Some people who have watched the film have talked about the city being a character in the film. It was quite a hassle for the production people compared to what the actors had to face. Mumbai is a very tough place to shoot; it is very expensive as well. Also, there is no one window for permissions. We pray that one day, it will be easier to get permissions. If not, filmmakers may altogether stop shooting in Mumbai and shoot only in studios. That would be tragic because it would be devoid of the architecture of Bombay, which is so beautiful.
We made a special effort to show Bombay in a very unique way, the Bombay you have not seen since cinema of the ’80s and ’90s. That took us about three to four months of visiting locations to shoot which had never had a film shot there before. Shooting in Bombay is not at all easy.
BOI: Vicky, you have played a lot of intense roles, for example in Masaan and Raman Raghav. What was the shift like, to work in a light-hearted, romantic film?
VK: This is the first time I saw myself in a rom-com. It was fun and it was like a debut of sorts as I was venturing into the unknown. I was very glad I was doing that, while holding Anand’s hand, because his sense of humour is impeccable. He also has a very strong sense of observation, he finds humour in just about everything around him and that was a great reference for my character Sanjay, that you find opportunities in everything around you. It was great for me that the film was happening with Anand. I feel that once you do a comedy film, you learn a lot of new aspects about acting. I think you become more aware of your instincts. It was such a great learning experience.
BOI: Angira, you have been on the web before but this is your first Bollywood film. What was the experience like?
AD: I was over the moon, obviously. It is my first film! Earlier, I had shot for a maximum 10 days, whereas, here, we were shooting for 46 to 47 days. It was one big schedule. Also, since I was working with theatre actors, the training was fantastic for me. I hope the films I do in future teach me as much as this one did. The discipline, the craft, how you actually behave on a set, there is so much to grasp. The experience was unreal. I can’t believe I am actually sitting here and talking to you.
VK: When you watch the film, it will not feel like it’s Anand’s first film.
BOI: What is the significance of the title?
AT: I came up with the title. But I cannot take full credit because it came up in an argument. I was very frustrated about how love stories in life simply don’t resemble what they look like in the movies. In films, the problems in a love story are always external. Either there is a father who is against the couple or there’s a villain who causes tension between them.
In our case, no one was trying to hold us back. There aren’t any dramatic situations; in fact the problems are internal. I didn’t know how to deal with the internal problems in my own personal relationships because, sadly, Shah Rukh Khan didn’t teach me how to eliminate them! So I was very furious one day and said, “This isn’t love, this is love per square foot!” And that stuck with me. I wanted to make a film about two people who were living in a transactional love situation with a house being the focus.
BOI: What is your headspace just before the release?
VK: It is the best Valentine’s Day for me. (Laughs)
AD: I will remember this, I never remember Valentine’s Day.
AT: For me, it is a different kind of high, depending on whether I am directing a series or acting in films. But nothing compares to the feeling of making a feature film. Suddenly, you are pouring your heart and soul into your work for people out there, for people to like or dislike it.
AD: I am quite nervous because it is my first film. It is quite unnerving.
VK: I just feel very happy with every film I do. Arre yaar ek aur aagayi. It is a sweet, enjoyable film and I want everyone to watch it, not only in India and have a good time with friends and family.
AT: This is an entertaining film, not necessarily a niche film just because it is releasing on Netflix. Don’t even think that it will be edgy.
BOI: What is next on your plate?
AT: I am writing a feature film. With Still and Still Media, Amrit (Amritpal Singh Bindra) and I are doing a TV show called Gabru.
AD: There are a lot of interesting scripts going around and I am reading quite a few.
VK: I start shooting for Manmarziya with Anurag Kashyap. I will start with the shooting of Uri in April, based on the surgical strikes. This too will be produced by Ronnie Screwvala. There’s also Raazi and the Dutt biopic on the list.