Team Lekar Hum Deewana Dil – producer Dinesh Vijan and leading pair Armaan Jain and Deeksha Seth – in conversation with team Box Office India
Dinesh Vijan (DV): This is a trade interview, so I am going to ask some serious questions to Armaan and Deeksha. Of course, I had other things in mind.
BOI: Like what?
DV: I was going to ask Armaan if the director and he were involved in some kind of casting couch situation.
Armaan Jain (AJ): Are you kidding me?
DV: Ok, let’s ask these guys about their experience with the film. How did it start for you, Deeksha? I heard you had struggled.
Deeksha Seth (DS): I had come to Bombay for something else and was in Andheri, where the audition was taking place. I casually went across and gave the audition without giving it too much thought. I never thought I would get a call on that very same day!
DV: (Cuts in) Who called you?
DS: Nandini Shrikent, the casting director, called me. Tanmay, who is Imtiaz sir’s assistant, also called me and suggested that I audition for the movie. I told him that I had already auditioned for the movie. Within half an hour, Nandini called me and said the director really liked my audition.
DV: Are you saying that you were cast because you are very striking?
DS: Of course I am saying that!
DV: So Deeksha is trying to tell us that she is so striking that the director saw her while passing by and couldn’t take his eyes off her.
DS: It’s a true story!
DV: She is so striking that the other actresses who had auditioned were kept on standby for six months, but one look at your audition and he was floored.
DS: But this is a real story!
DV: Achha, Armaan, how were you cast?
AJ: I was assisting Karan (Johar) sir in Dharma Productions and we had finished the shoot of Student Of The Year. I thought I would take some acting classes. Around a week later, after I left Dharma, Arif sir called me. He said he had got my number from Sharda, the Marketing Head at Illuminati, who had spoken to Abhishek Varman in Dharma, who had made 2 States….
DV: So this is how it happened. Basically, he got a call from our company, because Sharda, our Marketing Head, got his reference from Abhishek, who works at Dharma so he knew Armaan. Correct?
DV: Ok, continue with the second part of that answer.
AJ: Arif sir called me and we met and had a long chat on that day. He wanted to get to know me, and eventually there was a short narration. I instantly fell in love with the script and the character and the whole set-up.
DV: Ok, let me try and give you a lighter take on the whole thing. For us, it was very important to cast characters that were very close to their real personalities. Armaan and Deeksha were. But before he met Arif, he came to our office and he was this well behaved, disciplined boy. It was a casual meeting but I was very worried and told them, yaar yeh toh bahut seedha ladka hai. Finally, I remembered having met him at a club in London, where I was with Kareena (Kapoor). He was this perfect angst-y boy and I said, thank goodness he has this streak. So he is very humble but also a spoilt boy.
DV: He is a brat.
AJ: This is a misconception about me. I used to live in South Bombay, so everyone in the company thought I was a South Bombay spoilt brat. That’s not true.
DV: Did you even once think there was a world beyond Andheri?
AJ: Of course! I went to school in Juhu!
DV: Which is Andheri! (Laughs)
AJ: There are all kinds of people in the world, which is why they sent us on a journey to explore each other better.
DV: Yeah, that was part of the process. Armaan worked really hard. He is a South Bombay boy but he has lived in Ajmer, Delhi and…you want to tell them what that was like?
AJ: Both Arif sir and Imtiaz sir have discovered India in very different ways. And the similarity with this film is that we are all on this one journey, where we come from different cities and meet. In the first half of the film, these two characters are humbled and they realise their mistakes and shortcomings. So the purpose of that trip was to dissect that emotion and put me through a character-building process.
DV: Yes, they are married. But I can’t reveal any more. The film is about the mistakes they make as young people.
BOI: What made Illuminati greenlight the project?
DV: For us, it was the story. The last film we made was Go Goa Gone. And, for us, the connect is always the story and then we back it in the best possible manner. Since we are not intrusive but inclusive, we try our best to support the team as and when they need it. Imitaz actually mentioned the story to me for the first time while we were travelling, and he told me that Arif was writing it and not himself. Then I met Arif. I felt it was relevant for us to make the film and thought let’s make a small film.
BOI: But the budget soared?
DV: I believe that a project with newcomers needs that many more stars. So it helped to get AR Rahman. We also got great technicians like Laxman (Utekar), who shot the film, and you will see how brilliantly he has backed us. There is Sumit Basu, who has done the production design. There is Anaita (Shroff Adajania), who has done the costumes for all our films. If you put a good team together, it makes their job easier.
BOI: As newcomers, what was your reaction when you read the story?
DV: Arif gives very long narrations. For him, so would mean an hour and long would mean six hours! (Laughs)
AJ: But 20-30 minutes into the narration, I just saw myself into it. It was weird.
DV: Has this happened to you before?
DV: While working as an AD, have you imagined yourself in the film you were working on?
AJ: No. This is, like, you know the film is being offered to you, and you are getting this opportunity. So you psyche yourself and visualise yourself. So, no, it’s never happened before.
DV: You have never performed a scene before?
AJ: Oh, I have performed many times. I used to perform every scene on my own as an AD.
DV: That’s what I have heard.
DS: Once we started the narration, it kept going on, and towards the climax, I asked him why he was reading it so slowly and I said he should buck up yaar. The day after that, we went to the office and they told us AR Rahman was doing the music. I was, like, I have to land this movie any how! So one after the other fell into the place and I landed the part.
AJ: The film has lots of energy. Once we decided to go with young and fresh faces, everyone related to the film… the cast, the technicians, everyone… was so into it. When we were shooting, I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t get along on the sets. We had done so many workshops and narrations that everyone bonded really well before the film went on the floors.
DS: (Cuts in) We were having so much fun that it didn’t feel like we were shooting. In Goa and Chhattisgarh, we would shoot till 6-6.30 in the evening, then rehearse then sleep. We would then wake up at 3 am as all the locations were pretty far but no one on the sets ever cribbed or said that they were tired.
AJ: The good part is, everyone involved with the film felt it was their film, and that’s how we have made the film. So, even though we will be projected on screen and will get more appreciation, 90 per cent of the work was done by other members of the film. Everyone was equally passionate and worked as a family. There were some fights, drama and masti too, exactly like what happens at home.
DV: Our team usually sees the film two months earlier and even the distributors and people who worked on sit have seen it offline. Also, we are planning to show the film prior to its release. Given the kind of films we make, it’s very important to know whether you’re happy with the film. And when you’re happy with the film, you tend to not worry about it. It is important to get your team on your side, so we have always shown our film to our team first. It was the same with Love Aaj Kal, Agent Vinod, Cocktail and Go Goa Gone.
BOI: You have a new cast and a new director too.
DV: Arif is one of the calmest people I know and, for a director, that’s a strength. For instance, the number of questions (Armaan) asks… He can exhaust you. Arif has a fatherly kind of feel to him. So he doesn’t take things personally.
AJ: Although I come from a film background, I still wanted to know everything that was happening on the sets… like how a camera is placed, which shot is taken, etc. It may annoy some people but I would still ask all sorts of questions. I didn’t care about what other people would think because I wanted to learn something new every day.
DV: Yeah, right! People would look at him with this look that said, ‘Are you really asking this question? Don’t you know the answer?’ So you should also reciprocate.
AJ: (Cuts in) What does that mean?
DV: That if people ask you something, you should also answer their questions.
AJ: I answer everyone’s questions.
DJ: Then why don’t you ask us a question?
AJ: I have so many questions to ask.
AJ: All your films have featured Saif Ali Khan. So why did you take a risk with newcomers? I mean, one inexperienced actor and one veteran actress from the South. What was on your mind when you cast us?
DS: This is his favourite question.
DV: I think I am losing my mind. Your question should be, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why did you cast me?’ I was not thinking at all (Laughs). For us, it’s the story and a natural progression in everything. We have done films with Saif and now we are expanding so we are open to working with newcomers. This year, we have this film and we have Finding Fanny, which also started after Lekar..., which had Deepika Padukone and Arjun Kapoor. Then we also have Badlapur featuring Varun Dhawan and Yami Gautam. So we are working with lot of other people. But if you ask why newcomers, I would say that this story needed newcomers.
AJ: (Cuts in) You said there is a certain innocence which calls for newcomers. Also, the films that Illuminati Films are making are very real films. They, kind of, create reality. Instead of being very dramatic, they very real films.
DV: (Cuts in) Go Goa Gone was not a real film (Laughs). But I think what he is trying to say is the language we use in our films is very real. What you make is an extension of your personality, so ultimately this film will be combination of all the people who worked on it. We are a very young company and this is our fifth release. So we are still young and still exploring genres.
He (Armaan) is a diehard romantic. I think he will be very good at romance. Of course, he will be good at everything else too but romance will be his forte. I got to know her later and I know she too loves romance. But she doesn’t show it.
AJ: It was funny when you said I am a diehard romantic.
DV: You’re not?
AJ: With myself?
DV: (Laughs) He is a diehard romantic with himself! That could be a line.
AJ: I am little self-centered. I know that because someone told me to discover myself.
DV: I think you believe in fairytale kind of love stories.
DV: What are your apprehensions about joining this field?
AJ: Many people told me that one loses a part of one’s personality after you join this industry. You’re doing so many things, you’re meeting so many people, and you’re spending most of your time on film sets being someone else. So you lose a part of yourself.
DV: Let me translate it for him. He has a set of friends who are not filmy. He has a family who is very protective about him. As a person, he is happy in his world. He came to this world because he loves performing.
AJ: Yeah, exactly!
DV: He wants to entertain but he doesn’t want to lose himself. That’s Armaan Jain.
DS: Nothing major. I think they are very conscious of the fact that they are launching two newcomers. In the South, all the basic calls are taken by you. But, here, they have experienced people so that we don’t feel the pressure. Work-wise, in both industries, you have to give your best and only then will they accept you.
BOI: What do you guys think of the music?
AJ: I love each track for different reasons. The music is outstanding. And to have someone like AR Rahman in your first film is unbelievable. I have told Dinoo so many times that I can’t believe that AR Rahman has done the music for the film. It just doesn’t make sense, it’s my first film, her first film.
BOI: Dinesh, Illuminati has a reputation for its ear for music and insiders attribute that to you. What was your involvement with the music of this film?
DV: Khalifa was one track we actually made together. Ala hada was the first scratch that I really liked. For Khalifa, I interacted with Rahman, one-on-one. For the other songs, Arif was coordinating.
BOI: Pritam always talks about your contribution to his music.
DV: When the energy is correct, it works for me. You have to see me and Pritam fight; it’s like career-destroying conversations! But that is where I learnt about music. I mean, in Love Aaj Kal, I was fortunate enough to have Imtiaz there. I worked with him and I learnt a lot, which went into play with Cocktail. With Go Goa Gone too, the track Slowly slowly and another track…. Similarly, in this album too, the tracks were led by us and even the songs Mawali qawwali and Maloom.
BOI: Have you guys watched the film yet?
AJ: I showed it to my mom but I kept walking in and out of the screening as I started to get nervous. It is very weird. It is fascinating but also odd to see yourself on the big screen. So I haven’t watched the entire film.
DS: I have watched a very rough cut of the film.
AJ: Till a month ago, I had not thought about pressure and all the questions that are being raised. I only saw it as me doing a film. I love it and I need to do the best and enjoy the process. Even now, when people ask me questions, I can’t think of doing anything differently.
DV: All said and done, he is from this family but Arif really grilled him during the auditions to see if he could perform. Luckily, he suited the character.
AJ: What Dinoo is trying to say is this that the only pressure I have is self-imposed and I drive myself crazy. Since the director is the captain of the ship, I should be happy if he is happy with a take. But if only I too believed I had done a good job… So every night, I would wonder how I could have done better even when everyone else was happy with my performance. So I have self-imposed pressure.
BOI: How much involvement did Kareena have while helping you with the film?
AJ: She didn’t know that I was in the film for almost three weeks. When I told my parents that I wanted to work in the film industry, they let me take that call. My father is a businessman and doesn’t understand creatively. My parents want me to enjoy what I do. So, once I was cleared for the film and we went ahead with the script, I had not told anyone about it apart from my parents, brother and one friend. I guess I didn’t want to jinx it till I signed it and for one month after that. After that, we broke it to the family.
DV: His father is a businessman and is very logical and his creative passion comes from his mother’s side of the family. So he is very balanced. The fact that both of them are very convincing in their respective characters in their first film is a big thing. I am very satisfied with the way they have performed.
DV: Nothing with us. (Laughs)
DS: Just Lekar Hum Deewana Dil.
AJ: Yes, only Lekar Hum Deewana Dil. I will consult Dinoo.
BOI: No three-film deals with them?
DV: I think you asked me this when I came here the last time for Go Goa Gone. Whether Homi (Adajania) or Sriram Raghavan or any actors we have launched, whether Diana (Penty) or these two, we don’t have any multiple film contracts with anyone, not even Arif. We don’t believe in limiting talent.
DS: (Cuts in) I have a two-film contract.
DV: We sign a two-film deal with everybody to ensure that they don’t start their film before ours releases. We believe you should want to work with us, not because of a contract.
DV: Her father had come along and I told him he had my word. I would be angry with both of them if they don’t become forces to reckon with. That is all I want. As a producer, I want to offer content. So if we have something that suits them, it will be a film on merit and not because of a contract.
AJ: He treated us like his kids. That is why he has always wished us well, both professionally and due to the personal equation that we have built.
DV: The honest answer is that it gets complicated. If we have a two-film deal with him, it could restrict our personal equation. Why not let them experience what it is like to work with others too?
BOI: Dinesh, you will be making your directorial debut with Saif and Parineeti’s film.
DV: Right now, it is only Lekar Hum Deewana Dil. I have tried to think about it but I have not managed to do that yet. I will start working on the pre-production hopefully a few weeks after this film’s release.