Shujaat Saudagar, with more than 15 years in advertising behind him, is now all set to make his debut as a director with Rock On 2. He spoke to Soumita Sengupta about his journey with the film
There’s just a week to go before Rock On 2 releases. What are your thoughts?
I am nervous and excited… so many things, so many memories. And I am also happy.
When did you learn that you would be directing Rock On 2?
I had never dreamt I would be doing feature films. Back in 2011, I got a call from Ritesh Sidhwani, who wanted me to be the second unit director for Don 2. I wasn’t doing any work at that time, so I joined them overseas on the shoot. We have been in touch since then. In 2013, once again, Ritesh called me and asked if I would be interested in directing Rock On 2. So that was the moment….
Rock On went on to become a superhit film. Were you nervous about taking on the sequel?
Yes, of course, since Rock On became a kind of cult film at the time, and people loved every character, every song, and every aspect of that film. Also, I am not in favour of sequels, especially the kind we make in India, where we use the name from the original film and weave a new story. Those were my initial thoughts about Rock On 2 but our film starts from where the first part ends. And we didn’t start till we got a script that would do justice to the first part. When you make a sequel, you have to shoulder the added responsibility.
In fact, Ritesh and Farhan (Akhtar) were very clear that we wouldn’t start working on the film till we got an outstanding script. It took us three years of hard work to write the story and credit goes to my writer Pubali Chaudhuri.
Rock On 2 is a true sequel. It starts where it ended; the characters continue from where they left off. We spent close to 3 years before we set out to shoot it. It has some new characters too.
The music of Rock On was superhit and it was very new-age at the time. Moreover, since the film is about musicians, how long did it take you all to work on the music?
We took as much time as we needed. We were very clear that the music should do justice to the story. We didn’t want only a few hit numbers. So while we were working on the script, our music composers, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, were also working on the music.
What made you choose the North East as the backdrop for Rock On 2?
It’s an interesting story. While we were working on the script, about two to three years ago, a few students from the North East had been attacked in Delhi. I was watching this on the news and Farhan happened to call me and discussed the issue with me at the time. That’s when we decided to use the North East as the backdrop of this film.
Initially, we were thinking of setting the story in Himachal Pradesh. I had never been to the North East beyond Assam and we did meet with resistance from the team. The intent was to bring the North East to Hindi cinema. Neither Farhan or I had been to the North East but Purab had visited many places there and he suggested Meghalaya and Shillong, as Shillong is also called the ’rock capital’. That’s how our journey was set in Meghalaya. I would like to mention that this is not a film set in the North East part of India; the story also talks about the problems the people in Meghalaya face. We have featured musicians from the town too.
Apart from the leading cast, the film also sees Shraddha Kapoor joining the team…
Yes, it was a very difficult casting. We were looking for a girl who could sing as well as act and we auditioned more than 100 girls who were good singers. But we couldn’t fix on anyone and that’s when Ritesh asked me to meet Shraddha Kapoor. As soon as I did, I realised she was a fantastic singer. We narrated the script to her and asked her for a song test. Along with my composers, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, we recorded a song at Yash Raj and that’s how Shraddha was cast. She is a performer. The main demand for the film was that the leading star cast should sing in their own voices. Farhan has sung all his songs, and so has Shraddha in Rock On 2.
What more can the audience expect from Rock On 2?
The film is more mature this time. The characters are in their 40s. Musically, lyrically, it’s much more mature… there is growth in the characters. The film talks about emotional drama, it’s about how music surpasses all boundaries, regions, caste, religion.
After the trailer released and now that all the songs have also released, what kind of response have you been receiving?
The response to the trailer was outstanding as everyone was talking about it. But the music has received a lukewarm response, to be very honest. We were prepared for that. You see, the music is woven into the story, so once you watch the film, you will love the music. This also happened with the first part, where the music became more popular after people watched the film. Javed saab (Akhtar) has written some amazing lyrics. Once people watch the film, they will relate to the music even more. Hence, we got a mixed reaction to the music. Besides, we didn’t want to create a buzz with the music as the story is the soul of the film.