Team Super Nani – producer Ashok Thakeria, director Indra Kumar and lead actors Sharman Joshi and Shweta Kumar – in conversation with team Box Office India
Ashok Thakeria (AT): We were planning to release the film on Diwali but when we spoke to a lot of people, we reconsidered our decision because of three things. October 31 is a long weekend in the US and the UK, for Halloween. And there are two bank holidays in India. Plus, when they praised our trailer, we thought why not postpone it? The Diwali holidays are underway, so the film will benefit from that anyway.
BOI: Induji, after making films like Masti and Dhamaal, what made you make a family drama like Super Nani? Did you miss the genre?
Indra Kumar (IK): Yes, I was. Actually, there was a long gap before I made a family drama because there were other genres which had taken over in terms of popularity. Everywhere you look, there is that same kind of action, maar dhaad etc. So I thought I had to bring about a change. The audience was hungry for this kind of cinema so we thought this was the right time to make it.
BOI: But your films have all done well at the box office – Masti, Dhamaal, Double Dhamaal and Grand Masti. And when a filmmaker does well in a certain space, they tend to play safe by making more films in the same genre.
IK: We have never used that logic. When we made Dil, a love story, we made Beta, which was the opposite. Dil was a youth-oriented film and Beta was a family film. Similarly, after Grand Masti, we are now making Super Nani.
AT: The Censor Board was so stunned that we were submitting Super Nani after Grand Masti. We were waiting outside their office and they forgot to call us in. For Grand Masti, we had applied for an ‘A’ certificate, so we knew we would have discussions with them. But here we wondered why the Board was taking so long. So we knocked on the door and they told us that they didn’t expect such a clean film to be presented to them. Not only the scenes but the sound was also kept intact, without any cuts. And then they praised the film, lamenting the fact that clean films like this were a thing of the past. Post Baghban, this was perhaps the cleanest film they were watching.
Sharman Joshi (SJ): Completely! I think the sheer concept of the film is very exciting. Actually, at one point, Induji was planning to produce it and get someone else to direct it. When I finally got the offer after Ferrari Ki Sawaari, and I realised that he was going to direct it, I was on board. It’s a very exciting concept and absolutely up his alley. The sheer brilliance of his work is the fact that can he go to the ends of the spectrum effortlessly. This has been established several times at the box office. Now he is venturing to the opposite site of the spectrum, again. I remember when Induji was shooting the climax scene of Grand Masti, he was also simultaneously shooting the first aarti scene of Super Nani. He used to tell us how bizarre it was for him to do these two completely different films all at once. But that’s the calibre of the man!
IK: In fact, both films were shot simultaneously. Grand Masti complete kiya, Super Nani start kiya aur phir kuch scenes re-shoot kiye Grand Masti ke.
SJ: Also, the subject is a family drama but the subject is very progressive. A nani is not being given the dignity and respect she deserves. In terms of the attitude and the melodrama, there is no change in the way we have showcased the film. The nani takes a progressive stance in making herself self-sufficient. So it’s from her point of view, which is very progressive and young people will relate to it. So the nani is in India and the grandson is born and brought up in the US and he is the one who teaches the family to respect her.
BOI: Shweta, what excited you more… Rekha playing the nani; Induji, your father, directing it; or the script?
Shweta Kumar (SK): There were lots of elements, but the first one was working with dad and being directed by him. The second was working with Rekhaji, Randhirji and Sharman as well. And, of course, the subject was very exciting.
BOI: Sharman, what was the exciting part for you?
SJ: The sheer excitement of working with Induji and the fact that he had a great script. I think also with due respect to all the actors in the film, I think he would have made a great film anyway.
IK: Rekhaji was on our mind from day one because who else could play the role of a docile nani undergoing a transformation?
BOI: Did you think of Khoon Bhari Maang?
IK: Maybe some shades of it. Not all. I mean, who can go from being a nani to a diva better than she?
AT: Basically, the whole base was zero-turned-hero. So in the script, we had kept the elements of her playing a glamorous role and her as a simple and sweet woman. Her histrionics are showcased really well. So we have tried to show her in different avatars.
BOI: Was it easy to convince Rekha to do the role?
IK: No, it wasn’t. She was a little reluctant to play the nani, but once she heard the script, she was prepared to do the film.
BOI: Was it also because she realised that it wasn’t a nani’s role but that of Super Nani?
IK: (Laughs) Yes!
BOI: How did Sharman come into the picture?
IK: After we were done casting the nani, we had to look for someone to play the grandson and who better than Sharman? What an amazing performance he has given! Rekhaji toh Rekhaji hain. Sharman ne bhi bahut achcha kaam kiya hai. Full marks to him!
BOI: Sharman, how did you match up to Rekhaji’s performance?
SJ: It was all about enhancing my character. And the best part was – and, again, I come back to Induji – thanks to him I was at ease. And whenever an actor is at ease, all you have to do is focus on acting. It’s fun surrendering yourself. When you surrender yourself and you see everything going in the right direction, you feel you’re in the right hands. Then you feel much more comfortable. Every day, everything is on the track. That’s a huge factor in playing the character.
BOI: Shweta, can you tell us about your role in the film?
SK: I play his (Sharman Joshi) love interest, his support and vice versa. He is helping his nani take a stand in her life and I support him to stand up for her.
BOI: What was it like to be directed by your father?
SK: Superb! I am really happy that I got this opportunity to work with all of them and specially with my father. I have wanted him to direct me in one of his films for a long time.
SJ: (Cuts in) I was the outsider, watching the father-daughter relationship, and a director-actor relationship from very close and it was very beautiful. He was ruthless with her. There was only one time he indulged her and that was in Dubai, where we were shooting one song. He indulged her as a father during the last half hour.
IK: I treated her like any other actor. I didn’t gave her any liberties. I insisted that she turn up on the sets before the senior actors. I never considered her a newcomer. Whether she knew how to do the scene or not, she had to be on the sets. It was purely a director-actor relationship.
SJ: Let me share another anecdote… We all are sitting on the sets and wondering what Induji had planned for that day’s schedule. We looked at each other and everyone had the same blank expression. So we all looked at Shweta, assuming she would know something. But she was, like ‘What, kya? No idea’ He treated her like any other actor. Obviously, she knew a little more than all of us at some point. But she was very careful about it.
SK: (Laughs) I knew as much as all of you.
AT: We started the company in 1983, more than 30 years ago, and we’ve been friends since 1972.
IK: (Cuts in) Soon, we will celebrate our golden jubilee.
AT: It’s been good days. We’ve had lots of arguments over how to make a film better. We have arguments when we start a film and our writers are the first ones to see these fights as we are both head-strong. And he always says, tu bahut ziddi hai.
BOI: A lot of your contemporaries and even those who came later have come and gone but you guys are still working together. What is your mantra?
AT: I guess we embraced change. After we released Rishtey, we took some time off. The team around us has grown with us but we were not getting a new vibe because times were changing. Yashji (Chopra) had Aditya Chopra and Yashji (Johar) had Karan Johar. They had new energy around them. So after Rishtey, both of us went to Pune for two to three weeks. We watched films, back-to-back, from old films to new films and Hollywood films, and realised it was time to evolve and understand what was going wrong. Our last film Rishtey was not accepted by the audience. We made it with passion and we went over-budget but that’s how we work. But we were on the wrong track. So we got into a space where we only watched movies. We rejuvenated ourselves. Indu met Sooraj Barjatya once and he told him ‘After every 10 years, every creative person should break himself, break the mould, and come up with a new vision.’
IK: I remember those lines. He had said, ‘Every 10 to 12 years, shake yourself, then break yourself and then remake yourself.’
AT: We changed our outlook immediately and started getting young people around us who had young energy like our writers Milap Zaveri and Tushar Hiranandani. Omung Kumar was our art director and then Masti happened in 2004. That’s our journey.
IK: Basically, at that time, comedy was working and romantic films were not. Now, once again, people need a change and that’s why we made Super Nani.
AT: The time has probably come where the audience is missing something like this and we should bring it back.
BOI: You have never tried action except with Kasam. There was a time when action films were working.
IK: Kasam was not directed by me; it was directed by Umesh Mehra. Neither of us likes action; we don’t connect with action films. We believe in making films that touch the audience.
AT: After watching a film, you should take something back home. Let’s be honest, we all know that films influence people. And, as filmmakers, we have a responsibility towards society. That doesn’t mean we have to make preachy films or women-oriented cinema or arty films only. For me, it’s about making entertaining cinema and sending out a message too. So, for instance, in Masti, Ajay Devgn’s climax scene has a line that goes, ‘When you’re married, you had better behave yourself.’ He says this to the wives too, ‘Gharpe biriyani banana shuru karo,’ so that they (husbands) don’t go out to eat biriyani. Daal-chawal khake woh bhi thak jaate hain.’ He is giving advice to both men and women. In Dhamaal, the characters were good-for-nothings and they wanted easy money. They get that millions of rupees but we made them donate it because what does not belong to you, is not yours. We don’t want to send out the wrong message. So, after watching Super Nani, you will feel that you may not have treated your wife, daughter-in-law, mother or sister right. Today, the entire country is talking about respect for women. And that’s what we are showing in our film – that the woman of the house needs to be respected.
IK: And a man has to encourage it. That’s what Sharman Joshi’s character does by encouraging his nani.
AT: Basically when we saw this Gujarati play, Baa Ae Maari Boundary, we felt we were missing something in our lives. For instance, my kid does not talk to me the way I used to speak to my father. Young people often tell their mothers, ‘Mom, please, you will not understand.’ What I loved about the play is someone who is born and raised outside India was talking about the culture and rituals that we need to follow. He brings that culture here. Sharman’s character has such a brilliant line, which goes, ‘Humare Hindustan mein hum gaye ko bolte hain humari ma ata hai, dharti humari ma ata hai, par hum humari maa ko hi respect nahi karte.’ And we are responsible for it. Start at home, start where you were born.
BOI: Sharman, did you see the play?
AT: He wanted to produce it.
SJ: When I saw the play a long ago, I decided to produce it because I loved the thought behind it, as Ashokji just mentioned. I was aware that Induji had bought the rights to the play and was hoping that, some day, I should be part of it. Luckily, that’s exactly what happened.
SK: No, I haven’t seen the play.
BOI: How similar is the movie to the play?
IK: We’ve changed it a lot because the play is seven years old and a lot has changed since then.
IK: But the basic thought is the same. The play didn’t have the respect-for-women angle. We have hyped the climax, keeping the film audience in mind. The screenplay of the film is 80 per cent different than that of the play.
AT: The basic thought is the same and we have played around and have magnified it. In a play, there are restrictions. The writer has to manage everything in a limited setting. Even cost-wise, they have just two sets – the first half and the second half. So the writer gets use to playing around that setting. His thought process is limited to this. So we had to open up the writer and give him the credibility to expand his vision.
IK: Yes, one of them didn’t get made but I don’t leave my work incomplete. (Laughs)
BOI: So you will definitely make that film? Who will you cast?
IK: I have no idea when that film will be made but I believe it will. Aamir and I respect each other and we have a great friendship. But we are not getting the right subject. He will not be a part of a film unless he likes the subject. Similarly, I will not make that film until I like the subject. So we keep on meeting on and off, and this has been happening for the last 10 years.
BOI: What do you think of today’s young and new actors compared to actors of the ’90s?
IK: Everybody is the same. The new brigade of actors is more disciplined. But the only difference is that these kids want to do fewer films. In those days, actors used to sign 20-odd films. They used to sign multiple projects after their first release but now an actor doesn’t sign more than two films. That is the only difference.
BOI: Many believe that filmmaking lacks the personal and emotional touch.
IK: The corporatisation of films is responsible for that. Pehele film dosti mein banti thi, ab business mein banti hai. We still make films like that. Not many do it but we still take risks by investing our own money. Now they want corporate studios to invest to make films so that they have a safe bet.
AT: (Cuts in) It used to be so easy back then due to the personal rapport we shared with actors. We could talk to them directly and get their dates. There were no contracts with the actors; we could approach Anil (Kapoor), Aamir or Madhuri (Dixit-Nene) for a film. With Anil, we would discuss his remuneration after the film’s release.
IK: We haven’t signed a contract with Rekhaji. She said a few days ago, ‘Tumko pata hai hum log ka kuch contract nahi bana hai’. I said, ‘Humare yahan contract toh banta hi nahi hai.’ (Laughs)
AT: Neither did we sign a contract with Sharman. We didn’t sign contracts with our distributors back then. There were only verbal agreements. We shook hands and the prints were delivered. Now everything is done via emails and agreements. But you have to change with the times and things are changing for the better. It is not bad as the numbers have become huge. The deals are in crores now. Costs are now in crores and we also have insurance, which is a very positive change. What I am saying is that we have discipline now and it is very good for the industry. Change always brings in something good and something bad. You just have to accept it and move on.
BOI: By and large, you have stayed away from the studios.
AT: Yes, because we make films with passion whereas the first clause in any contract with a studio is about budgets. And we are always over-budget. (Laughs)
IK: But the numbers involved now are so huge that one cannot afford to go over-budget. This is my last film which I had reshoots. We’d rather work on scripts for six more months than reshoot.
AT: We are used to changing what we don’t like later on. Even in this film, we shot for songs which we didn’t retain in the final edit.
BOI: When both of you decide to make a film, is it a commercial call or a creative call?
AT: Both. While we keep budgets in mind, we eventually go with our gut.
BOI: Now that Super Nani is ready for release, what are you expectations from the film?
AT: Huge, huge, huge!
IK: We want it to be a super hit. The rest is in God’s hands. We all have worked very hard.
AT: We have worked with honesty and have always done so with all our films.
SJ: Like they said, hoping for the best and God bless. We have put our best foot forward and made the film with 100-per cent honesty. We all have put our heart and soul into the film. So let’s hope for the best.
BOI: Shweta, what about you?
SK: Likewise. Obviously expectations are high also because I have done a film after a very long time.
AT: People who have watched the trailers have felt the same emotion that the film Baghban had. It is because the film has that emotional quotient that it touches the heart. So that means it is working because this is the stage at which you feel the audiences reaction.
BOI: Induji, will we see you producing films that are not directed by you?
IK: As a production house, we are open to that. We work on just one film at a time as we want to creatively give each one our undivided attention.
AT: (Cuts in) That is the honestly we are talking about. We cannot multi-task because we want to creatively justify the films we make. I have always believed that creativity and commercialism cannot go together. When a creative person, whether an artist, a music composer or an actor, doesn’t take up too much work, it’s because he or she wants to be emotionally creative. I am sure Raj Kapoor never thought about how much his films would sell for as he was a creative person, not commercial. I am a commerce graduate and once had an export business. Then we became friends and decided to make films. It was a very deliberate decision, from a business point of view. I didn’t enter the industry for glamour. That’s how it all started and slowly I shut my export business and started making films full-time. So you have to focus and change but keep your sensibilities intact. To be creative, you have to have passion and madness and that’s what corporate studios cannot understand.
IK: Yeh passion ki line hain nake business ki. So many people just keep working and what do they get? It’s satisfaction and they do it because of their passion.
AT: It is due to your passion that Box Office India is what it is, right? It is due to your passion for numbers, analysis and content that you deliver such a great magazine every week. You have given a new approach to the trade and numbers, which no one else had done before. So congratulations for doing such a great job!