Director Nishikant Kamat and producer Shailesh Singh talk to Team Box Office India about the long but satisfying journey while making the Irrfan-starrer Madaari
Box Office India (BOI): How was the concept of Madaari conceived? Nishikant, how did you decide to direct the film, and Shailesh, why did you decide to back the project?
Nishikant Kamat (NK): It all goes back to an incident that Shailja (Kejriwal) had narrated to Irrfan, something that happened three to four years ago. Irrfan, Sutapa (Sikdar) and Shailja thought there was a story in it. Riteish Shah was approached to write the screenplay and the dialogue. It was just a one-line story back then and they took eight to 10 months to write it.
One day, Irrfan called me and said he wanted to meet me. We met the next day and he had brought along the script. He said he wanted me to direct this film. I read the script and realised it was the kind of film I would love to direct. Ritesh has been writing with me for four years. He has written Force, Lai Bhaari and Rocky Handsome as well. So there was a comfort level that we shared.
I told Irrfan it looked very interesting but I would have to work on it. After that, Ritesh and I spent three months working on the script. Of course, Shailesh was a very integral part of the film. In fact, Shailesh and Irrfan arrived to meet me together with the script. Shailesh and I have always wanted to work together… it’s been 15 years. In fact, I had done a television serial that he had produced. I would always tell him to get me a good subject.
Shailesh Singh (SS): Yes, he always used to say, ‘Le aao kuchh subject, yaar.’
NK: Yes, I am very adamant that the subject has to be right. It doesn’t have to be ‘right’ for anyone else; it has to be right for me. This was it for me.
BOI: As a producer, what was it about this concept that assured you of its commercial viability?
SS: In the last couple of years, the line between commercial and non-commercial films has blurred. So it could be anything which I believe is good in terms of content, and this was a subject that was very close to reality. In addition, when you have a director like Nishikant Kamat and an actor like Irrfan, the film automatically gains considerable credibility and people sit up and take notice.
I couldn’t have had better people than Nishi and Irrfan. And all his (Nishikant Kamat) films have been successful, so I had no doubt about the commercial viability of our film. Also, the subject of our film is for everybody. It is not niche; it is about everyone’s life. Madaari is inspired by an incident that took place in Mumbai. It is a very commercial film.
NK: I believe the line between commercial and parallel cinema has blurred. For instance, I made Mumbai Meri Jaan in 2007, when it was not a very commercial film but one that would have yielded a very different result today because there is an evolved audience which prefers this kind of cinema.
Besides, I generally take into account what people like to watch and this had all the material for a ‘hero film’. To me, a ‘hero’ is not only someone who breaks down doors to make a dramatic entry and does dialoguebaazi. To me, Drishyam’s hero is a big hero; Ajay Devgn was a big hero in the film without even beating up anyone. He was very heroic. Similarly, here is a hero who emerges out of a situation. I thought it had a lot of commercial value.
BOI: When you have actors and producers who are so closely involved with the content of the film, does the film carry extra baggage and does it take away your creative freedom, as a director?
NK: Shailesh knows what I am. (Laughs)
SS: We were very aware of who we were approaching! (Laughs)
NK: I drew the boundaries very clearly, saying ‘don’t encroach into to my area’, but in a good way. You do what you do and I will do my thing. All my friends including Shailesh know that I am very particular about this and that I also know where to draw the line. Eventually, it is my film that is going to release, regardless of the suggestions or inputs I take from anyone. Ultimately, I have to take responsibility for the film. Alternatively, let me take the blame too, if I have to. It would be my funeral alone on Friday. (Laughs)
SS: Filmmaking is a director’s medium, a story teller’s medium. So regardless of a star or an actor or anyone else, it all boils down to the director. We only decide to make a film and it is the director who actually makes it. We are only facilitators. As a producer, I believe that when you know you have a good director, you don’t have to tell him anything because he knows his job.
BOI: Nishikant, earlier you said that when a film comes your way and it is right for you, you know instinctively. What are the parameters that you use to judge a story?
NK: Most importantly, would it get me excited if I were to watch the film as part of the audience? Second, I look at the sensibility and the credibility of the script. Credibility matters to me a whole lot. If I were to go out of the way and make a Lai Bhaari, which has 20 people flying in anti-gravity in all directions, then I work very deliberately towards that. Mumbai Meri Jaan, Dombivali Fast, Drishyam and now this one are all very credible films for me, ke aisa ho sakta hai aur aisa hota hai, kahi aisa nahin lagta ke chal chal aisa thode hota hai. There are no scenes like that in these films.
Also, there is something that draws you to the story. I have never gone into set-ups. I have never believed in the whole set-up thing, like, okay, I have this big music director, this big actor, five nice songs, so picture toh ban hi jaegi. I feel the story is paramount. If you have a good story, then it’s not difficult to get good actors or big stars. Why go the reverse way? When you have a good story, things tend to fall in place. I have been lucky to work with big stars, big actors like Irrfan and Ajay (Devgn), and that is only because the stories have been worthy.
BOI: What was the most challenging part, working with Irrfan?
NK: Irrfan is a very evolved actor. He is also a very intelligent man and if I ask him to do a sequence in a specific way, he has to know why. That’s because each of us sees the same thing differently. That’s the challenge while working with an intelligent actor. They don’t want to create obstacles but they want logical answers. So you have to be very clear about your vision.
Picture bikti hai is the wrong way to see it; instead, picture bante jaati hai. You must have a clear vision and know the parameters within which you express your vision. Then, as a director, you need to make each technician and actor flow into it. Everyone should feel it is their film. It’s a responsibility to unite the whole unit.
Madaari has an extremely complicated script. I must have read it 200 times before starting the shoot. I also had butterflies in my stomach, hoping that I was doing it right. Irrfan was also a little sceptical and was thinking ‘Are we doing it right?’ We were in the same boat. It was a very difficult film at every level, from scripting to shooting to post-production to getting the right songs.
I always say a film happens. You cannot make a film; a film finds its own path. So, over a period of time, because we kept on asking questions, because we were not happy, we used to get stuck. Sometimes, it would take months to write the perfect scene.
We didn’t rush it and decided to wait for it to come on its own. That happened at every level, even with locations… one day, we were shooting in Shimla and the next, in Jaisalmer, taking us from minus 2 degrees to 51 degrees. It was a mad house. So, yes, there were lots of challenges but we had fun too. I don’t look at it as challenge because I asked for it by choosing to become a director. (Laughs)
BOI: Is that why the film took so long to make?
NK: Yes, because we didn’t want to rush through the film. It is a timeless film. It is not the kind of story that would get stale if the film did not release in a year’s time. It was a complicated script and unreasonable deadlines would not have made sense.
The climax took the longest. After 70 per cent of the film was written, I was missing one of the most important scenes – the climax. We halted the shoot for five months. I was not getting that scene right; it was eventually a mutual effort. Towards the end, Shailesh, Irrfan, Sutapa Sikdar, Ritesh Shah and I used to jam on the climax sequence and we still didn’t know what to do.
SS: (Cuts in) And suddenly Nishi came up with something.
NK: Yes, all of a sudden, it fell in place. And we shot it the next day itself. Usually, a script is locked, the schedule is decided and the film is shot in a given time frame. Like Drishyam, which took us only four months. Everything had fallen into place, actors, their dates, even though it was a complicated script there was no confusion or question marks. But Madaari always raised questions.
NK: Because I wanted to be very logical, it’s not a ‘filmi’ film at all. It’s a thriller but still a commercial one and also an emotional film, I didn’t want to lose the thriller aspect. I don’t want to make films which, after watching, you feel ki aisa sirf filmon mein hota hai. So you raise the bar. I have made Mumbai Meri Jaan, Drishyam, Force, Rocky Handsome and now it is a different genre.
I wanted to make an anti-gravity action film and I made Lai Bhaari. Then I wanted to make a love story action film, so I made Force. Then I did Drishyam, a suspense thriller. Even Rocky Handsome was about doing a particular type of action. Then making this film meant raising the bar even further. The question I asked myself was, ‘Will you be able to pull this off?’ I have done different kinds of cinema but this is a radical form of cinema. That’s also why also it took time.
SS: The narrative of this film is very complex and, as a director, he had to make sure that it should not be a complex watch for the audience.
NK: Yes, like when you say an actor delivered an effortless performance… An ‘effortless performance’ takes a lot of effort!
BOI: Apart from Irrfan, tell us about the other artistes in your film because your films always have a carefully chosen cast.
NK: I take casting very seriously and even the smallest of the smallest actor in the film matters to me. If an actor is miscast, the entire scene takes a toss. And once a scene plummets, your entire film dips. But casting like that takes time. In Drishyam, I had to find one Gaitonde (cop) to get the casting right. I had to find the right restaurant owner and even a cable boy. And that took time.
Similarly, we went the whole hog for this film, and I did half the casting in Delhi because I wanted a dozen-odd characters who were Delhiites. We did the rest of the casting in Mumbai and some of it in Shimla. It was important that they had to look the part as well as act the part. None of this is really visible to the audience but it is there. So casting plays an extremely important role.
BOI: What about music? You managed to convince Vishal Bhardwaj to compose.
NK: I always manage to convince Vishal to compose music for my films. Drishyam was also composed by him. When the script started rolling, we realised we needed a song in a particular situation and Irrfan suggested we approach Vishal as he is very close to him. So we did that and Vishal said, ‘Iske lyrics bahut correct hone chahiye.’ So Irrfan and I offered a ton of suggestions and Vishal said, ‘No, you guys let me think about it.’
Next, we had to figure out a lyricist and Shailesh suggested Irshad Kamil’s name even though I had not worked with him before. The song eventually took six months. We jammed for 15 days, getting the words and tune right. Initially, we did not like the tune. Finally, after four months, we got the lyrics and the tune right.
Then I thought there should be one song and Vishal was overseas at the time. So I called up Sunny Bawra and Inder Bawra, with whom I had worked in Rocky Handsome, and they created a song. Both songs are in the background. That song too took around two months to complete.
BOI: Shailesh, you have always chosen content-driven films, whether Tanu Weds Manu, Aligarh or Madaari. Are you also creatively involved in your films?
SS: Definitely. The most important factor for me is the story, which has to be interesting enough for me. Nobody can guarantee box-office success and I am not an expert to
know that if I do this film, I will make this much money. Many people know how to judge the potential box-office success of a film but I do have a nose for choosing the right story. I don’t know about the commercial part but I am fortunate enough to get good films.
NK: After he hired me as a director, after Irrfan came on board as an actor, then places complete trust in you and doesn’t interfere.
SS: I believe that a film is a director’s medium. Television maybe a writer’s medium just as theatre is an actor’s medium but cinema is a director’s medium. It is his film. If I know more than he does about the film, why would I hire someone else?
BOI: You mentioned why it took so long to make this film but didn’t the continuity in the look of your actors concern you, especially the child’s?
NK: Yes, my main concern was the kid but fortunately we finished the kid’s part in eight months. Baaki ke actors could maintain the same look. But I was worried about the kid. When he came to dub for the film after a year and a half, he had grown four inches taller!
BOI: Did his voice match?
NK: Yes, his voice matched agar aur do saal hote toh his voice would have changed. But looking at how soon he had grown, I was so glad I finished shooting with him on time!
BOI: Nishikant, you are known for making taut thrillers. What other genres excite you?
NK: I have to make a lot of films.
SS: He has to make romance. I believe he will make an awesome romantic film.
NK: I am a hopeless romantic… (Laughs). Yes, I want to make a romantic film. But romance has been explored so much in Indian cinema that it scares you. If you can’t surpass what’s come before, you should at least be at par warna log bolengay tu acha hi tha thriller willer mein, kyun aaya tu yahaan. To get the story right, we need to get the rhythm right, to get the feel right and the feeling of romance. Also, there are different kinds of romance. For me, Maqbool is a romantic film of Irrfan and Tabu but it is a different kind of romance, a different colour of romance.
BOI: Even Rocky Handsome began with a little romance in the song.
NK: That was just a glimpse to show that even I can do it. (Laughs)
SS: But he will make a romantic film
BOI: You have known each other for 15 years. How has Nishikant grown?
SS: Things have to get exciting for him. If he gets excited about a story, he will make the film but not until then. And no one can make him budge. It’s best to let him do what he thinks is right, when he thinks it’s right. I never call him twice because I know he will do it and he knows how to do it and when to do it, nobody knows better than the director. He is a passionate filmmaker.
BOI: What’s next for you, Nishikant?
NK: I have done four films in two years, it’s scary. I have never done this.
SS: Yes, otherwise he does one film in two to three years.
NK: This time, I would like to take a break and re-analyse, re-understand and reinvent because it’s not about the number of films you make. God has been kind as this is my eighth release. So I must go slow now. I am working on a few subjects but, right now, I am trying to get Madaari out of my system. I don’t even know if I will take six months, a year or a year and a half. Sometimes, things fall in place very quickly as they did in the last two years, but not every time.