Leading pair of Welcome 2 Karachi, Jackky Bhagnani and Lauren Gottlieb, in conversation with team Box Office India
Jackky Bhagnani (JB): Basically, we are doing a lot of crazy stuff to promote this film. Luckily, we have Lauren. So, we are using T-shirts and are doing the rounds of pubs. We thought we would promote drinking and having a good time but we will also send out a message that says ‘don’t drink and drive’. That’s why we included autorickshaws in our promotions. We also did a promotional gig at Water Kingdom and we did a dance act at Korum Mall in Mumbai.
Lauren Gottlieb (LG): Everywhere we go, we don’t just pose for the camera. We indulge our audience with comedy; we are nutty people and the film has a nutty flavor. So we are promoting that.
JB: That’s a perfect way to promote a crazy film like this. Someone asked me if I wanted to give the audience a message with this film. I said sure, if you have a stomach problem, don’t watch the film because we are going to make you laugh so much that you will have to run to the loo repeatedly. On a serious note, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on this side of the border or that; there’s no restriction on laughing. Laughter knows no boundaries.
BOI: Who is the target audience for this film?
JB: The good part is that the target audience is people aged between 12 to 60, because everyone will enjoy the humour in the film. It’s clean humour and it’s situational like Dumb And Dumber, Andaz Apna Apna and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. We are not trying to make people laugh by making weird faces or gags; there’s a story. There are these two people who accidently land up in Karachi and there is one Pakistani officer who thinks they are dangerous but in reality they are just plain foolish. The officer is following them and these two characters arrive through the sea route, so she thinks that they are planning a terrorist attack.
LG: They are the dumbest characters so they need a sensible woman in the movie and that is me. I am playing the Pakistani officer. I learnt my lines in Urdu. Being American, it was very difficult for me.
JB: Hopefully, we will make a series like Welcome 2 Rio or Welcome 2 Tokyo. We have taken all the so-called events, monuments and things that are known in Pakistan and mixed them with comedy. That’s what the film is all about.
JB: We shot 60 to 70 per cent of the film in the United Kingdom and the rest in India.
BOI: Are you saying you have passed off the UK as Pakistan?
JB: There is this place in the UK called Bradford, which is also called as Bradistan, where the majority of people are Pakistanis. We did make a set-up of Karachi in India as well. The majority of the interior work was done here. Recreating Karachi was tough.
LG: It was quite risky to shoot in the UK. There was this one helicopter incident…
JB: (Cuts in) Yes, we were shooting in this private area, were we had recreated parts of a Taliban base. We had all these extras dressed like terrorists. We were using real guns with fake bullets and the guns sounded very real. That’s how Hollywood films are shot. While we were shooting, a chopper flew over our location, and Arshad was holding a gun, so he pointed to the chopper. He was just asking what the chopper was doing there or if it was for our shoot. Of course, the chopper was not ours but some local official police helicopter. They looked at us through binoculars and thought this was a real Taliban attack. Very soon, police cars arrived. We got scared but everything was sorted. We had a good laugh later.
BOI: Arshad (Warsi) is known for his comic timing. What was it like to work with him?
JB: Amazing! We all know that this film came to me at a later stage. Irrfan sir left the film and Ashish (R Mohan) and Arshad had to decide whom to cast at short notice. They decided to cast me. I was apprehensive. After all, how could I step into Irrfan sir’s role, and secondly, the character was eccentric in a way, which I was not sure I could pull off.
And it wasn’t like Irrfan sir and my father parted amicably; there was so much happening. But then dad has done so much for me, I couldn’t say no. When I reached the sets, I realised it was not going to be easy. Arshad sir used to guide me, especially when I had to scream my lines. I had to talk with a certain accent, which I used to lose while talking at a high pitch. Arshad sir said the same thing used to happen with him while he was filming Ishqiya. He suggested that I concentrate on my performance and we could take care of the rest while dubbing.
So, in the film, he was acting and I was reacting to him. That’s why people are complimenting me, saying, ‘your timing is looks okay in front of Arshad’. I said, my timing is okay because of him. That’s the reason there was this great rapport between us.
JB: Obliviously, they had to make the character younger and the character sketch did change. But a lot of lines were improvised on the sets by Arshad sir. He is a master when it comes to witty one-liners and I just followed his lead.
LG: It was nice because in Hollywood, we have to stick to the script, nothing can change.
JB: Here, you stick to the script if something is wrong!
LG: Yeah, everyone goes with the flow, something just happens and the script is changed. I have to learn to go with the flow.
JB: But she has become Indian. Initially, we took her for granted because the contract said that we had to give her lines prior to shooting so she could practice. But later we were, like, Lauren these are the lines! It was good fun.
Rishi Kapoor told me while shooting for Kal Kissne Dekha, that from the list of his top 10 films, five were those he never wanted to do or he did by fluke. Now, while promoting the film, I am receiving an outstanding reaction. I didn’t receive such a heartwarming response even for F.A.L.T.U. which became a hit while the response to Youngistaan was not bad. My earlier releases did not generate a lot of excitement but now people are at least aware that a film of mine is about to release. They have watched the promo, they are aware of the music, they find it fun and want to watch the film. And this film was never in my plans. So it’s looking good!
BOI: Do you think this film was destined for you?
JB: I think I should thank Irrfan sir. I met him at an event recently. I went up to him and I thanked him because it was his departure from the film that got me the part. He told me the trailer of the film was really funny, even funnier than what he had imagined. I told him everyone is saying that I ‘replaced Irrfan Khan and I keep telling people that I am not replacing Irrfan sir, I am just trying to do my bit. Sir, I can never replace you; I want to tell you this in person.’
BOI: Did you do any special preparation for the role?
JB: There is this Gujarati guy, Devrishi from MTV Roadies. Someone told me about him and I watched his audition 5,000 times. My accent is exactly like his.
BOI: Do you think comedy is your forte?
JB: Honestly, I have done all kinds of roles, and Youngistaan had no comedy, F.A.L.T.U was a college drama, Rangrezz was a hard-hitting film. Successful or not and apart from Ranbir Kapoor and Varun Dhawan with Badlapur, I think I am the only actor who has done various kinds of roles. So it is great.
BOI: When was Lauren casted? Wasn’t there an actress called ‘KK’, who was to do the film?
JB: Yes, Lauren was casted as we thought she was a better choice than the other actress.
LG: I had completed ABCD and one of the choreographers I knew asked to be a part of a song for the film. I had said no to every single song that came my way because I didn’t want dance to be my only identity, I wanted to do more. So I kept saying no. But ABCD was delayed and there was this film on the table. There was just a song I was to do but they offered me a full-fledged role too.
JB: She was to do the whole film and a song called Shakira. Bosco was shooting a promotional song and asked if we could have Lauren for it. She was to come in during the latter half of the song as the first half was to be with foreign models, Arshad and myself. But when Lauren performed, Bosco decided to not have the models and have only her in the song. And that’s how she went from one song to another, and another, and now she is in all four songs.
BOI: Was it a difficult shoot for both of you?
JB: It was, for me, because of the comic timing and also because Arshad sir would change the lines, for the better, of course. Arshad sir changed the dialogue in such a way that we felt if we didn’t use his lines, it would be a loss. For instance, saying ‘itefaaq’ as ‘utafaaq’ is intelligent humour. How could we not use these lines?
LG: I had to adjust to so many things. I had worked in Hollywood and I had to unlearn practically everything I knew and adapt to the Bollywood way of working. It was challenging.
BOI: What was it like to work with Ashish (R Mohan) and was he okay with all the changes?
JB: All of us realised that, at the end of the day, we are intelligent adults. If the changes helped the film, why would anyone have issues?
LG: He is a fun guy. We would all come together share a few laughs and then he would be, like, ‘Okay, back to work!’ The energy on the set was very nice.
JB: As soon as we got together on the sets, we used to get involved in pranks. Arshad sir comes up with some really outstanding jokes and I was not too bad either. We used to discuss these pranks so much that the associate directos used to come up to us and say, ‘Sir, ‘shot ready hain.’ And we used to be, like, ‘Acha, theek hain, chalo. Shot ready hain!’ The promos will tell you just how much fun we had. I also enjoyed improvising my lines. Arshad sir used to come up with some outstanding lines on the sets, and Ashish used to be, like, ‘Let’s incorporate them in the script.’
BOI: You mentioned earlier that the film doesn’t have a definite ending. Has it been structured so that it is sequel-friendly?
JB: Yes, it’s like a Laurel-and-Hardy concept. If it works, we will definitely make a sequel, where we can pick up the characters and change the set-up a little.
BOI: What more can the audience expect from Welcome 2 Karachi?
JB: Apart from the humour and the comedy, this film will make you cry because you will laugh so much!
LG: Our film has humour and comic timing but the best part is that it is a clean comedy without those clichéd comic lines which force you to laugh.
JB: (Cuts In) The one which you find in films like Masti or Grand Masti. It’s not even in the Humshakals or Entertainment zone. It’s a young, cool and an intelligent comedy.
JB: Not at all! We stayed away from that, and how!
BOI: How safe did you have to play to not sound offensive to Pakistanis?
JB: That’s why we have not strayed into the sentimental zone at all. There’s this one line in the trailer, which says, ‘Bhai border pe aa gaye hai, mere ko toh koi taar bhi nayi dikh rahi hai bhai! Arey Border India aur Pakistan ke beech mein hai, saare taar chori ho gaye honge’. So it’s very clear that both sides have the same mentality. There are lines like that. But that’s about it. We didn’t want to hurt anyone’s sentiments. Also, it’s a humorous film and I am sure audiences in both countries will connect with it.
BOI: Are there any Pakistani actors in the film?
JB: Yes, there is a guy called Adnan Shah, who is a very popular actor in Pakistan. And there is a guy who is playing the main Taliban leader. His character’s name is Agha Jaan. He is outstanding.
BOI: He also features in the trailer, right?
JB: Yes, he is there in the trailer and there is this line which he says, ‘Humein tum par fakar hai’. It sounds really funny when said in a typical accent.
BOI: Being Pakistani, were they okay delivering these lines?
JB: Yes. They realised it was a pro-India-Pakistan kind of film. But neither are we ridiculing the people, nor are we ridiculing their sentiments. We are ridiculing the politics.
BOI: What’s next for both of you?
JB: I didn’t want to do any films with Pooja Films and had locked a few films outside our banner. But this film came along, so I put them on the backburner and will resume work on those movies. I will say bye-bye to Pooja Films for some time.
LG: I have ABCD 2 and Welcome 2 Karachi. It is a very interesting time for me as I am working with some crazy people like Arshad and Jackky. At the trailer launch of Welcome 2 Karachi, they introduced me as the ‘best dancer’ and the press were sitting and nodding. I was sitting there, wondering if this was really happening! So I have these two films in hand. Some day, I would like to be an ambassador from Bollywood to Hollywood. I come from the show, ‘So You think You Can Dance’, and I can’t bear to watch them perform Bollywood numbers on the show because I know they are just so wrong! I am not saying this will happen soon but it will, some day. India has accepted me with so much love. I love living here. I have a couple of scripts coming in, but it’s not the right time as I have to focus on these two films first. I am very confident as I am not in a space with any actresses. So it’s all good.