Jaideep Sahni is the sweetest guy I know of and it’s great that things are looking up for him. This week, he has Aaja Nachle releasing and again like Chak De India, this appears like a ‘writer’s film’. Saddled with a busy schedule and a throat infection, he requested if he could do our interview on email. I consented, though I suspect Jaideep is a bit wary of being misqouted in general and this he deems as a safer option. Anyway, email interviews always turn out a bit tame, considering the interviewees are extra cautious of what they actually write down. But again, there’s the added credibility of the answers being verbatim.
So read on…
1. With writers like Anurag Kashyap, Prasoon Joshi, Abbas Tyrewala and youself in the fray, the complexion of scriptwriting seems to changing for the better. With successes like Khosla Ka Ghosla, Satya, Sarkar, Munnabhai and now Chak De India (which relied heavily on good writing), there’s a definite premium on having talented writers on
board. Do you sense this change and any reasons you attribute it to?
I think the biggest thanks for this should go to the audience who has in the last few years supported films with distinct stories and real, worked upon characters. Much support has also come from many producers, directors and actors who see value in good writing and invest in it, like the producers and directors of the films you have mentioned and those I have done. And of course, more and more writers investing in learning their craft, taking responsibility for what they put on paper, and generally avoiding bad work as much as they can help it. Itâ€™s all kind of slowly coming together which is nice, though there is still a long way to go.
2. I believe Aditya Chopra had an outline of a story for Aaja Nachle and then developed it further along with you and Anil Mehta. What was your plan for the script once you knew that Madhuri would be on board. What has been your impression about her as an actress and how did you wish to present her character in her second comeback film?
Yes, the film is based on a story by Adi, and it was a very nice opportunity for me to create and play around with some really interesting characters, and then we were very fortunate to get some of the finest actors in Hindi films to play the parts, besides Madhuri herself.
When Adi shared his story idea with Anil Mehta and me, and followed up within a few days with another idea of Madhuri playing Dia in the story, it really excited us all and pretty much became our only choice. We were lucky that when we shared it with her, she thought so too and took the time out to do this film. So though the story was initially conceived without her in mind, the screenplay, dialogues and lyrics were written with the knowledge that she would be playing the protagonist.
It can be a little intimidating in the beginning, but at some point of time you have to stop thinking about all this stuff and just get on with your job. Also, sometimes when you do get to know at some point during writing that an actor of a certain caliber is going to be playing a big part, as in the case of Aja Nachle, it does in a strange way give you the courage to try out things and go for creating moments which you otherwise might not have tried, so in a way it can be somewhat liberating too. But in general I think itâ€™s very complex thing to try creating or modifying scenes to fit actorsâ€™ images, being too calculative about such things can distort the story and make it go out of control, and we avoided doing too many calculations. We were fortunate that there already were good resonances between the subject, the story and the character, and the actor, and we decided to leave it at that, rather than getting calculative to the point of abusing it.
3. Also, Madhuri Dixit is one of the few actresses who commanded a certain commercial clout at the boxoffice, in the sense that films actually sold on her name. That phenomenon died with her going away and today, none of the current actresses command the ability to
actually make a difference to a film, in terms of trade. Consequently, heroine-oriented films are still considered a dicey proposition (Lagaa Chunari, Umrao Jaan). Do you see this as a reflection of the fact that barring a few actresses like Rani, we really don’t have too many exciting actresses around? Or is it about a certain ingrained chauvinism to always have the hero leading the show?
I think not having strong women protagonists has just been a part of lazy thinking and nothing else. Ingrained chauvinism, just by the virtue of being ingrained, is also laziness. The rare films we have made with women protagonists, barring few honourable exceptions, have been violent or trying to be sexy revenge dramas where the draw was supposed to be sensationalism and not the character or the story.
Madhuri and her films were perhaps the only exceptions to this rule for which the credit goes her performances which many times forced people to empathise even with very meager support from the rest of the film itself, barring, like I said before, few honourable exceptions.
While actors like Madhuri, or today Rani, have been league definers in terms of performance, there are enough and more exciting actresses who would surprise the hell out of us with their talent, if only we wrote roles worthy of them in the first place. We are wasting fine actresses on silly parts and have no right to complain about lack of actresses.
4. In that sense Chak De India broke that stereotype and showed courage to stick by the demands of the script, even if that meant keeping the girls in the forefront and a superstar as spectator for most part. Looking back, was that a tough decision to make?
We never really saw the role of the coach as a spectator as you felt it, we thought there were two protagonists, the coach and the team, and worked accordingly. In any case we all knew the film we wanted to make, and stuck pretty much to it in the making. Of course this does not mean that we were super confident and had predicted in advance the scale of the filmâ€™s successâ€”we hadnâ€™tâ€”but at no point of time did any of us in either the cast or crew, including Shahrukh, had another film in mind.
5. I believe you are penning down a script with Yash Chopra. Anything you can share with me on this?
Very early stages yet.
7. Several scriptwriters slowly make the transition towards direction, any plans for the same?
8. Recently when Anurag Kashyap made No Smoking , a heated debate was thrown up in media circles and the blogging world about whether a director/writer can make any film he wishes, without really caring for what the sensibility of his audiences might be. His refrain was that Indian audiences must grow up and wake up to ‘superior cinema’. What is your take on this? Is it wrong for a writer/director to be self-indulgent and try to break existing moulds? Would you do it?
I think itâ€™s any artistâ€™s right to make the film or book or painting or sculpture that he or she wants to make, whether itâ€™s called superior or inferior by commentators. Thereâ€™s a name for it, which is the right of self expression, within the bounds of the fundamental duties as defined in the constitution. And if his producers and investors were as excited with the idea as the artist is, I donâ€™t see what anybody elseâ€™s problem with it can be.
Yes, I would do it, if my producers and investors believe in it as much as I do. When Khosla Ka Ghosla or Chak De were in the making stage, they were considered pretty much dodos by many people, and were very often called as self-indulgent by many. Those people turned out wrongâ€”they could have equally easily turned our right had the films not workedâ€”but neither case takes away our right as a cast, crew, writer, director and producer to make what we felt like making. I donâ€™t see what the debate isâ€”as far as I am concerned, if itâ€™s not done at anybodyâ€™s expense, and everyone knows what they are getting into, there is no debate.