Your very first film Udaan which was made after a lot of struggle went on to get selected at Cannes, eventually getting a lot of critical acclaim. What was the main learning from the whole experience?
Well Udaan gave me the confidence and the feel that I can deliver as a filmmaker. While I always knew that I had it in me to become a good filmmaker, this experience was a validation of that aspect and the feeling. It also gave me a big sense of relief. I also felt that post Udaan I should now very consciously make a bigger film, I did not want to be stuck making small films after Udaan. Obviously the films would be the way I want them to be, but a lot bigger in spectrum.
How did an old story like O.Henry’s The Last Leaf remain with you for so long? What inspired you to make a film based on it? Apparently you and Bhavani Iyer had written the script of Lootera way back in 2004-05, so how did you maintain your conviction about the film for so long?
Well ideally I always wanted Udaan to be my 1st film and Lootera to be my 2nd; however it is when Udaan was getting stuck that I tried to go ahead with Lootera earlier, which again did not happen for various reasons initially. In my mind Lootera was a film which was always meant to happen and never wanted to drop it at any point of time. Incidentally one of the scripts that I had written with Bhavani Iyer prompted a friend to remark that it reminded him of O.Henry’s short story called ‘The Masterpiece and I was like oh! What’s that? Later when we checked it out we realized that it wasn’t actually The Masterpiece, but it was actually The Last Leaf. On reading the story I got hooked to it & decided to write a script on the same along with Bhavani. The story and the whole subject was so arresting that it was enough for me to maintain my conviction of making it into a film one day.
You have worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Anurag Kashyap, 2 different filmmakers, both accomplished in their own right and making their kind of films. What did you learn from each of them?
Well along with Sanjay and Anurag I would also add Manu Gargi and Deepa Mehta to the list, as I had lots to learn from all four of them. With Manu I worked on Disney Club, Disney’s T.V show and he gave me a lot of freedom, freedom to do what I liked and learn in the process. This way I got to do editing (those days there was no Avid or FCP and hence non-linear editing was not possible). So while it was a tough ask it was also interesting to actually work on the basic systems available and slowly migrate to Avid later.
While working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali one of the first things I enjoyed was the feel of working on film and cutting on Steenbeck, something that’s unimaginable now. It was a magical experience for me. While things now are a lot more developed I still thank my early days with SLB where I could get to work on editing, sound design etc all because Sanjay encouraged it. I learnt useful things like craftsmanship, preparation for a scene/shot, breaking a scene, elements of pre-production, production, post production all while working with Sanjay.
When it comes to Anurag Kashyap, the best thing that I like about him as a filmmaker is his spontaneity. He has an uncanny knack of capturing the spontaneity of the moment, something that he taught me. I also learnt not be fearful and be stifled of my inadequacies, either that of my own or what’s around me. All these have been crucial learning’s for me. From Deepa Mehta I learnt how to block/plan a scene every day at the start of the shoot and how to derive efficiency out of the actors. Working on Water was a fantastic experience and gave me so much of insight. Though we did whatever best we could once the film unit shifted to Sri Lanka from Banaras, I still feel it would have been an even better film if made the way it was originally planned as it would have looked a lot more authentic.
You’ve made 2 films so far- Udaan and Lootera and both these films have been appreciated for its music. How do you conceive the use of music in your films? What/how do you brief Amit Trivedi?
With Amit Trivedi there is no need for any handholding at all, he’s a genius. As a filmmaker it’s nice to connect the dots, and I guess in my own way I do it with Amit. I always give him the script and then leave him alone for a few days. Amit enjoys presenting songs to the director and he doesn’t mind if the tune is rejected. In fact with me so far only on one occasion (across both the films) did I have to reject a tune. So that makes the whole process of working on the music so much more enjoyable with Amit. The same is also true in case of Amitabh Bhattacharya, in case of lyrics I do not give him any reference and he still comes up with lyrics which suit the song and the requirement of the film amazingly well. I have always been inspired by legends like S.D.Burman, R.D.Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal etc who had showed so much of variety in the kind of music they composed for various films, many composed around the same time as well. Now look at Amit Trivedi, he has back to back releases in the form of Lootera and Ghanchakkar and both are way too different albums. Working with him makes the whole experience feel magical.
What is your most challenging/favourite moment/portion from Lootera and why?
Well the entire segment which was shot in Purulia was very challenging. It is a difficult place to shoot thanks to all the history associated with it 🙂 and also there was this temple site excavation where we shot which made it quite exciting. Also the 2nd half of the film carries a chase sequence, both these moments were quite challenging and I always wanted to ensure that I pull them off well.
How did you go about arriving at the principal cast of Lootera- Ranveer and Sonakshi? More so because we have heard you mention that they were your first choice. So how did that happen?
Well when it came to Ranveer it was more like a case of casting against type. In his first two films he had played characters which were quite different from that of Varun (the character in Lootera). I met him during a Filmfare Awards show backstage and approached him for the same. Initially he was quite nervous and I was quite looking forward to him coming on board. It was important that he agreed which would enable the film to start rolling.
As far as Pakhi’s character is concerned, it’s a very important character in the film. I wanted someone who’s a good actress and who would have looked the part (a Bengali girl) and who could carry the film. If she did not agree to do it then who knows the film may not have happened as I could not think of anyone better than Sonakshi for the role. In fact it was when I saw Dabangg that I realized that even in her limited portions she held her own against a veteran like Salman Khan. I felt that she has a spark and would make an ideal choice for Pakhi.
While considering Ranveer did you also sub consciously feel that you did not want a conventionally good looking actor for your male lead as it may take away the rawness required for the character?
Well not exactly as I feel in their own ways most of the popular young male stars these days are all flawed with respect to their appearance. No one in my opinion is the perfect chocolate boy hero around and in a way its good as all of them, be it Ranveer, Ranbeer, Shahid etc can all fit into so many varied characters primarily because they can camouflage their looks well.
Why hasn’t Lootera been sent to film festivals unlike Udaan? Do you feel it’s not a festival oriented film?
Well we did want to send it to Cannes but then we did not have the film ready well in time for the deadline. By then the release date had got blocked and hence it was a production call to go ahead and focus on the theatrical release.
What kinds of films usually excite you as a filmmaker and as a viewer?
Well I will watch any film that is honest enough to the craft; I am not particular about genres when it comes to watching films. As for making films I want to make all kinds of films, those different from each other. I do not want to be seen repeating the same kind of films and thus I want to keep challenging myself.
Any particular reason to make Lootera as a period film since you cannot deal with today’s pertinent issues of romantic relationships when it comes to a period setting?
Well I chose to make Lootera naturally the way it was envisaged. I was very clear that I wanted to do justice to the thought behind the concept and not deviate from it. Though I would have loved to make it as a contemporary film, setting the film in present times would have been difficult as there would be certain elements like Social Media which could question the aspect of loneliness required in the film. Also I believe that the 50’s had a lot more innocence than what exists today and I personally find that period setting to be so much exciting. I was also very clear that just because it is a period film I should not attempt to make a picture perfect film. Sure it is a beautiful film but there has been a constant endeavour to ensure that the cinematography does not overshadow the film.
Why do you think that the audience must go and watch Lootera?
Well the audience will never get to see a film like this- Lootera will make you laugh, cry and experience various emotions. It’s a unique film with great performances and good music.
So what are your expectations from Lootera?
Well I want people to like Lootera and watch it multiple times if possible 🙂 . As long as they watch it and maybe appreciate it, I’m satisfied.
What has been your learning’s from the two films you’ve made so far?
Well tough to say anything in this context as every film is different and unique in itself. But yes in terms of production my understanding of the same is a lot better now. For example when compared to Udaan I did not shoot a lot of extra stuff for Lootera, so I did shoot a lot more optimally for my 2nd film. Also Udaan had a lot more rawness than Lootera, but then again it was definitely needed for the same then.
Note- Lootera is due for release on 5th July, we at MAM wish Vikramditya Motwane and his team all the very best for the same.