Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR

He turned producer with ‘Neerja’ and the film still continues to be spoken about. His creative side is no news, considering his photography, Atul Kasbekar is also seems to have turned a hands-on producer just with his second film. Just as his latest film, ‘Tumhari Sulu’ hits the theatres, the photographer-turned-producer chats with us!

“Whatever you do creatively, but you also have to remember the commercial side of the business”

What’s the feeling like during a release?
You know, in the process of making a motion picture, there are so many things you need to take care of. So many boxes to tick. If I look back now, whatever boxes I had to tick, I have done. Now the only boxes left to be ticked are by some Godly source (laughs). I can’t do beyond that.

What was it that made you back ‘Tumhari Sulu’?
We want to be known as people who back interesting subjects. ‘Neerja’ was a hatke subject, this was also hatke. And it needs to be a space that people haven’t occupied too much. For example, in my head, the first seven pages of ‘Neerja’ made me feel that nobody has made a film on hijack, so let us do it. That was the core thought. Of course, when you investigate the story further you realise there’s a mother-daughter story there. That’s separate but the first thought was, not many films have been made on the backdrop of hijack so let’s do that. Here ‘Tumhari Sulu’ to me was a Hrishikesh Mukherjee kind of film. And the writing was urban, it was superb. Like Hrishida’s movies, the characters are relatable. There was a believable quality about it. In the comedy genre, nobody has done this in a long time. I’ve been a huge fan of Hrishikesh Mukherjee kind of movies. So, I thought this will be a modern day homage to the master. Suresh had done a wonderful job writing it.

Like you mentioned that you want to back interesting subjects, so are you also happy about following up ‘Neerja’ with ‘Tumhari Sulu’?
I’m very happy about that. After Neerja was over, so many people came up to me and asked me, what’s your next biopic. How about people asking what’s my next motion picture? I feel there are so many different stories around us, which are written in a real manner, that you just need to look hard and you’ll find them. Now people are talking about content. But frankly when we started ‘Neerja’ three years ago, our only thing was that the audience is going to come to a theatre if you give it good reason to come to the theatre. If you give them the same rubbish, they are not going to come. Our logic is just that we ask ourselves if we will go to the theatre to watch this. To go to the theatre is an episode these days. When you have the option of watching some visual communication on some device next to you then goingto the theatre needs effort. You must give them a reason to make the effort.

This time around, was the experience better since you’ve also learnt with ‘Neerja’?
Yes, and you know there’s this line that, ‘each film has its own journey’. What’s common with both movies is that, both movies have gathered a lot of goodwill. With ‘Neerja’ the moment we started that project and people learnt about her, we had a lot of support and help from people all round. Whether it was the Government authorities, the airport authorities. There was a lot of goodwill very early. Here this is a simple subject. Ever since the promos and all have come out, there’s been a lot of goodwill and warmth towards this film. There’s a little glow around it. People are feeling good about it, there’s a relatability around it. But the thing with ‘Neerja’ is that, the story is so powerful in itself that it is easier to reach out to people. If I tell you, it’s a story of a girl who has been given three bravery awards by three different countries around the world, and we’ve forgotten about her, and she’s been a part of the worse hijacking in airline history then automatically I’ve got your attention. In case of ‘Tumhari Sulu’ what happened was the build-up was slower. But it obviously takes time because she is an ordinary person who nobody knows about.

“When you have the option of watching some visual communication on some device next to you then going to the theatre needs effort. You must give them a reason to make the effort”

Did you always have Vidya Balan in mind for the role?
Suresh Triveni had written the script with Vidya in mind and if she had said no, we wouldn’t have made the film. I’m saying this on record, that this film will be a benchmark in Vidya’s filmography. For anyone who appreciates good cinema and good acting, this will be in their top two Vidya Balan films. I will put my neck on the line and say that.

Sometimes do you think a simple film like ‘Tumhari Sulu’, is important amidst those huge big budget films, where technicality and visual appeal plays the key role?
I feel that now, most films have reached a technical standard in any case. And it’s a bit odd that we’ve reached a little late. When I was learning photography there was a gentlemen teaching us in the final class who told us that good technique is a term reserved for third world country. If you are a professional photographer, it is assumed that your technique is flawless. You are not doing a favour on anyone by giving them a perfect picture. So, it’s all about what else are you bringing to the table? What’s your aesthetic sense, your art, your style? All these things will matter in a technically perfect photograph. Only in a third world country they will say, this will say this is a technically perfect photograph. I’m glad now that our films have reached a certain standard. And you also need good technique to work the simplicity. So, if you see ‘Tumhari Sulu’, and the the camera work by Saurabh Goswami, to make a middle class set look interesting is very difficult but he has done it in a manner where it looks beautiful. So, that’s one part. At the end of the day, it’s about the emotions, the relatability. That’s what I like about ‘Tumhari Sulu’ and you have a smile on your face when you leave the theatre. So, for me, it’s about an era that we have not visited in a while and a gentler way of doing comedy, which is not so slapstick.

How do you think 2017 has been so far, for Hindi cinema?
Whenever a new mode of communication comes, there’s always a time of flux until everything settles down. Like what happened in case of ‘Qarib Qarib Single’. There’s a bit of back and forth between the exhibitors, distributors, producers and owners of the digital medium. So, I think it’s one of those things which needs to be sorted quickly. On the creative front, I think this was a slow year. It will end on a bang with ‘Padmavati’ and ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’. For me, there are only two ways to make movies right now, which might seem slightly safer. One is like our film, ‘Hindi Medium’, ‘Shubh Mangal Savdhaan’, which are high content, very focused, very tight production with no compromise. And the other way is go all out there and do big films like a ‘Padmavati’, ‘Tiger’, ‘Judwaa 2’. You go out there and make it a visual spectacle which can only be experienced best on a big screen. At the end of it, it’s a business. Whatever you do creatively, but you also have to remember the commercial side of the business. We believe there should be a great responsibility towards someone else’s money. And the two reasonably logical trends are, either you have a visual spectacle which costs a lot of money or then it’s the kind of smaller films which we are doing.

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