SHOOJIT SIRCAR & BANITA SANDHU
Interview By: Drishti Pandey
Shoojit Sircar is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who have blended unconventional stories and commercial cinema so seamlessly. We spoke to him about his recent film ‘October’ which is not a love story but a story about love. Shoojit along with his actress Banita Sandhu gave us the insights about the whole feel of ‘October’ love. Read on…
Looking back to the films you’ve done this time the subject of core is at love, what was the triggering point when you thought of the subject and message behind the film?
Shoojit: To start with, the core of the subject is love but not a love story which the trailer says and a lot of people thought that it is a marketing strategy but it is not a marketing strategy at all. Frankly speaking it is a story about love. This is not a story about hugs and kisses, about this and that, the film is not about that at all, it is about simple human emotions, in everyday life we do things which makes us happy. We do something everyday which makes us happy but we don’t hold to that, as instantly later we are more busy with our jobs and you forget about that moment but that moment definitely gave you lot of happiness. It happens with us; we do something unknowingly for someone without any consideration and it just makes you feel satisfied but than a moment later you forget about that and get into stress. But if you can hold onto that and remain with it, so I think this story is about that emotion and it just brings in a lot of compassion which this film is all about, this film is all about innocence, this film is all about purity. So it is about that purity which in present day because of the fastness in which we are living we forget the small things. This film dwells upon those small things which are not limited to a boy and a girl, it could be between any one, it could be in any relationship that’s there; and that is what ‘OCTOBER’ is all about. And message is not my whole idea behind the film. My whole idea is to make people including me and all of you people who are jumping all through the day to pull them down to their seat and they could quietly sit and watch this film. That’s my job; my job is to not give a message. See, cinema is a director’s expression, so if they find some expression from it, they believe on those thoughts, they believe in that insights it is good but message is not the idea behind making a film.
How did you decide to cast Banita in this film?
Shoojit: You look at her, can you ignore her. She is just lovely person first. For me the most important is the person you have and the rest is by the way. So, first as a person who you are from inside and then do you relate to us, do you relate to our kind of thinking, the kind of cinema we are making. We don’t want to make some abstract kind of cinema; we just want to make a slice of life kind of a film. So that was the main thing, she is just 20 years old but looked matured and she expresses a lot through her eyes, her eyes will tell what she is going through from inside. Just doing very less, little, not over the top so that was my job and that’s what I saw while shooting that double mint commercial. So I took a picture of her first day itself of the shoot and then showed it to Ronnie and Juhi and they said if I am sure then let’s take her.
Varun wanted to work with you for a long time so how did he join the cast?
Shoojit: I am extremely sorry to Varun as I have not seen any of his films so far. So I don’t know how he was, I knew that he was jumping all around the place, singing, dancing, full of energy. I actually didn’t have any clue how he was, our planets don’t match at all and I am from mars he is from earth. He was not chasing me, the entire 2016 he called me just to meet and he was accidental as a cast, because we were looking for fresh faces, so he came and just said I wanted to meet you, so he came over I saw him and then I saw a different side of him. So I had a complete pre-notion about him and the world he was living and I saw there is something boyish about him, I saw some innocence in him and it was my gut to go with him. so I did the same thing I had that picture of him which is there in social media, here he was looking very clumsy and he told me,‘I have just woken up’, I said you just come because I wanted a character who is clumsy basically. I then clicked the picture and send it to Ronnie and Juhi and asked if they are sure. Juhialso told me that she was thinking the same to cast Varun. But Ronnie and Juhi instantly agreed and that’s how the process starts.
How was it working with him as he is a box-office star?
Shoojit: Well box – office star doesn’t bother me; my only botheration is how to make him unlearn what he has learned. So the challenge was that because I didn’t want that Varun, I wanted my Dan. I didn’t want Varun, but Dan is possible when Varun thinks inside him that he has that innocence inside him to play Dan. This should be practiced by every actor. Surrendering is a very normal thing for any actor if you look from Meryl Streep she said the same thing she surrendered herself to Steven Spielberg. So you have no option, you have to surrender, that’s the basic thing, if you don’t surrender then I don’t know how you will act in the film. How will you come in the same page with the director? So he surrendered and that was a bit difficult for him but brave of him, he came from another world and to come in our world and to surrender himself; I think we should give it to him for blindly trusting me.
Were you looking for fresh faces firstly?
Shoojit: Yes we were and we had auditioned also and had shortlisted two three but were not satisfied. Banita was locked instantly when I met her for double mint commercial shoot. I was very sure that she is the girl. Other cast also we were sure only Dan was not. This film was supposed to be shot before ‘PINK’
but we could not shoot. It was about to be shot before ‘JUDWAA 2’ but then the kind of commitment we were asking for no cell phones, not coming back to Bombay at all, so he said let me finish ‘JUDWAA 2’ and then I will come.
You said you were not ready to be a part of the film industry, why were you a bit skeptical about it?
Banita: I was never skeptical but I never considered it because of the language barrier. I never thought I will be able to do justice given that I am outside from that world. I have grown up in a completely different culture, my accent is very wrong so I never thought I will able to overcome that but the idea was to come to India and explore my heritage when I was 18 and do some arts. So that is a great way to work and be independent, so to come and get an offer from him and the reason why I took this film up, I did not know the storyline exactly, I knew nothing, all I knew was that he was directing this film and that was enough for me and despite the language barrier, despite all that, I knew that I was in such safe hands. So I could not say no to this film.
How did you overcome your barrier?
Banita: There is a misconception about Bollywood films that they are all about dancing and singing. That’s not it all and in the digital era we live in foreign languages films were predominately English speaking audiences so it’s not a barrier anymore. So there should not be any reason why English speaking audiences should not watch a Hindi film. I mean look at Netfl ix it has Spanish, English, French so Hindi should also be up there. The language barrier was overcome; luckily I was offered a role far back and I had time on my back. So while I was staying in London and when you are surrounded by English speaking people it is very hard to pick up a language. But I couldn’t just pack my bags and come here. So we came up with an idea of Skype every day and conversation should happen in Hindi, so by the time I came on the sets I could very much understand but speaking is a problem still but in the film I think we have done a pretty good job and one thing we were stubborn upon while I signed the film was; no one else will do my dubbing as there is so much I have given in the performance.
"I am influenced by one and only Satyajit Ray"
All your previous films are high subject oriented but are not mainstream, so is ‘OCTOBER’ a film which targets a huge audience?
Shoojit: No you have an audience, I don’t know how to differentiate an audience it is very difficult. I like Indian cinema, I like Bengali cinema, I like SAIRAT, I like NATSAMRAT, I like Marathi Films, I like Spanish Films and I like the Hollywood films so similarly, this is also a film. But yeah if you are coming thinking it is a Shoojit Sircar film and I am going to see dance and all no, absolutely don’t come to see a dance in my film. My films are purely story and narrative and it will always be like this.
Would you like to do a masala entertaining film sometime?
Shoojit: I will fail miserab.
In your film a little bit of Hrishikesh Mukherjee style is always there?
Shoojit: I don’t know you all can judge that I am influenced by one and only Satyajit Ray, I have always watched his films; I watch his film every week and I tell every actor to watch his films and from all the actors I have worked I make sure that you please watch Ray, it’s just Ray who is my everything.
When you have worked with Deepika Padukone and Varun Dhwan how difficult it is to approach them?
Shoojit: Let me tell you they are not that difficult people, they also want to do this. If I wouldn’t have gone to Deepika and said I am coming, it is for her to say; yes to do a fi lm about constipation is brave and Mr. Bachchan playing a constipated character, if I would go to somebody else and ask they will be like who are you just go away. So it is their willingness to do it, you go with them with a certain integrity I think they will respond to that.
What do you tell your actors before the start of the film ?
Shoojit: Just one thing whether you are honest or not? Because if you are not, you won’t survive in this fi lm and if you are honest then only you will be able to survive the drill. Because camera is something where you cannot hide anything, it can see through your eyes and know that you are still not honest, you are doing it but you are still not honest.
In future are you planning to make any sequels of your hit films
Shoojit: Hit films? Which are the ones (Laughs). I think a sequel of VICKY DONOR would be interesting.