SHREE NARAYAN SINGH
Interview By: DANNON MARTIS
Shree Narayan Singh helms ‘Toilet EkPrem Katha’ which talks about a very big social issue in a satirical manner. He returns back to the director’s chair after a gap but is absolutely confident. In an exclusive chat, he shares with us his filmmaking journey, his connection with Neeraj Pandey, how editing has helped him in direction and why he thinks Akshay Kumar is cool.
“I will agree that i was a bit scared as i was directing a film of a big magnitude but within my heart I Knew I can do it”
How did your ﬁlm-making journey start?
Basically I am from a very small town called Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh. When I completed my graduation, I told my dad I want to do something different, something which nobody in my family has done. My father said no one has been a thug in our family, so you can start off with that (Laughs). I wanted to do something with regards to cinema as I was interested in singing. I took admission in Sangit Mahabharti in Mumbai but my name was on the waiting list for a year. I could not go back home because if I went back home then I would not get to come back. So while roaming about here and there in Mumbai I met Mr Madan Kumar who is my guruji. During that period Zee TV was just launched and Mr Madan Kumar was offered to direct the serial Parampara. I joined him as an assistant director and assisted him on 63 episodes, but unfortunately he passed away. While doing Parampara I also learnt editing and I continued working on and o as an assistant director and editor. During this spell I also become good friends with Neeraj Pandey and I worked a bit with him in television. When he decided to make ‘A Wednesday’ he called me and told me that he wanted me as his assistant director and also that I would edit the ﬁlm. From here I went on to edit all his ﬁlms except ‘Naam Shabana’ and ‘Aiyaary’. Direction was also one of my primary goals and there were some projects even announced but for some reason they did not work out. Again it was Neeraj who told me Garima and Siddharth the writers of ‘Ram Leela’ have four-ﬁve ideas which they wanted me to hear. If any idea excited me Neeraj said we would work on it. From all the ideas they told me I liked the idea of ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’ the most as I am from a village and I also used to go out to defecate in the open and connected with the topic. I felt nobody else would be able to handle this subject as good as me. In ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’ I have incorporated a lot of my personal experiences and this has been my ﬁlmmaking journey.
Was there any feeling of nervousness or pressure while taking up ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’?
No not at all. I did not feel any pressure as I had already directed earlier and that gave me more conﬁdence. Also I have edited so many ﬁlms in this period and have assisted Neeraj Pandey and especially since I have known my lead actor from before there was a comfort zone. Yes I will agree that I was a bit scared as I was directing a ﬁlm of a big magnitude but within my heart I knew I can do it.
What were challenges you faced while directing the ﬁlm?
There was no speciﬁc challenge as such. Challenges are always there and one concern which I had was that I wanted to ﬁnish the ﬁlm on time and within the budget. Challenges were there but I had great fun making the ﬁlm and did not realise only when we completed the ﬁlm.
How was your overall experience working with Akshay Kumar and how would you describe him as an actor?
The experience of working with him was amazing. I did not feel at all that I am not working with a star. I also knew him prior as I had worked on ‘Baby’ and ‘Special 26’ so we had a bond. He made me so comfortable and there was a great atmosphere on set which included a lot of pranks and itwas fun working with him. I am very grateful to him and to the almighty. Akshay Kumar is a very good actor, punctual and he is very committed. If you call him at six in the morning for a shoot he is there on time, fully ready along with makeup. When his shot was not there I used to tell him to go and relax in his vanity van, but he would still be on set and tell me what your problem is if I stay here only (Laughs).Akshay Sir is very humble and smart. In today’s time what else do you want, when you have an actor who is cool, cooperative and does not throw any tantrums.
In a recent interview with Prerna Arora (producer of ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’), she said it was the director’s call to cast Bhumi. What was your reason behind casting Bhumi?
I had watched ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ and saw the effort she took to play her character which involved putting on a lot of weight and then after seeing the whole weight loss transformation I thought she suited the character of Jaya well. I found the pairing of Akshay and Bhumi very interesting. Bhumi has done only one ﬁlm, so she comes with no baggage. I thought when we show Bhumi as Jaya on screen people will be convinced she is Jaya. I think it was very easy to cast her.
What do you have to say regarding Bhumi’s performance in the ﬁlm?
I think Bhumi is very good and very sharp as a performer. I think she is a director’s actor and if I required her to do something in a certain way, she would be able to do it with ease and effortlessly.She easily gets into the skin of the character.
According to you what is special about Toilet Ek Prem Katha?
According to me, everything about the ﬁlm is special. I think the message which we are portraying from this ﬁlm is very strong. The songs of the ﬁlm are great and unique. The performances are brilliant and I think once you watch the ﬁlm you will be able to judge if I am lying.
Who are the directors who inspire you as a ﬁlmmaker?
I am a big fan of Raj Kapoor saab, Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla. Also I am a big fan of Neeraj Pandey. There are so many ﬁlmmakers that way that inspire me. Whoever brings out good content, I get inspired by them. Good content motivates me to push myself to do better.
From a personal stand point; going further will there be more emphasis on direction as you have also been a successful editor?
For me personally I would want to balance it out as I cannot leave editing. I don’t want to leave editing as I love it and my job as a director has also become easier because of editing. It is due to editing that I could to get into direction and I will not be able to give it up.
If given a choice who is the one actor or actress you would want to work with other than Akshay and Bhumi and why?
This is a difficult question (laughs) because I want to work with everyone. I want to work with Salman, Shahrukh, Aamir, Bachchan Saab. There are so many and I can’t take a particular name. The key thing is I want to make good ﬁlms and I think who ﬁts well with the story I would approach them and if it’s god’s will I will work with them.