Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar

Post ‘OMG – Oh My God’, Umesh Shukla has made another film based on a play. His latest, ‘102 Not Out’ is adapted from a Gujarati play with the same name and the film-maker has managed to get two legends together for this one! In a candid chat, Umesh Shukla speaks about the film, working with Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, amidst lots more…

“My craft shouldn’t overpower the content”

Was it a task getting these two legends together in a film after 27 years?
It was not difficult at all, and the reason for that is that, the script is so strong. Today, the content matters the most and that’s what I believe is there in the film. The film is based on a play which I had produced which was written by Saumya Joshi. When we were making the play, that’s when we knew that it’s a universal subject. Like in ‘OMG’, God is a universal subject which everyone can relate to, similarly, father and son or a mother-daughter relationship is something everyone can relate to. We’ve seen many films in which you see a 35-40 year old father and a 10-15 year old son or 60 year old father and a 30 year old son. But the USP of this film is that the father is 102 years old and the son is 75 years old. So, the conflict here is different. Now both have retired and that’s the funny hook here. Mr. Bachchan tells his son that he wants to break the record of the longest living man who is from China and is 120 years old and when he researched why he has lived so long, he found that this guy didn’t let anything boring stay around him. Then he realises that I have just one boring thing around me and that’s my son. So he decides to put his son into old age home. And the entire journey of these two characters begin. When I narrated this to Mr. Bachchan, he said he was doing this film, just within 10 minutes. That same thing happened with Rishi ji. He was instantly on board.

What was it about the play which made you want to make this film? And what were the changes that you’ll brought in, while making it into the film?
I felt that the conflict here was very fresh and it’s not something we’ve seen in any film. The crowd that usually comes to watch plays is generally above the age of 35-40, but this play got 70-80 percent youngsters in the audience. The play was was responsible in getting youngsters to watch theatre. So, I’m expecting that youngsters will go watch the film for the spirit. The core idea is that age is just a number and you just need to have that enthusiasm and spirit at any age. As far as the changes are concerned, normally, a drama has this phenomenon of suspension of belief. You start believing what you are seeing and some things you will assume. But in a film, you have to show everything, and all the details. You also have to stretch it to many scenes. Both the crafts are equally challenging and have their fun elements.

‘OMG’, ‘All Is Well’ to now ‘102 Not Out’ – what has been the challenge and learning?
I have learnt a lot but at the same time, God is kind to me. ‘All Is Well’ didn’t do very well at the box-office for various reasons. It took two and a half years to make that film. Initially, Smriti Irani ji was there in the movie, and then she became HRD minister, so I had to scrap the entire shooting of 29 days and re-shoot everything again. After 8 months, even the looks had changed, and the other actors also had to reshoot so a lot of things happened. But my approach was always good and new even in that film. We’ve never seen a film where the entire family is on the run and nobody is gelling up with each other but later they realise each other’s importance. But, clearly, the film didn’t turn out the way I wanted. So, I was a little worried that who will come on board for my next film because you are judged only on your last Friday. Here, it’s only God’s grace that I found such a wonderful script which got such legends on board for me.

What was the scenario on the set like with these two actors? Especially, since the film taps upon their comic timing…
You won’t realise that Mr. Bachchan and Rishi ji are working together after 27years. From day 1, their equation was the same. Of course, we did workshops of 2-3 days so there was that comfort even with the script. It was well-sorted. Chintu ji is a very spontaneous actor and if you see Bachchan Saab, he believes in homework. But when you see Mr. Bachchan, you will never feel that he has rehearsed or he is a method actor. He performs so subtly. And it’s not always that he will perform what he has rehearsed. The way he transforms to the character is something else, and you will never feel that this is Amitabh Bachchan in front of you. And Chintu ji is a very spontaneous actor so you just learn a lot, as to how they completely transform themselves, the moment the make-up is on. I am blessed to have worked with these two legends.

What is the influence that you get from theatre which reflects in your movies?
First of all, my craft shouldn’t overpower the content. That’s the key. I don’t want to take a shot where people say, ‘kya shot tha!’ People’s attention should be more on my content than my camera angles. I make it as simple as possible so that its effect on people is the way we’ve thought of. The kind of movies we have grown up on – movies made by Hrishikesh Mukerjee, Basu Chatterjee, Bimal Roy – the beauty of these films was simplicity. That’s my idea. I want simplicity in my films. In theatre, we experiment with a lot of subjects. The thing about theatre is that, you will get instant feedback. So, with every show we improvise and we get a chance to do that. But with films, you don’t get that liberty.

Would you always have an inclination towards adapting plays into movies?
Not always. There are two scripts which I’m working on. One is a movie based on marital issues and another one is a satire.

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