Being treated like the other woman drives me’
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Why did you think of making a contemporary Devdas?
I always wanted to make a film about relationships but had a problem with the way they were shown in our movies. They never seemed real and the emotional interplay was always over the top. But when Abhay Deol narrated to me the idea of a stripper in a moonlight bar and a lovelorn, self-destructing admirer of hers, I realised the potential of Devdas being interpreted in a modern context.
What makes Abhay and you click?
I have known Abhay for more than 11 years. I met him through Dev.D's co-writer, Vikramaditya Motwane. I initially respected him for living on his own—earning money by sketching and selling T-shirts in Goa—despite being from a filmi family. He also did the storyboards for the blast scene in Black Friday. When he decided to act, I laughed at him, I never saw him as an actor. But after Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, I could not help but admire his courage and refusal to play safe. I wanted to work with him and he with me.
How did you coin the phrase "Emosional Atyachar" for the Dev.D song?
"Atyachaar" was already in my head, because of one line in the movie's other song Pardesi. It goes, "Ib ke hoge agge yaar". The first time, "agge yaar" sounded like "atyachaar". When I heard the song a second time, I asked composer Amit Trivedi why he omitted "atyachaar" from it. He said the word was never there. Then, one night, "emosional atyachaar" occurred to me and I called Amit and told him to make a song around the phrase.
A Facebook group is devoted to the song.
Somewhere, we knew it would strike a chord with the youth, especially in UP, Delhi, Bihar and MP. But I didn't expect this kind of a response. The Facebook group came as a surprise and then I found out it was started by my nephew. When a lot of users started joining the group, it really blew me. Definitely feels good as it is my first blockbuster song since Kallu mama (Satya), 11 years ago.
Dev.D has 18 tracks. Was directing your first-ever musical different?
It was scary. We decided to make it a musical because of Amit's music. A lot of credit goes to him for that. But I am uncomfortable shooting songs and hate the idea of actors lip-syncing them. Dev.D is not your regular musical. In it, songs aren't sung by the characters—they are treated like scenes and states of mind or journeys of the characters.
Aren't some of the scenes straight out of your life?
I've been an alcoholic and experimented with drugs. I've been a drifter and caught in severe depression thrice. I have made huge mistakes and botched up a big relationship in the past. I have walked the length and breadth of Paharganj doing things Dev does in the movie.
You've credited Danny Boyle with helping you shoot the drug scenes.
We did not want to show Dev actually tripping on the drugs but only create the feeling of it. So, I asked Danny if the camera could trip, if the visual on screen could go crazy without spending a lot on SFX. He told me about a still camera he used for the riot scene in Slumdog Millionaire or in the end, when Salim throws money at the camera. We used that camera and hence, I thank him in Dev.D's opening credits.
The chase through Dharavi in Slumdog is based on a police chase in Black Friday. Do we see a meeting of creative minds here?
Danny is now a friend. After he saw Black Friday, he wanted to meet me to talk about how I shot in those locations. He met the crew of the film and ended up using a lot of them. His idea behind shooting the chase was the same as mine—exploring the geography of the area and exposing a way of life. We have discussed many ideas to work on together but so far, it has been random, as I was busy with Gulaal and Dev.D and he with Slumdog... I hope it turns out to be a meeting of minds as he's my favourite director and his movies have inspired my first film, Paanch. Most of the time, I'm either tongue-tied in front of him or excited like a child.
Gulaal is releasing in March—seven years after you began making it.
Gulaal is my angriest film. I wrote it in my angriest phase—right after Paanch got banned. It took long to get completed because everywhere I went, they wanted to know who was starring in it. Finally, Jhamu Sugandh took it on after he saw Black Friday. But he fell sick and it got stuck. Then, I met Deepak Sharma, who didn't ask me about its cast but its script. Completing it was such a relief. Politically, it makes much more sense today. A Raj Thackeray is all it takes to make the film contemporary.
Isn't Gulaal's unusual plot—a struggle by Rajput princes to regain control over Rajasthan from the Indian government—a big risk?
You know what? I just saw two brilliant movies—Zoya Akhtar's Luck by Chance and Imtiaz Ali's Love Aaj Kal. Taking risks is going to be the safest thing now and playing safe will become a big no. This is the year Hindi mainstream cinema will change. There'll be so many unusual plots that people will lose count. And this won't be just a low-budget thing—it will be mainstream, contributed to by the likes of UTV, Excel and even a Karan Johar.
What else are you working on?
I'm doing the umpteenth draft of Bombay Velvet and working on the script of Doga—my two big ones. I've also scripted three low-budget films.
Your journey in Bollywood has been rather tumultuous.
Oh, it has been eventful. Hard, heart-breaking, damaging and a series of lows. But I guess that is what'll make me what I'll eventually become. Somewhere, it has grounded me and made me stronger. And my continuous battle with circumstances has also won me a lot of support—a whole new generation of people has become my support system. In a way, it's good the way things have happened. I am positive and hopefully tougher now.
Do you still feel you are an outsider?
Yes, I still feel like an outsider and hopefully I will stay that. I am too scared to become an insider. Being treated like the other woman drives me. I wouldn't want to lose that.