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Seated in his Aaram Nagar office, director Subhash Kapoor confesses that the box-office collections for his Phas Gaye Re Obama have surprised him. "I expected a certain amount of critical acclaim—after all, Indians do enjoy some amount of US-bashing—but nothing had prepared me for the house full boards in the second week after release," he says, the excitement evident in his voice. "But what I consider the real feather in our cap is that Phas Gaye is the only small film to do well this year without any Godfathers backing it," he points out, referring to Ekta Kapoor's Love Sex Aur Dhokha, Aamir Khan Productions' Peepli Live and Tere Bin Laden by Pooja Shetty Deora's Walkwater Productions.
The film, which opened in select metropolitan cities, has already collected close to 10 crores and is opening across multiple screens in second tier cities this Friday. Subhash is in a celebratory mood and is exchanging collection figures with Rajat Kapoor, Manu Rishi and Sanjay Mishra —the three actors most applauded for their performances in the film—over a cup of tea and breakfast.
Subhash says that the chemistry of the Bhaisahab gang, the one at the bottom of the rung in the film, is his favourite. "The spirit of the team was phenomenal. And in a small film, where budgets are a constraint, that's what counts. Between shots, Rajat would sit with the assistant directors and schedule shoots. Sanjay would never be caught sleeping in the vanity van despite being a veteran actor; he would instead cook for the entire crew."
But it's the camaraderie between Rajat and Rishi that stands out—both on the screen as well as off it. Rajat attributes this to their 12-year-old friendship. "The comfort and trust we share shows through," adds Rishi, who started his acting career with Rajat's Raghu Romeo and then earned acclaim for playing Abhay Deol's sidekick Bangali in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, also winning an award for writing the dialogues of the same film.
But both Rajat and Rishi insist that the winning performance in the film was by Mishra whose improvisations would have them in splits. The veteran actor, in his rustic humour, dismisses their claim. "The film fraternity carries words, such as improvisation and 'method-acting' in their pockets to bring them out whenever required," Recounting his experience on the sets, Mishra adds, "An actor should use his co-actors as a mirror to deliver a good performance—it's a give and take. But when you have colleagues who constantly use mirrors to ensure they're looking good, they only act for themselves and other's performance suffers."
The team feels that the reason the film has worked is because the audience saw honesty in the script and performances. "It's true the audience wants to watch glossed-up faces and films are their means for escapism, but sometimes they want to see themselves on screen too," says Rajat, who is known for acclaimed yet small films like Mithya. Mishra adds, "The reason people enjoyed watching Phas Gaye is that the characters were natural. The film heroes that we admire on screen may seem brave, but the fact is that when there is a fire, everyone runs."
Rishi is hoping the recognition will result in a situation where he can choose his roles. "He's already turned a star. Didn't you see what time he turned up today?" laughs Rajat. As Rishi fumbles to counter his friend's remark, Subhash quickly adds, "He has already refused Karan Johar." Rishi attempts to explain that he merely asked Johar to see his work before considering him for the role, but his voice is drowned in the laughter that rises from the group.