What is common between filmmaker Onir and the lead actor of his upcoming film, Shab? The number 17.
If it took 17 years for Onir’s first script to hit the theatres, newcomer Ashish Bisht made the cut as its lead after being rejected 17 times over one-and-a-half years of auditioning for the role.
The film was initially titled Kaash (if only), and Onir says, “Shab is a story that closely resembles night-dark, discreet and mysterious, dreams and desires, some of which see the light of the day, and many others that remain buried. It’s a gripping tale of four lives through four seasons set in Delhi, and how destiny and city shape their lives.”
Drawing a parallel between himself and Bisht, Onir says, “Like me, he was persistent, and that paid off. I kept working on the script and chased the dream of it turning into a film. I first met Ashish in Delhi in 2010 when he auditioned for a role, and today he is here as Azfar in Shab.”
The other factor that worked in Bisht’s favour for the role of an aspiring model from a small town who comes to a big city like Delhi to realise his dreams in Shab is his modelling background, and “innocence and vulnerability", Onir says. "A star would have lacked the believability factor. Ashish brings a unique charm to his onscreen character that makes it real and relatable,” adds Onir.
Onir chose Arpita Chatterjee as the female lead on his intuition. “It was purely accidental. I’d gone to meet her husband Prosenjit when I first saw her walking down the stairs. I knew nothing about her then, but I was somehow sure that she was the best fit for Raina,” he says.
“I chose Shab because I loved Raina’s character,” she says. “Raina is a multi-layered character, and there is a lot of mystery that will unfold as the plot progresses.”
Calling actors Raveena Tandon and Sanjay Suri as the partners of Shab’s birth, growth and delivery, Onir, says, “We had developed a special bond during Daman, and both of them kept on persuading me to write and direct. I had written the story with Raveena and Sanjay in mind, and when I decided to make a film, I was happy to have both of them onboard. Bisht is playing the role that was to be played by Sanjay, but Raveena is the perfect choice for South Delhi socialite Sonal Modi.”
Raveena adds, “Onir and I have known each other for the longest time, and when he came to me with Shab, it was an easy yes. Since he never gave up on the story all these years, I didn’t want to either. My character is wicked and relatable at the same time.”
The film recently had a world premiere at the New York Film Festival. Onir is gearing up to start work on his next, Kuch Bheege Alfaaz, in July.