Abhay Deol, who is starring in this year’s highly anticipated Zoya Akhtar movie, ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’, had it bang on when he said you can’t fool around with his director.
Zoya is uncannily focused on what she wants (vouches her brother director-actor-producer Farhan Akhtar), hates telephonic interviews as she thinks quotes get misquoted, loves writing English poetry, has a talent for reading people, would only feature her brother, if the role fits him, thinks her movie not working at the box office is “no big deal” and admits to have been a “crazy teenager” in her teens.
A chip of the old block, one might agree considering her lyricist dad, Javed Akhtar who isn’t the one to mince words. Though box office success eluded her directorial debut, ‘Luck By Chance’ (2009), it did gladden the critics, with many commenting that the movie was “one of the few Bollywood films that honestly depicted the film industry.”
And nothing infuriates the 37-year-old than talks about “having it easy thanks to her lineage”.
For the casting director-turned- assistant director-turned director and part time actor (did a bit role in Mira Nair’s ‘Kamasutra’- “Working with Mira Nair was the best experience of my life”, she says), it’s not exactly been a cakewalk right from her first film and admits to struggling for seven years to make it.
ZNMD is already being touted as a biggie release, with the audience keen to catch the pair of Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif for the first time on screen, along with Farhan Akhtar, Kalki Koechlin and Abhay Deol. The promo shows potential and the songs are already a big hit on Youtube.
With a statutory warning from Zoya not to ask “corny questions” we begin about her latest movie...
■ So how do you like to define ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ ?
It’s a trip that becomes a journey. The film is essentially about a road trip taken by three friends, just before one of them gets married. They set out to actualise a pact they had made in college, where each will choose an adventure sport and the other two just have to do it. The idea formed in my mind when I went to Barcelona with some girlfriends three years ago and fell in love with the city. When I wanted to write this road movie, weirdly it was set in Mexico and not Spain. Then the story developed in such a way that it needed things that only exists in Spain.
■ Did you have the actors in mind when you wrote the script?
Yes, both Reema Kagti and I wrote the character of Imraan for Farhan. The other two came up later in the process.
■ Was it difficult to convince Hrithik Roshan to be part of a multistarrer?
Not really! When I approached Hrithik I did not even think that I was approaching him for a multi starrer, it simply did not register in my mind. I wanted him in the film and he really liked the script and the part of Arjun. He actually said yes the first time he heard it. The best part is that even though he is a huge star, on the sets, he is simply an actor. He loves what he does and doesn’t take anything for granted.
■ It’s already been compared to ‘Hangover’ and ‘Dil Chahta hai’. Does it irk you?
Sometimes! People are so keen to box you and associate you with something they know and are familiar with. The DCH association is less annoying because they are not saying it’s a copy but when people say it’s a copy of ‘Hangover’ that is upsetting as it’s not and I have too many ideas in my mind than to go around lifting someone else’s.
■ We heard Abhay Deol was unhappy with his role…
He loved his part. In fact I just sent him the script without telling him I wanted him to be Kabir. He read it and told me he wanted to play Kabir. So we were on the same page from day 1. I think luck was on my part as everyone got along with each other. It was grueling work and tiring schedules, but they have tremendous stamina. Plus, there were no star tantrums; they actually had a blast!
■ The tomato festival sequence in Spain has sparked a lot of curiosity. Heard 16 tons of tomatoes worth Rs 1 crore were flown in from Portugal...
Tomatina in Spain is a festival closest to our Holi. They play with tomatoes and the world turns red for the day. Though we had fun it was a logistical nightmare for the producer. We shot in the same location where the festival actually takes place and we had to shut down the town for it. The residents of Bunyol were extremely sweet and in turn they celebrated Tomatina twice last year, once for Spain and once for India.
■ How was Spain?
We spent 3 months on the road...trust me this is a book in itself.
■ You are fine with actors chipping in with their “suggestions” on the sets?
Absolutely! Good actors are not props; they come in with ideas, their own approach and their own process. As a director, one is a guide and a filter and you have to get the best out and that can only happen when your actor thinks about the part as much as you do.
■ What’s the one quality you have imbibed from Farhan, the director?
Just be honest! You can’t bullshit your way in or out of anything. And surprisingly we agree on films most of the time. Our sensibilities are the same.
■ Heard the actors thought you were a hard taskmaster...
(Laughs) Show me a director who’s not and I’ll show you someone with no vision.
■ What did you learn from ‘Luck By Chance’?
That, I love making movies and I should keep directing and that films are the best source of entertainment.
■ You have been a casting director, has it helped in any way while choosing your actors?
Yes it has. I was an assistant director when I was offered my first casting job. I realised I had a camera, an actor and a scene and I had to direct. It was awesome.
■ Which aspect of filmmaking scares you?
Nothing scares me. At the most I will screw it up...no big deal.
■ Kurosawa has reportedly influenced your dad. What about your influences?
Well, there are so many... Stanley Kubrick, Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Mira Nair, Shekhar Kapur, Mani Ratnam, Woody Allen, David Fincher...the list is endless.
■ Do you still write poetry?
Yes, only English. I wish I could write Urdu poetry like my father.
■ What are the films that make you happy?
Singing in the rain makes me very happy...and of course that is followed by 1000 others.
■ What do you think about the new line of young filmmakers, any favourites...
I really like Dibanker Bannerjee, Kiran Rao, Manish Sharma, Anurag Kashyap and Reema Kagti.
■ Why are women directors still seen as someone who can handle only soft subjects?
I have no idea and have no intention of finding out. I just want to keep making films till people know that the above statement is ridiculous.
■ And finally as the film says, do you personally endorse the concept of “living life king sized”?
Of course, I work hard and party harder. I don’t want to miss out on anything. I make time to do the things I love to do. I feel settled in my life.