NEW DELHI: For a filmmaker whose movies are a peek into life as it is, Shoojit Sircar says he finds the diversity of the ordinary in India fascinating.
It is this inclination towards the everyday life which makes Sircar return to stories like 'Vicky Donor', 'Piku', 'October' or the upcoming 'Gulabo Sitabo', starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana as Mirza and Banke.
"I am really influenced by normal, simple, everyday life and people, like the Biji and Dolly in 'Vicky Donor', who used to drink and say whatever they felt like. These characters were so lively. I have seen these people around me. I feel I am like them, even in my social media posts. I observe them, pick up notes and moments to make a film out of it," the director told PTI in an interview over phone from Kolkata.
'Gulabo Sitabo', about a landlord and tenant set in old Lucknow, follows these two characters, living a hand-to-mouth existence while trying to outfox each other.
The film, Sircar said, is populated by many outstanding characters, played by Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, veteran actor Farukh Jaffer and Shrishti Srivastava.
"I call it an ensemble cast or the world of 'Gulabo Sitabo' which is about the lifestyle of my characters. I just go and sit there in a corner and observe these characters through my camera. That's how I shot the film. These actors feel like people picked up from real life," he said.
The uncomplicated way of looking at people appears even in the main story of Mirza and Banke whose conflict has no religious angle though they come from different faiths as, according to the filmmaker, most of the people in India coexist peacefully.
"I remember I used to play football in my childhood and my team had people from different faiths and backgrounds. It had the son of the person who would take us to the school on his rickshaw or the guy who came to pick up our garbage but I never knew this. When I grew up, I was told by society, you have to become something else and he has to become something else and that divide was put in my head. My childhood didn't have that divide. We were just eight years old and would meet in the evening to play. This has had a lot of influence in my life and films," he said.
Describing Lucknow as an old cosmopolitan city where coexistence is a part of life, Sircar said the aim was to capture its soul by focusing on old areas like the Chowk and Hazratganj and Bachchan's elaborate get-up helped them dodge the crowds, at least initially.
'The advantage we had with this one is that in some shots they could not recognise Mr Bachchan. We would get the shot ready and then he would come. There were onlookers but they initially did not figure out who this man was. Slowly the word got around that it's Amitabh Bachchan and then the crowd came. We shot the film in bits and pieces like that."
It's his third film as a director with Bachchan after the unreleased 'Shoebite' and 'Piku', where the megastar played a hypochondriac Bengali father. While 'Piku' saw him with a wig and paunch, Bachchan sat for hours to get the prosthetics right to play Mirza in the film. Asked why he makes Bachchan transform physically so much, Sircar said it was to the credit of the megastar to accept characters that are challenging.
"I was not sure whether he will accept Mirza's character this time or we will be able to pull through it because there are chances that it can go into gimmicky or unreal but we have tried our best to make him look like Mirza," he said.
There is also a thought to present Bachchan in newer avatars through his cinema.
"Because of his aura, there is always this thought to make him normal, a new character,'"like the ones found in old Delhi or Hazratganj, he dded.
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi, who wrote 'Vicky Donor', 'Piku', 'October' and 'Gulabo Sitabo', hails from Lucknow and that was one of the big reasons for them to set the film in the city.
"She is aware of the nuances, language and the places. That helped a lot," he said.
With Ayushmann, it was a reunion after the runaway success of their 2012 film 'Vicky Donor', a family comedy set in the world of sperm donation.
It was Khurrana's debut and Sircar's first box-office hit though he made his directorial debut with the critically-acclaimed 'Yahaan' in 2005.
"We have worked together and there is a comfort level that we share. For Banke, we needed someone who had vulnerability and innocence about him. The character comes from a background where his existence is hand-to-mouth. Ayushmann and Mr Bachchan's pairing brought a lot of freshness," he said.
The title of the film is inspired by the old glove puppet theatre of Uttar Pradesh, a dying art.
"I thought why not use this as a metaphor and give an ode to the people involved in it. I hope it comes back in public memory," Sircar said.
The film is slated to stream on Amazon Prime Video on June 12, becoming the first major Bollywood movie to have a direct release on a streaming platform as theatres remain shut due to coronavirus pandemic.
The initial announcement had led to some sharp reaction from theatre chains, which Sircar termed as "unfortunate".
"Everybody has their own way of dealing with the process. When a film is made, its release is decided by its destiny. Nothing is bigger than that, not even me. The situation was to adapt at this moment. We can't sit at home. In that situation, my job is to put the film forward to the audience. That doesn't mean my films will not be in cinema."