Raazi Interview – Alia Bhatt: “If I was an espionage my ultimate mission would be to help the world!”

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BY ANUJ RADIA

She is only six years old in the Hindi film industry (not including her acting appearance as a child actor) and at only 25 years of age, is playing the main lead in acclaimed filmmaker Meghna Gulzar’s next.

From the fashionable Shanaya in her debut film Student of The Year to the victim who develops Stockholm syndrome in Highway, Alia Bhatt’s uninhibited and raw performances has had both the critics and the box office cheering.

Critics and fans alike have been drawn into the Udta Punjab star’s performances finding themselves emotionally investing into her characters whether it’s Humpty Sharma’s Dulhaniya or Kaira from Dear Zindagi.

Is it any wonder she is known as the youngest female superstar of Bollywood and a very bankable actor!

Playing a daughter, a wife and a spy in Meghna Gulzar’s forthcoming film Raazi, Alia is set to exhibit more shades to her acting calibre and we’re extremely excited to see her in this avatar.

Raazi is an adaption of Harinder Sikka’s novel ‘Calling Sehmat’, which is a true story based on a young girl (played by Alia), who was sent to Pakistan in 1971, to source out any information she could, as a war was becoming imminent between India and Pakistan.

In an exclusive with our entertainment reporter Anuj Radia, Alia decodes and opens up with Asian Style on becoming Sehmat for ‘Raazi’.

Alia, firstly, what made you ‘Raazi’ for an intense and gripping film like Raazi?

I think exactly that, the fact that it was gripping and intense. One of the main prospects that made me agree to do a film like ‘Raazi’ is the fact that it is a true story and I’ve never done a true story before.

To be a part of a true story, was a very special experience because whenever you’re shooting the film or enacting your part, you will always have it in the back of your head that “this is not fiction and it actually happened.”

The fact that it’s being directed by Meghna Gulzar, was also another reason why. I’m very fond of her. I loved her last film Talvar, I wanted to work with her after watching it.

Besides being a spy between two neighbouring countries, could you kindly tell us more about the life of your character – Sehmat?

The spy part is the main part of the film. What I can tell you, is that Sehmat is a very simple girl. There’s not much change that takes place in her personality just because she suddenly becomes a spy.

That is something that Meghna and I were very clear about. We maintain the fact that she is a young girl, who is totally unaware of certain things. Despite being brave, she still has that ounce of fear in her.

She is still sensitive and simple. These factors make up her character and what happens to her after that, is the situation of the film.

You share screen-space with your mother, Soni Razdan, for the first time. What did you learn from her – not only as a parent – but also as an actor?

I learnt that I’m very similar to her, in terms of mannerisms. It’s very similar to the way we are on-set.

We have a certain detachment with our scenes and characters, we don’t sit and stress about it. We will do a shot and get out it. It is that switch on and off for us as actors.

How did director Meghna Gulzar challenge you as an actor in this project?

She held my hand throughout the process, the real challenge was the script she wrote. That itself was the biggest challenge for me in this aspect.

Otherwise, once she and I cracked the stone of the character, we didn’t really need to push each other on set, it all just flowed. The whole process became seamless and natural.

You are one of the most diverse actors we have in Bollywood today and directors seem to have a lot of faith in the range of roles they are offering you. What would you attribute this to? 

I think it’s the fact that I showed them a lot of different parts in the past, so I think that makes people a lot more confident that I will be open to different kinds of films.

At the end of the day, I also feel that the director always tries to get an actor on board for the film first. I always attribute that to the directors wanting to fulfil their wish.

Your father Mahesh Bhatt is also a great filmmaker. If you could turn back the clocks and play a role in a film of his, what would that be and why? 

Honestly, I would not want to retouch any of his films because all of them are so iconic and simple, that you would not want to meddle around with it.

But if I were to choose, I think I would choose to be a part of Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke because I love that film.

Alia, if you were an espionage in real-life, what would be your top 3 missions to accomplish and why?

I don’t think I’ll be able to accomplish or want to accomplish any mission.

My one and only goal are to help the world, wake-up to the environmental issues that we are facing and raise awareness of how we are neglecting animals.

In fact, that’s my life mission right now. So if I was an espionage, this would be my ultimate mission.

Listen to our interview with Alia Bhatt here:

Post-Raazi, you have an exceptional line-up of films in the pipeline. How are the preparations going for that? 

We are just shooting the movies right now. I’m shooting for both Kalank and Bhramastra.

They are going well because we are all breaking our backs and working very hard so that is a good sign of progress!

Well, we surely believe that you are ‘breaking your back’ as hard work most certainly shows. Keep progressing Alia Bhatt.

Umesh Shukla talks reuniting Amitabh Bachchan & Rishi Kapoor for 102 Not Out and Revival of Gujarati Cinema

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BY ANUJ RADIA 

Umesh Shukla’s forthcoming film, 102 Not Out is an ageless comedy that brings together Indian Cinema’s two biggest stalwarts – Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor after 27 years, with the two legends playing father-son duo for the first time.

The movie narrates the story of 102 years young Dattatraya Vakharia (Amitabh Bachchan) lives life to the fullest and wants to break the record of oldest living man- that’s held by a 118 years old Chinese. Dattatraya wants to live a stress-free life in order to become the oldest living man.

However, there is only one hindrance – his 75-year-old son Babulal (Rishi Kapoor) who has resigned himself to a life of old age stuck in drudgery. Dattatraya now must find means and ways to change Babulal’s sad and grumpy demeanour so that he doesn’t become a deterrent in breaking the record.

Little do they realise that this roller coaster ride filled with comedy, emotion and commotion, will change them and their relationship forever.

In an interview with Asian Style, Umesh Shukla opens up on his journey of creating this slice-of-life film!

Umesh, What was it like to direct two big legends Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor together on one screen in 102 Not Out?

Because the script demanded the two actors to perform. My script was as such that we had to have actors with such calibre [like Mr Bachchan and Mr Kapoor] in the film.

I contacted Amitabh Bachchan first and his son Abhishek helped me out with the appointment. I went with the idea of narrating him the full 2.5 hours narration of the script, but within ten minutes, he said, “I’m doing this movie, it has an excellent premise.”

Mr Bachchan is a senior actor and he’s like a father to me, so I asked him whether Chintu Ji [Rishi Kapoor] should play the 75-year-old son character?

In response to this, he immediately jumped and said “Great idea. We have played brothers and friends, we have never played father and son. If this subject excites him, then please go ahead.”

I met Rishi Kapoor and started narrating the script with my co-writer Saumya Joshi again on the 10th minute and said the same thing as Mr Bachchan.

Now, it’s releasing on 4th May!

The film is an adaptation of the Gujarati play of the same name. What are some of the key differences between the stage and screen versions?

Oh, there are very much different. The subject is the same, but treatment is completely different.

When you’re doing a stage play, you’ll have to finish it 7/8 scenes.

When you’re making a film, you have to create 40-50 scenes, both the mediums are different and equally challenging.

As Mr Bachchan & Mr Kapoor reunite after a 27-year long hiatus, there must have been very fond memories from the set of 102 Not Out. Could you kindly share a few of those yaadgaar pals?

So, this is the first time that Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor are playing Gujarati characters.

They must have done over 200 films, but they never played Gujarati characters.

I’m sure all the Gujaratis abroad will be happy to know that they are playing Gujarati roles [laughs]. They also speak a few lines of the language.

The fun was, where there was a huge set of a house and on the first day of the shoot I told them that Gujaratis don’t wear chapals [slippers] or shoes in the house – and we were going to shoot there for 30 days.

Initially, I thought they would refuse to take off their footwear. But instead, they immediately removed it and they shot barefoot.

They realised that without Chappals [slippers], the walk is very different.

I really feel that both Mr Bachchan and Mr Kapoor are not just superstars but are so sensible and passionate about their work. They never imposed anything on me.

In addition to films, you have directed Gujarati plays before. Since films like ‘Wrongside Raju’ and ‘Gujju Bhai Most Wanted’ have been well-received globally. How do you feel Gujarati cinema is reviving?

It is going very well. There are two films like ‘Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye’ and ‘Reva’, both are doing extremely well in all the circuits in India.

I don’t know about the overseas market, but these two films are rocking. ‘Gujjubhai Most Wanted’ did very well.

Now, good content has started to come out. I’m really hopeful that we do very good stuff and we make Gujaratis really proud!

Finally, what would you like the audience to take away from 102 Not Out and why?

I want people to understand that life is just a celebration and age is just a number.

Life is a celebration and we must celebrate it. Even though the actors are old, the film is very young. I’m sure even the youngsters will enjoy it too.

Umesh Shukla’s films have always appealed to an audience of all ages. Be it Oh My God or All is Well, Shukla’s movies convey that simplicity is the best policy.

102 Not Out also seems to be a family-friendly venture that can be enjoyed by the masses. Furthermore, it would be wonderful to see Bollywood’s two legends – Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor – reunite after a lengthy hiatus. 

The film releases in cinemas worldwide on 4th May.

Award-Winning Numerologist Swetta Jumaani gives her predictions for young Bollywood stars & the future

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BY ANUJ RADIA

Astro-Numerologist Swetta Jumaani, is the recipient of the ‘Legend of India Award’ and the Sooryadutta National Award.

With over 15 years of experience, she has been instrumental in changing the destinies of numerous people for the better.

Jumaanis’ recent Bollywood successes include: Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal Again which rocked the Box-office again. It has been labelled the ‘Best Golmaal’ film so far and Jumaani who suggested the name has already coined a fresh title for the next instalment of the Best Comedy franchise of Bollywood.

In an interview with Asian Style, Swetta Jumaani talks about her predictions about the young, forthcoming actors in Bollywood and the future for the industry.

Swetta, tell us a bit about life as an astro-numerologist. What are some of the challenges you face?

Mostly, at the beginning, I used to feel very depressed looking at people’s problems. Now that I’m used to it, I’m cool about it.

What I really don’t like, is when men cry like a baby about their problems. In my whole career of 15 years I have seen at least 3-4 men have cried in front of me. That’s the only thing I feel bad about.

Otherwise, it’s a very easy thing for me because I’ve been doing it since childhood. I don’t look at it as ‘work’ so I’m hardly working.

You hail from an eminent numerological family and your brother Sanjay Jumaani is also highly acclaimed in this field. How much of a guide and mentor has he been?

It all began from my father Bansilal Jumaani. Wherever we are today, it is because of my brother and his marketing skills.

I’ve been learning numerology from my father since I was a kid. Sanjay was a non-believer, it was literally forced on him because after my marriage, I was all over the country with my husband, who was in the air-force.

Ekta Kapoor found out about my father and got hold of him. But we started from the base, we couldn’t even afford to keep a telephone wire at home, we were so poor.

Being my father who then became very busy, old man and handling it alone, Sanjay helped out. The way my brother has handled it is amazing.

For me, it was my passion – so it’s not a big deal. But for Sanjay, who wasn’t as passionate before, is 50 or 100 times more passionate than me.

Even at parties he talks about numerology!

You have many celebrity clients and been responsible for a few successes, like suggesting new release date for Padmaavat, to name a few. How rewarding is this feeling?

There are some things in vibrations knowing your lucky colours and numbers, for instance, it can help you amount of a lot of mess.

For example, with Chennai Express, you saw the logo going up. We suggest to everybody that the logo should go up. Going upwards is a good sign.

But I tell you what gives us a kick, is when childless couples thank us for being blessed with a baby.

There are people who tell us about going through a divorce but after getting our advice, this doesn’t happen.

You find more of ordinary people whose lives are changing and that makes me very happy.

Who in particular do you enjoy working with and why?

Actually, what happens is that they don’t have so much time to meet us repeatedly.

Once we have made them understand a certain thing, it is either their staff that communicates with us.

It’s not like we keep talking to each other. Communication is usually done through mail, SMS or WhatsApp.

From the new Bollywood celebrities to be launched like Ishaan, Janhvi and Ananya, whom do you predict will make it big?

Ishaan amounts to (numerological number) ‘2’ and November makes him a Scorpio. The biggest Superstar we have today is Shahrukh Khan – his birthday is on 2nd November and he is also Scorpio.

Ishaan Khatter has great chances.

Amongst the girls, Janhvi Kapoor will be my top pick.

Janhvi Kapoor is born on the same month as Alia Bhatt – though Janhvi is 6th and Alia is 15th March. Regardless of the date, both are still amount to the numerological number of ‘6’.

She is born on the date of 30th October that makes her a Scorpio. Ananya is going to be very beautiful and wealthy.

After Janhvi, I put my hopes on Ananya Panday, who of course, is going to be very good. But Janhvi will always have a little (numerological) upper-hand than her.

Finally, What do you see in the future for Bollywood?

Even in 2000, numerology started. Our first hit of the year was ‘Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai.’ Remember the two ‘A’s in the ‘Naa’ and the one extra ‘A’ in the ‘Pyaar’, That was the year numerology started and Bollywood started making those bucks.

For Bollywood, in general, this is going to make a great year. Let me tell you the reason.

The Year 2018 is totalling to (numerological number) two. Two is the number of superstars and of the Bollywood industry. For instance: Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan are born on days speaking ‘two’.

So, the superstar number is 2. It’s a very good number and going to be a great year for Bollywood.

You can find more about Swetta Jumaani and her work right here: http://jumaani.com/index.asp

Ishaan Khatter Interview on ‘Beyond The Clouds’, Acting, Rapport with brother Shahid Kapoor & Dance

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BY ANUJ RADIA

Ishaan Khatter, The half-brother of actor Shahid Kapoor and a dance expert from Shiamak Davar’s academy, now strides his way into the world of cinema with Beyond The Clouds.

Comparatively to some of the other Indian film debuts, Ishaan’s has to be one of the biggest and most prestigious.

After all, it’s not every day you get to debut in a film which is helmed by an internationally acclaimed and Oscar-nominated filmmaker like Majid Majidi. That too, backed with music by award-winner, AR Rahman.

The movie narrates the story of 19-year-old Amir (Ishaan Khatter) who, when on the run from the cops, finds his estranged sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan). Tara, in a bid to protect her brother, lands up in jail.

In a candid chat with Asian Style, Ishaan Khatter opens up on his career, dance and family.

Ishaan, ‘Beyond the Clouds’ is a tale of human relationships, how much could you personally resonate with the film’s narrative?

A whole lot. I felt like there was a lot to this character that I could relate to on a personal, especially towards my character’s emotional graph in the film.

But at the same time, there were characteristics of this boy that I had to build and create. I did feel that there was a lot I could resonate with, emotionally.

How would you best describe your character ‘Amir’?

I would say that he is a young, energetic and robust enterprising boy. Amir is somebody who finds ways of making a living. He has this rough exterior that he’s built which is almost like a defence mechanism.

Amir is hard on the outside, but inside he is just a young boy who has his emotional chord very strongly connected to his sister Tara [played by Malavika Mohanan], from whom [the sister] he has lived apart for a few years – when you see him in the film and the narrative begins.

He was orphaned at a very young age, so he’s had to be independent and fight his way through life.

Majid Majidi is a highly acclaimed filmmaker. How did he mentor and guide you throughout this journey?

At first, I made it a point to spend as much time around him as I could. He predominantly speaks Farsi and can speak Basic English, so we would have a translator on-set at all times.

I found that spending time with him and getting to understand him – as a person and filmmaker, helped me to develop this synchrony with him and understand his vision.

I feel that Majid sir guides you in ways that are often a mystery to an actor. One does not realise how he moulds the actor and pushing buttons for an individual to perform in a certain manner.

Majid sir is someone who is extremely focused and meticulous. He, naturally, has this leadership quality and everybody wants to adopt that.

His method of working with actors is very spontaneous and his text is so strong. It’s his choices as a filmmaker like to shoot on live locations rather than built sets.

At often times, he does not have junior artists in the shot and will allow his actors to interact in a real environment. That encompasses a natural feel to the scene. 

Ishaan, if you could literally look ‘Beyond the Clouds’ what do you wish to find and why?

Ah, that’s interesting [laughs]. I would hope to find a new dimension to myself and be able to interact with my future self.

How does Shiamak’s dance skills contribute to your development as an actor?

Oh, a whole lot. I feel that dancing and music, in general, are huge contributors to my sense of timing and instinct as an actor. The rhythm plays a huge part in everything.

I was born and brought up in a household where my mother [Neelima Azeem] who is a Kathak exponent, she’s a student of Pandit Birju Maharaj. She has travelled the world, representing our country. She was in a postage stamp at the age of 14 – so it kind of runs in our blood.

Those early impressions of understanding music and dance alongside observing the arts and culture have really formed us into the performers we are today – especially my brother and I.

Learning from Shiamak was a delightful experience. It was one year of very intensive training. He [Shiamak Davar] has been a teacher to my brother for years.

I think it was a really special thing for him, to watch me grow as a dancer. The overall experience with Shiamak was extremely enriching, physically, for me, as a performer.

I learnt a lot of tools that has stayed with me ever since. I also developed my physique and learnt a lot about training.

That year was integral for me to grow as a performer.

Your brother Shahid Kapoor is also an excellent actor. How supportive has the ‘Bade Bhaiyya’ [Big Brother] been in your life?

A lot! He is been like a father and he’s a paternal-figure in my life. Shahid is almost 15-years older than me and he’s looked after me ever since I was a child, in more ways than one.

He’s always been there to advise me and give me guidance. He also shares his journey as a performer with me.

Since we are both passionate about the same thing, we really bond over that. So, we really do have a very special bond.

Who is your inspiration in cinema and why?

I watch a lot of cinema and it would be very difficult for me to pinpoint one inspiration. But I definitely like to say that cinema itself is the inspiration.

The diversity of cinema as an art-form and the fact that there are films worldwide that have such a connection with the audience and have convey so much.

As I watch a lot of world cinema, cinema itself has a very big influence on my life. There are actors all over the world that do something beyond their capacity and I find that very inspiring.

So, I have a long list of actors whom I am inspired by and names are added to that list every day [laughs].

Since you grew up in a family of terrific actors was this profession always on the cards for you?

As far as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated and passionate about the performing arts. When I was growing up I took more serious steps in order to develop myself as an actor and dancer.

This profession, acting, was always something I wanted to do. What was lovely, is that I grew up in a very liberal household and I was never pushed into this direction.

Nor was I inhibited from following my instincts and pursue acting because they were understanding and of course, I come from a family of artists.

I’ve always been passionate about this.

Listen to our interview with Ishaan Khatter right here:

Overall, it is not easy to breakthrough into a competitive and cut-throat industry like the Indian film fraternity.

But it seems as though Ishaan has truly put his heart and soul into his work in Beyond The Clouds.

His next venture Dhadak is an adaptation of super-hit Marathi film Sairat and from the posters, it seems to be equally intense as the original film.

Produced by Karan Johar, Ishaan will be featuring opposite Sridevi’s daughter – Janhvi Kapoor – who makes her Bollywood debut with this romantic drama.

One looks forward to seeing what this potential new Bollywood heartthrob has to offer in his upcoming projects!

Beyond The Clouds releases in cinemas from 20th April 2018.

Shoojit Sircar Interview: A Talk on October, Indian Cinema & Beyond

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BY ANUJ RADIA

Highly acclaimed director Shoojit Sircar is a filmmaker par excellence.

Whether it’s making an advertisement or a feature film, Sircar presents narratives which are fresh, dynamic and are subsequently appreciated by the masses.

From highlighting taboo subjects like sperm donation in Vicky Donor or a hush-hush yet natural topic such as constipation in Piku, Sircar weaves narratives in a way which entertains and educates the audience.

In an extemporary conversation with Asian Style, Shoojit Da talks about his forthcoming film October (starring Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu) and his perception of Indian cinema as a whole.

October seems to be a profound and riveting tale about love. Tell us a bit more about the film?

This film was supposed to go on floors much before Pink, but because our cast was incomplete, that’s why October was not ready then.

I’m not an expert on love stories, but there are some insights of human emotions that I’ve experienced myself and we always talk about it.

I’ve just picked up those very delicate emotions. There are no single narratives in the film, like Piku. It starts, I keep holding that thread and keep weaving through the narrative [Laughs].

Even though it’s based on a boy-girl relationship, it has a universal meaning.

Varun Dhawan is cited to be a very hard-working and dedicated individual. How did you push is boundaries as an actor?

First, I asked him to unlearn a lot of things.

As we don’t come from the same cinema we make. It was completely North-South Pole for us. So Varun’s casting was completely accidental.

Why I say accidentally because Varun was calling me for quite some time to meet. One day, I was about to leave my office and he called me.

I said, “Okay, come over.” He said he had just-woken-up and wasn’t dressed properly. I suggested he has a cup of tea and go back.

When you’re writing a script or trying to make a film, 24×7 the characters are in your head. So Varun stood in front of me and I don’t know what happened. I kept on looking at his eyes and I figured out that this is not the Varun Dhawan I heard or seen of.

I found that there was some innocence still there. I took pictures and immediately sent it to Juhi Chaturvedi [Writer of October] and Ronnie Lahiri [Producer of the film]. I said, “I think this is the right character.”

In terms of his preparation, the workshops were not like reading the script or knowing what the character was. It was more about spirituality and calming down. It was about seeing life the way it is.

So there were quite a few things he had to learn. In the film, you will see how bright Varun is as a character and cast. You will see how perfect he is as Dan.

From Minissha Lamba to Yami Gautam, you have launched several fresh female talents in Bollywood. What did you see in Banita Sandhu?

Banita was cast much earlier on, before even Pink. I also do commercials and I was shooting a double-mint chewing gum commercial, around 2016.

I was looking for a fresh girl that was also a girl-next-door. The script and character of Shiuli [Banita’s character] were written and as soon as I met her.

The way she spoke, the way she presented/conducted herself when I took her first shot and the way she looked on-screen, I figured out from Banita’s performance and expressions, it was like less is more. I liked that [laughs].

From then, I figured that there is some kind of intelligence in her that was so aware of her role.

She’s just 20 – so young but yet there is some kind of sensibility in her and she can express through her eyes.

What challenged you as a director in October?

Challenges with this kind of film are not to lose integrity because of Bollywood commercial pressures. My challenge was to not lose focus on making this film.

It’s important that one remembers why they have made the film, why one has chosen this story to tell.

So, to keep that honesty and not getting lost to any gimmick is the biggest challenge.

Some of Indian cinema’s finest filmmakers have emerged from Bengali cinema. Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you? If so, who and why?

Oh, undoubtedly Satyajit Ray. I try in every film to be inspired by Ray, in whatever form and way. Ray is like a bible for me.
I tell all my actors – from Deepika to Banita to watch Ray’s work.

Satyajit Ray has already done the best in cinema. It is very difficult to reach where he has in terms of the kind of cinema he has made.

Plus, the films are so modern in terms of the thinking. I think all the artists should watch his films.

Whether it’s Vicky Donor or Piku, you have always presented hushed or taboo topics within society. What drives you to do so?

It’s just everyday life and observing people around you. I have lived 20 years in New Delhi, so most of my films are based there.

The basis of October remained with me since 2004. Something happened in my personal life I experienced something and from there this thought developed about depicting this through a film.

I used my personal experience as the backdrop of October. Same with Piku, I mean constipation is a universal subject which is discussed in every household.

It’s all about observing and living everyday life.

Theatre inspired me to come into films. Theatre grounds you and keeps you socially aware of your environment.

Listen to our full interview with Shoojit Sircar right here!

Overall, it seems like October was quite a spiritual experience for Shoojit Sircar. His upcoming project is a film on the Indian revolutionary Shaheed Udham Singh.

One hopes that this will be just as gripping and insightful as Sircar’s Madras Cafe!

October releases at a cinema near you on 13th April 2018.