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.