Q. Qarib Qarib Singlle was your first directorial project in nine years after Hope and a Little Sugar (2008) and is completely different from the genres of films you have made earlier. When did you first think about trying your hand at a rom-com?
A. The story comes from a radio play my mother (Kamra Chandra, a renowned film writer) had written some 20 years ago. The story has always stayed with me because it is a very cute story. And since I have been doing very serious, dramatic and violent movies most of these years, so I was hoping to make a lighter rom-com kind of a film. But I have always found it more challenging than a thriller and drama. It is because in a lighter film you need to have the power of a screenplay. You cannot have something that is not engaging, which means there has to be strength of a screenplay and a stronger plot. Killing someone, kidnapping someone are big dramatic emotions but it (rom-com) has to have the same power to engage. It (rom-com) is more difficult than a thriller. And so I kept away from it thinking I will not be able to do it. It was three years back that me and my co-writer, Ghazal, started working on the screenplay which my mother had written. Because it was an old story, we made it contemporary and belonging to today’s urbane India.
Q. How challenging was it to adopt a radio play that was written by your mother, a renowned scriptwriter herself into a full-length feature film?
A. Writing is the most challenging and most painful part of the whole process of making a film. You can always look at it (the script) with great awe and hope you are able to do justice to it and embark on it. And at some time you have to say lets shoot the movie, because there is no perfect screenplay. My mother has written for some two very good films Chandni (1989) and 1942 A Love Story (1994). She brings a real Indian soul to her script. So, (Qarib Qarib Singlle) is very Indian story and it is primarily because of the fact that she (her mother) has written this story… I and my co-writer struggled a lot with writing for Qarib Qarib Singlle. We started it three years back and there were multiple revisions, editing and arguing and hating what you do and juxtaposing it with loving what you do. So, yes I struggled a lot and at one time you do have to abandon the screenplay and just have to shoot it.
Q. In one your interviews we heard you saying that ‘it is not easy to convince Irrfan (Khan)’. So, how is he on the set?
A. He (Irrfan) is not somebody who is difficult, he is very open. He is very friendly. He was busy at the time I contacted him, so I sent him the synopsis. He read the synopsis and sent me a message saying ‘It is interesting’. This is how it all started. And he was the first choice for the role. He said ‘yes’ for the film and he was completely onboard. There was no distraction from him and no differences. He was absolutely committed and involved in the project. The interesting thing about him is that he will do the shoot and will do it realistically. He is never dramatic and never goes overboard... The tiny nuances that he adds are amazing… He is an amazing actor and he seems to be growing constantly…
Q. Do you think being both a filmmaker and scriptwriter for a film helps an individual understand the character and mood of the movie better?
A. It does. And also I have developed the ability over the years to be more open to the outside ideas and can be a critique to what I write… I also collaborate with other writer that gives you two peoples’ point of view rather than just one. About the vision, because I am directing it, it has to be completely mine. It has to be a story that I am going to tell in a certain way. And I only do a project that I absolutely love. I don’t do it for the sake of it to happen. For me to love it, it has to have a piece of my heart. The script is the starting place for the project, so, it is very crucial for me.
Q. Despite several efforts, not many women characters are well-etched. Do you think it is because of the lack of women filmmakers and storytellers in the industry?
A. There are many reasons and not just this. Of course, not many women filmmakers is one of the reasons. There definitely needs to be more female directors but basically the business aspect of it is the biggest reason. The movie primarily sells first on the basis of who the male lead is. In rare cases there will be a female lead on whose basis the movie will be sold. The economics of the industry have to change first. And the economics will only change when we will make it (women-oriented films) in larger number. And the bigger budget will follow. This is a flawed assumption that a film on a female will not make money. With only a handful of women-oriented films making this assumption is wrong. Television is a big example that will tell you that female stories earn a lot of money. There are only women stories on the medium. Because it (television) is making so many women stories that they can tell it is good to invest… We do need to tell more stories on women and we need to get actresses, actors and producers interested. It will happen but according to me the pace is too slow… Even in a story about a man like Sur (2002) was, a female character has to be a properly thought out strong character. Otherwise, for me it is an incomplete story… And not just women, male characters have to be strong too. But I just can’t make a movie where a woman is just a part of decorations or a provider of a little romance. It needs to be an amazing woman we know in our real life. Even the ordinary women around are so interesting and I don’t understand why the movies don’t reflect that.
Q. You have also directed television serials like Zameen Aasmaan (in 1995, which was also her directorial debut) and Mumkin (1996). Do you plan to head back to the medium in the near future?
A. I hope to do television again. Doing television is like doing three movies a week. That’s a different kind of a thought process but I am working towards that as well.
Q. The common assumption these days is that the content on television has become repetitive and regressive. What are your thoughts on it?
A. The content on television is definitely regressive. No movie can compete with the number television has, which makes me think all the more that it (television) should do some deadly work. It should make amazing shows. I don’t know why it is happening. And I also know that some years ago there was some really wonderful TV. I hope that along with the serials, the audiences and the channels like, there are also realistic and unusual serials that are more reflective of the kind of country we live in. I think the time has also come that TV is bound to change and it has also reached a saturation point. And there is no shortage of stories too. This country is filled with stories in evey nook and corner.
Q. You have also directed a short film, Silvat. So, when we talk about short films, the format it is a tad bit convenient than feature films. But do you think the medium is effective too as far the reach and exposure is concerned?
A. No, not yet. Owing to digital medium, it has become a free world creatively. If you can manage some funding then you have a platform. And if the content is good, it will find buyers and audiences. While it is not like movies or television shows, it still is exciting and interesting. Where else do you find people from different countries, speaking different languages as audiences appreciating your work. It is a different entertainment or storytelling avenue but I personally find it very interesting. I would like to do more short films. It is the only space where you as a director can go all out and you are fully liberated. And it is very rare.