My first reaction was, ‘Why are they offering me the film?’” said Sonakshi Sinha about her latest film, Khandaani Shafakhana. It is directed by the debutant Shilpi Dasgupta and is about Baby Bedi (played by Sonakshi Sinha), a sexologist who has a unique gift of identifying the ailment just by looking at the patient. The film also stars Varun Sharma, as Sonkashi’s on-screen brother, and Badshah as a Punjabi rockstar who is suffering from a sexual disorder.
With this film, the intention of the makers is to destigmatise conversations around sex and sexual dysfunctions. It is quite different from the kinds of films Sonakshi has attempted in the past. The Dabangg actress talked to us about the rationale behind her choosing this project. She said, “When I heard the script, I fell in love with it. I really believed in it right from day one because it is based on such an important and relevant topic. It has such a strong message but is done in a funny manner. I connected with it immediately. In fact, I want to do more such films that have a socially-relevant message and at the same time don’t come across as preachy. It shouldn’t even offend anyone. However, even if it makes five people think, then I believe that it is a step taken in the right direction. Honestly, even with this film we want to achieve the same thing. We want people to start thinking about how can sex be a taboo in a country that is so heavily populated…”
Sonakshi has been doing family drama films since the start of her acting career, and admitted that this film, with its edgy subject matter, got her out of comfort zone. “I think in terms of the subject, it did put me out of my comfort zone. But in terms of the character that I have played, it was very liberating. I think it is one of the best roles that I have played so far. And just being a part of the film was such an amazing experience. The team that I worked with was on the same wavelength with me. We all believed in the subject and I think that made it so beautiful and comfortable,” she said.
She also spoke about her filming experience and how it taught her that starting a dialogue on subjects like sex can help create a better society. “There were times when I would read the script and feel, ‘How do I say something like this?’ But when I would reach the set, I would get in character. And since every team member believed in the subject, it became more comfortable to shoot. And I thought that if we can normalise the subject on the sets by simply talking about it, then if the world started talking about it openly, it would lead to such a healthy environment.”
Varun Sharma has been a part of this project even before the film had been scripted. He, too, believes that the film will prove to be an important milestone in the public discourse about sex. For him, comedy is an “interesting” genre if you want to start a discussion about serious subjects, without sounding “preachy”.
“It’s an interesting genre to put your heart out there. I think subjects get digested more easily when you put them across in a fun manner. So even if you don’t want to understand and learn anything, then at least you are having fun watching it. And if it registers, if it stays with you, then the job is automatically done,” said Varun.
This was the first time for both Sonakshi and Varun to be directed by a female filmmaker. When asked about the experience, Sonakshi said, “The way Shilpi has directed the film, you would never be able to tell that this is her first film. The kind of sensitivity with which she has treated the subject made everyone on the sets so comfortable. I don’t think anyone would have been able to do it as much justice as Shilpi did.”
Varun said, “The approach to this film is very sensitive and the way Shilpi Di has directed it is phenomenal. It is a very meaningful debut, it is not a regular debut. It is not a regular, tried-and-tested formula kind of film.”
In any case, for the first-time director Shilpi Dasgupta, there is no tried and tested formula to make a successful film. She feels that the only thing necessary is to believe in the subject and let the audience decide. “For a debutant to even think that something like a formula exists and to chase it, is like looking for something in a dark room. Lots of things determine success of a film. I think the best step forward is to do something that you like and believe in. If everyone associated with the film believes in it, the project sees the light of day. And then when the film is out, then it is another thing altogether. But to think about a formula, and then proceed with the process isn’t a very sensible way to go about filmmaking,” she said.