First-time director Joe Rajan, newbie lead pair Tanuj Virwani and Neha Hinge, and musician Remo Fernandes, who composed the title track of their upcoming film Luv U Soniyo discuss with Box Office India what went into the making of this love story
Joe Rajan (JR): Everyone has a passion. I had initially thought of producing and we were looking for directors. We did not have a script in mind. It was only later that we figured we would make a college love story. But I hadn’t planned on directing it.
Since I had worked with Madhur Bhandarkar for so many years one of my friends suggested that I direct it myself. I spoke to Madhur about it and he felt I could direct a film. He said he was to start shooting for Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji in Phuket and I could tag along for a fortnight to learn the ropes.
I agreed and they trained me in various aspects. I returned totally confident of directing a film. When we began casting, I realised an A-list actor would probably not act in a film made by a newcomer and even if they did, the movie would exceed its budget. Then someone suggested that I cast a star kid. I googled some names and came up with Tanuj Virwani, who had already signed a BR Chopra film. It was very difficult to convince him but I think my concept was good enough and he agreed.
Signing an actress was another huge task, one of my friends suggested that I look for a former Miss India. I did some more research and found Neha Hinge. I contacted Madhur (Bhandarkar) as he was on the Miss India jury and asked him what he thought. Finally, I managed to convince Neha.
Casting took two months. I had a good team. Naturally, if you and your entire cast is new, you need to find the best team from the industry. But, as the captain of the ship, I knew what I wanted.
Tanuj Virwani (TV): As Joe mentioned, I had signed a BR Chopra film but it didn’t happen because Ravi (Chopra) sir was not keeping well. Ironically, that is the same film I am working on for Eros, Purani Jeans. I guess it was destined to happen.
Joe had approached me as a director, not as a producer. He said he was making a film on a college love story. He made me listen to a few songs and I liked them. I am the kind of person who goes by gut feel. He convinced me pretty much during our first meeting. I then went by my logistic because you have to be careful about your first film. I did some brainstorming and research and eventually I agreed.
JR: (Cuts in) He gave me a tough time.
TV: When you’re launching your career, you have to look around and here, it was just me and Neha and she too was a newcomer. I didn’t want to ruin my mother’s reputation in the industry. I wanted to be launched in a quality film, and I wanted to start with a light film. I think Luv U Soniyo is more mainstream and a lot more commercial. At the end of the day, you need to be accepted in a commercial way by the audience before you start experimenting with other roles. I have a Sindhi brain, you see.
Neha Hinge (NH): I always wanted to become Miss India but acting had never crossed my mind. I was already a software engineer, so I had my career figured out. But when I won, I went for the international pageant. I had no idea about Joe and Madhur’s conversation but when I came back from the international tour, I got a call from The Times Of India, saying that Madhur Bhandarkar’s friend, Joe, wanted to meet me.
I asked him if I had to audition but he said, ‘I am convinced you’re my Soniyo.’ So we signed a contract. He had come with his cheque book! I was still in a dilemma over whether to get into films or go back to my career. I had a long conversation with my father, who told me that few people get such opportunities and I should not miss it. He felt I should at least give it a shot.
The title of the film, Luv U Soniyo, has my character’s name and that’s not something many people get in their first film. Also, when I met Joe for the first time, he made me listen to the songs in his car. The music of the film is very good.
Tanuj, what was it like working with another newcomer?
TV: I think we both came with a preconceived idea of what the other person would be like. Like, being a Miss India, she probably has attitude. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re a newcomer or you’ve done 20 films. When you walk onto the sets, you have to leave your baggage at home, especially when you do a love story because the chemistry needs to be there. We used to help each other a lot during our scenes because we were both new to the craft. You need time to grow up and I think, with this film, we grew up together.
NH: The first time I met him he was very chilled out. And, yes, I too had some fixed perceptions about him. Like, since he is a star kid, I wondered, what he would be like and he knows more people in the industry than I do. But we broke the ice and bonded during our very first meeting itself. We could relate to each other, we are very ordinary people. During the workshop too, we bonded really well and he helped me understand the technicalities like camera angles. It’s because we gelled well that our on-screen chemistry looks so natural.
Joe, did you face any problems while directing the film?
JR: When you know you don’t know your job a hundred per cent and when you’re working on something for the first time, it is a challenge to manage a team of seven to eight people who are masters at their work. Sometimes, there are ego clashes. I faced this problem for the first four days and then I decided that I would take a final call on things, regardless. I did listen to advice but I began to take decisions.
Even though I had read the script just once, I knew what I had to do and what I wanted on the sets. When I began to rely on myself, I began to change things and modify the script and I’m sure the movie has benefitted.
So you don’t believe in a bound script.
JR: I do believe in a bound script. But I am not one of those guys who reads the script again and again. I read it once and I absorb the entire 500-page script, dialogue included. Sometimes, it’s nice to be innovative; it’s good to come up with ideas. I mean, the script can be good but you can come up with something better on the sets. Tanuj and Neha are new actors and so I could mould them according to the scene and extract better performances from them with innovation.
TV: His approach allows you to improvise. When you’re actually on the sets with the other actors, it brings out the best. I also like the fact that he thinks from the audience point of view. If a scene doesn’t work in the larger interest of the film, he leaves it out.
NH: It worked in our favour for sure. This is my first film and I don’t have a film background. The only training I had was the workshops preceding the movie. He used to give me a scene on the spot and my reactions were very natural. There was so much spontaneity. That worked in our favour.
JR: It is easy to make a movie if you have money. So I made my movie. But then I realised that if you don’t have a studio backing you, your movie means very little. I completed the film in six months but getting a studio on board is where I got stuck. When you have a good studio or a corporate house backing you, then the marketing, promotions and distributions take place seamlessly.
So my advice to directors is not to make a movie unless you have a strong corporate backing. Your film will not get the exposure and shows it deserves. I was lucky to get Viacom18 on board.
Even the music director is new.
JR: Yes, I signed Vipin Patwa, who is very talented. He made me listen to the scratch tracks he had made for the film and he assured me he would get the best singers for the film. We got Sonu Nigam, Shaan and Shreya Ghoshal to sing for us. But once we finished the movie, I realised something was missing. What we needed was a Goan-themed song. And Patwa suggested we ask Remo to do the title track.
We brainstormed on the kind of track we wanted. Remo said he didn’t want it to be totally Goan and he would compose the track himself. We have a very beautiful title track with lyrics in four languages. It was only after Remo did the title track that I felt the movie was complete.
JR: The songs are the movie’s biggest USP. Good music is especially important to a genre like this and to have foot-tapping numbers. At the music launch, we had 5,000 people in attendance, with Remo performing live. People were cheering and asking for more. Even Viacom18 agrees that this was the best music launch in the last few years. It was more than a music launch, it was a show.
TV: Especially in a genre like ours, it is very important to have at least two or three foot-tapping numbers. With so many music and film albums releasing, it’s like consuming fast food. Most of them are good but forgettable. The music and lyrics of our songs are very good, especially Pyaar tera. They have recall value. Many have compared the songs to the love stories of the ’90s and that is a big compliment!
JR: People have said that it makes us feel like the ’90s and the songs of the ’90s are still very popular. It was the golden era of film music.
NH: Films of the ’90s had a lot of heart and soul. You can feel it in our film too.
Remo, can you share your thoughts about the song you have composed for the film? And do you agree that the ’90s were the golden era of music for Bollywood?
Remo Fernandes (RF): I think there is great music made every year. Love is eternal. But I must admit I don’t know enough about ’90s music.
JR: I think you delivered your best music in the ’90s with hits like Pyar Toh Hona Hi Tha.
RF: Yeah, but I guess that was one of the few hit songs I had given back then. I don’t think love and romance need to be restricted to candlelight dinners and walking into a sunset. When you are in college, like the protagonists of this film, love means high energy. Waking up in the morning, not knowing when you will see your loved one. That’s what I have tried to portray in this song… full of energy. I also had to portray a Goan boy and a Punjabi girl. The music is high energy, peppy and catchy. It was very kind of Rati (Agnihotri) to have recommended me. We met and then one morning, Joe showed up with a cheque...
NH: Joe is always ready with a cheque. That’s his trick, you can’t say no to him!
RF: Yes, that’s how it happened and I was also ready with the song. The scratch was ready although the lyrics were a bit of a problem since my Punjabi and Hindi is almost non-existent.
Both Tanuj and Neha, what kind of response have you received from the industry?
NH: I don’t know anyone in the industry so maybe after the release, I will be able to gauge the audience reaction. It is during the promotions that directors and producers spot you.
JR: She doesn’t go out and market herself; she just sits at home and doesn’t mingle too much.
NH: I’m not really into networking.
JR: I advised her to start networking but she was, like, ‘No, I like my personal space.’ Still, she is getting offers.
But isn’t that really important for a newcomer?
JR: I think she has to clear that up. I mean, it’s time for her film to release and she needs to realise that.
NH: Yeah, I have got a couple of offers but I haven’t thought them through just yet.
TV: I am getting a positive response from the industry. I have got a three-film deal with Eros and have completed 90 per cent of my second film.
JR: The greatest advantage of our film is that we are backed by a big corporate studio. The audience is king. All we can do is deliver an honest product and do the promotions and marketing for the film. We are doing that and so is Issaq, Bajatey Raho, but ultimately the audience will have to decide.
We have given them something fresh and in the family audience space. We are taking them back to watch a college love story. We have also added a lot of comedy. We have not made anything extraordinary but an honest film, which you can connect with easily. It’s not a Guzaarish but it is guaranteed to entertain.