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Team Box Office India in conversation with Team Badhaai Ho, which includes actors Ayushmann Khurrana, Sanya Malhotra, Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao along with director Amit Ravindernath Sharma

Box Office India (BOI): The story of Badhaai Ho is very novel, very different. What was your reaction when you first heard the script?

Gajraj Rao (GR): A script like this is written once in many years. It is not a regular script, ek mazedaar script hai. When I heard the narration, from the first scene to the last scene, it was filled with happiness. It is a family scenario. There are many parts and characters to the story and each one is interesting. If I had read this script 15 years ago, I would have done Nakul’s part.

Neena Gupta (NG): (Cuts in). No. You could not have done that part. You would not have matched that role. You could have done Gular’s part.

(Everyone laughs).

Sanya Malhotra (SM): Savage!

NG: Am I not right?

GR: This has happened to me every single day of the shoot! I have been oppressed and my voice has been shut down! My wife, my son, my mother, my son’s girlfriend, my younger son, my director… everyone has suppressed me!

Ayushmann Khurrana (AK): Please continue…

GR: So as I was saying, if I came across this script 15 years ago I would have wanted to do Nakul’s part, Priyamvada’s part, Dadi’s part… all the parts are so amazing, I would have wanted to do each one of them! I mean there are such amazing scenes for Dadi that you feel like she is the hero of the film.

AK: Actually Dadi is the hero of the film! She is too good.

GR: I am done!

(Everyone laughs).

AK: Priyamvadaji

GR: Mumma bol do, Mrs Kaushik bol do!

NG: When the writer came to narrate the script to me…

AK: They came to your house?

NG: Yes, they did.

(AK turns to Amit Sharma, wide-eyed. Everyone laughs.)

AK: I was called to the office!

NG: Have you guys seen the film?

AK: Yes, I have.

NG: But we haven’t watched the film yet! Anyway… the writer came to my house and read the whole script to me. I didn’t think about it much. It was just so exciting ki maine bola, mujhe karna hai. Bas, kar liya. That is how it was.

AK: When I heard the script for the first time, it was one of the better scripts that I had ever heard. After the narration, I too said yes. It was an impulsive reaction. I think, after Dum Laga Ke Haisha, this is the first script I have said yes to immediately after the narration. Actually, it is very engaging, from scene one to the last scene. It is also relevant. Amit (Sharma) sir was there. Priti (Shahani) was also there. It was an instant ’yes’ from me.

SN: My first reaction was, I want to do it. The script was really good. Akshat (Ghildial) and Shantanu (Srivastava) had narrated it and I agreed to do it.

AK: It seems now that everyone reacted in the same way. But it was like that for all of us. Usually you take a week’s time, seek opinions from people. It was not the case here. Everyone just said yes to it instantly.

Amit Ravindernath Sharma (ARS): I had heard this one-line idea in 2015, about a 51-year-old mother getting pregnant. I just jumped at this idea. My background is advertising and idea-based filmein banane mein jo mazaa aata hai, woh regular stories banane mein nahi aata. So, it took us almost two years to finish the script. It’s a 94-page script. The first draft was about 156 pages long.

The way it was written… and all the discussions that happened between Akshat, Shantanu and me… they would toss around a lot of ideas and I would keep a few and leave out a few, keep a few lines and leave out a few lines. But the percentage of stuff that was left out was very low. That was the beauty of it.

Also, something like this had happened in Akshat’s family. It has happened in my family too; my grandmother and her mother were pregnant at the same time. It used to happen during those times. We don’t get to hear about these things so much these days, but as we were shooting, many people started sharing similar stories from their families or acquaintances’ lives.

In fact, when Sanya was given the narration, she had come with a woman. When the pregnancy bit was narrated, she looked shell-shocked! During the whole two hours, I kept looking at her, trying to gauge if she liked what she was hearing. After the narration, I went up to her and asked her if she did. She looked at me and said, ‘This is my story! I was 26 years old when my sibling was born!’

BOI: Amit, this is your second film. Were you apprehensive about taking on such a subject? As you said, something like this does not happen often in today’s times…

AS: I was not. As I said, I jumped at the idea. From day one, we were clear that this had to be a hilarious story; it couldn’t be a serious film. And that worked for us. We enjoyed it. You have seen just now how we are. And it was like this every day. When you have a team like this, the atmosphere on the set is bound to be good.

BOI: Seeing the dynamic that all of you share, it mustn’t have been easy shooting this film with no one laughing during the takes. Any interesting stories?

AS: Of course! We were shooting in Delhi. The entire film was shot in sync sound. And there is a scene where the doctor says, ‘Tatti se khoon aata hai’ and he kept on saying it the other way around.

AK: We did almost 50 takes and it was a late-night shoot. After some time we were like, let it be as it is and just get it done!

(Everyone laughs).

AS: Half the people ran off the set because they were laughing so much. And it was not just that scene; every time something new was being shot, we were all enjoying ourselves. I was often sitting behind the monitor like this (puts both hands over his mouth). That is the kind of scenario we had. At the same time, I cried also. All of them made me cry.

NG: We all cried. We cried six times. Then we could not cry anymore…

GR: When we came to know that she was not pregnant, she only had gas!

(Everyone laughs).

AS: Kya sir, aap ne suspense khol diya! Kya kar rahe ho!

BOI: Ayushmann, you have said in one of your interviews that every character is the hero. Why do you think so?

AK: Every character is so well-etched. The characters of Gajrajji and Neenaji are better that the conventional hero-heroine of the film. It is an ode to your parents, to their love and their companionship. How they deal with pregnancy after a certain age and how society reacts to it, the kids’ perspective… my perspective and my younger brother’s perspective. The whole situation is so awkward, and from the awkwardness, humour emerges. For me, Dadi’s character is also the hero of the film. Each and every scene has a particular character that is the hero. Overall I think the script is the hero of the film.

AS: When Ayushmann heard the script he said, shooting kab shuru karni hai. Sanya also said the same thing. Generally, with actors, everyone looks at what their role is in the script. But hats off to them that they felt this was the kind of script that they should do. It excited everybody. I am really happy to have had such a cast. We don’t have Surekha (Sikri) ma’am here. The part that she has played in the film… she is amazing. She is brilliant. I have heard other actors say among themselves, ‘Arre, Surekha ma’am ka kal scene hone wala hai, tayyari karke aana sab log’. She would come prepared. If you see the film, you cannot say that this one has done a better job than the other. Everyone is superb. That is the best thing that can happen to a director.

BOI: The endearing chemistry between Gajrajji and Neenaji, especially in the song Sajan bade senti, is much talked-about. Did you just stick to the script or did you improvise?

NG: There was no scope, or rather no need, to improvise, when I think about it now. The script was so good, isn’t it?

GR: Yes. We must have added some bits here and there. Now, talking about this song, this is the first time I have got such a big part and this is one of the most important roles of my life. To top it all, there was a romantic song picturised on my character. I didn’t know how to handle that. It was like travelling through a tunnel blindfolded. It was Amit who held me by the hand and walked me through it. Mujhe samajh mein hi nahin aa raha tha ki aisa kaise ho sakta hai! In the song, Mrs Kaushik is all decked up and I look at her lovingly! It could have looked so stupid or childish or even unrealistic. But when I saw the song for the first time, my trust in Amit’s craft was strengthened even more.

AK: They have not seen the film as yet. But there are so many surprises in it.

GR: We have not yet been invited to watch the film. Our characters are said to be important to the film, but we have not been shown it yet!

(Everyone laughs).

GR: I have seen the songs quite a few times now and I was not sure about the scenes at first. I am extremely critical of my work. But Amit and the cameraman have presented the whole thing so beautifully, it looks believable and real.

BOI: What was it about these actors that made them perfect for the parts they played?

AS: It was Ayushmann who suggested Gajrajji. I have known Gajrajji for nearly 18 years. When Ayushmann heard the script for the first time, he asked me who was playing the father. I told him we were still looking for the actor for that part. He then mentioned Gajrajji. And I was like, why didn’t I think of that? I immediately called him and got him on board. When he heard the script, he was like ‘Kaake, yeh toh bahut bada role hai, tu kisi bade actor ko le le.’ I said, you are a big actor, so you do it. He himself is a director, he makes ad films. So he also had to work around his schedule. Then I told my partner, Hemant Bhandari to convince him.

GR: I had a lot of reservations, about managing the dates and also how I was being given such a big part. I couldn’t believe it!

NG: Now you do, right?

(Everyone laughs).

AK: The role was so good I was ready to play both parts, of father and son.

BOI: So you wanted to romance Sanya as well as Neenaji?

AK: Absolutely! But this is a realistic film so it would not have looked convincing! And I come from a different school of acting and I knew this was just the selfish actor in me talking!

AS: When we had written the script initially, it was a bit different. At that time I went to meet Tabu ma’am (for the role of Priyamvada). She heard the script and loved it. But she asked me if I felt that she would do justice to the role. I asked her why she thought that. She then said that Neena Gupta should do this role. When I thought about it, I realised that she was right. I was still not very convinced because we had not seen Neena ma’am on screen for a long time. Then someone forwarded a short film to me… Khujli. She was amazing in it. When I told Ayushmann about her, his reaction was, ‘Isn’t she very hot for this role!’ I told him, yes she is, but watch this short film. And he was also convinced.

So we got in touch with Neena ma’am. And when she was to meet us at our office for the first time, we asked her to come dressed very simply and not in any of her daughter Masaba’s designer clothes! When she arrived, she asked if she was dressed simply enough. ‘I didn’t have the salwar for this kameez, so I borrowed it from my maid,’ she said. At that point I knew that she was perfect.

When we were brainstorming, Ayushmann was the obvious choice. I wanted an actor who would play Nakul as the character. And that is how Ayushmann plays all his characters. That is what is wonderful about him.

I had seen Sanya in Dangal. It was impressive. So when her name came up, I was like, if she too agrees to be in this film, then the family will be complete. When she said yes, I danced on the office terrace.

When it came to casting Surekha ma’am, my image of her was always that of her character from the TV serial Balika Vadhu. So I was not very convinced and I told her so too. I showed her my grandmother’s picture and said, this is the Dadi I want. I asked her if it was okay if we did a couple of readings and sittings. She is very humble and readily agreed. She came and did the reading of one scene. I had tears in my eyes.

For Gular, the younger brother, I wanted someone who looked like his father. Hota hai na, ki ek baccha maa pe jaata hai aur ek baap pe.

NG: That is why I had said earlier that 15 years ago he (Gajrajji) could have played Goolar.

BOI: We met David Dhawan recently. And he said that the slice-of-life genre is back and he sees you as the Amol Palekar of today…

NG: He is better than Amol Palekar. He is more versatile. He can do various kinds of characters.

AS: I agree with Neena ma’am completely.

AK: Every actor starts treading a certain trajectory with their first film. I started with the unconventional choice of Vicky Donor. I also rejected a lot films before my first film. As an actor I was self-assured. I wanted my first film to be of a certain kind. I am not a star kid; I knew I would not get another chance. So my first film had to be good and Vicky Donor happened. My next good film was Dum Laga Ke Haisha. Then Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan happened and now this film.

So every actor establishes a niche for himself, like Varun (Dhawan) started with Student Of The Year, then Main Tera Hero and Judwaa 2. Tiger (Shroff) found his space as an action hero. You create a zone for yourself and then you break the mould, like I did with AndhaDhun, and then you come back to your staple. For me it is Badhaai Ho. So if someone else does a film like this, the audience should say that they have done a film like Ayushmann Khurrana. I want to carve that zone for myself. But more than anything else, it is the script that is important. Whatever script I like, I can relate to and I feel I will do well, I want to be part of that film. It is that simple.

BOI: Ayushmann, you will have two releases in three weeks. Do you think you are overexposing yourself?

AK: Doing two films in a year is not overexposing oneself. Ideally there should be a gap between two films. But since both films are not very big-budget ones, the two-week gap can make both films work. The same thing happened last year with Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. I was really nervous then, because both films were in the same space. Both were slice-of-life films, with the same art director. You didn’t know which song was from which film. People were buying tickets for one film, thinking it was the other. Faayda mera hi ho raha tha. But this time around I am more secure. AndhaDhun and Badhaai Ho are from different genres. They look different, they feel different. If both films are good, they will work.

BOI: Sanya, it is a similar scenario for you, with Pataakha and now Badhaai Ho.

SM: Very tiring, that’s it. Especially the promotions bit. As he said, there should be a gap.

AK: The priority is getting a good release date. That there should be a gap comes second. October 5 was a good date for AndhaDhun and this is a brilliant date for Badhaai Ho as it is my first festival release. We are expecting a good opening. Most of my films are word-of-mouth films but I am hoping that this film will get a good opening.

This is such déjà vu. Last time too, my Shubh Mangal Saavdhan co-actor Bhumi’s (Pednekar) other film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, released before Bareilly Ki Barfi and now Pataakha comes before AndhaDhun.

BOI: Sanya, this is your third film and the first time you’re playing an urban girl. What are the responses you have been getting?

SM: This is also the first time that I am looking at me looking like this in a film. In Pataakha, I looked completely different and in Dangal I had very short hair and a lot of muscle. I am very happy with this character as I can totally relate to her. She is from Delhi and so am I. She looks like me. People are really happy and they are like, ‘You look like this also, achcha achcha!’

AK: Initially the makeup constitute of dirt and mud!

SM: People will still be confused and think that I look like that. They will think that I did makeup in this film to look like this!

AS: When Sanya came to hear the script, I asked her to trim her hair. She said, ‘I have grown my hair with such difficulty!’

AK: I was wondering what is happening and if they are fooling around. I would have cried if I had to do it!

BOI: Neenaji, we are seeing you on screen after a very long time. And this character is not what female actors are usually offered. What were the challenges of playing Priyamvada?

NG: The physical part was a little difficult in the beginning because I had to wear the stomach. Sometimes it was very hot and itchy. Initially I was a little awkward in front of everybody, at my age. But slowly I became okay with the physicality. I didn’t use my brain much to think about someone I may know like this. I don’t work on my roles. I have concentrated enough and if I can mean the lines that I am speaking, then I don’t have to do anything. If the costumes are right, the set is right, the director is right, the co-actors are right, I just need to say my lines. That is the difficult part. That is what I did since everything else was so correct. I just went with the flow.

BOI: Neenaji, do you think that not enough meaty roles are written for middle-aged women actors in our films?

NG: In our society also, middle-aged women have no role to play at home. They are all about taking care of the household. So when there are no roles in society, where will the roles come from in films? Men have so many roles to play; lawyer, inspector, professor, doctor, ticket collector… I always wanted to play an inspector. I wish someone would give me the role of a policewoman. Even during my younger days, all the good roles went to Shabana (Azmi), Smita (Patil) and Deepti (Naval). Not much was left for me. But now things are changing and roles are being offered, like I got this one. So I am very happy.

BOI: Amit, this is your second film. What told you that this was the right time for a subject like this and that audiences would accept it?

AS: I was just getting out of Tevar and it was the last film in that larger-than-life commercial zone. I haven’t seen another film like that since. There were movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Badlapur and NH10 that came out around the same time. But I wasn’t affected by these films. So after Tevar I asked myself why I wanted to make my next film. It was not that I was dependent on my second film for my bread and butter. I am an ad filmmaker first and then a feature filmmaker. I wanted to wait for a good script.

I knew this script had the potential to be a good film. I didn’t make this film thinking that it was the right time for a film like this. If you have seen my work in ads, I like to tell stories. I enjoy that. Badhaai Ho is a family film with an emotional angle. Even the next film I make will be about the story, whether or not that film works. Sometimes, the best of films fail. But the audience has changed and this is very good. People are more aware about what they are watching. The larger-than-life, commercial films will still be made, but these films will also work. People want to see stories and that is why films like these are working as well.

And I would give a lot of credit to everyone on the sets for the way this film has turned out; not just the actors but everyone including the DoP, art director and even the spot boys knew the script. It was a very happy set. If someone asked me to shoot this film again I would happily do it.

GR: This time I will play Dadi!

(Everyone laughs).

AK: And I will play the father!

SM: And I will play Gular!

BOI: Gajrajji, you had said that you were not sure if you could do such a role. But now that you have done it, are you more confident and will we see more of you in films?

GR: I am still not sure. I am not an experienced actor, like them. I don’t get the chance to act all the time. But after this I hope I get roles which are important roles that contribute to the story. I would definitely do such films. Actually I have decided that I will discuss my films with Ayushmann as his choice of films has been brilliant.

What do you want the people to take away from this film?

AK: Lots of love and more than anything else, the family bond. This is the most family-oriented film I have done to date. It doesn’t deal with any taboo subjects. You don’t have to explain to your kids beforehand about the concepts of sperm donation and erectile dysfunction. There are no such scenes in this film. It is about your mother getting pregnant.

NG: After the film ends, you will have tears in your eyes and a smile on your face.

GR: I hope that the audience gives this film all the love and they watch this film in the theatres. They should watch this film with their families and extended families.

AK: This film is so good that it will make you want to get pregnant at 50! It is a motivating film for middle-aged couples.

(Everyone laughs).

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