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Gearing Up For ‘War’

Leading men Jaaved Jaaferi and Sharman Joshi of War… Chhod Na Yaar in conversation with team Box Office India

BOI: How did the journey of the film start for both of you?

Jaaved Jaaferi (JJ): I had met Faraz (Haider), the director of the film, for another script but that didn’t work out. Then he called and said he wanted this film to go on the floors. I was in Dubai and he narrated the film over the phone and once again after I returned, although I was convinced the first time. The film is in the zone of the American sitcom M.A.S.H. It’s not the same but it’s in that zone. And no one in India has gone anywhere near that zone as it’s supposed to be sacrilege.

No one has approached war in this way because it’s about our soldiers giving their lives for the country. You’re not supposed to insult this sacrifice. So we are not going there and, instead, the film is about a soldier’s relationships with people on the opposite side of the fence. When I agreed to do the film, Faraz had already locked Sharman. I have seen Sharman’s work and I really appreciate it. So that’s how things fell in place. Sharman, tell them about your journey…

Sharman Joshi (SJ): It was quite similar. Faraz sent me a two-page synopsis and I liked it a lot. So I set up a meeting the next day. There was a sense of scepticism because mostly a synopsis doesn’t always translate into great screenplay. Faraz narrated the script and his writing was so strong that I would have agreed even if he had simply read the script aloud. It was amazing, considering it was his first attempt. He said he had written a few scripts earlier and made me listen to all three of them! I knew he was sitting on a lot of good material but I wanted to finish this film first. Then he assembled the rest of the cast. The producers are new, very sensible businessmen and I have to give them credit.

BOI: Was it a concern that this was a first-time director handling a sensitive film?

JJ: Woh 10-film old directors bhi bakwaas kaam karte hain kabhi kabhi. (Laughs)

BOI: Any particular names that come to mind?

JJ: (Laughs) No. it doesn’t matter if the director is new or not. The script is an assessment of the director’s sensibilities. Besides, you have to take some risks. You can’t be so cautious and think, ‘Yeh director kaun sa angle lega, kaun sa lens lagayega camera mein.’ There was a big cinematographer (Sejal Shah) on board and he has done great work on the film. So when we landed up on the sets, I had no apprehensions although I can’t speak for Sharman.

SJ: No. I agree with you. The script was so good that you could visualise the film instantly. I am very happy with the way the film has been made. Of course, we had a great DoP and when the director and the DoP have a great rapport, nothing could be better. Husband-wife jaisi relationship hoti hai unki and they got along like a house on fire. Faraz also managed to keep the crew motivated. It’s a big challenge for a first-time director to keep the crew enthusiastic and motivated. Managing tempers diplomatically is another thing you have to take care of.

BOI: With this film, the producers, AOPL, are venturing into the Hindi space for the first time although they have done films down South. Did you have any apprehensions about the new producers?

JJ: When you look at the company and the business they have done in the past, you trust that they will not abandon the project mid-way. They have done three or four South films, so I said OK. They have the money to back a much larger film but they want to test new waters, so they went with a medium-budget film. Marketing a small film is more important and not once did they cringe, saying, ‘Chhoti film hai toh paisa nahi lagayenge.’ If you look at the way they have planned the promotions, it looks like the plan for a big film.

BOI: Also, Fox Star has come in as a presenter…

JJ: (Cuts in) Yes. And having a big company to promote your film is very important. Today marketing plays a huge hand in the film’s success. So if a film which contains names like Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan has to be marketed in a big way where you just make them stand and a crowd of one lakh people gather around. If those films need that kind of a backing in marketing, our film will need a much bigger marketing campaign. I come from an advertising background, so I know these things.

And people are seeing it as a feel good film, and they are opening up to films like these. See that’s what happened to a Vicky Donor or a Kahaani or Kai Po Che and it worked at a box office level too. I was happy that the producers have not left any stone unturned. When I went on the sets, I saw one km ki fence lagi hui thi. There were trenches, bunkers camps put up; it looked like you were actually there in a war zone area, so I was very happy.

BOI: You shot during the summer in the deserts of Bikaner. That must have been very difficult.

SJ: Yes.

JJ: Hamari kya difficulty hai yaar. As actors, we give a shot and then sit in an AC van and later drive off comfortably to our hotels. It’s the soldiers who face difficulties. So, technically, as an actor, we encountered no difficulties. Let me narrate an anecdote. There was this movie called The Horsemen made by director John Frankenheimer, who has made some ground-breaking stuff like Grand Prix.

My father was travelling by air after a shoot and someone mentioned to him that this director, John Frankenheimer, was on the same plane. My dad was an avid film buff, so he was, like, ‘Oh my God! This is the guy who made the film The Train!’ So he walked up to the director and mentioned The Train and this shot where the train comes on camera. The director was impressed that he remembered the shot and started telling him the whole story.

The director said he had used his best cameras for the shot and had visualised this big scene where the train would approach and crash. He said they had built a massive set worth a lot of money but the cameraman, a new Japanese guy, dug a hole in the railway track and slipped inside with his camera. When the train approached, something went wrong and the train came right at the guys. But the camera was still rolling. So without the cameraman, the shot would not have happened.

The director told my father, ‘You don’t plan shots and you have to trust people to come up with brilliant ideas. It wasn’t even my shot!’ Then my father told him that they work so hard that they get sunburnt for their characters. The director told my dad, ‘You come from a country where there is so much poverty but where people still pay to watch good films. We need to give them their money’s worth.’

That’s how those filmmakers think. Similarly, here, I don’t think we do any mehnat yaar, ek shot do, van mein chale jao but look at the people staying in India, in the heat.

BOI: This is a comedy set in war and against the Indo-Pak backdrop. Politically, this is a very sensitive subject. Were there any concerns?

JJ: Arey superb, humari picture ko dekh ke both the Prime Ministers decided to meet in America. (Laughs)

SJ: I think the film is even more relevant, considering the way things are right now. As the title suggests, the message of the film is, War… Chhod Na Yaar. So positive message hi de rahe hain jo bahut asaan hain karna. Baatchit se masle ko hal karna bahut mushkil hain but that’s the way how we should do it. We should solve our problems with the help of diplomacy. The film is full of touching moments with a comic hue while all the time sending out a social message.

JJ: At the end of the day, the message is that nobody wins the war. One may win small victories along the way but in the end, due to the repercussions on both sides, there is no real winner.

SJ: In many ways, this film is also a satire based on real-life situations. We have shown the friendship that has developed between soldiers from both sides and how they talk to each other about their lives, what they eat and other little things. They also discuss the core issue in a tongue-and-cheek manner so there is humour throughout, humour that will make you laugh and also make you reflect and think.

BOI: Can you take us through your respective roles in the film?

SJ: I play the character called Captain Rajvendra Singh Rana. He is a very focused, hardworking and honest officer. But he also wears his heart on his sleeve and does not miss an opportunity to flirt. And this happens when he meets Soha Ali Khan, who is a journalist who has arrived to report on the possibility of a war breaking out.

JJ: My character is Captain Qureshi, who is the voice of the team, and whose superior is Commander Khan played by Sanjay Mishra. He is a crazy guy and is very frustrated with the system, the way his soldiers are forced to live. Both officers have this great relationship where the Commander says, ‘Arey, tu toh mere bete ki tarah hain.’ Captain Qureshi also has a great rapport with Captain Raj. They share a mutual respect but are also so-called enemies. Still, they exchange notes, play antakshari, chit chat and talk about what’s happening within the system. Captain Qureshi also falls in love with Soha Ali Khan and wants to marry her.

BOI: Most actors believe it is easy to make people cry but very hard to make them laugh. Now both of you have done comedy before but would you say it is a tough proposition?

JJ: For me, drama and tragedy is very easy but with comedy, timing is very important. Comedy requires very good reaction time and the actor opposite you is very important, the team is very important. It works only if everyone plays their part adequately. But we had brilliant actors like Sanjay Mishra, Sharman Joshi and Mukul Dev. The characters were also superbly written.

SJ: I started my career in theatre and was offered my first major comedy. But they had actually considered replacing me as I had really bad comic timing. This was a Shafi Inamdar play and it went on for 550 shows. I hung in there for 45 to 50 shows and then effectively the audience became my tutor. I think theatre helped me get my comic timing right and I grew comfortable with it. Yes, drama comes naturally to me but I had to work on comedy.

BOI: What kind of homework did you have to do for your respective parts?

SJ: I treat every script as the director’s vision and then I rely on my instinct too. So I drew on some encounters I had with army men. The army uniform helped me because even though it was a fake uniform, it instilled in me a sense of pride and patriotism. It made me feel like an officer. So that helped me with my part and I didn’t need to do any homework.

JJ: It was the same for me. I had done a film called Shaurya, where I had played an army officer. So I knew some basics like how to hold a gun, how to walk, the salute and other common things. My character Qureshi is a Pakistani officer and he speaks Punjabi, which is different from the Punjabi spoken in India. So my homework involved to emulate the way Qureshi walked and talked and his accent.

BOI: Did you have to improvise while shooting?

JJ: Thanks to the improvisation, we made a whole new film, which is going to be part two (Laughs).

BOI: Commercially, what does the film have going for you?

SJ: Have you heard of the 500-crore mark (Laughs)? But, yes, you haven’t featured our film in your Trade Trac section. So you have got this one wrong! No, seriously, we are very gung-ho.

JJ: If you think ke maine itne paise lagaye hai aur mujhe iska double kamana hai toh that is a different attitude. The producer and director of this film are looking at establishing their film as a product coming from good filmmakers. Throughout their careers, Merchant Ivory Productions made only the kind of films they wanted to. Obviously, the economics also worked or else, they wouldn’t have been able to make so many films. So it’s about choosing the kind of films you want to make. But when you start talking about films with 100-crore ka mark hai, 200-crore ka mark hai, you get caught in that race.

The attitude you have while making a film counts, jitna kamaya woh haath mein toh aya hi but to make a good film and being appreciated by people is something different. I think we owe this to our audience because if they didn’t appreciate good movies, how would we run our businesses?

BOI: Do you think a film like this could have been made ten years ago?

JJ: Yes…

SJ: (Cuts In) I believe, any film, any subject, could have been made. There have been many great films in Indian cinema that have dealt with many interesting subjects. All one needs is a sense of conviction in the subject and the director should be able to translate his vision onto the screen.

BOI: What next after War…

JJ: (Cuts in) I am doing another film called Mr. Joe B Carvalho, which also features Arshad Warsi and Soha Ali Khan. Then I have Bang Bang, which is for next year and one or two other scripts that I am working on. One of them is BMW that I am co-producing, in a way.

SJ: I have three films lined up and starting on others in January. I have one with Venus Films being directed by Satish Kaushik called Gang Of Ghosts, and I have Indra Kumar’s Super Nani featuring Rekha, Randhir Kapoor and Anupam Kher. Then there is a film being produced by Reliance and Vikram Bhatt. It’s 1920 London, which is the third installment of the 1920 franchise.

BOI: Jaaved, what about your productions? You have produced Inshallah, Football and Kashmir in the past.

JJ: Those were documentaries, where I Iost all my money! I believed in them so I became a part of them. We won two National Awards for them as well.

BOI: What next, in terms of production?

JJ: I intend to do something in television. Regarding feature films, I hope to turn producer some day.

BOI: Sharman, will you turn producer or director?

SJ: I will not become a producer. And I don’t think I have the talent to direct. I think I will stick to acting.

JJ: I would love to direct. It’s a thought I have been contemplating for 15 years but I always end up being caught up in other things. I am going to focus on directing now.


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