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Let's Get Happy

Team Happy Ending – producer and leading man Saif Ali Khan, producer Dinesh Vijan and director Raj Nidimoru – in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Dinesh, let’s start with you.

Dinesh Vijan (DV): How did the film come about, Saif?

Saif Ali Khan (SAK): The film actually came about when we worked with Raj and DK on Go Goa Gone, which I thought was a very funny movie. Go Goa Gone was always supposed to be a niche film. It was also a universally risky idea. But one thing that was common about it was the comedy and the fact that people enjoyed the first half. So we thought a mainstream movie with them would be a good idea. I also had three months in hand, so I told them we should hurry and do the film. It was amazing that we managed to do that.

BOI: The script was ready?

SAK: The script was ready and all we needed was the Hindi dialogue. Dinesh did a very fine job of getting it prepped and ready quickly. So we went ahead and shot it.

BOI: Whose idea was the brilliant title?

Dinesh Vijan (DV): It came with the script. It was initially with someone else, but we got it back.

Raj Nidimoru (RN): Oh yeah! We got to keep the title.

DV to SAK: Do you think there was a more commercial angle in Go Goa Gone?

SAK: Potentially? Oh, definitely! That’s why we are thinking of a sequel. With a little bit of brainstorming, we can come up with a universal sequel that takes the idea and the franchise forward. We can keep everyone in mind but also not sell out completely by turning it into a regular movie. It has to have an edge.

I want to talk to people like Anupama Chopra who reviewed the film quite carefully and she said that she loved the first half of the film but didn’t like the second half. When I asked her why, she said the second half was not just about the zombies but started revolving around itself instead of trying to go to exciting places like in the first half. I am sure we can find a nice universal idea for whatever we can think of to make.

BOI: So you are talking to journalists for feedback before starting the process?

SAK: It’s a good practice to understand other points of view on why a film didn’t work, why it worked or why it didn’t work more. It’s important to know what went wrong and what everybody felt.

DV: Raj, what do you feel?

RN: Yes, it was an experiment. It was out-of-the-box, it was fresh, hilarious and a lot of people loved it. There is a large section of people that loved the film and there is also a large section of people who had problems with it. So we should learn more about why people loved it and why they had problems with it.

BOI: Why is this film titled Happy Ending?

RN: It’s called Happy Ending because we wanted to make a simple romantic comedy very exciting. So this one too is a genre film. You can do only so much with love stories. It’s like horror or a specific kind of thriller. A romcom has to have a story comprising the boy-meets-girl element, they fall in love and then they live happy ever after. That’s the happy ending. The crux of every romantic story is a happy ending so we thought that would be a very apt for this film. For our viewers, this is a film about a happy ending but what that happy ending is, is the thought behind the film.

BOI: Who thought of casting Govinda in that role?

RN: It was a collective decision. He was the top guy we had in mind for that role. We didn’t think he was going to do it but he finally agreed thanks to the persuasive powers of Dinoo. I think he liked the role a lot. I really didn’t expect him to do all that was written for him in the script. Like, there is a point where we have used markers on his body and he was totally fine with that. When every actor is prepared to take off their shirt to show off a six pack, he is not afraid to take off his shirt and show his body the way it is.

SAK: But we did make a six pack for him later and he was very happy with it and said it looked great! (Laughs)

BOI: Saif, what has the journey been like for you while making Happy Ending?

SAK: Amazing! I am very fortunate to be an actor. I read a lot of books and I recently read about how people are slaves to other people. But we actors aren’t, you know. We choose our bosses and we have so much freedom of thought that it is a really great profession. We shot this film in some really lovely places and the crew was friendly. We had some really nice American people working at some really good rates. Why should American people work on a Bollywood film? But we are all passionate about cinema and that is what makes us come together under this umbrella, like Govinda and me. So the journey was lovely and also very peaceful. Sometimes, on other films, some processes are tiring and painful. This film was very peaceful and relaxed. Good writing and good direction, all in some of the loveliest of places like LA and Michigan and even in India.

DV to SAK: What was it like for you to play Yudi’s role?

SAK: Playing Yudi was different. The character stays at home a lot and there was a certain laziness attached to it, in terms of thought and the way he talks. It was a conversational style, not very throw away and dialogue-y. Although there is a lot of conversation in the film, there aren’t too many dramatic lines but it wasn’t easy. Raj kept saying, ‘Let’s do one more take.’ But I also had to play another character Yogi and I often had to play both characters and they are completely different. They have several scenes together and that was tough. But we managed to pull it off because it was like there were two different actors doing those scenes.

RN: Yeah! When we looked at his scenes during the edit, we looked at him like a separate character. It didn’t feel like the same guy. It felt like Yudi was an altogether different person. Even on the set, we used to approach him differently. We would talk to him differently. We saw some of the bloopers, and that’s when we realised how much into the character he was. For instance, Yudi required quite a lot of drama too, but when you are watching a comedy film, you don’t realise that a lot goes into achieving that level of drama. I think that nuanced role, how Saif plays Yudi, was the highlight of the film for me. Drama is fairly straightforward. But here, you add an extra slice of life and also infuse it with comedy.

DV: I feel for this character, and the way he has portrayed the character is really good. You see, it could have become repetitive but it did not. Although this is a romantic comedy – and he has done so many romantic comedies – I feel this is one of his best. Of the two characters he plays in the film, Yogi is the one that people will really appreciate. But I believe playing Yudi was more challenging.

BOI: Saif, what was it like for you to work with Govinda, considering he too has a large body of work in comedy.

SAK: Fortunately, we were all following the script. None of it was impromptu or spontaneous and nobody was on home turf. We were all on this mutual turf that belonged to the directors. If I was acting in a David Dhawan film with Govinda, which is what he is known for in recent times, would I be as amazing as he is in those films? I don’t think so. And could he do something that I am good at? I don’t know, maybe.

But there were two things that got us together for this film. He had to play a part, I had to play a part and both of us had a good part to play. Also we are such different personalities so being in the same frame was interesting. He was funny in his own way and I was reacting, representing the audience. As a writer, he was giving me inputs on what he wanted done and I was reacting with a little shock. There is enough chemistry between us to keep the audience engaged. You get the feeling that you are watching two actors working together, each of us bringing our energy to our respective roles. I would call it an extended cameo from him. It’s not really a two-hero film so people shouldn’t expect a two-hero project. But it’s a very special appearance and people will be very satisfied watching him. But there’s a lot more to the film.

BOI: Like?

SAK: Like love, friendship… it’s, like, this guy’s world. That’s what’s very entertaining. It’s not a sad life or an over-dramatic world; it’s a very funny world. He is crazy about girlfriends and has crazy friends. And he cannot commit to a relationship. Also, his problems are not serious but they are serious for him, and that’s funny for the audience. It’s like PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves, where he is adventurous and his aunt wants him to meet a girl and he doesn’t want to meet her. That’s the drama. These are fun problems, not serious problems.

BOI: Raj, is the story based on your personal experiences?

RN: Perhaps bits of it. It’s more a representation of urban India, a society where you reach the stage of life, where you are looking back and you’ve accumulated so much baggage. Then, one day you wake up and realise ‘I don’t want to be in this relationship. I had one where she got away, it was difficult. I screwed up my career. I had to do something I have never done before.’ So it’s really putting you in that space where you look at your options. So bits of it come from life and the rest from things you observe. There are a couple of instances that are real.

DV: Like?

RN: Those DVDs, I told you na… one of our producers gave us DVDs and told us to analyse them and come back and make both films into one. And I was, like, it’s not a bad idea.

SAK: It’s not a bad idea.

BOI: What kind of response are you getting for the trailer?

RN: It’s been great. For once we knew it was a really good trailer. Dinoo has been very confident since we wrapped our shoot, that we will have a great trailer from the footage he saw while filming. We had a very positive mindset about the film and once it was ready, everybody else too felt that way. It’s great when your opinion is shared by other people.

DV: Saif and I often discuss movie trailers, and cutting a trailer is one of the most fun parts of filmmaking. Launching your trailer is almost the same as releasing your film because the audience decides whether they want to watch the film or not on the basis of the trailer.

BOI: Did you face any difficulties while shooting in the US?

DV: Honestly, we had some issues. Some stories get difficult but we completed the film on time and that’s what matters. Los Angeles is a complicated city because many Hollywood films are also going abroad to shoot. We faced some issues but completed the schedule. Actually, we went back to shoot a few songs and were very happy with the result. Also when your team comprises qualified technicians, they run through everything before you start shooting.

SAK: (Cuts in) Because time is money, right? They save a lot of time and a lot of work gets done during that time.

BOI: What kind of response are you getting for the music?

DV: It’s pretty good. The G phaad ke track, which features Govinda, is catching on well. Paaji has caught on really well. And my favorite track is Mileya mileya by Rekha Bhardwaj. It’s like the Raabta song from Agent Vinod. Cocktail had a few softer songs. I think so far the reaction to the music is very good.

BOI: Saif, how happy are you with the final product?

SAK: I am very happy. It’s a pleasure to promote your film when you have good content. And you can promote it in different ways. I think there is something forward-looking about the movie. It’s a modern take on looking at things and relationships. It is the kind of film we are known for making at Illuminati Films. It reflects a part of my personality, which is to do something a little different and to try new things. That’s our motto.

BOI: What about you, Raj? Are you happy with the way the film has turned out?

RN: Pretty much what we thought. The music of the film is especially good. The film might pick up slowly but each song is beautiful. And it’s one of the best albums we’ve listened to in the last few years. How the actors clicked and how their chemistry turned out was a challenge because Ileana (D’Cruz) and Saif worked together for the first time. Somebody asked me why I had not picked a successful pair or a successful actress opposite Saif. But I had visualised the character with Ileana. I put myself in the audience’s shoes and ask myself whether I would be excited to see both of these actors together. As the script progressed, she opened up into this really sexy and smart girl as the script demanded.

BOI: Saif, when you act in an Illuminati film, are you purely an actor or does the producer in you also keep you on your toes?

SAK: Quite often, we agree on what kind of films we should make. And most of the ideas we have had have been pretty good ideas. Like Agent Vinod, Love Aaj Kal with Imtiaz Ali and Cocktail was completely Dinoo’s idea. So it’s a mixed bag really. But I think sharing the same vibe is important. So I am concerned with how a film is made and where it’s made but not with the day-to-day making of the film. My input is more creativity than contributing to the economics or commercial aspect.

DV: On the ideas level, we both feel very confident when we both like an idea. Over all the years we have worked together, it’s the ideas we have been confident of that have worked for us. So once we decide to make a film and we are both confident of it, the idea then is to back the director who wants to make that film.

SAK: (Cuts in) Producing the right dialogue and getting the ambience of the film right is something I leave to Dinesh. He knows what I expect from him and from Illuminati. To have a good working relationship, you don’t need to have everything in common; you need to share some essential factors. We know how we like to make our movies and how we like to shoot them. I am glad that people like Ileana (D’Cruz), who worked with us, say they like the way we make our films. Ours is an honest way, not a grand way, but it is elegant. Our films look rich, they have atmosphere, colour and scale. This is important and I expect that from him. So if we agree on a subject, it probably has appeal and this isn’t just an actor talking or a businessman talking but the creative sides of both of our personalities that complement each other. That is why I think we end up making decent movies.

BOI: What attracts you in a script or a subject?

DV: The first film I made was Being Cyrus and I get a sense of satisfaction when both Saif and I are happy with the script. And that’s how it’s been mostly. We also enjoy impressing him and it is easier now. (Smiles)

SAK: Yes, maybe I’ve been a little unfair but that’s also because it is ‘home’. And they get very upset because I am much easier with others. Like if you talk to Kabir Khan or Tigmanshu (Dhulia) or even Sajid (Khan), people I have worked with, they will say there is no problem working with me. But with Dinesh and the team, I would be, like, why are we shooting here or why is it like this? I should trust them and just let it be. But people sometimes make more noise at home than they do outside.

DV: I also think that initially there was a certain kind of emotion between the two of us. So we easily got offended or took each other for granted. Now Saif has higher expectations from us but we also want to impress him more. When that adds up, we actually end up with a better film. For me, the most important thing is the story and the idea. Earlier, Saif would tell us, ‘You must understand the difference between good scenes, a good first half and a good script. Sometimes a script has great scenes or a great first half but it is not a great film.’ I honestly believe that an idea should define the budget of a film.

The reason Go Goa Gone worked is because Saif didn’t charge for that film. And the fact is that it was a very experimental film for the price tag it had attached to it. We partnered with Eros and they have never lost money due to us, even on a film like Agent Vinod due to the way it was structured. So it is very important for both of us that an idea defines the budget and the structure of the film. If this idea can appeal to so many people, it will appeal to many more. We don’t put projects together thinking, this is a super hit director and this is a big actor. Let’s put them together and we’ll look at the script later. We always start with the script.

BOI: Raj, is it difficult to direct Saif?

RN: No not at all and it is actually quite a lot of fun. Managing is different from directing. But managing is not my forte, So I will only speak as a director. Like he said, he is much easier on the other sets now. Directing him is a breeze and fun. He may not seem like a passionate actor but he is most definitely one. He is always thinking about the scene he is doing and keep trying to improve what he does. He asks us how we want it to be done and he takes bits of it and goes ahead and does it. He is a perfectionist. When he gives a shot but feels she could have done better, he always wants to redo it. And once he gets the scene right, he is very happy. He is one of the very few actors I’ve seen who purely loves cinema, the art of filmmaking and the process of making films. That’s what makes him a great producer. He doesn’t have any inhibitions or airs and graces about being a star, which makes it much easier for him to get into a character. The better you grasp a character, the better you are as an actor.

BOI: Saif, are you satisfied with your work in Happy Ending?

SAK: Yes very much. I think this is one of my best performances to date because it is consistent and very relaxed. I think being relaxed is one of the hardest things for an actor. It doesn’t mean having a good time on the sets but it means breathing in front of the camera. It is a challenge and I am very pleased with my performance. Also this film is very nuanced as the emotions are not in your face. There is a lot that is unsaid in the film and the love story is about people who don’t commit to each other. It is very real. There is a sense of longing and there is a sense that you are seeing somebody in real life. So if my character is at home, he looks a certain way, unlike films where they are always ready to break out into a song or take off their shirt to show their abs. It is nice to be genuine in a commercial space.

I am very happy with how everything has turned out in the film. I am happy with how they have directed, I am happy with how we have produced. I am happy how Dinoo has done the music. And even though I don’t involve myself with production, I could still see how things could have got out of hand if they weren’t handled appropriately.

DV: In this film, we had a week-long break during our LA schedule. And I think in that week has changed the film because, during that week, I think Saif fell in love with acting all over again.

SAF: When we ran into trouble, we got a week-long break in Los Angeles and I was staying in a lovely hotel and I had nothing to do but go to the gym, watch movies and work on the script. It was like a mini workshop. I also watched a lot of American romantic comedies. Getting into that space with no distractions helped a lot. In fact, we want to take a few weeks off to do workshops and prepare for every film. I think there is an academic side to being an actor. Actors are supposed to be artistes who are into literature, reading and trying to express emotions. It is not just a business; there is an artistic side which was missing from my life that I am happy to have back.

Now we want to work on scripts and find what every character means and dress them up interestingly, make them sound aesthetic and interesting. That is part of the fun of cinema. Making movies is fun, selling them is fun, premiere night is exciting, during the release week calling you like a maniac and constantly asking what’s happening is fun. But one thing that I hadn’t done for a bit was to prepare the script and the character before. That is also fun.

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