As the thrilling trailer of RAW – Romeo Akbar Walter gathers momentum among the audience, director Robbie Grewal and lead actress Mouni Roy talk to Team Box Office India about the period the film is set in, the patriotic feelings it inspires and much more
Box Office India (BOI): Robbie, RAW - Romeo Akbar Walter is set in the 1970s. How did you infuse the authenticity of the era into this film?
Robbie Grewal (RG): The film is set in 1971. It’s a challenge to create something that has happened in the ’70s, in 2019. But that’s what we relish as filmmakers; we want to take on these challenges. It is a story set in 1971 so the depiction of that period had to be bang on! I am a little finicky about details and how the film looks in terms of its timeframe.
Mouni Roy (MR): I would like to add that when he said ‘little finicky’, he doesn’t really mean ‘little’. He was way too finicky (Laughs)!
RG: When you are depicting history, you’ve got to be clear and correct. There is no room for error in a historical film. Otherwise, people will not like the film when they watch it. So a lot of attention to detail has gone into making it as authentic as possible.
MR: Plus he has done a lot of research. When I met him for the first time, he sent me web links and asked me to read up on the subject. If you are playing a certain character, your body language, the way you talk and your mannerisms need to in sync with the era that the film is set in.
RG: Back then, people were a little different in the way they talked and in their interactions. For instance, today, we are more expressive. Uss zamane mein thoda thehrav tha. With John (Abraham), with Mouni, and with the other actors, we are trying to get back that thehrav to get it right.
BOI: Talking about research, what kind of research has gone into making RAW?
RG: A lot of research. I have been working on the film for the last six to seven years. Research begins by pressing a button on your Mac. But that is just the first step, getting the information from the Internet. The real essence of research comes from people you meet from that era. I was lucky to meet a few people a decade ago as well, to see the difference in their way of carrying out the intelligence operations in that era and a decade ago.
Apart from that, watching such films, reading books, etc., it was all a part of the research. The authenticity of the film is paramount. In fact, when I met Mouni the first time, she asked me a few things and I sent her a mail with a few links. She had a lot to ponder and read up on in terms of the character she is playing in the film.
BOI: Mouni, you had said that your character is a little subdued which, according to you, is quite unlike you. How did you transform into the character you are playing?
MR: After talking to him (Robbie) a few times, I understood that he wanted me to remember my lines and act spontaneously so that it didn’t look over-rehearsed…
RG: I already knew she was a popular TV actor. At the back of my mind, I always had this impression that TV actors are rehearsed because they have so much work to do. I realised later that this was a misconception. When I worked with her, I realized that her biggest strength was her spontaneity. It’s all about getting the character right and she was spot-on! Once the character is firmly imprinted in your mind, and if you are a good actor, it just flows.
We had discussed the scenes in great detail with Mouni, John and Jagguda (Jackie Shroff) in the preproduction-stage, so the shooting process flowed very naturally.
BOI: Mouni, this is your second film. Now that you are starting out in films, you must have certain preferences and ideas about the characters you want to play. How does RAW fit into that?
MR: Does it ever really work out like that? I am okay with life surprising me, I am okay doing the kind of work that I am doing. I don’t really have a particular person or a mentor or somebody who can guide me in what I am doing. I am doing the best I can and all I want is to be part of stories that are relevant. It has been like that so far, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
BOI: Robbie, what about Mouni made you sure that she was the one for this role?
RG: Well, I don’t praise them much when they are around. But after working with her, I noticed that she was a very good actor. She has that slight old-world charm about her. There are actors today who are very mechanical but she is different. She is obviously very pretty but she also has this inherent old-world vibe, which is what I wanted.
When I first met her to discuss the script, she got the part very quickly.
MR: No, he is not being truthful.
RG: I am being truthful.
MR: He was not impressed because I got the part. Can you see how quickly he speaks? When he narrated the script to me, he spoke twice as quickly. He was impressed with me because I understood the story narrated at that speed. (Both laugh)
RG: Yes absolutely, that too. Well, I speak a little fast and when I gave her the narration, we had only an hour and a half.
MR: You had to go somewhere.
RG: Yes, I had to go somewhere. I had asked her, should I discuss the script in generic terms or should I give you a detailed narration? She said, ‘No, no tell me the whole thing.’ Because of the limited time, I narrated it at twice the speed. I was really quick. Honestly, I was surprised that she caught all the beats! I was very impressed that she understood the script so quickly.
I believe films are not made on the set alone; they are made on the stage before you go on the floors. Whether it’s your research or the detailing, whether it’s your framing or your character getting the part correctly in their mind, all that happens before you go on the floors. I am a firm believer of the pre-stages of a film. When you go on the set, you don’t have time to experiment. But if your actors fully understand their parts before you go on the floors, half the battle is won.
BOI: Patriotic flavour are often examined under the microscope and prone to controversy. Did that make you a little more cautious?
RG: Every film has a certain flavour and might attract some controversies but ours won’t because we aren’t talking about anything or anyone in a way that can be controversial. Our film did not attract any controversies because there is none.
MR: Also, I don’t think anyone who is making a film would not think about a controversy. Everybody wants to tell a story and sometimes things happen, unfortunately, and they are tackled with. I believe when you are talking about filmmaking, it is like creating art. Sometimes, unfortunate things happen and sometimes they don’t.
RG: You cannot begin by thinking that something could create a controversy. If you do, you are an impure filmmaker. You don’t make a film with a view to creating controversy. Still, some films attract controversy anyway.
BOI: Did you all take anything into consideration to make sure there were no controversies?
RG: You have to be true to the genre, the part and the era you are making the movie in. Like I said earlier, you cannot play with history. If you distort history, it’s terrible. You have to be very responsible as a filmmaker. You have to be authentic in the description of your screenplay and how you put it across, especially in today’s age where real films are working. So, keeping it real is like a promotional thing now.
MR: It is lucky for us actors that a lot of the research has already been done. Yes, we need to know what that research is, we need to know the script like the back of our hand. A huge part of playing characters like these in films that are set in a certain period depends on the costumes. That plays a big part. All you need to do is be present, show up and give 100 per cent. For actors, it’s slightly easier than the person who is conceiving the project.
BOI: Robbie, you have directed films which have been written by you and ones that have written by others. Is there any difference when you are making a film on your vision or vice-versa?
RG: I believe that if you write the film, it is the best place to be in because there is no disparity in your thoughts and the outcome. Sometimes, the writer interprets a scene in a different way, the dialogue is same but the interpretation can be different, and then the director takes it to a level which could be good or bad. If you have written the film yourself, then there is complete clarity and you are responsible for the good, bad or ugly. It just makes for a clearer vision for a director if you write your own films; there is more clarity in your communication and that really helps.
BOI: Mouni, as an actress who is starting out, what kinds of films do you see yourself being a part of?
MR: I want to play a dancer in a film and I hope someone makes a Bollywood Broadway, a Hindi Broadway kind of a film, which is filled with a lot of dance routines like kathak. It could be a musical. I really hope I can do something like that.
RG: (Cuts In) Before you ask, I don’t want to play a dancer.
BOI: Well, good to know, but as a director, is there a genre that you have wanted to explore?
RG: There are multiple genres but as a filmmaker, there is a voice in your heart which resonates with your head, and then you tell a story. It’s not that you have a wishlist in terms of what you want to do but it should come from your heart. There are no fixed genres.
BOI: Is that why there is a decade’s break between your last directorial and this one?
RG: Honestly, what took me so long to come back to direction is that I am an ad filmmaker. My bread and butter is making commercials. And I didn’t have a story to tell. I was happy doing what I was doing and nothing came from within that made me think ‘I want to make this into a film’, till I hit upon the idea of making RAW. From that point until now, that’s all I have thought about.
BOI: How do you want the film to be perceived when it releases on April 5?
MR: I think the audience will get a beautiful feeling when they watch this film. A lot of different things will resonate with different people because, like Robbie said, it is an espionage thriller, and so you might like the story, the various relationships that are shown in the sub-plots and, overall, if you are a patriot and you like seeing films of this genre, this is the one to go for. It has a lot of heart and you won’t be disappointed.
RG: Essentially, this is an emotional film about being Indian. The feeling of being proud to be Indian should be something the audience takes away from it. I want to touch a chord in people’s hearts about that kind of pride.