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Sister Act

Actors Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan along with producer Ajay Kapoor of Kyta Productions talk to Box Office India about their film Pataakha

Box Office India (BOI): Pataakha is very different from the films Vishal Bhardwaj usually makes. What made you come board?

Ajay Kapoor (AK): The story line was so extraordinary, about two sisters. That, coupled with such a unique story which no one has taken up. That attracted me most. When he narrated the story to me, with all the fights happening, the emotions, the family drama and the climax, I found it very exciting. That’s why I came on board. Plus the fresh star cast; this is Radha’s debut film and then there is Sanya, they were apt for these roles.

BOI: What about you two?

Sanya Malhotra (SM): Both of us auditioned for our respective roles. I got a call from the manager, saying that Vishal sir was making a film on two sisters. I met him while I was shooting in Delhi for Badhaai Ho. He gave me a one-liner, which I thought was very unique. You always have two sisters in a very lovey-dovey relationship in Bollywood and this is the first time we are showing the reality, I would say, because while growing up I too had this kind of relationship with my elder sister. We used to fight a lot, we used to hate each other completely.

For me, the audition was just to see if I could play a character who was very loud and aggressive. That was a challenge for me. I really thought that sir wouldn’t take me. I have no idea why. I am a huge Vishal Bhardwaj fan. But I am glad he liked it and I came on board. It is so unique. The character Chutki is someone I don’t relate to at all. She is the complete opposite of who I am. As an actor, I loved the challenge and I had to pull myself out of my comfort zone to play such a character. And Vishal Bhardwaj was directing it. Matlab, usse achcha kya ho sakta hai.

Radhika Madan (RM): Sone pe suhaga. I auditioned for my part. I went through a good three-four rounds of auditions. I was shooting for Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. I had auditioned for it in December. I got a call from the casting agency saying, ‘Vishal sir wants to meet you’. I said I was in Goa, celebrating the completion of my first film. How could I come? They said they were going to lock the girl, so it was up to me.

SM: (Cuts in). So it was a dhamki?

RM: (Laughs). Yes. I got on the next flight because there was this darr! I had no time so I had to rehearse the scenes at the airport. People at the airport were clicking my pictures and taking videos, thinking that this girl is crazy and talking in a different dialect in Goa and randomly just moving around.

BOI: Maybe they thought it was the Goa hangover!

RM: Yes. Kiya kya hai isne! (Laughs). I landed and straightaway went to the office, auditioned, and that is how I got the part. I remember I was reading the script in a room, I was alone and I was laughing my head off. I was like, what is this? This is crazy. I was so intrigued by Champa Kumari’s character, I was like, I want to live this life. I want to live the life of Shrimati Champa Kumari. It was too good!

BOI: You had also met the real Badki and Chutki on whose lives this story is based. How was that experience?

RM: That was great. They have of course sobered up now. (Laughs). They are 60! They have grandchildren around them, so they cannot say ‘kuttiya’ and everything. They were hesitant.

SM: We asked them ki kya ladaai hui thi? Tell us. Other people in the village were, like, paanch baje ladte the. ‘Mhare dhani ka tractor hai, tu kya kar rahi hai?’ Kuch na kuch karke ladhaai ho rahi hot thi unki.

RM: Woh dono sharma rahin thi ki, kya kahen?

SM: Apni tareef kaise karen?

RM: Their neighbours and family members told us that we would wake up hearing their fights. We heard and that really helped us to actually know them.

BOI: When we interviewed Vishal sir, he said he wanted actresses who did not mind looking a certain way. They shouldn’t be conscious about being tanned or with messed-up hair. And they should also have dates.

SM: In my first film, from the start itself, I knew it really worked. And I saw that the kind of hard work you put into your looks, it shows on screen. People really like that. I learnt that from my first film. But I didn’t mind changing. That is the beauty of being an actor. You look different in every film. You can have a different dialect, the way you talk, you can change it with each and every film you are doing. That really excites me.

Three days after the audition, sir called me and said, ‘You will have to gain 10 kgs for this role for the second half, I hope you don’t mind that. And if you don’t mind that, then you are welcome (Laughs).’ I was like bas das kilo, main toh sau kilo badhaa loongi. Time nahi tha iss liye das kilo tak hi badhaaya. (Laughs). When you get to play these kind of characters, you don’t think twice. It doesn’t even occur that you would say no. That’s what happened when I got to know.

AK: They have done a fabulous job, Sunil Grover, Radhika and Sanya. I watched the film last night and it looks superb.

SM: I love Chutki’s life. We love being Badki and Chutki.

BOI: There fist fights, gobar fights, expletives and a lot more. Did you improvise the scenes or did you just stick to the script?

RM: The scenes were written so beautifully that we didn’t feel the need to change anything.

SM: But we did improvise a lot, in workshops, not on set. In the workshops, we improvised all our scenes to see what was working and what was not. In fact, sir used to change the script according to our improvisation. Some scenes were added after the workshops.

RM: I don’t think we made any changes on the set.

SM: And we didn’t have the time as we shot the film in 28 days.

RM: In the prep, we did a lot of workshops and improvisation. But we didn’t feel the need to change anything on set. Coming to your gobar fight and fist fights… the first fight was choreographed, but we didn’t stick to it.

SM: Yes, I didn’t stick to it!

RM: Second fight mein, Sanya didn’t stick to it. Of course, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were just angry at each other and we were ready to kill each other!

SM: All the slaps and kicks were improvised. The chappal was there in the script. Radhika thought I would clean the chappal. They will say cut and then I will throw it on her face. It would happen in a very nice manner.

RM: But it looks very natural. I thought ki iske dialogue ke baad, sir will say ‘Cut, clean chappal lao’. Sanya also didn’t stop. She was just standing there. I thought that Sanya will say ‘Sir cut karte hain, bahut ganda chappal hai’. She says ‘Chorni kutiya, meri jutti baat karegi tose’. Maine bola ab cut hoga, ab cut hoga. And the jooti just came; thak! I was like kya! (Everyone laughs)

SM: And I felt really bad.

RM: And it was our first scene together. It was yudh ka aarambh. Thankfully, after that, we had our first fight in the film.

BOI: What was the chemistry like between the two of you? How did you work on it when you first met and in the workshops?

RM: I liked her from the very beginning because I really liked her in Dangal. I was very excited when I heard that Sanya was going to be on board. First, I thought it would be real fun with her as I imagined she was fiery but when I met Sanya and greeted her very energetically, saying, ‘Hi, I am Radhika, how are you…?’ she replied in a mellowed manner and said, ‘I am Sanya.’ (Imitating her)

SM: Oh please, I don’t talk like that.

(Everyone laughs)

RM: I was thinking, yaar, we are doing Pataakha… I gave her a chance to open up more. I had more conversations, like, where are you from and how did you come here. She was very soft-spoken, very neat.

AK: I agree. When I met Sanya, she introduced herself in the same manner to me. I was confused and wondered, is she doing Pataakha?

RM: (Laughs) Exactly. That is something which is commendable. It is brilliant for someone like her, who is so soft spoken, to play Chutki.

BOI: Ajay, what was your first impression of Radhika?

AK: I was very positive. When Vishal sir showed me some of the scenes done by them, I was very excited from day one. Of course, it was my dream to work with Vishal sir as well. Since he gave me this opportunity, I also got the chance to work with Sanya and Radhika, and there are a lot of other good characters in the movie.

BOI: And, how creatively involved were you during the film?

AK: I was not actually involved as the script was decorated and the plate was served to me. Obviously, you can’t offer an opinion in front of Vishal sir. But it was nice working with him because he took my suggestions, whether it was about the music, marketing or a scene. He showed me the movie several times and asked me whether I had any suggestions. When I offered some, he took them in a very healthy way. If he didn’t agree with something, he would explain why and I took it in the same healthy way.

I felt comfortable enough to say anything I wanted to, to him. For example, earlier, the title of this film was Churiyaan. I thought it was a little difficult to pronounce and suggested that we change it. He suggested five titles, among them was Pataakha. I instantly said that Pataakha was superb as a title for this film. It is good to work with him as he is so open to all kinds of suggestions.

BOI: Coming to the songs, Vishal Bhardwaj’s songs are known to be the highlight of his films. Balma is a very quirky song. What was your reaction when you heard it for the first time and how was the experience shooting for it?

SM: I absolutely loved it. That is actually my favourite song in the film.

RM: Yes, mine too.

SM: Gali gali and Balma.

AK: That’s why I told sir that we should launch the songs with Balma. First, they were thinking of launching another song but I said that Balma is one of our favourite because everyone in my house, whether kids or elders, is listening to that song. It’s an awesome track.

SM: It has been shot in a very creative manner. What we did was, we were actually singing the song. We had in-ears and a mic on while we were shooting for it. Sir wanted some live flavour in the song, to show that we were singing in a sangeet.

The choreography looks improvised and doesn’t look like a choreographed song. Also, Shabina (Khan) has done a wonderful job with the choreography. When we first met Shabina, she showed us some steps. We asked her to listen to what our characters were like. Radhika told her how she wanted to dance and I told her that I don’t want to dance properly because I don’t think Chutki could dance. She will dance but in an offbeat manner.

Shabina choreographed it in a way where Radhika is dancing very well and I am trying to copy her and failing miserably. Shabina has choreographed it beautifully, keeping in mind the script and our characters. We had so much fun in shooting that song because I remember the shoot started at midnight. Both of us thought this would never end in just one night. The shoot went on till six in the morning and it was completed in just one night.

RM: We did the last shot when the sun came up.

SM: We couldn’t believe it because it is such a big song.

RM: We had a blast shooting it and it didn’t feel like a night shoot at all.

BOI: It looked that way.

AK: Even that paan shot was very nice when, while dancing, Radhika ate it. That was so well choreographed.

BOI: Ajay spoke about what it was like to work with Vishal sir. What about you’ll? Did you both feel intimidated?

RM: Since I am in an early phase of my career, I was scared and sceptical about what was going to happen on set. But when I started the process with him, whether in the readings or workshops or on the set, I realised he is such an easy director to work with. He has an open mind. If I wanted to do a scene in a particular way and if I said, ‘Sir I want to do it this way’, he simply said, ‘Then do it.’ He gives you so much freedom as an actor. If you have a difference of opinion on something, he will discuss it with you and either he will get convinced or he will convince you. He never once said, ‘I have written the movie so do as I say.’ Instead, he would ask, ‘Radhika why do you think it should be this way?’ In fact, while we were shooting, there was a scene in the movie…

SM: He added a scene…

RM: Both of us felt that yeh nahi hona chahiye. It doesn’t go with our characters.

SM: I was very confident that this wouldn’t work for our characters and that we shouldn’t do it.

RM: During the breaks, he used to come to the green room and ask, ‘Why do you think so?’

SM: ‘I feel it is very important’, he said, and we agreed.

RM: We confidently used to say, ‘Sir, humein nahi lagta isiliye nahi hona chahiye.’ He finally convinced us to shoot that scene, saying we could always exclude it later if we wanted to.

SM: Take one, and both of us looked at each other.

RM: After take one, we just looked at each other and we were like…

SM: Mazaa toh aa raha hai scene mein. It is such an important scene for the film.

RM: Like it is one of the most important scenes for the film and for our characters.

RM: That’s when we realised why he is the Vishal Bhardwaj and we were still novices (Laughs)!

SM: But he was so nice. He could have easily said, ‘Shut up, girls!’ (Laughs)

RM: He could have said, ‘Who are you?’ (Laughs)

SM: But no! He used to sit with us and listen to what we could bring to the script. And we all worked as a team…

RM: (Cuts in) As a family.

SM: Yes, we worked as a family. He gave us so much freedom to perform. It felt really good to work with a director like him.

BOI: He told us it was his most enjoyable film.

RM: For us too.

SM: Yes, it was very special.

BOI: You released two trailers for the film which more or less gives out the entire story. Was that deliberate?

AK: Yes, it was. It was a creative call taken by Vishalji and us. People should know what the movie is all about. There is nothing to hide. It is all about the fun, the sisters and the Narad Muni (Laughs).

SM: But still, there is more to it.

AK: Yes, lots more.

RM: Yes, a lot of things. I am sure everybody thinks they have watched the entire film through the trailer, so why go to theatres? But let me tell you ki yeh toh bas shuruwaat hai (Laughs).

BOI: Not too many films are made on this kind of bond between sisters. The only one we can think of is Seeta Aur Geeta. Why do you think our films do not explore this bond?

AK: There is Chaalbaaz too.

SM: True. They do not explore this kind of bond or this aspect of their relationship. In this film, we are not stereotypical sisters.

RM: We are actually showing the reality.

SM: Yes, we are. So many people came up to us after watching the trailer and said they used to fight with their sisters in a similar way. They told us that they could totally relate to it.

AK: Yeh toh ghar ghar ki kahaani hai!

RM: Sanya has fought with her sister, and I have fought with my brother in the same way. Though the chappal was thrown at me in the film, I have done the same to my brother in real life. Siblings do fight in this way! In an era like this, we have to show the reality, because the audience today is really smart. We cannot show a family through a rose-tinted lens any more. We cannot show a happy and idealistic notion of a family with music playing in the background, where the elders shower blessings on the younger ones and they touch the feet of their elders. They will not buy that. We are trying to portray reality. I think people will have fun watching it.

AK: In the film, they look like real sisters only. You would never think they are acting; they appear so natural. You will think that the same thing happened to you and you have fought with your sister in the same way.

BOI: In the last two years, real, rooted and rural stories are increasingly being made. AK: This is natural and in-built. People like to see real characters and real stories. Look at the reality, look at the locations our films are being made in! People get more excited about a realistic milieu.

SM: I think people relate to it, whether the language or the location ki arre yeh toh mera gaon hai! There is a majority of massy audience in our country. When they are able to relate to the actors and the film, it feels really good. I think it is a phase. Things will change eventually. When the trend changes, Bollywood’s stories and scripts will change accordingly.

BOI: Your first film, Dangal, broke box office records. Is there any nervousness or pressure surrounding your second film?

SM: I am nervous but I am not worried about how much money it will make. Sorry Ajay sir. (Laughs). My job is to act. I hope people go and watch the film. We had so much fun shooting for this one. We made it with a lot of heart. I hope they like Pataakha.

RM: Same here! The process was so much fun. I have enjoyed the journey so much that I am not thinking of the destination. Of course, I want a large number of people to watch it because we made the film with a lot of love. I know they will be able to connect to the film. Sir, I have done my job. The rest is up to you (Laughs).

SM: Sir, it is your tension now (Laughs).

RM: Our tension as actors is to act well and then go, ‘Jai Mata Di! Let’s rock (Laughs)!’

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