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Stealing Hearts

Team Roy – T- Series’ Chairman & MD, Bhushan Kumar; Director, Ajay Kapoor; President - Media, Marketing and Publishing (TV) Vinod Bhanushali, and director Vikramjit Singh – in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): How did the film start?

Vikramjit Singh (VS): My friend Gaurav Gupta told me Bhushanji (Kumar) was looking for scripts to back. I met Ajay (Kapoor) and, after 10 minutes of narration, he spoke to Bhushanji (Kumar) and I gave them a joint narration. And, just like that, we were on! It was the easiest narration I have ever given.

Bhushan Kumar (BK): Why don’t you rewind a little and tell them about how you approached Eros with the film, so that they get something spicy to print. (Laughs)

VS: Ok, here’s a quick synopsis. I got an MBA degree at Wharton and worked as an investment banker in the US. I gave up that job and came to India and started assisting Farhan Akhtar on Lakshya, but only for three months. Then I started writing and pitching scripts. In 2007, I was to make a film called Raastey with Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham and Aishwarya Rai. The film was plagued by delays – Abhishek got stuck with Drona, and at around the same time, Rakeysh Mehra began working on Delhi 6, so Abhishek started researching for that film.

I couldn’t wait that long and I had also got involved with another film, which did not take off. Then, in 2010, I started writing a script and I had a producer called Eros. Still, things did not take off. Fast forward to December 2012, when this film came to T-Series.

BK: Not two years, 2013…so, yeah, two years and two months later we are ready for release.

BOI: Bhushanji, what was it about Roy that made you say ‘yes’ so quickly?

BK: I was looking for a different kind of cinema. At the time, films like Rowdy Rathore were in vogue, where the hero would take on 100 goons. But we always felt that would change. We got into production quite a bit later, when we made Ready, which was our first proper release. We were also analysing the longevity of different genres, you know, whether action, comedy or romantic films… how long would a genre sustain? I finalised this script when action genres were doing very well. I also predicted that two years later, this is the genre that would work well with the audience. I believed people would be looking for a change and that is precisely what has happened.

There was a time when comedy was doing well. But there were also many comedy films that didn’t work as well as back-to-back action films that didn’t work. So, two years ago, we predicted that this genre would work. I think we were right ki yeh koi unreal genre nahi hai. Baby was also a true-genre film and the action in that film too was real. Typically, our films do not show the hero being injured but with Baby, the hero experiences pain, which is evident even during the climax.

Vinod Bhanushali (VB): Every hero is not a superhero and that’s what we showed in Baby.

BK: After the release of Baby, we were confident about this film because its music has caught on and that is what I wanted. Again, this story too is very real and you can relate to it. It is a romantic thriller…

VS: I would call it a drama.

BK: Drama but it has a mix of thrills, action, music and romance. So it’s a romantic thriller with drama.

VS: Absolutely.

BOI: Ajay, what grabbed you so much that you agreed to be a part of the film in 10 minutes flat?

VS: I guess he instantly liked my beard! (Laughs)

Ajay Kapoor (AK): He narrated the story to me and I liked it and he also told me about his characters…

BOI: By this time, were Arjun Rampal and Ranbir Kapoor on board?

AK: Yes! In fact, he called Ranbir just five minutes after the narration…

BK: From the very beginning, we were attracted to the fact that Ranbir was on board. Then we were told that Vikramjit and Ranbir were childhood friends. We felt reassured that this was a genuine film. (Laughs)

VS: Are you saying that people approach you with scripts and drop names of big actors they haven’t even met, claiming they will work on the film?

BK: Oh yes! We come across so many people like that!

VB: In fact, they work the other way around. They tell us that the star is just waiting for us to green-light the film. (Laughs)

BOI: It took you so many years to start a film, and here you began work within a few minutes. How did that feel?

VS: It was unbelievable. I have had so many roadblocks. Sometimes at the narration stage, sometimes budgets have not worked but here was this producer with whom everything clicked. We began working on it at the end of 2013 and in Jan 2014, we began working on the modalities. I had to do my recce, then sort out date issues, like Jackie (Jacqueline Fernandez) was getting involved in with Kick. Finally, we started filming and thankfully it came together. And, thankfully, there was no interference from my producer on the creative aspect.

BOI: Did Bhushanji interfere with the music?

BK: That was the deal! And he is very happy with the deal!

VS: Yes, I am very happy with the deal. Initially, I had told him I wanted to do the film my way and Bhushanji agreed but he said he would do the music his way. So Bhushanji took charge of the music. He made me listen to every track in his office, and I also met the music director and the lyricist. And so the music is a part of my narrative and it’s not like there are separate promotional songs; they are all part of the film. It’s turned out great.

BOI: Bhushanji, do you first understand the situations in the story before you come up with songs, or do you just like a song and use it in the film?

VS: No no, he took four narrations from me!

BK: I initially had reservations about the dialogue, which he readily agreed to change. Then I took five narrations and started making the songs to sync with the situations. For instance, the Ranbir Kapoor song Tu hai ki nahi… connects with the situation, where he is reminiscing. Sooraj dooba hai is a party song. In the film, they attend an island party, where the song plays.

VS: (Cuts in) Sooraj dooba hai is the most topical song in the film. It’s very much a part of the story, which moves forward with that song.

BK: If I were making a film, I would have made Sooraj dooba hai a party anthem but he had a situation in the film where the song had to start from a car, and the music director and I decided to give the song a romantic feel till Matlabi… and then reach the destination. So many people have told me that they especially like two songs from the film – Sooraj dooba… and Matlabi… Ever since the song became a rage, people realised it’s one song, not two. (Laughs).

BOI: Bhushanji, when you start deciding on the music of a film, when do you stop being the head of a music label and start becoming a producer?

BK: I am very particular about that. I have to take care of the situations where I place the songs according to the director and I also have to take care of the music my company is producing. It’s important to see whether there is scope for music or not in a film. Like, in our recently released film Baby, there was no scope for music. So it all depends on the story although we definitely take care of our music label too.

VS: (Cuts in) Initially, I too was sceptical about it and was wondering what I would do if he wanted to simply insert songs in the film. But full credit to Bhushanji. He is not only interested in the music; he is also interested in the story, the screenplay, the situations and the scenes. He took plenty of references from me for every scene. So Bhushanji did his share of work to understand the film and my viewpoint. He made the songs and used them in the film only after that.

BK: Like Tu hai ki nahi… is a full-on situational song and a full-on commercial song too. It’s romantic and every single word syncs with the situation.

BOI: How popular are the songs becoming?

Vinod Bhanushali (VB): There is a music top 10 chart in which our film’s music is in No 1, No 3 and No 5 position. This is very rare as an entire album doesn’t get so popular. Right now, Chittiyaan kalaiyaan is in No 1 position and Sooraj dooba is at No 2 on many sites.

BOI: You mean, the songs of Roy are competing against each other?

VB: (Laughs) Yes! You could say that.

BK: Even on YouTube, our songs received 12-13 million hits in just three days, which is huge. We didn’t get as many hits for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’s album in the first month. Roy has become of the industry’s best albums in the last five years. The music of even Aashiqui 2 did not become so popular after the music release; it caught on after the film released. I knew Roy’s music would be great and people did not believe me when I would tell them how good the music was turning out to be. Now they tell me I was absolutely right. It makes me very happy because good music makes for a positive buzz around a film. Everyone is talking about the opening day’s collections.

BOI: Tell us about the film, Vikram?

BK: (Cuts in) Don’t give out the story.

VS: It’s a drama, shot in India and shot in Malaysia. It has four characters – Arjun Rampal who plays a filmmaker named Kabir Grewal; Ranbir Kapoor plays a thief called Roy; and Jacqueline has double role. One of her characters is a filmmaker Ayesha Aamir and the other is a painter named Tia Desai. I can’t talk about their equations and chemistry but, yes, those are the characters in my film. What I can reveal is that the pot revolves around four peoples and their lives.

BOI: Bhushanji, you have such a big asset Ranbir Kapoor in the film but he is not visible during the promotions of the film.

BK: That’s because of the story. So there is a reason we cannot use Ranbir Kapoor to promote the film right now but he will after its release. If he or the director starts talking about his character, the film will lose its charm. It’s not a film which has a hero and a heroine and a villain suddenly whisks away the heroine and the hero fights with 200 people to get her back. Roy is a very different kind of story. If Ranbir’s character is revealed, you will not enjoy watching the film. So we will talk about his character after the film’s release.

BOI: He is the trump card and you are saving it for later?

BK: Yes.

BOI: Ajay, from the production point of view, how easy or difficult was this film to shoot?

AK: It was not difficult at all and we were invited by many countries to shoot there, including Spain, Italy and Fiji. We zeroed in on Malaysia as we got a good deal.

BK: He (Vikramjit) has captured Malaysia in a way that the country has never been seen in our films. It’s been shot very well and credit goes to our director and cinematographer.

VS: Himman Dhamija shot the film. He has done a handful of Bollywood films like Mangal Pandey and the recently released Daawat-E-Ishq. We met through a common friend. Earlier, Natarajan Subramaniam was to shoot the film but he couldn’t give us the dates we wanted. Hence we had to look for another DoP and that’s when I met Himman. We gelled very well and were in sync in terms of our imagination and approach to work. We both looked at cinema in a similar way, the way I want to construct the story or the way I look at the film. And he instantly understood my vision. It was a pleasure working with him.

BOI: Vinod, as Bhushanji said, Roy’s is not a conventional love story. So when it comes to marketing, what changes when it’s not a conventional Bollywood film?

VB: It was quite an easy job for me. Indeed it is not conventional, a new type of cinema that we are expecting people to appreciate. It was a fresh cast – Jacqueline playing a double role opposite Arjun Rampal and Ranbir Kapoor. When people come to know about the cast, the buzz increases, there is a heightened urge to find out what will happen. One guy is a director and the other guy is a thief but he is also the hero. The girl is also a director. So you get confused and you want to find out what happens in the film. When people wonder what happens to the characters while watching the promo, it becomes easy to promote the film.

Another strong point is the music of the film and the situations from where it arises. All I have to do is position it in the right place and find the right time to go on air and get good placement in all the channels.

My job was to get numbers and put things in the right place multiple times. When you have a good product, it becomes easy. It becomes difficult when you have a good product and you don’t market it properly. So our entire team was very cautious.

BOI: 2015 is a very crucial year for Bhushan Kumar as a producer. You have multiple releases and many of your films are also going on the floors. How do you look at this?

BK: Yes, we just had Baby and now Roy. Then we have Ek Paheli Leela and All Is Well to release and we are starting Baadshaho with Milan Luthria and Ajay Devgn. There’s my wife’s film Sanam Re and then Anurag Basu will also start his film and also one with Vivek Agnihotri.

BOI: You also have Hate Story 3.

AK: Yes, that film will start at the end of April.

VB: Baby has proved that if you have good content...

BK: We are also working on many films in different genres.

BOI: Roy is ready after a journey that started with Vikramjit approaching Ajay and then finally Bhushanji. How satisfied are all of you with the end product?

VS: I am very happy with the film.

BK: I am extremely satisfied with it.

VB: We also have a good release date, and great songs that have caught on. It’s a February 13 release and it is a solo release.

BK: But I want to ask you how the World Cup will affect our release.

BOI (Vajir Singh): It will, on Sunday, when there is the India-Pakistan match. But, then again, the match ends at around 4 pm, so only the morning and afternoon shows will be impacted. The evening and night shows will not be affected.

BK: What about the non-cricket audience? They will go to watch the film, right?

BOI (Vajir Singh): It is an India-Pakistan match and also the first match of India in this World Cup series.

VB: But we have an advantage on February 14. It is not a festival and youngsters will go and watch the film.

BK: Since Sunday is a holiday, February 14, the day and night shows will be occupied by the youth. The audience, which has already connected with the songs of the film, will definitely go to cinemas. We thought the loss we would suffer on February 15 would be covered on February 14.

BOI (Vajir Singh): Well, if India wins the match, people will watch your film and celebrate our win and if India loses, people will still watch the film while mourning our loss.

BK: (Laughs)

VB: Yes, after 4 pm, everything will go in our favour.

BOI: How happy are your actors with the final product?

VS: They are ecstatic. Ranbir has seen the first half of the film and he loved it. Arjun and Jacqueline have seen the film and they loved it. All of them are very happy. I’m ecstatic because the performances by all the actors are superb… Ranbir, Arjun and Jacqueline. Jacqueline, for sure, Arjun is damn good and Ranbir is on another level.

BOI: What was Bhushanji’s reaction when he watched the film?

VS: Bhushanji watched the film at the edits. We were working on the background music and when he saw the film, we were working with a dummy background score. So I said, ‘Bhushanji, not today.’ But he was adamant about watching it. I felt him watching the film then would delay our work. While he watched the film, I watched him and looked at his expressions. I saw him smiling and I felt reassured as my producer was smiling. He walked out without asking for a single change!

BK: (Cuts in) Even though the background was rough and this is a film where the background has adds a lot to the narration. But I enjoyed what I saw even with the rough background and with many green patches on the screen. I was blown away by the narrative of the film.

BOI: Ajay, you were the first one to take him to Bhushanji. Are you happy with your decision?

AK: I was happy and he didn’t trouble me at all with budgets. He kept working with the budget he was given. I was worried ki ab budget badhega.

VS: (Cuts in) Sir, mujhe yahan zyada paise chahiye. (Laughs)

AK: I used to be, like, haan chalo theek hai solution dhoond lenge. (Laughs)

VK: At the end of the day, it is about collaboration between every department. I worked on the film with the thought that this was my film. The good thing is that every department has felt the same way about the film, from the DoP to the editor to the guy who was my jib operator. I feel really proud that my single vision is very apparent in the final product. And I credit that to my producer and my entire team.

BOI: Bhushanji, would you want to work with him again?

BK: 100 per cent and he has to. (Laughs)

VS: It has been a lovely two years and it’s a company with which I feel very secure. If I have a legitimate request, they abide by it but if I am being ridiculous, they won’t. I think that has helped me achieve my objectives.

BOI: Do you want to work with them because they are secure or successful?

VS: No, being successful does not matter to me. They are very successful and I am not successful, so it is not that. To be very honest, I was not concerned with commercial aspects. That was the producer’s job; my job was to deliver the best and that is all I think about. I have no real commercial considerations although I am well versed in the business of filmmaking. That’s why I don’t make ridiculous demands. But if it is a crucial demand, I know I can convince Bhushanji as he is a man of logic. While working on this film, I lost a few battles but I have also won some with regards to budgets. So it is a healthy exercise.

AK: You won 90 per cent of the battles. (Laughs)

VB: Jokes apart, the kind of shots he has taken are fabulous. I mean, you can see that in the songs and the promos.

VS: Before we went to shoot the film, Bhushanji called me and asked me if I knew what commercial movies look like and I assured him that I did. The truth is, Bhushanji and I think alike. We may have different approaches but both of us what the same end result. If he sees something and it is something he likes, he will back it. The reason I would like to work with him again is because he is malleable enough and he wants to try new things. He has a hunger to create change. I don’t know why he backed Roy but he said that two years ago, he had a vision that cinema would change a little and that is true brilliance. He is a thinking man. As long as I have a partner who thinks about cinema in that way, it indeed is a great partnership.

BK: That is why we did Bhoothnath Returns and even Baby. Everyone was saying aap Baby kyun kar rahe ho, iss film mein toh gaane bhi nahi hain. We proved that we can be successful with a film of a different zone.

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