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The Story Tellers

Enjoying the limelight they truly deserve, the writers of Badhaai Ho, Shantanu Srivastava and Akshat Ghildial, share their success with Team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): This concept is inspired by things you saw around you. What made you want to make it into a film?

Akshat Ghildayal (AG): The concept was interesting enough and also the fact that films like this are being made these days. Probably eight years ago, no one would have wanted to make a film like this. But it all started with Vicky Donor. Then a film like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan happened, Dum Laga Ke Haisha happened… basically the Ayushmann Khurrana films you see have opened the door for films with subjects like these.

Once those films started to happen, we got a whiff that iss tarah ki film banayi ja sakti hai. So probably people might be interested. I don’t think eight years ago, we would have walked into any studio or to any director and said this is the film we want to make. No one would have said yes to it.

BOI: There was talk of another writer. Then there was some confusion over the credits of the film. Can you shed some light on that?

Shantanu Srivastava (SS): I don’t think there is any confusion per se. In early 2015, Akshat moved to Bombay for a job. He stayed with me for a bit. He thought about this idea. Uski life mein ho chuka tha.

AG: My mom didn’t get pregnant. (Laughs). But my nani did some 50 years ago, and my mom was 18 then.

SS: When Akshat’s aunt was born, his mother was 18 years old. That is how the idea originated.

AG: I had also written a television commercial in 2012 that never got presented to the client. This idea was at the back of my mind and I shared it with Shantanu.

BOI: When did Jyoti Kapoor come in?

SS: When we worked on the world of Badhaai Ho that you see today… the Kaushiks, Renee… this is the world we created. We took this story and this world to Amit Sharma of Chrome Pictures. Since I had worked with Amit before on Tevar, I had easy access to him. I approached him and said there is an idea, Badhaai Ho, that Akshat and I are working on, would you be interested? He jumped at the idea and said, ‘This is so me. This is something I want to do.’ Then Amit met Priti Shahani of Junglee Pictures and she said that she too was working on an idea.

The only common thread was a case of late pregnancy. So she shared whatever her writer Jyoti Kapoor had written and Amit shared what we had written. Till then, we were not aware of Jyoti Kapoor or a script like that. Priti read what we had written, after which she collapsed the story she was working on with Jyoti. From that point onwards, there has been only one story and that is the one you see now.  

AG: Priti said, ‘I have developed this with her and she has spent some time on this so I will put her name in the credits’. That is why you see the credits as ‘Jyoti Kapoor for Junglee Pictures’. That is a completely different story and it had nothing to do with this one.

BOI: Shantanu, this is your second film with Amit Sharma after Tevar. Was it easier to collaborate with him? Was there a better comfort level?

SS: During the writing of Tevar, Amit and I became good friends. We spent days and months together just trying to figure out what to do. Because of that tuning, it was easier for me. I knew he was a guy who gives writers a lot of respect. So it was easier for me to approach Amit with this idea. Then Akshat became a part of this process.

BOI: And, Akshat, what about you?

AG: Both of us love working with Amit. As Shantanu said, Amit gives a lot of respect to writers. He involves you in the complete process. It wasn’t like he said goodbye to us after we wrote and submitted the script and then he started making the film. We wanted to collaborate with someone and that is what happened from the first stage.

He also took our suggestions into account for casting and costumes. That is the kind of involvement he wanted from his writers and the same goes for us. After that, we developed a great bond as the film was being made. I feel Amit spoilt both of us. This is was an amazing collaboration.

BOI: Priti Shahani, who produced the film, was raving about both of you and your work.

AG: It’s amazing! We are also working on a web series with Junglee. Both Amit and Priti gave us a lot of confidence from the very beginning. They didn’t say, you are first-time writers so listen to us and do what we say. There were suggestions they made which we incorporated because you know that a film is a lot more than just the writing.

SS: Also, both of them are experienced, so they come with a lot of insights. Since they have industry wisdom and life wisdom, it is better for us to pay attention to what they have to say. With Amit and Priti, we never had to snatch respect. They just put it on the table for you.

BOI: Since this is a special film for both of you, how are you handling this success?

AG: The response is really good. We are getting phone calls from friends and family. School friends whom you haven’t met after the school are calling from the US and saying, ‘I saw your film here and the show was houseful.’ Also, we had gone to a couple of regular screenings where we saw people laughing and crying. This is still in Mumbai. We think Delhi people will understand the film much better as the dialect and nuances are very Delhi.

BOI: The dialect in the film is very interesting because Ayushmann has a different tonality in different settings. Akshat, you were the one who helped him get it right, right?

AG: This happens in real life too, that people change their style and tone of communication according to whom they are talking to. In office, Ayushmann talks like a regular guy in regular language, and he had a Meerutwala dialect at home. Since I have lived in Meerut, I did pretty much all the readings with the actors so that I could explain the dialect to them. For the Haryana dialect, Shantanu helped Ayushmann as he is from Haryana. People were willing to pick up these dialects real fast.

The actors also put a lot of hard work into it. People tend to go easy on themselves, saying, ‘Theek hai na, chal jata hai. Who will pay so much attention to this? The audience sitting in Mumbai will not know how people speak in Meerut.’ Still, the actors worked very hard to get the dialect right. That really helps because it enhances the performance, it enhances the quality of the film.

BOI: We have seen in recent times that the location/setting plays a huge part in movies that are based in a certain areas or small towns.

AG: I think that is extremely necessary. If you place a story somewhere, that place has to play a part in that story. If you watch films like these that are rooted in reality, like in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Haridwar is a part of that story; in Vicky Donor, it’s Lajpat Nagar, Delhi; and the same with Masaan or even Gangs Of Wasseypur. The place is a character in these stories and that lends authenticity to the story.

SS: Apart from this, I feel that if the place, the city, becomes a character in the film, it helps pull the audience into the story. As soon as the film starts, you realise that this is the world that will be shown in the film. All your senses will be attuned to that particular world. It helps the audience to understand the film better.

AG: This has been happening for a while now. When you saw movies with NRIs, places like London or New York were a part of them and the filmmaker would try to bring these cities into the film as much as they could.

SS: (Cuts In) And look at the tourism these films have generated. If there is a hit film which shows a certain place abroad, there is usually a huge increase in the number of Indians visiting that place in that year.

AG: Now, I have never been to New York  but I have been to Kanpur, so I will be able to tell you if a film shows Kanpur properly or not. (Laughs).

BOI: What improvisations were made on the sets and how did you weave them in?

AG: I think pretty much the essence of the film remained the same. We were very, very sure about what we were getting into. When we were doing the readings, we had some improvisations at that point, so we incorporated them, then and there. The actors also improvised with the scenes during the reading sessions. From those things, Amit picked only those elements that he felt belonged to the world we were showing in Badhaai Ho, because Amit had spent a lot more time on the film than the actors had. So even if an improvisation happened, and he felt it didn’t belong to his film’s world, it didn’t make it to the film you see on the screen.

But I think all of us in the crew, the director, writer, DoP, editor, production designer, we were all extremely aligned with each other where our thoughts about the film were concerned. We knew the film we were going to make. We decided to set a boundary to the film and even if improvisations happened, they wouldn’t breach the boundary we had created.

Filmmaking is the kind of process where every step could add something to it. If that does not happen, then you are not going in the right direction with the film.

BOI: We knew there was comedy but no one was prepared for the emotional scenes in the film. How did you manage both emotions so well?

AG: I don’t think it is always important to show both the emotions in every film.

SS: But this film needed it, so it has doses of both emotion and comedy.

AG: Honestly, when someone asks me whether we were aiming at creating a balance, we were never aiming to create a balance. The tone in which the film is written, it had to have an end – a baby had to be born and it had to be a happy ending. Even when the birth of the baby takes place, there are no moments in the film where we have tried to force things in.

When a baby arrives in a family, it is obvious that everyone will shed tears of joy. In this case, these feeling are exaggerated because you have seen a really long process. You have seen how the mother is troubled, how the children are troubled and how the mother is being taunted. So when a baby arrives in such a home, it is even more emotional.

SS: I think when the news of a baby arriving is announced, the family tends to drift apart, so they also have to come together. When that happens, they are bound to get emotional. It’s not by design but that’s how it happens. In real life also, things play out like this. It never really happens that children leave their parents or stop talking to them just because their mother got pregnant at a senior age. They have to be with their parents and at such a time even their parents become emotional. We always thought that this was the reality of this story and we had not engineered it that way.

BOI: Do you think times have changed and writers are finally getting due respect?

SS: I think it also depends on the kind of films that were being made. The era of the ’50s and early ’60s had writers like Guru Dutt’s writer, Abrar Alvi. He wrote scripts for so many films and then Guru Dutt told him to even direct his films. Then there was Pakeezah’s director Kamal Amrohi, who had also written the dialogue for Mughal-e-Azam. He was a very renowned writer of those times. So this happens all the time, good writers have always been there but during the last few years, writers have not got the attention they have deserved. Now that we are getting it, I think it’s good for us. After all, getting a little attention is never bad.

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