Team Jalebi - actors Rhea Chakraborty and Varun Mitra along with director Pushpdeep Bhardwaj - share with team Box Office India why this film is so close to their hearts
Box Office India (BOI): Ever since the film was announced, people have been curious about the title: Jalebi. What is the significance of the title in the film?
Rhea Chakraborty (RC): We want to hear this answer from you, Pushpdeep, because we have talked about it a lot.
Varun Mitra (VM): Purani Dilli ka dil, yeh hai Pushpdeep Bhardwaj. Inka yeh dil abhi bhi dhadakta hai humari saanson ke saath. (Laughs).
Pusphdeep Bhardwaj (PB): The story behind the title was that our protagonist Dev takes tourists on heritage walks in the city of Delhi. Aur uski aadat hai ki woh logon ke chehron mein mithaaiyan dhundta hai. He is in love with the people, the roads and the food there, so much so that he tries to identify people through food. The first time he meets Rhea’s character, he calls her ‘meri jalebi’.
VM: (Cuts in) Because she is so sweet!
PB: Yes, she is sweet but complicated, like a jalebi.
RC: Now he’ll say that I am just like that in the film and not in real life. (Laughs).
BOI: So you’re not like a complicated jalebi in real life?
RC: What do you think? I am sweet only, na! I am so sweet. (Laughs).
VM: (Cuts in) She is so nice. You’re such a nice person, Rhea.
RC: Yes, I am.
BOI: Bollywood has seen several love stories of various kinds. What sets Jalebi apart?
PB: Bhatt saab (Mahesh Bhatt) explained it beautifully by saying that people are always scared of their dens and dungeons of the past. But the truth is, that is where some important answers of your life are hidden. There is a treasure there that can change your life forever. The film is based on this thought. Rhea’s character, Ayesha, is a writer who is somehow stuck somewhere in her past. She is afraid to go there, to visit that place where she is caught, but due to certain situations, she cannot escape it anymore. She has to face it. Does she get the answers she is looking for? For that you will have to watch Jalebi.
BOI: We heard that Vishesh Films was looking for a fresh team to execute this project. So how did all of you become a part of this journey?
VM: I was actually introduced to Mukeshji (Bhatt) by my agent, Kshitij. I was sitting across from him like a good boy, a good student. Mukeshji saw some of my work and then took me to Bhatt saab’s room. Bhatt saab looked at me very seriously, his eyes piercing through me and seeing what is inside. And I was really scared, because I thought what if he unearths something? Then he would not want to do the film with me. There was silence in the room after we returned to Mukeshji’s office. Then, very casually he shook my hand and told me, ‘Welcome aboard!’ My agent and I were just looking at each other and thinking, what does he mean? Are we doing the film? Did they like me? What was it? But they did want me in the film and that is how casually it happened.
RC: I had been wanting to work with Vishesh Films for the longest time. I have known Mukesh Bhatt sir and met Mahesh Bhatt sir before. I have always felt that there was a connection that I have with Vishesh Films, because many times films have almost happened but didn’t materialise. Then I was called for this narration with Pushpdeep and I was having a really bad day at work. I had just been to a narration that wasn’t exciting at all and I was almost done with my day. But I went for this narration and entered the room with nothing, no thought about it. While he was narrating, I was blown away. At the interval point, I went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror and told myself that this film might just be the one. I came out, listened to the entire narration and thought, ‘Oh my God!’ I looked at Mukeshji and said ‘Sir, please have me sign whatever document you want me to, even if it is a blank paper I will sign it, but I want to be a part of this project’. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t want to hear anything else, I was just ready. They say that when you’re getting married, you know that it is the right person. Just like that, I knew about Jalebi - that this was the one.
PB: I was initially called on board as a writer. Then I was told that there was a structure that was written by Kausar Munir ma’am. I was asked to read it and see if it had potential. I made some changes to it. Thereafter, Bhatt saab told me to rewrite the opening scene. He gave me two days’ time. I went outside and came back after 15 minutes to tell him that I had finished rewriting the scene. He said to me, ‘Bewakoof! This is the opening scene. Take your own time, write it properly and then narrate it to me.’ I told him that I was ready to narrate it to him. I did so and then he held my hand like he always does (Laughs) and looked at me. We both had tears in our eyes.
VM: This film made us cry a lot.
PB: Very true. After that, my chief AD told me to ask him if I should direct the film. He agreed to that. He said that I had a lot of potential. I could do it because of my actors, who were my weapons. They have done a wonderful job. Our poster is very sweet and there is a quirky vibe to it. But the film will blow your mind.
RC: But Pushpdeep beat us up to extract that kind of performance from us. (Laughs)
BOI: Is that why you cried?
RC: Yes! (Laughs)
VM: We cried a lot, both psychologically and physically. (Laughs)
RC: No one knows this about Pushpdeep, but he has done theatre. He has directed and acted in a lot of plays. He has also been running a company called Pathshala, where he holds acting workshops. I was telling Varun at one point that this was like a star kid launch. On the one hand, we had this young director who is also an actor, giving us workshops; and on the other hand, we have Mahesh Bhatt, who is infusing the power of life and love into us. This only happens to star kids. I told him to imagine just how lucky we were to get this so early in our careers! It has been so special. It has been a journey that cannot be expressed in words. You have to watch the film. I wish I could show you the movie now.
PB: It was pure team work.
VM: So true.
PB: We used to have such heavy discussions. We used to fight so much. We used to be ready with a particular scene on the set and then Bhatt saab would suddenly say, ‘Iss scene mein kuch mazaa nahi aa raha.’ So we had to rewrite the scene then and there. New scripts would be handed over and then we would rehearse the new scene from scratch. We would always be on edge. We were scared that he would push us off that edge at any moment.
VM: Everybody’s passion level - whether it was the three of us or our chief AD, Deep, or Bhatt saab -was very high. Because of that, there was a certain amount of energy on the set that we all used and thrived on. By the end of the day, we did not want to go home. We did not want the shoot to be over.
PB: Nobody would be tired.
VM: It was a like a drug. We were addicted to the film.
RC: We were like, ‘Why should we go home (Laughs)?’ I want to say one thing about our workshops. It so happened that one day we were doing an intense scene. Varun was getting stuck. He wanted to cry and it was not happening. By the end of it, Pushpdeep and Varun were hugging each other and crying… for ten minutes! And I was recording them and crying. I was thinking, what is going on? It was just a workshop. The film had not started yet. I was wondering what would happen when we would actually go on the set! I had never seen something like this before. I have been a part of many movies, but the emotional connect that the team had in this film - the chief AD, Deep, Pushpdeep, Varun and I - was incredible. Everyone was so into it. It rarely happens. I have worked on films before where you go to work. But in this film, it was not like going to work. It was like going to play. We really did not want to go back home.
PB: The film, the set, was our home.
BOI: How did you connect to your characters when you were briefed about them?
RC: I am headstrong and very passionate, like my character. I say what I feel and I mean it. I am highly opinionated. I could relate to it because of that.
VM: Brat! (Laughs).
RC: Yes, I am a bit bratty and brash. I could relate to my character because of that. Yet I am a girl who also wants to love and wants a man who will fulfill that side of me. That is something that a lot of girls can relate to, especially today. You want a career; you are working towards it and you are in Bombay, the city of dreams, making it happen. But you still want that. We all want that. To do well and achieve that balance, somewhere, women have to sacrifice a bit more or go through a bit more than men. I know men do not agree with that, but it’s true. If you have to work late hours and make time for your boyfriend or your fiancé or your husband, it becomes a slightly different situation. That not being the premise for a film was something that will come through in this one. The fact that someone can have both – you can have that love and you can have extra ambition and madness about your work - and they both can possibly co-exist, is something this film taught me. I related to the character because it is me. I don’t feel like I played something very different other than, of course, I have not been married and haven’t walked out on a marriage. Thank god for that! (Laughs).
VM: My character, like you see in the opening shot of the trailer, is a larger-than-life happy guy, a content guy who goes into this poetic sort of space when he starts describing where he has come from. He is a really proud guy who is also very simple. He gets happy about small things. I want to hear your (to PB) opinion about my character. I want to hear it from a different perspective.
BOI: Pushpdeep, what was your perspective on their characters? How did you brief them?
PB: For Dev’s character, I always thought that he understood life a lot more.
VM: Much like myself. (Laughs)
PB: He knows very well how to deal with different things. He is quite attached to people. If he walks down a street, there will be 25 people who will respect him and greet him, Dev kaise ho tum! This was an important character in my mind. I thought that Varun was also from Delhi and was also loud in his personality. Definitely usne apne character mein chaar chand lagaaye, apne performance se. At the same time, this person is also very grounded. He understands family values, traditions, culture, but also has a modern outlook. He is not regressive in any way. This was the brief for him.
VM: Whenever a director praises you, sabse zyada mazaa aata hai. We actors are such suckers for love from our directors.
BOI: Dev is a person that everybody wants and everybody wants to be…
RC: Bang on!
PB: Watch the movie.
RC: Now I have a problem. I am going to expect every man in my life to be like Dev.
VM: Best of luck, guys… whoever is going to be hitting on her!
RC: And all the girls are going to think that Varun is like Dev. (Laughs).
VM: Didn’t they both just say that I am like Dev?
RC: He is a lot like Dev.
VM: She constantly told me during the film, ‘Why can’t you just be like Dev?’
BOI: That’s the aspirational value.
RC: All characters have that. In real life, we’re not that aspirational. We have our imperfections and flaws, but in films this is the first time I feel that a character has flaws and yet is aspirational. Like, she is brash and he doesn’t get it, but wow, I want to be like her, I want to be like him! Not in some great way because they summersault or bungee jump or break dance, but just in a way that, ‘Oh wow, they live nicely, they are nice people’.
BOI: Since this is a special film for all of you, how are you feeling - the film releases next week!
RC: We are very excited and obviously a bit nervous too. We’re very anxious and keep calling each other 24 thousand times a day to ask, did you hear this song or see that clip, or to say that this song is playing on the radio. But yes, this week is just that stressful time where we either overeat or we don’t eat at all. We either sleep or don’t sleep at all.
VM: I think my heart-rate has been at one high speed throughout this entire month, especially since the promotions started. I can’t wait for October 12, because the film is going to release then, but I don’t want that day to come, because this fun period will get over. This was my first film, so I am enjoying the hell out of the promotions. It’s fun.
PB: Actually, this has been my first interview. As Varun said, we are waiting for the release day to come, but at the same time there is nervousness. But I think this will happen with us every single time we make a film.