Actor turned writer-director-producer Boman Irani and Academy Award winning writer Alexander Dinelaris Jr talk to Box Office India about their collaboration for Irani’s newly launched production house, Irani Movietone and their plans for upcoming writers
Box Office India (BOI): The moving logo of Irani Movietone conjures up memories of yesteryear studios like Sohrab Modi’s Minerva Movietone. What was the thought that went into creating this new venture?
Boman Irani (BI): You did go back to the good old days, right? I always go back to the days of memories and nostalgia that kicked off this beautiful journey of loving movies. I love the movies; I love sitting in the dark and watching them. I don’t like watching movies on television. And one should never be allowed to watch movies on a smart phone, I think it is criminal.
So my memories, the smells, the sounds, the excitement of going up those stairs and peeping into the projection room, a part of everything that made me happy; it is my happy place, those memories. And because part of my learning was understanding how scripts are written, it was like going back to what is basic, what should be the bedrock of any film – a great script.
So I decided to go back in time to what got me interested in movies in the first place, to a Gemini Films logo of the two kids playing the trumpet, or Minerva Movietone or Imperial Movietone or Wadia Movietone… all Parsi companies. The cinema hall across the street was Alexander Cinema. That was my cinema paradiso for years, till I was a married man when they changed the kind of movies they used to show there. It was owned by Ardeshir Irani, the producer and director of Alam Ara, our first talkie. So what better way to start than to use that culture, that look of the logo, and the projection room? Both the feel of the projection room and the logo merged together to give me my moving logo, with a little story for good measure.
Alexander Dinelaris Jr (AD): I had a call in New York by my agents at CAA. They said there is this actor in town. I was not familiar with Indian cinema. They said he had an idea and wanted to talk about it. I said I was really very busy, should I meet him? They said, ‘He is a terrific guy and a well-known actor, so you should if you have the time.’
So we sat in a café and had a soup, and he told me his idea. First, we got to know each other. We grew up with similar backgrounds. I grew up across the street from Criterion movie theatre. We are both not formally educated. We both are instinctive. And then he told me his idea. I said to myself, ‘Oh no!’ I had been ready to shake his hand and go away, but this idea was too beautiful.
I took out a napkin, thinking about the structure and what the film could be. From that day on, we became closer and closer. So not only do we share this film that we have been talking about for five years but we also share a friendship. That is how it happened, I think.
BI: Exactly, except that the soup was terrible!
BOI: At the launch, you mentioned that you had been writing for a long time but were not all that good at it…
BI: I didn’t say that, you are putting words in my mouth.
AD: I will say that!
BOI: Boman, can you tell us the premise of your story?
BI: I think I love good relationships. I love friendships. I love relationships between husband and wife, man and woman, father and son, mother and daughter. And no good relationship is bereft of conflict. Sometimes that relationship becomes stronger through conflict. Sometimes two best friends drift apart and when they come back together, the friendship is even stronger and better.
I wanted to play off conflict that emanates from love. Conflict does not always emanate from hatred. And not understanding how much you love someone and not having a reason as to why you are in conflict with them. So many relationships go sour and you ask what was it you were fighting about? We don’t know. What was it that you were fighting about last night, where you almost came to blows and you left the house? I forgot. Can we put our finger on it? No, because then this world would be a boring place. Can you put your finger on how you could save that relationship?
Psychologists have been working on it for years, psychiatrists have been working on it for years. We don’t have the right answer. It could be a mythological answer. It could be a mystical answer. It could be an answer that we solve over a period of time… I am making this a very long story! But the idea behind this is the whole mystery about how two people who might love each other so much just don’t get along.
BOI: You had said at the launch of Irani Movietone that one of the purposes of the production house is to collaborate with and bring new writers and talent on board. How do you plan to do that?
AD: We built a friendship and mutual respect. This is my first trip to India and I imagine it is going to be the first of many. The way we came together, it was only two nights during one of our famous 3 o’clock conversations in the morning. I said to Boman that here is what we should do: let us get six young Indian writers who are passionate and have some skill…
BI: (Cuts in) And worthy!
AD: Yes, and also get six Western, American or European, young writers to come together in New York for a week or two as per our schedules for an intensive project. We would expose them to each other and to us. Boman and I would be there. We would exchange cultures. In our country, right now, there is a lot of talk about building walls, we are talking about building bridges and tearing down these walls.
In that case, I thought I could invite my colleagues who are very well- respected writers and directors to come in for a day, pop in and expose them to a new culture. Now we have Indian, American, Mexican and British. And now we are putting a melting pot together and creating something new and learning from each other. I was saying what we should do is send six of our writers here to see what the Bollywood culture is and explore the basis of mythical storytelling which is what Hollywood is doing anyway with superhero movies, and cultivating something and planting some seeds that will actually bring about change.
BOI: Why did you feel the need to do something in the writing space? Was it because you felt something was lacking in what you were seeing in cinema?
BI: I do not want to sound insulting. But, yes, maybe. I am going to be in trouble for making this statement. But in many ways, I think it is important for at least students to understand the craft. Alex keeps saying this. We must get the craft in place and then it will become so much easier and the struggle will become so much less. It is like teaching a kid how to cycle and saying daddy will not hold your seat while you learn to ride or he will not give you training wheels. You are going to fall 50 times, but you will learn eventually or you might hate it or you might fear it or say that you do not want to cycle again for the rest of your life.
But if you have somebody to say that this is the technique, I am talking into your ear, do not look down, look ahead and I am holding you, then you can let go. I would want at least the students to learn that craft. It is very, very important. Life will become easier. Then we will not be shooting in the dark. And believe me, yesterday’s session will definitely make a difference to a lot of young writers.
I know a lot of writers who messaged me in the night. They said that they were sitting at their desks and were going to write a couple of scenes at night. That is inspiring. Even if one writer gets influenced by this whole exercise, it is worth it. Did I speak a lot?
AD: No, this is much better.
BOI: After the workshop yesterday, the participants must have gained immensely. But what was your learning?
AD: I gained a lot. We were having this conversation at dinner. I was saying that I do this as often as I can because I did not have access to formal training when I was younger. I did not have the money. So I try to do these exercises. I do this in the United States a lot. The difference in the room yesterday was that the spirit of the young people or the people in the room, in general, was very respectful, very passionate and very thirsty.
Back home, young people often feel a little entitled and they expect more. Here was a very searching crowd. They were trying to understand how they could apply it to their own sense. The quality of questions that I received from the audience was truly better than most, if not all, of the average crowd that I generally get at home. It was right on the nose about what they should be asking. They did not ask keeping in mind ‘This is what I am supposed to ask’. It had more to do with ‘How does this affect me?’
I found that open spirit and energy among the audience. I was jetlagged because I flew from New York. I think I was on only two-hour sleep because we were doing the video the night before until 3 o’clock. We talked about scripts till about 4 o’clock. I should have passed out but my energy was insane. We did it for five hours or more.
BI: It was more than five hours.
AD: It was the energy of the folks who were in that room that gave me energy. I was rewarded and I felt that I learned and received a lot.
BOI: An idea for a film is very personal. When two people are writing together or exchanging ideas, how does this dynamic work?
AD: I have collaborated only twice with two people or more because Nico (Nicolas Giacobone) and I write together. When the four of us, Alejandro G Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo and I, wrote Birdman, Alejandro drove the story. It was his idea, he drives it and Armando helped him to do that while Nico and I go away and write. We’ll write the story, take it back to them and then Alejandro will say what he likes and what he doesn’t. After those inputs, we go back and we write again. Nico is one partner whom I collaborate with and Boman is another.
To answer your initial question, you have to have a similar sensibility, which we do. And then, Boman’s idea was amazing, like I said before, I knew I was in trouble when I first heard it. It affected me personally. His idea is about fathers and sons, in a way that is very complicated, in a way that has never been done before. We were trying to go through the history of films that we know and we could not find a single film which, believe it or not, touches this facet in this particular way.
I am not going to give away much but there is one facet of this relationship which moved me. And while we are collaborating, Boman would say something like, “Yes, but…” and then I say, “What about that…” and this back-and-forth goes on. Then we are in it together.
BI: That’s what collaboration is. Throwing ideas and thoughts around is what a collaboration is.
BI: It’s not that we are both writing two pages and then collating them.
BOI: You said four more days of work is left on the script. And then you are also planning to facilitate a student exchange programme…
BI: (Cuts In) We have to do that. We have said it out loud and we don’t want to make it sound like we won’t go through with it.
AD: We made a promise.
BI: Yes, absolutely! We made a promise. We don’t want anyone to say that what happened to that big, boastful, bombastic idea of yours? We have to go through it.
BOI: Will yours be the first film that comes from Irani Movietone?
BI: Well, it looks like that because it is the first script that is ready. Then I would like to have a culture where young writers can walk into the office, talk about something, create a writers’ room and maybe develop some other scripts by other young writers.
BOI: And you will be directing this film as well?
BI: Yes, this one I will direct.
BOI: What about you acting in it?
BI: I’m not sure. We are conflicted on it and so is Alex.
BOI: But since you are an actor yourself, wouldn’t you have wanted to act in this film?
BI: If this came to me…
AD: He would have to (Laughs).
BI: Oh yes! The only reason I am in a dilemma is that I am going to be wearing the second hat. The first hat is of the writer’s. The director’s is the next as you are going to tell the story of the writer in the best way you can. If I feel that this actor (points at himself) can tell that story for the director, we’ll take a chance.
BOI: Production, writing and direction, it is a huge gamut. You are known as a very good actor. But now, will Boman Irani, the actor, take a back seat?
BI: I don’t think so. You will see more of me. I am not letting you all go so easily.
BOI: Besides the film you both are working on, and the workshops together, what are the other things
you plan to do, especially in the writing space?
AD: I have a company in New York which is almost identical to Boman’s in thought, which is a writers-based production and development company. I enjoy every second I spend with him. When I tell this to some people they are, like, ‘Whaaat!’ (Laughs). But I would hope that we could collaborate more either here or there on a number of projects, I really hope that. We have financing there and we have financing here, development on both ends and I think we could do some special things.
BI: And you get to work with me, so that’s always a plus. Good for you! (Laughs).
BOI: Boman, what about your upcoming acting projects?
BI: The trailer of Total Dhamaal
has just released, which is my next film. Then there is Drive and PM Narendra Modi.
BOI: But you manage to make an impact in even those small screens.
BI: See, Alex, I told you how good I am. Now they are saying it too. I keep telling him I am very good.
AD: Yes, you do all the time (Laughs) .
BOI: And we will see more films with you collaborating together?
BI: Of course! I am so excited that I have got on to this journey of learning how to hold a pen and move it around. I have started learning that a little. It’s a very exciting journey and it’s very gratifying and rewarding. This is my retirement plan, to work for the next 20 years and work very hard.