It was therapeutic to direct Saqib Saleem: Karan Johar

By HT

Karan Johar knew he was in a problem when he was given a budget of mere Rs.1.5 crores and 25 minutes duration to make his short film for Bombay Talkies. After infusing lot of love, dance, sorrow and drama in his previous big budget movies, it was time for a reality check for KJo.

But little did he know that he was carrying the film along with him while taking a brisk walk in the U.S. with friend and screenwriter Niranjar Iyenger. Yes, his short film from Bombay Talkies was born out of his canned film titled Small Medium Large that revolved around three love stories of three age demographics. So, here's the director's compendium on that special Medium story that gave birth to his Short film, the aesthetics, sensibilities, upcoming talents and the movies that've defined our richness in filmmaking.

In the 100 years of Indian cinema, which movies do you think took our film fraternity to a new height?

The Golden Age
Going back in time, there was a surge of talent in Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Bimal Roy who made the era of 40s and 50s that we very well know as the 'Golden Age' of Indian cinema. I'd like to say Kaagaz Ke Phool, Awara and Do Bhiga Zameen are iconic films. Even Sujata and Bandini were iconic flms. Not to forget the contribution of Satyajit Ray and what he did in alternate cinema.

Celebration of Independence
The entire 60s we took the celebration of Independence. I think Teesri Manzil defined the template of sorts - the entertainment, the lip sync songs, the frolic, the love, etc, something that the Indian cinema has kind of lived with, festered with, and expanded with. Teesri Manzil epitomised the 60s and the Shammi Kapoor zone of films.

The angst of a Common Man
The 1970s was the angst of the common man also known as the Amitabh Bachchan era. He became a legend with the movies he did then - Sholay and Deewar. Sholay because there is nothing more iconic than Sholay. It encompasses everything what the mainstream Indian cinema stands for. Deewar because it kind of cemented the angry young man and took it to another level.

The bad phase
1980s was the worst period for Hindi cinema. I think our aesthetics took a beating, our cinema took a beating, sensibilities took a beating. Our pot-boilers didn't work at all even though it met with all commercial successes but cinematically we reached ground zero.

Diving into Love
Towards the later half of the 80s - that is 1989 and early 1990s, we had Parinda, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Maine Pyar Kiya and then we dived straight into love - then we got Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, DDLJ and Dil Toh Paagal Hai.

Global Recognition and Coming of Age
In 2001, Indian cinema gave you a buffet of entertainment and expanded the repertoire of cinema with Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai and Chandni Bar. It gave you the extreme business that India is capable of with Gadar and showed you what the diaspora can give you along with mainstream business with Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. It was then in 2006 when Munnabhai MBBS and Rang De Basanti redefined content.

Content Driven Movies
2012 has also given us a buffet of entertainment in business, content and entertainment in the form of Barfi, Kahaani, Vicky Donor and Gangs of Wasseypur and they walked as tall as Dabangg, Agneepath and Rowdy Rathore. Indian cinema has had quite a roller coaster ride.

What were the challenges you faced while making this short film of yours?
I've never made a short film in my life and I was challenged with this format. Brevity is not my strength and nor is budget control. Both were given to me on the platter. We were given 25 minutes length and a crore and a half rupees as our budget. Short films have an edgy narrative and an esoteric slant. Cinema connoisseurs love such films. For me, this was a challenge. I had a film called 'Small Medium Large' three love stories of three age demographics. This is actually that 'Medium' story. That was the love story I liked the most. The film came very easily to me.

What was the process like? How did the screenplay turn out to be?
I was narrating the film to my friend Niranjan Iyenger and we were walking. By the end of the walk, he told me, "What are you waiting for? You have the screenplay with you". Bombay Talkies is a script I don't have on paper. Finally we had one line when Tarun Mansukhani came on board as an associate director. I've never gone so unprepared and so prepared on the sets. I was unprepared as a filmmaker but emotionally I so wanted to make this film.

You've also collaborated with Chivas for a short film directed by Shakun Batra. Now Bombay Talkies. What does the short films future look like to you?
Humongous commercial success makes us into a herd mentality. Alternate success, praise and acclaim makes us into an eventuality and a rarity. I don't see short film concepts working in India because they are purely student based and for some filmmakers who are genuinely fond of this concept. Indian audiences don't like short films. Very evolved cinema lovers like them. We don't understand the ethos of a short film.

You've worked with super stars as a director. Student of the Year changed that. In Bombay Talkies you're again working with a new comer Saqib Saleem. It must be quite an experience working with newcomers.
Any filmmaker worth any stature would love to work with new comers. It's the best feeling you can have on the sets. It's unpredictable what they do, it's amazingly vulnerable and you can't help but be sold on the every moment they try and represent on celluloid. If it's happening in front of you, it's really a double whammy. I've worked with big movie stars but my contribution is zilch. Newcomers are sometimes more confident than a top movie star because a movie star has more to lose than newcomers. It was therapeutic to direct Saqib Saleem. I felt that I was a better director when I worked with newcomers.

Indian cinema hasn't seen many biopics even though we've got so many real life stories to tell. Do we see you direct a biopic any day?
I'd love to direct a biopic. To represent true life stories is always so exciting to watch because there is that huge amount of reality attached to fiction. We don't do it because we think we've got it all wrong. It takes someone from outside to come to our country to make Gandhi and Slumdog Millionaire. The West will make a film called Erin Brokovich who fought one case against a corporate. They'll make million such films. You don't need to make a Hitchcock to make a big noise. Even a slice of life film does wonders there because it's told convincingly enough. Out there, the studio system has squashed the star system and out here stars rule the studios. But things will change eventually. We will have to move forward to accept changes for the better. My Name Is Khan is a result of many true stories that I encompassed into one. It is a biopic of sorts.

This is Randeep Hooda's second innings. How was it to direct an actor who is so vulnerable.
I've worked with Randeep on Rensil D'Silva's Ungli only as a producer but in my short, I have worked with him as a director and it's been a pleasure to work with him. Shanoo Sharma was casting for my short film. She came to me and told me about Randeep Hooda. He is a very intense actor and he thinks a lot before his shot. He is a bit insecure. He is insecure in the most brilliant manner. Even if he gives a great shot he won't be sure of whether he's given a good take. I like that about him and every actor because surety gets you nowhere in the world of creativity. You have to be unsure of yourself for you to ever excel. Brilliance doesn't come with self acknowledgement. Randeep is a lovely actor and I'd like to work with him again.

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