“I feel the selection of the environment and atmosphere where a story is set adds many levels of credibility and fun to a film,” says Jaideep Sahni, one of the most sought-after writers in Bollywood. Shimit Amin's Chak De India has enhanced his status in the industry by manifolds and Sahni's next (screenplay, dialogues-lyrics) Aaja Nachle is the eagerly anticipated comeback film of Dhak-Dhak Diva, Madhuri Dixit. “There's nobody quite like her,” he says. In this exclusive interview with IndiaFM, Jaideep talks about the Nach experience, why Chak De exceeded his expectations and why lyric writing is dear to him.
Aaja Nachle is an unconventional subject. What is the idea behind such a project as this?
Aaja Nachle is a film about a woman trying to bring dance and music in a town where nobody sees any value in such things any more. So, there is her and the townsfolk, with the story unfolding between the two. It's based on a story by Adi, and it was a very nice opportunity for me to create and play around with some really interesting characters, and then we were very fortunate to get some of the finest actors in Hindi films to play the parts, besides Madhuri herself. Madhuri Dixit is known for her superb dancing skills. Is the screenplay written according to what suits her the best or is the dancing woven into the story to take it forward?
Yes, there's nobody quite like her and we were very fortunate to have her for this film, as dance and music has a strong connection with both the subject and the character she's playing in the film. However, in general I think it's very complex job to try creating or modifying scenes to fit a star's image. Being too calculative about such things can distort the story and make it go out of your control, and we avoided doing too many calculations. We were lucky that there already was good resonance between the subject, the story and the character and the actor, and we decided to let it flow naturally, rather than getting calculative to the point of abusing it.
Anil Mehta says that your knowledge of local coloqualism helped in giving an apt idiom to the context of the film. This is something which reflected in Chak De India as well. From where do you get this sense of bringing an apt flavour to the context of a film?
Aaja Nachle is really a film set in a normal town in India, so it did really not involve any huge research into characterizations or people. Most people in the film are very much like people we all have met and spent time with in our lives, though I guess unconsciously, I enjoy dialects and subcultures and that somehow finds a way into my work. Besides, it makes the lonely job of writing more fun. I feel the selection of the environment and atmosphere where a story is set adds many levels of credibility and fun to a film and I try to spend some time doing that before starting to write the film. I guess for all writers it's always fun to write real people who actually go to offices and toilets, though like most writers I'd love to write fantasy and science fiction at the first chance I get.
What's the role of music in the film?
Music being integral to dance in the story has been very important to the film both as score and as songs, with lyrics for various songs written by Piyush Mishra and myself. The sole English song in the film has been written by Asif Ali Beg. Salim-Sulaiman have composed both the songs and the score and their contribution to the film is really huge, as also is Vaibhavi's from whose talent the film has benefited beyond any explanations.
There's a perception that the real star of Chak De India is Jaideep Sahni. For it's he who made a predictable story gripping because of the way it was written. Do you agree that screenplay was the real star of Chak De?
No, I do not agree with such generalizations because they always sound nice but are rarely true, and most of all they are unfair to the cast and crew of a film. Anybody who works in films in any department knows that films are highly collaborative in nature and no single person can honestly take the credit for a film turning out nice. In any case, predictable or not, the story of Chak De was deeply inspired by the real life story of ex Chief National Coach Maharaj Krishan Kaushik and his Indian Women's hockey team's real feat of winning the commonwealth and many other championships. I can safely say about Chak De that in my limited experience in films, I had never before seen so many people adopt a script with so much love, and work so hard for so long with so much talent to make it well, most of all Shimit.
How does it feel that each time India is on the threshold of a victory in a sporting event, Chak De anthem starts blaring from loudspeakers? Had you guys imagined that the film will earn a cult status?
It feels nice, though it feels nicer that the Indian women's hockey team now has a sponsor, there is huge interest in hockey and women's hockey especially, and that on cricket's biggest day of the 20-20 victory, all television channels had hockey players and their feelings on prime time, with the many cricketers supporting them. That's the emotional reason why we worked so hard on the film, and gave us all in the cast and crew the most satisfaction. Regarding the Chak De song, when I was writing the songs of Chak De! India and Salim-Suleiman were composing them, all of us were very excited with them and expected them to do well, but their success far exceeded our expectations. The only person at that early stage had guessed how big the song could become was Adi and he turned out to be right.
Could you name a few writers who've influenced you?
Like it is for most of us in our generation, it would be Salim-Javed and Gulzar saab, though I know there are a lot of our films that have touched me in one way or the other but their writers I don't know of due to my rather limited knowledge about the history of films and the classics. There are so many others in the current time whose work excites and inspires me but I guess your question is about a different generation of writers. Among foreign writers at an early stage, I was quiet motivated by Michael Crichton and his talent for simplifying, demystifying and energizing almost any subject on Earth. I started writing screenplays because of reading John Briley's screenplay of Gandhi. I also learnt a lot from the work the great TV guys Steven Bochco and David Kelley too who were really my first great writing heroes. Then there are others whose work excited and motivated me, like John Bailey (Moulin Rouge, Chicago) and Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise) and Nora Ephron (when Harrry Met Sally), Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones, Love Actually), Mark Norman (Shakespeare In Love, The Aviator), Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare In Love), Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) and Sooni Taraporevala (Salaam Bombay) and Woody Allen.
When do we see you directing your own film?
As a screenplay writer, somehow your lyric writing goes slightly unnoticed. Would you agree?
Yes, I suppose so. I love writing lyrics and started writing for my friends like Shibani Kashyap and Euphoria for whom I wrote a song called 'Maaeri', and then a couple of songs in Shubha Mudgal/Shantanu Moitra's Ab Ke Sawan album. In films, I started with 'Sab Ganda Hai Par Dhandha Hai Yeh' in Company and it just carried on from there. I enjoy it a lot and end up writing lyrics for most of my scripts, though I have had a great time writing lyrics for my friends, scripts like Salaam Namaste, Bluffmaster, Johnny Gaddaar, Bollywood-Hollywood, and very recently for Jugal Hansraj's animation film called Roadside Romeo where we had a lot of fun making songs for animals. The music directors for that are Salim-Sulaiman. In Aaja Nachle, I have written three songs which are 'Show Me Your Jalwa', 'O Re Piya' and 'Ishq Hua Hi Hua'.
What are your future projects?
Just scratching about with a few subjects as of now and learning more about them, so I guess it's too early to discuss them now.