Seven years after the humungous success of Kahaani, filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh says he wants to move out of the shadow of the Vidya Balan thriller but admits that the comparisons to his earlier film are going to be inevitable. As Ghosh gets ready to release his latest thriller, Badla, in theatres, here’s a freewheeling chat with the director about adapting the film and his undying love for Amitabh Bachchan.
I’m going to start off by asking you, it’s been almost 7 years since Kahaani and that still remains an unforgettable experience for a viewer as a thrille, the kind of audience reactions you got, the kind of box office success it went on to become, looking back now, 7 years later, you’ve done Kahaani 2 and now you’re all set with Badla, do you feel Kahaani has become something that you need to live up to?
Sujoy Ghosh: Kahaani did change a lot of things for me, I am to a certain extent what I am because of Kahaani. So, I cannot deny that. But at the same time I am also trying to veer out a little, so I don’t want Badla to come with the baggage of Kahaani, because that’s an independent film and I’ve put in a lot of hard work on Badla. So I hope it stands as an independent film, but that inevitable comparison is always there. But I guess that’s what we signed up for, so I’m okay with it. But ideally no, I wouldn’t want to live under the shadow of Kahaani.
There’s nothing that you can do about it...
Sujoy Ghosh: I can’t, so if I have to live under the shadow of some film, let Kahaani be it.
I saw the trailer, actually, a lot of people saw the trailer - 24 million views, it’s slick, it’s great, it does the right thing to sort of prick your interest. How tricky is it to cut the trailer of a mystery whodunit, because one, you cannot give out to much information but at the same time you have to give enough information so that it hooks your audience and makes them invest in wanting to watch the film.
Sujoy Ghosh: I guess you know it’s a trial and error process Suresh, there is no process to it, there’s no science to it. You keep cutting it, you know what your story is, so you know this is what I want to tell Suresh, so at least Suresh has some curiosity value to come back. And then you start cutting it and sometimes... oh, zyada hi bol diya, oh yeh wala shot nahin chalega.
For example, when I shot Kahaani, I cheated a little. So I knew because I was making a film like Kahaani I needed something that will make people sit up. So, I did that whole push, which in a way I had the trailer in mind. But when I was shooting Badla I didn’t have a trailer in mind, so I didn’t really shoot it like that. But inevitably what we got out from the film I am very happy with. It managed to invoke a lot of the right response.
Badla is based on Oriol Paulo’s story, have you remained original story or have you made some twists and turns of your own to the plot when you adapted it as your screenplay.
Sujoy Ghosh: This is why it took me a while to wrap my head around it because, as a director my job description is to tell a story. So when you give me story, I am very happy. I get to tell it in a way I want, as a book, or a concept, I get to tell it. But when you tell me a story which already has been told, and in a manner which is absolutely fabulous, in the best possible way this story could have been told, then it puts me in a quandary because I don’t know how to better it. I wouldn’t know how to take that story, make it better, so it took me a while to wrap my head around it and then I added my little two bits to it where I could in terms of adapting it to a milieu which would be palatable first of all for me, as an Indian audience, and then my audience, my mother, my aunt, who would identify with everything. So that’s what I did, but more or less I had to be loyal to the original because that is fabulous, I cannot top something that is already fabulous. I think my test lies in whether I can keep you engrossed in a story which you have already heard before.
In today’s age when social media is so prevalent and all over, does making a mystery, whodunit also make a little nervous because some mischievous guy out there might just leak the ending or some key point.
Sujoy Ghosh: You know, I thought a lot through this. But, you know this is the world we are living in so you either adapt or you get out. If I can’t handle it, I should be leaving this industry. But this is the world we are living in, everybody has a voice, everybody is entitled to do... so you have to then concentrate on the film that you are make and you hope irrespective of everything, people would still come to see your film and come back again to see it again and there in lies the challenge.
The challenge doesn’t lie in - how do I fob off people who has access to information and may tweet my ending out or, I mean that is limitless, people can do whatever they want, but I need to focus on what I am making and I need to focus on hopefully making a good product which you will be interested in seeing and if you like my product... see, again, most of the films that I made, be it Jhankaar, be it Kahaani, be it Ahalya it’s the audience which made it work. I don’t know when a movie works, I don’t know that formula, I have no clue what makes a movie work. So every time a movie of mine has worked, like Kahaani was a pure audience driven movie. I made it but the audience took it to another level, Ahalya same. So I am hoping if this is good, it’s the audience who takes it.
Your obsession and love for Mr Bachchan is no secret, what’s your earliest memory of seeing Mr Bachchan on screen.
Sujoy Ghosh: Probably Namak Haram, because I remember Namak Haram was on Doordarshan, Sunday. Saturday was Bangla, Sunday was Hindi. My dad was a huge, huge fan of sir. And I didn’t want to see that film, I didn’t understand what was going on and I was least interested of sitting and watching some black and white film. But my dad said, wait wait wait, there will be a very cool moment. And there was this really cool moment when this man just comes out in the middle of all these people and says - Hai koi maikalaal jo maa ka doodh piya hai - so my dad was very fascinated, look! what a hero! and I saw that and I thought wow, what a hero and I still think, wow, what a hero.
And tell us about your first meeting with Mr Bachchan and what went on.
Sujoy Ghosh: What happened was, I tried to get in touch with sir in many forms and ways but I couldn’t...
Was this before Jhankaar or after?
Sujoy Ghosh: It was sort of during Jhankaar and after Jhankaar... and I really genuinely didn’t know how to approach him. I remember sir was shooting in Rabindra Natya Mandir, I can’t remember if it was for Aankhen or Waqt and by that time I was frustrated beyond my limits, so I just went in there. I just circumvented the security and he was just sitting there and I went and said ‘sir’ and he said hey you, how did you get in?
No, but what was the meeting about?
Sujoy Ghosh: I wanted him to do Borivali. So I had to introduce myself and say I have a script called Borivali will you please read it? And I swear, he gave me that amount of respect as if he knew me and he knew my work and I actually mattered, which he didn’t have to, he could have called the security and said, who is this intruder on my set, get him out. But he actually allowed me an audience which I thought was amazing. So I just walked in there and met him.
My last question is there is a lot of curiosity around fans and there is a rumour that Shah Rukh Khan is in Badla. Are you going to confirm that for us?
Sujoy Ghosh: How to answer this question I do not know. 8th March!
We’ll have to wait till 8th March to know?
Sujoy Ghosh: I’m nervous like shit man, so please you also share some of this palpitation.
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