And finally, Ungli is all set to hit the theaters tomorrow. An ensemble film, which is probably every common man’s wet dream of fighting corruption in India, Director Rensil D’Silva has ensured that the film is equal parts of hard hitting and humorous. In an interview with Koimoi, the filmmaker discusses how Sanjay Dutt’s jail term ended it all for him, his last day of shooting with him, the tactical misjudgement of Kurbaan‘s highlight point and the success of 24.
Ungli has faced a lot while it was being made. The delays kept coming your way. Walk us through it?
The most obvious reason was Sanjay Dutt (who went to prison last year). It was hard on us and it was completely unexpected. Luckily, I had finished almost 80 per cent of the shoot, it didn’t kill me. But four to five scenes were left which we completed over the next three to four months, during his legal hassle
It then became a domino effect. Ungli is an ensemble film where five actors are required in all each of its frames. So even if one guy goes missing, it becomes difficult and starkly noticeable. The second delay was the film’s music. We just didn’t get what we wanted. Ungli is not a regular masala film. It required a certain soundtrack, and I am very happy to say I have got finally with an ensemble of musicians. Also, a more minor reason was that we were looking for a solo week to release the film. This has been a very packed year. Karan(Johar) first thought of releasing in May but things didn’t work out because it was the IPL season so we decided to release in November. This is the history of our delay (smiles).
Since you had cast them to now, Randeep and Kangana have come a long way. Randeep is one brilliant character artist and after Rang Rasiya even better critically acclaimed than before. Kangana had the potential to pull of a Queen all by herself. Did you think of tweaking a few things about their characters to trap in their new-found on screen persona?
I am very skeptical about these tweaks. First, it is the most dishonest thing to do, unless it comes organically with the film. Second, you are destroying the screenplay, something you believed in, just for commercial value. Script is the sacrosanct. The screenplay is very sacred. It is my bible. So I don’t like making these changes.If it’s a promotional item number, then that’s apart from the film. That is more of a marketing effort. But as a filmmaker, I have to be honest to the story I narrated to my actors and the film I had thought of. I don’t like these tweaks. When they are coming to my set, I want them to be 100% my character. I don’t need them to do anymore!
Ungli isn’t anything like a quintessential Dharma film. Was it difficult convincing Karan?
Karan knows he can never extract a rom-com from me. Let’s be honest! I have nothing against boy meets girl and sings four songs, it is valid cinema, the entire nation enjoys. But my filmography will tell you I don’t write that. Karan is waiting for Ungli only for me! Karan has a great instinct. He knows this is socially relevant, if done right this will catch on. This is not in Dharma’s DNA but Dharma is attempting it.
You have the Hollywood-ish quality of making pacy, dark and gritty film. How much of your clever touch have you used in this film?
A lot. The screenplay won’t meander. It’s in my writing to not lose someone. Also, I don’t write formula films. If I give someone a familiar dish, they will like it. If you get an unfamiliar dish, I can ask for your attention but I can’t be wasting your time. Unfamiliar is given best by keeping people engrossed and without making you work more to digest it. In Dharma, there is certain cost attached to it. I am never making 5 crore films, I am making 40 crore films. The room to be indulgent is less, because it will really cost you.
You went through a very troubled time with Sanjay Dutt’s exit. How did you tackle the difficulties?
Yes, it frustrated the hell out of me. But it helped despite making me tense. The worst thing that can happen to any director is to have his lead actor to go to jail. The weariness of an incomplete film couldn’t be helped. Karan and I could have done nothing about it. Sanjay Dutt went to jail and that was the end for me. I couldn’t do anything about it. I had to reshoot it. That is a hell of a lot of money and time. Patience was all what could be done about this. The mental stress you go through is unparalleled.
Did you ever have a back up actor in mind?
If I had to re-shoot, I would go to Anil Kapoor. I have worked with him on 24. Only he could have bailed me out of the situation.
Do you think that it’s your brand of films that finds lesser takers?
It’s sad but it is always easier to make formula films, to churn. You are in rolling. I am not rolling. I am quite stationary. I have to be convinced first this is worth making. I am going to be excited every morning to get out of bed and go to work. I need to be that enthralled before asking Karan for money. I am not going to waste his resources. I was lucky the script sold itself to people. In Bollywood people are very guarded about their screen position. No one wants to do ensemble films. But everytime you go against the grain, it takes a toll. Everyone who now calls Rang De Basanti a masterpiece were the same people said no to me for 3 years. Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. Now everyone is patting me on the back. In India, people don’t recognize good scripts. I think if we do that, we will get better cinema.
How was the last day of shoot with Sanjay?
He had a very dramatic scene with Emraan Hashmi and at the end of it, he got very emotional. The mood was very sombre on the sets when Sanju (Sanjay Dutt) was around. I remember Karan was on the sets too. We hugged Sanju but he didn’t say anything. He went aside to do a brief photo-shoot and then did not return. He just drove off. Imagine what he must have undergone that day! He had a very dramatic scene with Emraan Hashmi and at the end of it, he got very emotional.
Karan Johar on multiple occasions has lamented that it was marketing misjudgement to promote Kurbaan from the Saifeena angle. What have been your learning as a director from the film that had massive potential and could have performed better?
What is Kurbaan? I’ll give you an example. There are 10 investors in a room and they ask what is Kurbaan? I would start with ‘Kurbaan is a film about jihaad.’ So five investors would start getting up to leave the room. It has no item numbers, no lip sync songs, a love story that is doomed and everyone dies in the end. I wonder how many investors would still be sitting in the room, mentally or otherwise. When the film ends on the eyes of a woman who has walked out on the love of her life, even the last investor has left the room (laughs). But having said that, I am a filmmaker and I want to make films about reality. It’s amazing that as I was shooting the train sequences, 26/11 was happening in Mumbai. So I was getting real feedback. Nakul Kamte, my director of sound, his cousin (Ashok Kamte) was the head of the Anti Terrorism Squad and he died in the operation.Making a film on 26/11 is going to be as tough and as many investors are going to walk out of the room versus if I were to say I am making a rom-com. But does that mean we stop making films that are a comment on society at a point of time we are living? So I will continue making such films. Maybe the one learning is to not make it on that scale and budget where you won’t be able to recover it. People equate entertainment with romance and masala. They toil too much, lead hard lives and deserve entertainment. They will prefer rom-coms and films that require you to leave your brains at home. Others will watch my brand of films. Karan gave me the budget to shoot Kurbaan in U.S. It was expensive. Had I put the same story in a lesser budget, the film would have been a success. It’s necessary to understand your target audience. There is very little for a serious film in India. You can’t be indulgent while making serious films with lesser takers. That’s when you add humor and send a rickshaw guy to Delhi.
Let me begin with complimenting you on 24. It was brilliantly done. How did you Indianize something that is classic cult? People had almost signed you off before you began.
Everyone I met told me 24 won’t work. Rival channels told me I am wasting my time. 24 gave people quality. We shot with the quality of feature TV. 24 saw a whole new audience, who otherwise never watched television. The victory has been gradual so now all our sponsors are going to be back. I don’t believe in TRPs as I am not convinced with the way they calculate it. I have started writing for the second season which will take off next year. People ask me if I merely rework the original 24 in India. Audiences in India have a tendency to google up and then compare the series and hence we just reworked the entire plot. The basic idea of the plot has to be maintained as per the rights taken, but in our first season, we changed 60 per cent of the story and the dynamics have been changed. And in the second season, it will be around 70 per cent different. TV is a writer’s medium and I can never be happy merely copying something. I don’t make remakes.What’s the point?Someone has done it and done it better. If I get into 24, I should do something new.