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GB Was Luck By Chance the first story you wanted to tell It is the first story

2019-03-29

That I actually completed writing. Does Ranveer Singh have Redbull in his veins instead of blood No. He is one of the most grateful human beings I've met. Internet wants to know. Are you Farhan in a wig Do they want to know that I don't. No. I am not! I am a filmmaker and I am a woman. I'm not going to change either. So, this is it. Zoya thank you so much for coming to ScoopWhoop Townhall -Thank you for having me here Its an absolute pleasure to have you here. I cant recall the last time a movie, before its release, created the kind of buzz that Gully Boy has. Are you excited Nervous Im excited now. I think Im very tired, so Im not as nervous as I was because I dont think I have the energy for it right now. I was very nervous before Berlin because that was the first big public screening, so that went really well and that has kind of calmed me down. But of course, tomorrow is when it opens and its made for the Indian audience so your heart lies there and thats where the most important reaction is going to come from. So I wont sleep tonight for sure, like Im not going to be relaxed. No, by the time this interview comes out, the movie would have released and Im already seeing some initial reactions pouring in from people whove already seen the movie. Guardian just gave a really good review for the film and we saw Rahul Boses tweet, so we are fairly confident, maybe more confident than you are that the movie is going to be a smashing success. I hope. All the best. Thank you. But before we talk a little bit more about Gully Boy and well eventually get there, I wanted to talk a little bit about your formative years as a filmmaker. From what I understand, it took you a while before you made your first film. Youve assisted directors like Mira Nair, Dev Benegal, youve been a casting director for Dil Chahta Hai, Split Wide Open, youve also been a copywriter. I was a copywriter for five years before ScoopWhoop happened. Youve also been an executive producer for Honeymoon Travels. Just take us through some of those formative years before your first movie actually happened. I think my first interest initially was to write and I didnt know if I was going to make movies because the movies at that time, late 80s, early 90s, were pretty bad and I didnt know if I could fit in and my sensibility was a bit mixed. I grew up on Hindi cinema, like mainstream commercial cinema but at the same time my mom went to FTII where she did a film appreciation course and we used to watch all the foreign language films that came home, she had a projector, we would get prints and watch them. So, it was a very mixed upbringing. Even when I was in college all my friends were more artsy, so there was a mix of disciplines and a mix of sensibility and aesthetic and I didnt know if I could fit in. And I saw Salaam Bombay and I thought, This is where I want to be, I want to make movies. First was writing then slowly I started assisting and then I went to NYU, I did a diploma in filmmaking. I think you just find your way, you just find your voice, and know where youre going to fit in. And if you really want to tell the story that you want to tell, sometimes it takes a lot of time. Was Luck By Chance the first story that you wanted to tell Its the first story that I actually completed writing. I had started with other ideas but they didnt sustain. This was the first one that I started writing and I wrote it till the end. I knew it, the film was in my bones. But at that time there werent even any multiplexes, when we did Luck By Chance. It was not something that people wanted to act in, lead actors didnt want to play a part that was grey, most people didnt want to play a part that was grey and that film has no black and whites. So, it was very tough to cast and it needed some money. So, when Hrithik came on and Farhans Rock On had happened, then it got easy. Do you think being an insider in the film industry and being an Akhtar allowed you to write that film closer to real life Absolutely. Because youve grown up in it, you dont understand how much you absorb and you are just privy to bedroom chat, youre just privy to certain things because from the time youre a kid, you are privy to conversations about the script, you are privy to conversations about how a movie is viewed and watched. Of course we are audience but at the same time my parents would discuss the cinematography, they would discuss a performance, they would discuss the edit, they would discuss how badly a film was picturised and things like that. And you just start noticing that and you just start seeing that, so you start looking at films in a different way and its nascent, its part of who you are then. When you are from a film family, what you have, which is a huge advantage, is access. You have access to people because you have grown up around them, youve been to their birthdays, theyre colleagues of your parents, so you have a lot of access to people but even the workings of it because I did my first job when I was 19. From the time I was 19, I was working. I was still studying but I was also working. I've been a production assistant, then a 3rd Assistant Director, then a 2nd AD, then a 1st AD, then an Executive Producer. So I've been through the grind. I've been privy to all that's been happening. Was that a conscious effort to go through that grind as a self learning process I mean, there is no other way. You do film school or you work. There is no other way. Was Javed sir a strict dad No. My parents aren't strict. They don't come from that school. They actually give us a lot of credit. Sometimes, more than we deserved maybe. They talk to us, they tell us what they think. But they've really allowed us to explore, they've allowed us to screw-up, to make mistakes and to learn and grow. Obviously, we never had to ask for anything. Our education was taken care of, we were sent abroad every year. We had all that. But we were never given any money and all. I started working at 19 because I was skint. My dad told me to learn to negotiate the city on my own. He asked me to take the train. So, we grew like that and made our own money. I'm really glad that they did that because it instilled a strong sense of work ethic in both of us and it's really helped us. One thing I find really cool about Zoya Akhtar movies is the fact that the characters are really relatable. Whether it was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or Dil Dhadakne Do, which I thought was one of your finest movies, But, they are very relatable. I just wanted to pick your brain and understand how you come up with these characters, how do you decide their blueprint, how do you write them. I think it's a mix of what you have around you and fiction. You take a few things from people, you take a prototype or you take something that exists but people don't address and then you fictionalise it. Also, I think Reema Kagti and I, who write together, have a slightly different idea of what it means to be larger than life. Our idea of characters is slightly different. I get bored with characters that are just good. There needs to be something, otherwise it just doesn't interest me. There is no frailty in it. It's things like that. It's what you are attracted to. I love human behaviour. I love observing human behaviour. I'm obsessed with how people interact. I read somewhere that you take notes when you go to weddings. Yes. We really lucked out with Dil Dhadakne Do because when we were scripting it, two of my very close friends, are both Delhi girls. One is my casting director, Nandini Shrikent and the other one is a designer called Aparna Chandra. They were both getting married back to back. So we spent three and a half weeks in Delhi at weddings. It was unbelievable. I was just like mana from heaven. Reema and I were just writing notes on our phones, talking to aunties, talking to uncles, hanging out. It was fabulous. Tell us a little about the way you bring your set together. Are there certain things that have to go a certain way on your set I think everyone ensures that and thats a personality driven thing. Like there are directors who are really anal about food. There are some that are very anal about behaviour and decorum. What are you anal about Firstly, I hand pick my crew. I work with the same posse. I work with my friends. They've been there since the beginning of my career, I'm very comfortable with them. I make sure the people who are working on my set are good at their jobs, they are easy to get along with and they have to care about the film. And in turn you have to care about their turnaround time, you have to make sure they are not exploited, you have to make sure they get a day off, you have to care that they are well fed and you have to respect people. You have to know everyone's name. They are working on your movie. I care about those things. Which is sometimes the hardest thing to do. You remember faces but it's hard to remember names. But you should. You are going to be spending over 50 days with these people and they are working for you and your film. So, I care about stuff like that. Are you tired of being called a woman filmmaker That seems to be a tag given to you. I think it's really funny. Earlier, I used to ask what they mean. But now I'm like clearly you need to say woman because you can't get over it. What does it even mean I am a filmmaker, I am woman and I'm not going to change either. So, this is it. Yes, I mean if there are women filmmakers, then there are men filmmakers too right. But nobody says that to like Imtiaz Ali that you are a male filmmaker or to Anurag Kashyap that you are a male filmmaker. You know what I mean Like I remember being somewhere and someone was like, 'Do you cry on set' And I am like, 'Are you kidding that you have asked me that.' Of course, I have cried on set. But I have worked with four male directors that have cried on set. And cried on set not like weeping, but like they haven't got anything or something. Yeah, out of frustration maybe. Something screwed up or something didn't go right. It's not about howling. It's just about you really feel for something. Or you cry in relief that you got something. There's nothing wrong with crying. It's not a feminine thing. It's a human thing. What's been your toughest story to tell yet My toughest story was DDD. Sorry Dil Dhadakne Do. Yes, because it's actually very layered. It's about families. And people don't really want to know that stuff. Like people in our society don't really want to know that stuff, you know. It also had six huge stars. So you have to balance their narratives. You have to make sure that everybody is making sense or is coming in and going out. I think that would be it. I was shooting on a ship. You are not in control of anything. So that was my toughest one. Sometimes what happens is that, I am not sure if that happened in your case. Because all your movies have been both critically acclaimed and commercially they've done well. All Luck By Chance didn't. Yes, Luck By Chance was your first movie and multiplexes were not around at that time. But just tell me from a filmmaker's point of view not so much from Zoya's point of view. Does it happen that you know it's going to take three years of your life to make a product. But 6-8 months into it your realise that it's not going anywhere. But you've done all the work. Then what is the thought process Might as well finish this and give it my best shot or to sort of... No, if it's not going anywhere then you can't give it your best shot. Because it's not going anywhere. So you have to either... I mean you can say that okay I am going to keep trying to make this project get off the ground. And meanwhile let me develop something else. You know. So you are not frustrated. So, at least you can keep doing this. And if that happens it's great. You know, you fly. If not, at least there's something else being developed. That's how I would approach it. So, Pankaj Tripathi was here recently. And I asked him a similar question that do you come to know while the film is in the making if it's going to work or not. Oh! You mean in the middle of the process And I asked Sanjay Mishra the same thing. So, he said, within the first week you know if the film is going to turn out well as a product or not. So, for a filmmaker, because that was an actor's perspective, from a filmmaker's perspective do you think that's true for filmmakers too See, it's different for actors. When an actor comes in, they are not in control. Right. They are in control on some level of their performance and that's about it. They are not going to control how a scene is played out. They are not the filmmaker. But whereas if you are, you have the ability to change it. Right. You have the ability to change the story. You have the ability to change the budget. You have the ability to flip the way you are shooting it. You have the ability to change your actor beyond a point. If that much money is not invested in it. So, if you as a filmmaker, start your process and you are like this is not going right. Nobody else can help you but yourself. Correct. You know. I hope it never happens to me. But if you feel it, you should do something about it. And tell us a little bit about Gully Boy. How did that happen We know the basics. We saw the video. But beyond that, when did it come to you that I want to make a film on this You know, I am obsessed with sub cultures. Firstly, I was in shock that I didn't know that the scene existed. I think, you know, to be completely honest with you, I had no idea who Naezy and Divine were. Right. Lot of people in office knew but I think what Gully Boy trailer also did was to send me on this one hour search, a mission, trying to figure out who these guys are. Now I know everything about the hip hop scene. Thank you for that. There was a whole scene. And at the time we started working on it, the scene has gotten bigger. At first, it started with being who is making this music. Where is it coming from And then just everything about that space was like this is a story that needs to be told. It's not a biography right No, it's not a biography. But it's inspired from their lives. Yes it is inspired from the lives of Gully rappers. It is inspired from the entire scene. But what they have done is that they've actually taken Reema and me through it. You know. We interviewed a lot of people but we kept coming back to Naezy and Divine. They were our point of contact. They became consultants on the film. They took me to their streets, to their homes. We met their families, you know, met their friends, and where they hung out, the experiences they've had, how they did their first video. Who was the first artist they listened to. You know, so anything I wanted to check, I would call one of them. And they would come to office. I would narrate the scene to them. They'd be like, No dude, not this or No, it would happen that way. So they were the guys who told me everything. And honestly, they were the two who pulled me into the scene. Its not a biopic. Its not anyones fictional life, like tomorrow if you want to make a biopic on Naezy and Divine, you can. Its a completely different film. Yeah! You can. You shot in Dharavi Yeah. How was that experience like It was the best shooting experience Ive had in this country. The best! Why do you say that Because when you shoot in India, specially when youre shooting on the location, we love the fact that people love our movies and we love the fact that you have fans, who want to watch. And when they want to come and watch and they do so respectfully, its great. But people dont let you work. Theyll keep talking, theyll keep shouting through your scenes, theyll keep coming into your camera, you know, they dont understand that were actually working and we dont get the day and thats a lot of money wasted. Correct, yeah. So that can get very cumbersome, you know. Whereas, when we shot in Dharavi, theyre so used to shootings. Because so many foreign films have been shot there. They understand its work and theyre incredibly respectful, they themselves are very busy they dont have time to be starstruck. So they would just do their thing, they would leave us alone, they would help us when we needed it, it was completely safe, easy to navigate, they were friendly, warm, sweet. It was perfect. We were there for like 40 45 days and it was really sad when we finally had to go and shoot in other locations because we were like we wont be so cocooned. They were not jumping on Ranveer or Alia Not at all. Not at all. We have an audience question here. Hi Zoya! Hi! Everybodys very excited for Gully boy. Im personally a very big fan of Ranveer Singh. Nice. Ive also noticed that hes more of a method actor. So, both Alia and Ranveer have this crazy amount of energy. Would you like to tell us about some of the anecdotes from the shoot What can I say Theyre amazing team players, theyre amazing co-actors to have, they realise the importance of playing off each other. Theres one scene in the film where the two of them have a phone fight. Usually what happens is that you shoot with one actor at one location and an assistant or someone is giving them the lines, but I was very very clear that I needed them to play off each other because it was very vital. And, Alia was flying off to Bulgaria for Brahmastra, and I called her and I was like dude, is there anyway She was like yeah. At 6.30 in the morning, she came to Dharavi, he was shooting on the terrace and she was sitting on the steps, did her scene, did her entire performance and went to the airport, took her flight and left. At 6.30 in the morning! So that kind of thing you know is going to work well. Theyre that committed. Thank you so much Zoya. When was the last time you woke up at 6.30 in the morning for a shoot Hes our resident actor. May you be inspired. Thank you. Thank you so much. Im ScoopWhoops secret Ranveer Singh. Youre the whoop in the scoop. Yeah. Thank you so much. Okay. You know talking about Ranveer and Alia, I also wanted to pick your brains on this, theres a Film Companion video in which Anupama asks them about the whole semantics of Azadi and Ranveers photo with the Prime Minister, its like the Yin and Yang. They take a very apolitical stand and Ranveer also said that Zoya might be the right person to answer this question. Would you like to.. See, I can answer the question on Azadi, in the sense that Ive been asked why have I used it and why I havent. The thing is that Azadi, it means freedom, its a very strong word, it belongs to everyone and it is used and has been used before the JNU incident, itll be used after the JNU incident. It actually came with Kamla Bhasin. Yeah. And it has been used by any community that has felt oppressed by something. Whether its womens rights, whether it was against patriarchy, whether it was anti the caste system, whether it was the military system, or whatever you want to protest against and it has been used as a slogan that you can protest against. Dub Sharma did put it into a song, he picked up Kanhaiya Kumars speech and made a song Azadi. And when I was curating the music for the film, I really really liked it. I liked the energy it had, I like the force it had and it really fit musically, sound wise, sonically, fit my film very well. It needed to fit my narrative. My narrative is about the class system, its about how we treat people, we perceive to be of a lower class, you know and how our society treats them and what I feel about that, yeah It's about the economic disparity and how the characters are dealing with that so when.. I said I want to use it, so we spoke to Divine and Dub and we changed that song to fit into the narrative of Gully boy. Because that's what the film is about. So I have people, you know, from this side telling me "you have used Kanhaiya..", It's not his, it never was, it belongs to everyone and then I have people from this side saying "Why did you change his speech", I'm like dude neither of you has seen the film, you know, so watch the film! And it has to fit the narrative and, you know, anyone can use it to say what they want, that's the point. So one of the criticisms around it was that it commodifies the whole thing that speech stood against. No it doesn't, it would have commodified it if I had used that speech because it wouldn't have fit in and it would have unnecessary, to garner attention and it would have very disrespectful. It would have been commodified if I hadn't changed it. Right. But I changed it to fit my narrative. So, I mean, I don't understand. Because I am.. When you see the film you'll understand that we are making a point. We're making a point about the class system. We are making a point about the economic disparity. We are making a point about whether it is partisan behaviour or we are making a point about how certain people are not helped by our systems that are in place right now. Yeah. So, it has to work for that narrative. Okay, so now we have.. We will come back to a few more questions later, I know you are slightly short of time. We have a very interesting section, it's called the 'internet wants to know', stuff that the internet wants to know about you. So we have taken stuff from Quora, Reddit, from the ScoopWhoop comments section, which is not usually a very nice place to be in. Which is where they keep asking me 'are you Farhan in a wig' Do they want to know No, I'm not. That's actually not one of the questions. But, should we go for it The first question. What are Zoya Akhtar's most embarrassing moments on set On set Okay, we'll change that to life. I'm never embarrassed on set. I was actually at a Jazz bar once and this couple was playing music and I was at the bar and I'll never name who they were. They were singing and I turned around to a cute boy next to me and I was like, "I can't bear this music" and he smiled and said, "those are my parents". I mean.. What are the odds of this happening and I was like, "I need to drink". He was like, "yeah, you should get a drink". And that was it. The internet wants to know what is the worst advice Zoya Akhtar has ever received from someone in the industry You should make love stories. Before I couldn't get my film made. Make a love story. What is Bollywood's fascination with love stories Bollywood What do you mean Bollywood First of all say the Hindi film industry. Firstly. Secondly, it is the fascination of this country because most people are not given the luxury of a love marriage. Thats an interesting point. If you do not have the luxury.. Love is the most universal, fundamental right and emotion. And if you are told it's bad and if you are told you can't do it and you are told you can't chose the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with, it's going to be your biggest fantasy. So, obviously you are going to watch movies where everything works out in the end. Okay, on that note, the next question Is Ayesha and Kabir's relationship inspired by Zoya and Farhan's In degrees. Certain degrees. But it's different also because we have not been brought up in a home, with a set of parents where we were treated differently because of our gender. So the biggest thing, the biggest conflict is not part of my ethos at all but the closeness, the comfort, having each others back, of course. Yeah. Do Zoya Akhtar's films pass the Bechdel test You tell me! I think sometimes they do sometimes they don't. Yeah. I think someone from the research was team saying that they don't. They don't Yeah. Shit I will have to try harder. Is that something you think about While.. The Bechdel test Not really. No You think it's important I mean it's very important to be aware what kind of women characters you're putting out there. Like what you're saying, what you're portraying, what you're doing with them, yeah. But to be like let me add a scene into this, then no. It depends on your story. Correct. It really depends on what the story you're telling. So, no not really. Okay, I have a very interesting question. What runs in Ranveer Singh's blood, Red Bull No. Ranveer is, I think, one of the most grateful human beings I have met. I think if there was something that comes through when you really get to know him, is his level of gratitude for everything that's happening to him and has happened to him. He takes nothing for granted. Nothing for granted. He works so hard for everything. He really cares about the performances he puts out because he knows his fans are buying a ticket. He'll be tired, he'll come out of a 13-hour work day and there will be people outside and I'll get in the car and leave and he's been there for 45 minutes talking to everyone. Yes, that's energy, I think it just comes from the fact that he's very very grateful for everything that is happening in his life and from the fact that he loves what he does. Of course, he enjoys acting, he enjoys performing and I think it's a combination of these two things. But is it sometime a challenge to control him on the set Not really, because he's an actor and both the films that I have offered him, he's very astute, he has an understanding of what the tone of the character, or the pitch of the character is before he takes it on. So we workshop it, we come to a kind of space together, so by the time he's on set he knows what he's doing. Sometimes he'll be like a bit flamboyant with his shot and the next shot he comes down. What's your favorite scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara My favorite scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is the skydive, I think. Did they actually skydive Farhan did it and the other two were doubles, except for the close-ups for which I hung them from cranes and Hrithik actually did the deep sea dive. And, luckily for me Farhan is a skydiver and Hrithik is a deep sea diver, so it worked out really well. Have you ever been, I think you've already answered that, have you ever been mistaken for someone else Yes, my brother. Do you get that a lot I get that a lot. I find it unbearable. I was actually walking into the Filmfare Awards with Farhan and I was nominated for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, there was a journalist. And she was a girl, a female journalist. And she actually asked my brother you're nominated for the Best Supporting Actor stuff like that and then looks at me says, "Everyone says it's weird you look like your brother". I'm like, That's your question to me I was like, "Yes we share the same gene pool, it would be weird if I looked like your brother." Of course she didn't get it. Farhan was like, "Forget about it, no irony, no humour, no sarcasm, just say what you want." But yeah you do get questions like these, I find it really odd. Okay, last and final question of this section. Who's the better director Zoya or Farhan Different. Just say you. No I'm not going to say that. It's very different, because we tell different kinds of stories. Also, I don't know if I can do what he does. He's very precise, I've worked with him, he will not take an extra shot in a scene because he knows exactly how it's cutting.He's just precise.You know what I mean, I don't have that. So he has a very different set of strengths and I have very different set of strengths. It's like Sophie's Choice. Now, the most important question of the day, and this is something when I told my friends that I'm going to meet Zoya for an interview, they said if you won't ask this question then don't come back. We are going to come home and thrash you. I really want to ask you this, and I hope you answer this question. When is the sequel coming out Is there one Are you working on one Of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara You know, I want to do one. I have something against "2". I'm not a "2" person. So that's held me back a little bit. But I feel like I want a story with the same set of people which could be an independent film. It's the same characters, but needn't be a sequel. I want to catch them in another phase in their life and if you haven't seen the first part you'll still get this. So I'm working on something like that and let's see how it pans. I just don't want to capitalise on something because it was popular. So let's do a part 2, no. It needs to have as much heart and as much feeling and as much of a journey as the first one had. Otherwise there's no point. But if there's any movie that's captured bromance in India, I think it's that. I know. But you know, you have to do it in a way that people that really want to watch it, come in there and they leave with love for it. You don't want to make it just because they liked the first one. I don't want to just do it for money. I want to do it because it has to say something and mean something. There's a lot of responsibility around it as well. Yeah, you have to do it nicely. I'm dying to work with the five of them. I'm dying to go back to working with them. I had so much fun on that film, I just want to work with those five actors again. Zoya thank you for doing this with us. It was an absolute pleasure to have you here. Thank you. We will do a quick CTA. What's a CTA Call to Action. If you like this interview, if you like this chat, like, share and subscribe to ScoopWhoop. Hi, if you like this interview, if you like this chat please share and subscribe to ScoopWhoop