Sujoy Ghosh is that fire cracker that stutters and splutters for a while, and just when you give up on it, it blows up. After a bunch of boring degrees, he decided to debut with Jhankaar Beats, an urban cult classic today, and Sujoy’s tribute to RD Burman. While Jhankaar Beats might not have been a box office winner, it was a breath of fresh air in the 2000s era of formulaic Bollywood. The industry was expecting something big from Sujoy’s second, Home Delivery, which had big guns like Karan Johar, Juhi Chawla and Abhishek Bachchan doing cameos in it. Starring Vivek Oberoi and Boman Irani, the film was a snoozefest and hardly had anything in it to draw in audiences. The writing had also become a tad skit-ish, with characters named “Page 3 Psycho” and “Mr. Boltu”, like you would have in school productions. This was followed with Aladin, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Riteish Deshmukh and Jacqueline Fernandez. Mostly meant for children, this updated re-telling of the fantasy film sank at the BO too. Most people had started writing Sujoy off.
And then Kahaani happened. Possibly one of the best thrillers this country has produced, Kahaani shocked the audience not only with its crackling narrative but also with how natural and real it felt. Other than Vidya Balan, the film did not have a single star or known face from the Hindi film circuit, instead banking heavily on established Bengali actors like Kharaj Mukherjee, Parambrata Chatterjee and a very new Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The film became a national event of sorts, with people watching it in theatres multiple times; it trended online, and cinephiles also tried really hard to hunt down loopholes or easter eggs in a top-notch storyline. It was career-changing for Balan, whom everyone touted as the new “hero” on the block and applauded her ability to shoulder a film and make it a commercial success, leading the way for many more heroine-driven films in the future. For Sujoy, it was life-changing, and it also made the industry find its faith in him again.
Are you feeling the heat to deliver something similar or better than Kahaani? Is there any pressure?
No, I am under the pressure of telling a story. All through my career, I have always wanted to tell a story. They are things I have wanted to say. Once we found a story which we felt is worthy of a Kahaani stamp, we went ahead and made a film. I didn’t make Kahaani 2 to better Kahaani. That would be a very wrong reason to make a film. You should make a film because you want to. Even Kahaani never wanted to become what it became.
But with Kahaani you had nothing to live up to. Now you do.
True, but it doesn’t matter. You have to make the film you want to. If I start writing a film thinking that I have to make it better than a previous film or the previous characters, I am creating a problem for myself. Every film is like a painting, with its own demand of colour, palette and brushes. So, this film has its own demands. And we are hoping that it is an interesting film, maybe as interesting as Kahaani, if not more. The pressure wasn’t there because I refused to take it on. That’s hara kiri, man.
Was it a conscious decision to cast a star [Arjun Rampal] along with Vidya [Balan] this time?
When I am writing, I spend a long time with the character and I was trying to see who fits the bill and whom I have access to. Arjun fit in perfectly. And I have known Arjun for a while now, since Jhankaar Beats, and we have always wanted to work together.
What secrets can you spill about Kahaani 2? Does it also have an earth-shattering climax?
No, it’s a simple film, actually. It’s a story of your mother, or my mother, and her fight and her protective instinct towards her daughter. There is nothing earth-shattering about it. We have just tried to tell the story in an interesting manner. As long as you as an audience member is engaged, I’m happy.
What is your opinion of Vidya Balan as an actor?
Balan is an incredibly talented actor, and I don’t think there is any need to debate on that anymore. How I work is that, when I create a character, I hand it over to the actor and let him or her be. I go through my pregnancy and give birth and hand my child over to them. They are responsible for the upbringing and the future of that child. With Vidya, she takes it to another level. The kind of things she brings to the character as an actor, I might not have thought of that. The kind of bravery she shows in attacking a character is commendable. She is ready to go without make up. Arjun, for example, said fuck it, I will wear just one costume throughout the film. For a mainstream star to say that is very heartening. And with Vidya, it is best to stay away from her. Once we have discussed the character, it is best to let her be.
What kind of a director are you?
I am a manager, I’m not a director. I manage people, that is what I do on set. I try to get them to do what they are supposed to do in that stipulated time and budget. Obviously, you are as good as your crew. If you choose your army carefully, you will win the battle. I think a director’s job is to tell a story. That’s what I try to do with all the people around me.
You debuted as an actor in Rituparno Ghosh’s last film, Satyanweshi. Is acting on the cards again?
Never, not at all. I am not good at it.
No one is ever this frank. You were in the hands of a very able film-maker.
Even then I wasn’t good. So, you know how bad I am. (Laughs) That shows how I should absolutely never venture down that path ever again. Also, acting is much more difficult than directing.
What are your views on the industry in its current state?
I think it is getting better and better with every passing day. Our industry is a direct reflection of the audience. The more the audience allows us to play, we get better and get braver. With time, the audience is getting generous and is willing to give you chances. But they are equally cruel if they don’t like it. I also think the audience is incredibly intelligent. Also, India is varied. If you want to make a film that caters to every region and culture, you have to think really hard. The audience finally decides which film is a good film and which isn’t.
But a lot of films that you and me might feel are good films are not deemed so by the majority.
Then they are not. As simple as that. I could keep screaming that Home Delivery is a good film, but who gives a fuck? The only parameter to judge a film by is the audience.