IMDb is like a treasure trove for credits. You input a film personality’s name, and you will find credits for every project they’ve ever been a part of, on and off camera. I IMDb-ed Shashank Khaitan before my interview with him, and I learnt that he played Dharma Chauhan in Ishaqzaade, and also wrote lyrics for his directorial debut Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. He’s back in the director’s chair for his latest venture, a short titled Majnu in the anthology Ajeeb Daastaans, produced by Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment.

  Is the process of making a short film different from making a feature?

For me, short film and feature film are just terms. Ultimately it is the story that needs to connect to the audience. My mindset was to write a 30-minute feature film instead of a 30-minute short film. I needed to establish characters and conflict as soon as possible. The end had to be dramatic and unexpected, and I wanted to leave the audience with a thought. Luckily, because of my film school background, I had made many short films in the past but I had never done it on a commercial scale. The more content you watch, the better you understand the medium and its grammar.

You wrote lyrics for the first time in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, and now you’ve written lyrics and composed a song with composer John Stewart Eduri. Where does your music interest come from?

I’ve been blessed to be born in a house with music. Both my mother and sister have their visharath in music. When I was working on the film’s background score, the musician in me came to the forefront. In the thick of a pandemic, reaching out to people was difficult. John (the background score composer for all my films) and I tried to crack a piece as a reference. I wrote a line, hummed it with my limited knowledge of music, recorded it over the phone, and sent it to him. He sent back a more structured music piece. We created the song under the impression that it’s just a reference. I reached out to my younger sister Janhavi, she is passionate about singing. I told her I wanted to check how the song sounds. She sang a version, and sent it to us. When we finally put the song together, it was a perfect fit for the movie. 

 You are a director, writer, producer, actor, and a composer too now. Is there anything you still want to explore?

It has been a 19-year-long journey. In that time, I’ve picked up things, learnt, and trained myself to do the best. Knowing a variety of things come in handy during film-making. I feel I’m far more equipped to brief my actors and technicians with clarity. My actors trust my insights and feedback regarding scenes and dance performances to bring out that little extra adaa (flair).

 So will we have a film produced, directed, written, composed, and choreographed by Shashank Khaitan soon?

(laughs out loud) I don’t think that is happening anytime soon. There will be films written, directed, and produced by me for sure. I have turned co-producer with Dharma Productions for movies I collaborate on. As far as other roles are concerned, I’ll let the professionals take over.

What excited you to direct Majnu in Ajeeb Daastaans?

Back in the day when I graduated film school, we had only a few visual format options. We could either do TV, movies, or advertisements. I was fortunate to get into film-making very early on. Over the last three years, Netflix and other streaming services have come into the picture and produced interesting content. When Dharma commenced its digital content company, Dharmatic Entertainment, Karan Johar and Somen Mishra asked me if I would be interested in creating digital content. I jumped at the opportunity because I wanted to contribute to this new wave of intriguing content over streaming services. The anthology’s theme allowed me to showcase my range as a writer-director. 

What made you cast Jaideep Ahlawat as Babloo in Majnu? His body build is a huge contrast to his character’s name and vulnerability.

If you visit the interiors of UP, you will find many tough-looking men with very weird names and nicknames, like Babloo or Bunty. The critical thing was to break Babloo Bhaiya’s understanding of sexuality and machoism. He must not be a timid-looking man but a macho man who could bash up 10 guys. Ahlawat and I were waiting to work together on an interesting project. I was never concerned about him playing a vulnerable character. He is a brilliant actor, and an actor of his caliber can pull off anything. 

You did a film before Humpty… that never released. Do you want to release that film someday?

The film was called Sherwani Kahaan Hai? I did everything on that film — producing, directing, writing, and music. It served as a showreel for the producers to determine my talent and abilities. I don’t think that film could release now with the way it was shot then. But I do believe the story is very exciting, and is relevant. Maybe at some point in life, I would rewrite it, and adapt it in a newer context. As of now, the journey of that film is complete.

You’ve been commercial, as a producer and as a director. What is that one genre that excites you the most? 

We are a unique industry that has multiple genres in the same film. The word ‘commercial’ is really misused. I think any content that engages and entertains is commercial. As a storyteller, every genre is exciting. I shared everything I’ve learnt with the directors of ‘Bhoot – The Haunted Ship‘ and ‘Good Newwz‘ to make it as commercial as possible. While working on the content for Netflix, I immediately adapted to the kind of content I like to watch on Netflix.

When Vicky Kaushal and Bhumi Pednekar tested positive for Covid, you had to shut down production. What was going on in your mind at that point?

These are the times we are living in. We didn’t even think twice before putting a halt to the shoot. Health is of paramount importance for everybody, whether it’s our actors or our technicians. It does take a hit from a logistical, scheduling, and planning perspective, but we just want everybody to be safe.