It’s tough to pin down the story of October from its trailer. The mood is elegiac, Himachal is changing colours, Varun Dhawan is looking normal. Shoojit Sircar has teamed up with his screenwriter from Vicky Donor (about a sperm donor) and Piku (about a daughter taking care of her ornery, constipated father), Juhi Chaturvedi, for the third
time. I had loved both their previous films unconditionally, and I’m quite looking forward to October, which explores “unconditional love.” A few edited excerpts from a sit- down with Shoojit Sircar.

When Piku had released, you’d said it has no story, just three people (Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan) talking. For October also, you’re saying the same thing.

[My method is that] I pick up a small, insightful emotion or thought from life, which I have experienced myself, and I try and create cinema around it. For Vicky Donor, there’s no story as such. We just follow that guy (Ayushmann Khurrana) and see where things fall into place. Same with Piku, same with October. I have picked up a little insight: what is
unconditional love? I can’t give you a definition. What I’ve understood, I and Juhi [Chaturvedi] have tried to put on to paper and make into a feature film. It’s difficult to explain. If you ask me what the narrative of Piku is, I’ll tell you in three words: father, daughter, constipation. In October also, there’s a guy Dan (Varun Dhawan) and Shiuli (Banita Sandhu). They keep talking, and things happen around them. I believe in real-life people, real-life incidents and all the reflections I get from society. I pick those moments and characters, and then I weld them into a feature film.

What was the writing process?

It took two years. The idea was there with me since 2004. I will only talk about the idea and how it came about once the film releases, because that’s the basic plot of the film. So, it’s influenced from my personal life. In 2004-2005, I went through something personal, and the inception of the film is that. I gave it to Juhi in terms of discussion when we were shooting Piku. Then, it was pure discussions and engaging ourselves in different kinds of emotions, research work, documentaries. My film actually happens when I am creating my script. Shooting is very easy for me. Shooting is just executing. Sometimes I get bored also. But, my main process is the writing part in which I interact with the writer. What happens between Juhi and me, when we write together, we discuss a lot. And, then she goes into a complete cocoon for writing. For three to six months, she writes on her own and then comes back with a first draft. That is the basic process. The fluidity in her writing, the real emotions she captures in her writing, which isn’t preachy, is absolutely rare and incredible. It’s very rare you get a writer who absolutely gets the human emotions, without being preachy, but by being poetic.

What is your equation with Juhi?

Whether it’s Juhi or Ritesh [Shah, screenwriter of Pink], it’s very simple. I keep talking, they keep talking. I like writers who can come into my kind of thinking. I am not ready to work on a readymade script. That’s very difficult for me. I need to have a complete process of going through the script, and then only I can work. In October, Juhi could understand what I was looking for. She also has the same temperament and thoughts about life. That’s very important. It’s your insight, what you’re thinking, what you are as a person that actually comes out onscreen. You can’t cheat the camera. Also, the kind of film I make has to be very truthful and honest. It has to match between me and the writer, that this is the story we want to tell, and that we won’t come under any commercial pressure and get the story derailed.

Where have you shot the film?

The film is based in Delhi. I’m a Delhi person. I love Delhi. All my films are Delhi. You have seen a very busy, very dubious kind of Delhi in Vicky Donor. You saw a very beautiful, funny Delhi in Piku. You saw a dark Delhi in Pink. You see a poetic Delhi in October.

And the title of the film?

It’s such a beautiful month. It’s the onset of winter. In Bengalis, we have Durga Puja. Lots of people have decoded that the shiuli (night jasmine) comes in October. It has relevance in the movie. Somewhere it’s very sublimely connected with the film.

How did you decide the cast of the film?

It’s a bizarre process actually. When I first think of casting, I always think fresh. I start with a debutant because that’s where I’m most comfortable. I can work on my pace, the debutant is hungry, and I’m looking for hungry actors. Any film I do, first I look for debutants. This film also the girl was the first to be cast. We were in the middle of the writing process in September 2016, and I shot a commercial with her. That’s when I took her picture and sent to my producer Ronnie [Lahiri] and Juhi and said, ‘This is the girl.’ For the boy we were doing auditions all over. I haven’t seen Varun’s films. We come from different planets altogether. So, a lot of people asked me, ‘You and Varun?’ When you write a script, you live with the character. You become that person. For a long time our meeting was pending. Just one day he called and asked, ‘Can I come today?’ I said, ‘Come. We’ll have chai together.’ So, he came and where you are sitting, he was sitting. I was just looking at him. As soon as he walked in, it was the first time I saw him in person. I’d always seen him in pictures: Varun Dhawan dancing, and all kinds of things that he does. Actually, I saw his eyes for the first time. And, when you see the film, I can bet you that you will come out and say, ‘Nobody else could have done this.’ I had that instinct about him. I was also tired of looking at fresh faces. My worry [about him] was performance and acting, because I have seen him do hyper things. I told him you have to be the way you are. And, he did that, and I have got it.

Do you struggle with bringing realism into your scenes?

Not at all. That’s very easy for me. Even for Juhi and me when we write, it’s very easy to create realism for us. It’s very, very easy. For me creating a dance, a big action sequence is very difficult. Giving heavy, big dialogue feels very fake to me. Giving a melodramatic, big reaction is very fake to me. That’s very difficult to handle. But, doing real, simple, everyday life, that’s where I’m most comfortable.

You became a theatrewallah after you’d just randomly walked into a theatre, and seen a play with Naseeruddin Shah.

It was Dharamvir Bharati’s play, Andha Yug, in Kamani Auditorium in Delhi. I had nothing to do with literature. Nothing to do with cinema. Nothing to do with theatre. I’m a footballer. I had nothing to do with art. That’s why I tell everybody, ‘Everyone is an artist. Don’t think you’ve studied art that’s why you are an artist. Everybody has it.’ I just walked into this theatre, and this play was happening. The play stayed with me; it had a deep impact on me. I saw it again. And, it changed my life.

Your process with Piku was to do a lot of rehearsals, and do the take in ten minutes. Was it the same with October?

Yes. I did a lot of practice in the beginning, about four to five months. I normally don’t do a lot of acting in my workshop. I do a lot of talking. I just talk. So, that they become that person by talking, and by putting a lot of information into their hard disk. Sometimes they get irritated. Sometimes they’re like, ‘Please stop, Shoojitda.’ I perform all scenes for all the characters. And I ask them to do it the way they want to do it. In October, I had very good, intelligent actors around me. Most of them are debuting in this film. You will see when you see the film. There are a lot of other actors who are playing very important parts. My process is very organic and spontaneous. Very few times I make storyboards. But, yes, I do believe in bound scripts. Once the script is locked, I’m very clear on what to do. I do improvise, but writers are the backbone and the spine of my film

Why do you continue to shoot commercials?

I do very less now because I have a lot of friends. Most of them ask me to do it, so I do it. Now I’m also being selective about it. I do some when there’s a cause or a social issue. Also, all my money I put into my films. So, I earn from ads and put into films.

You’ve said that when your film (Shoebite) doesn’t release for seven years, it makes you fearless. Has that truly happened?

Yes. I made Yahaan in 2005. And, then I made one of my most passionate projects with one of the top actors in the country, Amitabh Bachchan, and then that film doesn’t release. The onus is on the director; it’s on nobody else. He came onboard because of me. I felt so horrible for my technicians. What do we desire? Our desire is not money; our desire is for our films to be seen by people. That devastated me. But, that has also made me fearless. All my films are completely out of the box by our normal film industry [standards]. It’s very difficult to explain my films. They’re risky subjects. It’s because of those seven years.

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