“I wish I had a 9 to 5 job”
After seven long years, in 2010, an Indian film competed in the Un Certain Regard (A Certain Glance) at the Cannes Film Festival. However, Udaan was not director Vikramaditya Motwane’s first Bollywood outing. Having been in the industry for almost 16 years, Motwane has worked with filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Deepa Mehta and Anurag Kashyap. He has co-written the critically-acclaimed Dev.D and Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, and was involved in the sound design of many films including Devdas. After a gap of three years, he is back with his latest directorial venture, Lootera, a period romance drama starring Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. Motwane speaks to THE WEEK about the pressures of filmmaking, his life beyond films and what he would do if he stops making films.
You took three years after Udaan to make Lootera…
(Laughs) No! I am not going to take three more years to make my next movie. It [the gap] wasn’t my design. I went through this phase after Udaan when I didn’t know what to make next. I had a script, but when I went out there and tried to do a second draft, it didn’t work for me. It was funny because UTV, Anurag [Kashyap] and Karan Johar were producing the film and I didn’t want to make it because I didn’t feel good about the script. After Udaan, I also got a lot of offers to make “family dramas”. But I was like I just did a family drama and want to do something different. And then, Lootera almost happened by chance. One day, Ranveer [Singh] and I were sitting and chatting and we decided to make this film. I feel it is part providence.
Ranveer Singh is known to be quite a loud person and we see a complete transformation in the teasers of Lootera. How confident were you about casting him?
It is interesting to go against type. It is always interesting to see someone whom you expect to be a certain way do something else. It is a pleasant surprise. I thought he had it in him. He had an intensity and quietness about him. There is a quieter and introspective side to him. So I thought, why not? Why not take that and do something interesting with it? I was very confident that he could pull it off.
And Sonakshi Sinha?
I just loved what she did in Dabangg. I thought she was really good in that film. When you look at her for the first time, you get really struck by how beautiful this girl actually is. I think she fits the character of the beautiful Indian girl really well, like a glove. Her casting was a no-brainer.
While making Lootera did you face pressure to live up to the expectations set by Udaan?
There will always be pressure no matter what you do. It is then really a question of how much pressure I choose to take. If I want to, I can go into a shell saying I am petrified and scared. Or, absorb that pressure and put my work up to the world. People may like it or dislike it. It is really up to them. I feel you have to make your mistakes, if they are to be made. That’s the thing about life. I’m sure there’s nobody who has never made any. It is easy to get stuck in pressure. In fact, at one point of time, I was [stuck]. And, I did make my mistakes in between. Also, Lootera is the first film of our production company [Phantom Films] that is coming out, so there is surely pressure on all of us collectively. But we are all fighting it.
Writing or directing? What do you enjoy doing the most?
Each process has its strengths, weaknesses, highs and lows. Writing for me has some of the greatest lows because when you hit a wall it is really really frustrating. Having said that, the high of finishing a script is fantastic. It is unparalleled and wonderful. And, about direction I feel if you have done your pre-production and script right, then shooting will happen with the flow. It then becomes a mechanical process. I look at filmmaking as a sculpture. It is a block. It is what you do with that block. Editing is how you shape that block. You chisel and tell a story. You can tell the story in so many ways which is why editing is a wonderful process. We forget that cinema is an audio visual medium and how big a part audio plays in this process. I love doing background music and sound design. I love that stuff. I live for that stuff. For me eventually it is not writing or directing, but post-production that’s the most enjoyable part of the process.
Lot of filmmakers say that they are averse to casting stars in their films as they tend to bring their baggage onto the project ending up hindering the filmmaking process. What’s your take on this?
I think it is just a fear psychosis. No star dictates anything in a movie. A star does a movie because they are genuinely interested to do it and not because he/she will be able to dictate terms. I think every star believes in collaborative work. I have had zero problems working with stars like Shahrukh [Khan], Ajay [Devgn] or Aishwarya [Rai Bachchan]. At the end of the day, film is a collaborative vision. Making a film is about how you convince somebody else so that they can convince you. I always love it when there is a difference in opinion. When we discuss such opinions, the film becomes deeper and richer. But having said that I think we as a collective [directors] have a responsibility of promoting new talent. So tomorrow if I write a script that doesn’t require stars on the budget, then I should definitely do it with newcomers.
Do you believe there is a mainstream versus offbeat divide in Bollywood? If so, in which category do your films fall?
People tend to point out someone like Anurag’s films and call them offbeat, parallel or art house. I don’t think parallel is a right way to tag his films, because [Gangs of] Wasseypur is definitely not art house. Neither was Dev.D in a sense. Yes, [The Girl In] Yellow Boots was definitely art house and No Smoking is I don’t know what house (laughs). But I think there is a definite art house versus commercial or single screen versus multiplex divide that exists. I don’t know where my films fall in this. Maybe Lootera will determine it. I think very few filmmakers have it in them to please all kind of audiences. You can do it only if you are really smart, have serious talent and a serious understanding of your viewers. In my opinion, Raju Hirani and Farah Khan are the only two filmmakers who can do that here.
Do you watch movies as an audience or a filmmaker?
It depends. Sometimes I watch movies for inspiration when I get stuck in my filmmaking process. Watching movies frees up my mind. But I like to watch movies as an audience before I watch it as a filmmaker. I think a film is successful if as a director I watch the film and it manages to get me carried away with its characters and their emotions. That itself is the biggest strength of the film. In a way it is the litmus test. For instance, recently, while watching films like Barfi!, Argo, Black Swan and Beasts Of The Southern Wild, I got carried away. That is the power of movies, they take you there (raises his hand above his head). The series Mad Men does that to me, too.
What is a typical day in your life like?
Every day is different. That’s good and it is also bad. When you start off your career, you feel you’ll have a good life because you do not have a 9 to 5 job. But sometimes, I actually wish I had a 9 to 5 job. I wish I had a routine. My day revolves around what stage of the filmmaking process I am in. And, right now is the post-production stage and I am barely sleeping. But after this there will also be a time when you finish the film and do not know what you will do next. Then you go into a cycle of going back to getting your rest. Then again you start off with the writing process. So every day is different. There is no typical day.
What are your interests other than films?
I love music. I like reading and I love pulp fiction. I can go back and read authors like Raymond Chandler, Eric Ambler, James M. Cain literally anytime. I also like travelling… I like sleeping. It is pretty much anything. I like football. I used to play earlier and now because I don’t get the time, I watch it.
What would you do if you were to stop making films?
I would probably write. If I can’t do that then i would pick up a musical instrument. My only regret in life is not learning music. My mom tried, but I think she was too easy with me when i was a child. I know it is never too late. But I wish I had learnt the guitar.
Who are the people who have inspired you from the world of cinema?
As I was growing up, Manmohan Desai was a huge inspiration. Like for any other person in my generation, Amitabh Bachchan was a huge influence. Talking of filmmakers, I adore Bimal Roy, Vijay Anand, [Akira] Kurosawa, [Federico] Fellini, [Stanley] Kubrick and [Ingmar] Bergman. More recently, I love the works of [Quentin] Tarantino, [Darren] Aronofsky, [Christopher] Nolan, [David] Fincher and Danny Boyle. Back home I love [Anurag] Kashyap, Dibakar [Banerjee], Raju [Hirani] and Farah Khan. In my opinion, the two finest films that we have put up there in the last 10 years are Lage Raho Munnaibhai and Black Friday. These are very diverse films. They speak in different languages and they stay with you forever.
What after Lootera?
I haven’t decided. I am just waiting for this whole phase to end before I can sit down and think of my next step.