(Images via Google Images)
In a letter dated November 15, 2013, addressed to “the crew and cast of Finding Fanny”, filmmaker Homi Adajania wrote, “You intrepid little guerrillas, you gangsters of love, samurais of selflessness and ninjas of nonsense, words do not apparently fail me to describe how much I love you all for being a part of this.” It was a letter of thanks he gave out to everyone who worked with him for the 41-day shoot of the film when they could have, in his opinion, chosen to do anything like “trek naked in stilettos to the South Pole, learn the complex art of living in oxymoronic bliss, stop the sun from setting or, save a little-known animal from extinction.” Quirky? Most definitely, but let me warn you that this is just one slice of the huge cake of madness that Adajania is.
He is not your regular Hindi film director. For starters, he doesn’t even speak good Hindi. The reason why he made his first film, the dark comedy Being Cyrus, which told the story of a dysfunctional Parsi family, in English. Starring Saif Ali Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Boman Irani and Dimple Kapadia, it went on to become one of the first indie successes of the country. Adajania’s characters were twisted in their own ways, they were not black and white, his protagonist was not the staple innocent and good-intentioned guy you rooted for. A story so different that in his own words, “the video library guy was confused under which shelf to keep the film’s DVD”. After a seven-year hiatus, during which he was “living life, diving and babysitting his children”, Adajania returned with the popcorny Bollywood love triangle Cocktail, which catapulted Deepika Padukone to a star and was a runaway hit. Though critics and Being Cyrus fans were unhappy with Cocktail and called it regressive, Adajania maintains that he has no regrets and he directed the film because he “did not know how to do it”.
All set for the release of his third feature, Finding Fanny, a dramedy centred around five oddball characters, set in Goa and originally shot in English, Adajania seems perturbed when I meet him. Dressed in his signature style tees and shorts, with an orange backpack flung over his shoulder to add the much needed colour, he walks up and down answering calls from his team, who are co-ordinating with the censors. At first sight, he comes across as someone who has resisted growing up and is too playful to take anything seriously. He swears unapolegetically, bangs on the table we are sitting at and laughs loudly. Despite all this, he keeps you entertained with the many stories he shares from what he has seen in life as a backpacker, a rugby player, a scuba diving instructor and a filmmaker. With every story, you see that there is much more to Adajania than what he projects himself to be.
To get the real taste of who Adajania is, his now defunct blog would be a good place to start at. Called Belaffa (which in Gujarati translates to two slaps, he tells me), the blog has stories from his many trips, most of which are too weird to be true. From running out of air at 150 feet under the water in Mauritius, grabbing a massive python by its head while holidaying in Mekong Delta, Vietnam, to snowboarding from a height of 13,500 feet at the Apharwat peak of Gulmarg and taking a painter from Jogeshwari in the disguise of a fakir to be part of an art installation at the Venice International Biennale, the blog is a storehouse filled with nuggets of witty and brilliant storytelling. That’s a quality that friend Prahlad Kakkar, at whose Lacadives operation in Lakshadweep Adajania trained to be a scuba diver and worked for 8 years, will testify to. “The hilarious thing about Homi is that his stories might sound outrageous to you, but they are all true,” says Kakkar. He is in splits as he recalls one such story of how Adajania was deported from Kathmandu because he ran from the immigration counter. The cops chased him thinking that he ran at seeing them, probably because he had some drugs on him, but in reality all Adajania had wanted to do was to use the loo urgently. “Now tell me, who would believe that this is true!” asks Kakkar.
Adajania’s 20s look like they are right out of the pages of an unbelievable fantasy thriller. Fast-paced, adventurous and crazy. He had no money and would do anything to make it only so that he could travel the world. “I realised very early in my life that if you are broke and happy, you will never be happier,” says Adajania, 42, adding that he was fortunate enough to be born to parents who wanted him to grow up and be not an engineer, doctor or filmmaker, but just happy. “If you ask me now if I want to do all that again, yes I do want to travel. But I do not want to sleep on the road anymore, I mean, just the way I travelled then, I don’t want to hack it anymore like that.”
He took to filmmaking on a whim, just like every other thing in his life. Having inherited storytelling skills from his late father, Aspi Adajania, an Army man and the president of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation, he knew that “it couldn’t have been all that difficult”. Armed with the experience of filming a home video (in which he convinced his drunk friends that he was making a music video and blew up a Diwali bomb under them) and that of assisting adman Mahesh Mathai (with whom he had played rugby at the Bombay Gymkhana), Adajania set out to make his first film.
“For me, it was like a different medium to tell stories,” he says. “I have a very visual mind. I see things in my life also as a pattern of images stuck together. So when I write a story I see it like that in my head.” He had no clue about the technicalities of filmmaking, which he sees as an advantage as his imagination wasn’t limited by the knowledge of what was technically possible. “You should have a good team, and you should know what you are not capable of,” Adajania doles out some pearls of his wisdom on filmmaking. “No one is interested in what you are capable of. The point is that you should know what your weaknesses are and how to communicate it to your team. As soon as thats clear, making a film is not that difficult.”
This explains why he uses pretty much the same team for most of his films. All three of his films were produced by good friend Dinesh Vijan, two of his films are co-written with another friend Kersi Khambatta, two of them shot by cinematographer Anil Mehta and he also believes in repeating his actors. “After all it is always a learning process,” says Adajania. “All the technicality is 30 percent of filmmaking, the 70 per cent is dealing with human beings, who are the most complex creatures. So you are dealing with that and that is fun to do.”
This is what Adajania is most credited for–extracting the best out of his actors. Be it Dimple Kapadia (who has acted in every film of his), Deepika Padukone or Saif Ali Khan, they have all given their career best performances in his films. Veterans like Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapoor, who are part of the Finding Fanny cast, admit that he was the main reason why they agreed to do all the mad antics that they have done in the film. One of the promotional music videos has Shah and Kapoor dancing away to glory in a way audiences have never seen them do before and Kapadia agreed to wear a 20kg prosthetic derriere for the full length of the film. “They all trust me,” says Adajania, laughing. “Finding Fanny is my attempt at really honestly wanting to tell a story, however bizarre it maybe. They all want to come on that ride. They want to add value to it. It is breaking away from the mould for actors, too, at a certain level.”
Finding Fanny, set in an imaginary village called Pocolim in Goa, is about a old postmaster (played by Shah), who gets a letter, which he had written to the love of his life asking her to marry him, after 46 years. He, along with his four unlikely allies, goes in search for his lover Fanny. “Theirs is a world where nothing really happens. For them something like this is a highlight to just distract themselves for 20 minutes from their mundane existences,” says Adajania, about his protagonists. “That ride takes them into another ride where all of them have to peel off layers off each other and figure out stuff. It becomes a point to their pointless existence.”
Up next, Adajania is “diving into the deep end” with two films next year, both not stories written by him. But this time he will take care to not “go down the Cocktail way” and be more conscious that he will choose a story he wants to tell, he says. “When I read the story of Cocktail, I was not convinced, but I just went with the flow and it was successful, even though I agree when I look at it now it does feel a bit regressive,” says Adajania. “But look, if I hadn’t made that film, I wouldn’t be able to make Finding Fanny.” The equation is simple, he says. With the money he makes from films like Cocktail, he can dive anywhere in the world. He can also convince his producers to invest in the many unconventional stories that inhabit his mind.
Adajania, who loves to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Albert Camus and get high on Merlot, says that being outdoors and in touch with nature is what keeps him grounded. “I can’t tell you what it does for me,” he says. “You feel so humbled and so beautifully small and pathetic, and then you get back to the city where everyone feels that if they wouldn’t do what they were doing the world would stop. It’s just ridiculous.”
Kakkar, who claims that he has known him for the longest time, says that “very few people know the real Homi”. “His strength is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously,” he says. “He thinks he just got lucky and got more than he deserved. So he is just trying to live his life fully while his luck lasts.” In his own words, the real Homi is someone who likes the silence of the deep sea, the thrill of that 13,000 feet fall and the chaos of the world that surrounds him. He has no regrets, says Adajania. “Life is good ya,” he says, with a smile, “if you take a step back and look at all the buffonery that you and other people have done and are doing.”