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|August 16, 2001||
Dil Chahta Hai has won raves because of its freshness and uniqueness.
A meeting with writer-director
A meeting with writer-directorFarhan Akhtar reveals his persona is in sync with his film: Cool, friendly, honest and casually competent.
Initially, Dil Chahta Hai
But direction needs some amount of learning and apprenticeship...
I had worked with Pankaj Parashar in Himalayputra, the film that launched Akshaye Khanna. I was also general assistant and copywriter for three years for Scriptshop, a company that makes ad films and serials. I learnt a lot there.
But I think the major part of my experience came with merely watching films. My sister Zoya and I have been exposed to the best of cinema of all kinds -- Chinese, Japanese, Italian, etc. This was a self-education process and gave us good technical know-how.
Zoya assisted me and was my Casting and First Assistant Director. She will soon be directing her film with a script of her own.
Besides, my family was good bouncing balls for my thoughts, when I was faced with dilemmas.
Your father recently said in an interview that you shocked him by the freshness of your script...
Yeah, I guess what really shocked him more was that I had written a complete script. He knew I loved writing, but he didn't really expect me to write a film. Besides, he didn't even know that I was writing one.
Are any of the heroes in Dil Chahta Hai modelled after you?
A little bit of me as well as several friends is there in all three characters.
The events are fictional. But I would have probably reacted the way Akash, Sameer or Siddharth did, had the situation arisen. People have also told me that. But mind you, all this has happened at a subconscious level, and I have realised it only in retrospect.
How did you conceive the idea for this film?
At first it was just the story of Akash and his girlfriend and their divergent views on love.
But as I worked more on the story, I felt this script wasn't exciting or different enough. The other characters, as his friends, were sketchy -- the way they are in every film. No one really knows what happens to the hero's friends in our films.
So I started developing their characters and that sort of changed the whole concept. Gradually, Akash and Shalini almost became a subplot as the story began to pivot around the three friends.
Did you work on the characters and then develop the plot?
Yes. To me, it was important that no word or action from them should be out of character.
I gave a lot of thought to their personalities: What each one would read, the films they would watch, the colours they would like, the clothes they would wear.
For example, Sid is not as rich as the other two. He has no father and he is artistic. That sets the foundation for his psyche. His mother looks upon him as an intellectual partner as well as a son, and gives him lots of freedom. They make decisions jointly.
The lack of complete parenting also lays the foundation for the fact that he falls for an elderly woman, as he is very close to his mother.
Did you design the roles with stars in mind?
That was a 50-50 thing. I definitely wanted Saif Ali Khan as Sameer, Dimple Kapadia as Tara and Preity Zinta as Shalini.
For Akash, I wanted the best. Why should I deprive myself of the best if Aamir Khan is available! Luckily, he loved the script. I think that in all cases, the script did the talking for me.
At that stage, I had written all the dialogues in English. After that it took me two months to write them in Hindi and tune the roles to suit the actors. But I shifted the characters' parametres towards their real-life personae, not their screen images.
Their style of talking was especially important to me.
At the same time, I wanted the characters to have a particular look and so I told all of them that their hair and look would be different. They should look authentic for their backgrounds. They agreed.
You cast Suzanne Captain Merwanji as production designer. What was her role?
Suzanne streamlined the look of my film. The art director, costumes, makeup and hair stylists' team worked under her supervision. She also discussed the frames with my cinematographer.
Everything was to be in harmony to enhance the film's look, like the costumes with the lighting and so on. The sets, too, had to have a lived-in feel, something that I was clear about from the beginning.
Two sequences in the film remain unexplained. The Sid-Tara romance and the Akash-Shalini-Rohit triangle, with the extremely clichéd marriage scene.
I think that it's a positive step to show Sid's friends and mother. It helps the audience accept the Sid-Tara relationship. We did not spring Tara's death on the audience -- we opened the film that way and made it a point to show that she was an alcoholic.
About the second sequence, you will meet people like Shalini even among the highest economical stratas -- girls and even men who cannot be open with parents on matters of love.
As for Akash, here was a man who said all along that he did not believe in love. His conversion was not easy for him. It was quite in character to bottle up his feelings once he realised that he had been wrong all along.
I thought that the most dramatic way in which someone like him would be made to declare his love would be in front of 300 people, which I stressed with a dialogue by Saif Ali Khan in the scene that immediately followed the shaadi sequence.
The girl that Akshaye meets at the end resembled Dimple. Was this deliberate?
Yes. A man like Sid had to get someone who reminded him of Tara to be interested in her. We had a long hunt for such a person and finally found her in our costume designer's assistant's friend. She is an Italian and lives in Rome.
How was it working with your father?
*laughs* It was much simpler than I thought it would be!
He was very professional and very open. Earlier, I was worried as I wondered what would happen if I didn't like what he had written. But there was no trouble. We had a lot of fun creating the music.
Your writing is way different from your parents'. Their writing seemed more market-driven. Do you agree?
Well, I feel both of them are progressive writers who push the parametres of commercial films and take up subjects that are 'taboo' by normal standards. Like Deewaar, Lamhe or Kya Kehna.
I feel that they are excellent writers. But I wasn't looking at the commercial success of the film.
How did your parents' break-up affect you?
I would be lying if I said I wasn't affected, though Zoya and I were very young then. A break-up between couples is traumatic for everyone.
But what Zoya and I learnt over the years from talking to our parents, is that sometimes that it is better to let go in the long run.
Dad and Mom parted as friends and after the initial hurt, their relationship has actually rejuvenated.
Though we live with Mom, Dad is always there for us, loves us to bits and we do not miss anything by way of parenting. As for Shabana (Azmi), we are very close to her too.
Coming back to films, which directors do you derive inspiration from?
*laughs* I will send you a fax of the list which will run into a few feet!
Actually, I'm inspired more by certain schools of filmmaking.
I like to make films with characters that resemble real people, about societies that exist. Manoj Kumar, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Akira Kurosawa made their films on such characters.
What would you say about your film being a trendsetter?
It would be presumptuous of me to say that people will copy my film and ignorant to say no, they won't.
Let's just say that, personally, I wouldn't like to ape someone else's sensibilities. Every director has a sensibility and style and what works is his originality and conviction.
There is space for everyone and every kind of cinema here. No one will like copies of Dil Chahta Hai or Lagaan or any other successful film.
As a member of the audience, I would like to see all kinds of cinema.
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