'Saathiya is like an exam for me'
The last thing Shaad Ali wants is to be compared to Mani Ratnam
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for debutant director Shaad Ali.
When Shobha Warrier met him, he was exhausted. It only needed a mention of his film, Saathiya, for that fatigue to give way to eager conversation.
Saathiya is a remake of Mani Ratnam's successful Alai Payuthey, starring Madhavan and Shalini. The Hindi version stars Vivek Oberoi and Rani Mukherji.
Shaad is nervous. He is excited. He can't wait for his film to release on Friday, December 20. Bear in mind, he takes on Sanjay Gupta's multi-starrer Kaante, which releases the same day.
Are you nervous?
The last minute nervousness is catching. I am basically a nervous person and have been every day of shooting. I would tell myself the next day would be okay but that never happened. The nervousness continued.
Making Saathiya is like an exam for me. Exam fever, you know? It seems like I have been writing an examination every day, from the day I started shooting for Saathiya.
Is this because the film was originally made by Mani Ratnam and was a huge success?
Probably. It is a challenge to make a film made by Mani Sir again. I learnt filmmaking from him. Once I finished shooting, I started thinking about how Mani Sir would have done each shot, how he would react, etc.
I hope critics and people will give me a fair chance and not look at it as a film that was made earlier by Mani Ratnam. I hope they will not compare my film with Alai Payuthey. I hope they will not compare me to Mani Ratnam. He has 16 films to his credit. This is my first effort.
But comparisons are bound to happen. Did you think of that when you accepted the offer to direct this film?
The moment Saathiya was offered to me, I could only say Yes. For me, Mani Sir asking me to do the film was an achievement in itself.
It was important for me to make a film. It is very difficult to get a chance to make a film. It is a big struggle.
I worked as his assistant for four years. Maybe he felt I could do this. I was also the associate director on the original. I had worked with the script for five years before it was made into a film.
When you started shooting Saathiya, did you have scenes of Alai Payuthey in mind?
The initial script was at the back of my mind. I wanted to get the images of the film out of my mind. That is why I asked Gulzarsaab to write a new script. I knew he would have a different approach to the film. At the same time, we didn't want to lose the essence. It is a treatment-based film, not plot-oriented. The relationship between the characters and their performances are important.
I admit the original is like the Bible; I have followed it. But you will not see a remake in Saathiya. Saathiya is more extroverted, more robust and more energetic.
You must have changed the milieu completely for the Hindi version.
Completely. We transported it to Mumbai and the Hindi culture. The characters speak a totally different language. Automatically, relationships also tend to change a little. I would say it has a different flavour.
Did you not think of casting Madhavan in the film because he displayed freshness and vulnerability apt for the character in Alai Payuthey?
Madhavan is a nice guy. I enjoyed working with him ( during the making of Alai Payuthey). I didn't cast him in Saathiya because I wanted the film to look fresh. Madhavan had already signed a couple of Hindi films then.
I didn't want people to be reminded of the original. A large audience has seen Alai Payuthey. I wanted to give them two fresh faces. I didn't think they would be excited to see Madhavan in the same role.
Why did you choose Vivek Oberoi? He was the tough guy in Ram Gopal Varma's Company and Road while this character is a soft romantic.
I had no idea what he was doing in Company when I chose him. I signed him when he had just signed Company.
I have known Vivek since kindergarten. He is like what you see him in my film. He has acted in Company but in Saathiya, he is the real Vivek.
Was Rani Mukherji your first choice?
Rani was my first and last choice. She was born to play this role. She looked the character. She looked vulnerable. She looked the right age. She was perfect.
Are you satisfied with the way Vivek and Rani Mukherji have performed in Saathiya?
Yes, I am. They understood the characters quite well. Rani and Vivek have given the finest performances you have seen in recent times. They are natural; they are themselves. They were committed. The film was made in one schedule. There is continuity in their look and characterisation. Both of them were genuinely involved in the project.
What was Mani Ratnam's reaction to Saathiya?
He said, 'It doesnt look like your first film.' That comment was a big compliment for me. Mani Sir is a man of few words.
Everybody who worked on the original liked Saathiya.
2002 has been a dull year for the Hindi film industry. Saathiya is expected to change that. Do these expectations put a lot of pressure on you?
I am not responsible for such expectations. This film will do what it is supposed to do. I want every film to do well.
If you make sensible films, they will do well. Dil Chahta Hai was a sensible film. It clicked. Lagaan was a very good film. It did well too.
The only good film that did not get its due was The Legend Of Bhagat Singh.
Where will you be when Saathiya releases?
I will go to a theatre, stand in the last row and watch all the shows with the audience.
Shaad Ali's photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
An earlier interview with Shaad Ali