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'My mom keeps nagging Sanjay Leela Bhansali to marry'

Last updated on: August 17, 2012 17:57 IST

'My mom keeps nagging Sanjay Leela Bhansali to marry'

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Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai

Even though her brother Sanjay Leela Bhansali is one of the most popular directors in Bollywood today, it took Bela Sehgal a long time to finally make her directorial debut.

Nine years, to be exact.

Now, her film Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi - starring Boman Irani and Farah Khan -- is up for release on August 24. It tells an unusual story of a 40-plus unmarried couple.

Bela tells Sonil Dedhia why it took her to long to get behind the camera, what it took to convince choreographer-director Farah Khan to act in the film, and her equation with her brother.

You had conceptualised the idea of Shirin Farhad Ki To Nikal Padi nine years ago. Take us through your journey. 

My brother Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) and I came up with the concept of the film but this is mainly his story. I don't know how and when he started developing this idea because I had another writer to do it for me.

My friend Mansher Wadia and Boman Irani used to come and discuss the idea. In those days Boman hadn't begun his filmi journey. In fact, I was thinking of launching him.

After that a lot of things changed. The story got converted from Punjabi to Parsi, and Boman got busy with some other film and things didn't materialise.

Then one day Sanjay realised that the subject is very good and relates to every household: how people find it difficult to get married or get a suitable companion in life.

Every mother is after their daughters and sons to get married before they get past marriageable age. Sanjay started writing the story and I decided to flavour it with a little bit of the Parsi element.


Image: A scene from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. Inset: Bela Sehgal


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'It was very challenging to make Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi'

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The script must have gone through a lot of changes to keep it contemporary.

Well, not much because the subject is still the same. We just developed it differently.

It is a very sensitive love story. It is also a sensitive issue -- how parents of 30-plus people are desperately trying to get their sons and daughters married, and going and seeing the prospective partners.

Even though it is a sensitive story, it is loaded with humour. So we didn't change much. We just followed that line of thought

If the script was ready nine years ago, why did it take so long to make the movie?

Sometimes things don't fall in place. Though the subject was ready, the script wasn't quite because we weren't happy with what was happening.

When Sanjay and I started taking turns to write the story, that's when things started falling into place.

You have been an editor for so many years. How challenging was it to direct a film?

It was very challenging to make this film. I can't think of any director who has made a film in which the lead characters are shown as 40-plus unmarried people looking out for someone.

It's a mature love story. The film doesn't have any macho heroes or size zero girls nor does it have any item numbers. I am sure our audience is ready to experiment and accept new concepts.


Image: A scene from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi


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'There is a hidden actress in Farah Khan'

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You have been living the concept of the film for nine years now. When was the first time that you thought of directing this film?

When I joined FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) I had applied for the direction course. The course had limited seats so I couldn't make it. I had to settle for editing.

Editing taught me a lot and I hung on to it for so many years.

Farah Khan is making her acting debut in the film. What convinced you that she was the right choice for the lead role?

Sanjay and I both wanted Farah to be a part of the script. In fact, we had discussed the film with her almost six years ago.

When we were ready with the script, I decided to meet her. When we went to her with the film and also to meet her kids, as we hadn't met them before, she thought we were kidding.

For 15 days she thought we were joking. Farah read the script and liked it very much. She was happy that Boman was a part of the film, as she felt very comfortable with him. Boman is a Parsi and Farah is half-Parsi.

My film demanded her, and I could only see Farah playing the role. I was always convinced Farah playing a Parsi woman would be better than any other actress. I don't think anyone else could have pulled off this role so convincingly. There is a hidden actress in her (smiles).

Boman Irani and Farah Khan are an unconventional pairing.

Boman was always in the picture. I always wanted to work with him. I think Boman is a fabulous and fantabulous actor. He is a dream to work with.

As for Farah, she is half-Parsi and also looks like one. I did have many other actresses to choose from. But actresses wouldn't take a risk of acting in a film like this. So we thought of Farah as she is different, new, and also a director.

I wanted her to be the way she is. I didn't want her to be too thin. She did lose weight a bit before the shooting. But during the process of shooting, she gained it again. I didn't mind at all because that's the character.

I am glad that the film didn't get made earlier because it wouldn't have been a 40-plus thing then. The audience too is ready to accept a new kind of subject, new films.


Image: A scene from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi


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'My mother keeps nagging Sanjay to get married'

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You roped in a successful director for your debut project. Did Farah come on the sets with the baggage of being an established director?

She respected me a lot. She never imposed any of her decisions on me. She did give some suggestions but I believe every actor does that.

There were times when we had a difference of opinion but I believe it was to make the film better and that's how we learn and grow in this industry.

Somewhere the film coincides with Sanjay's personal life, doesn't it?

Yes, it does. Not only Sanjay, but so many people out there, who are in their early 40s and are unmarried. It is a universal subject and I am sure a lot of people would be able to relate to it.

Is Sanjay's marriage a part of dinner-table discussions?

Sanjay is currently married to his films. I think he is mature enough to realise for himself whether he wants to marry or not. 

It's his choice and I don't want to venture into that space. Although, my mother has seen the film and she loved it because the story is connected to Sanjay. She keeps on nagging him to get married (laughs).


Image: A scene from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi

Tags: Farah

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'Sanjay is very critical about my work'

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The script has been written by Sanjay. Did he never think of directing the film?

Yes, one day he told me, 'Bela I think I should direct this film.' I laid down a condition: I would allow him to direct it provided he gave me another script and let me make that film first because I have waited for eight years! (laughs)

As the producer of the film, how involved was he in the making of it?

He was completely involved during the scripting stage. But during the shoot, he came only twice on the sets. He came on the first day of the shoot and then again when Farah was there. That's it!

But he was always there as a brother and producer for discussing ideas. Sanjay also gave a few suggestions to music composer Jeet Ganguly, who's done a fabulous job in the movie.

Later on, during the editing stage, when the edit was done, we would have creative brainstorming. I think this much intervention is allowed a producer.

How critical is he about your work?

He is very critical. I would tell him this is my first movie and I will learn from my experience.

I believe being a first time director I haven't done a bad job. But I know I can better myself.

I have learnt a lot about bringing out a good performance from the actors. I had mostly 50-plus actors in my cast and handling such a cast is not an easy job.

Boman was absolutely brilliant. Farah is also a complete delight to work with. She is the surprise package.


Image: A scene from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi


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'Saawariya and Guzaarish were ahead of their time'

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Sanjay recently produced Rowdy Rathore, which was a huge success. Do you think he has shifted gears in the kind of film he endorses?

I don't think there is anything wrong with it. This doesn't mean he will stop making films he is known for. He is a passionate filmmaker. His films are mostly like poetry.

I feel his last two movies, Saawariya and Guzaarish, were ahead of their time. In every way they are brilliant. I think people will understand them now.

I am glad Sanjay has changed because it is always good to change. It is important to connect with the masses. Rowdy Rathore brought in a lot of change after it worked and it became a hit.

I am happy for him and glad that he is connecting with his audience. He will make better movies than he has done till now. In spite of all the remarks, he is all set to come out with another brilliant movie.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who has been a mentor to Sanjay, has questioned his filmmaking sensibilities.

People can say anything they want. Vidhu Vinod Chopra is his mentor and he has the right to put forth his views. It shows his concern. He cares for Sanjay as he worked with Chopra for eight years.

We didn't feel bad about it. He is our mentor.

Are you ready with your next script after your film releases?

Right now, I am completely focusing on this film. But, yes, there is something in mind.

I want to take a sabbatical for a month after the film releases as I have been working for so many years and have never taken a holiday.

I would like to start the next film soon. I think it will be a romantic movie as I am a romantic person. I have no intention of going back to editing any more.

Would you direct a film outside Sanjay Leela Bhansali's production house?

Maybe. I don't know. I have not given it a thought but I would like to work with Sanjay.


Image: A scene from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi


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