'Kurbaan gave a shock to the system'
The pre-release excitement over Kurbaan was not sustained despite some good reviews. But writer Rensil D'Silva [inset], who makes his directorial debut with this film, says it will not be written off.
Best known for his screenplay for Rang De Basanti, D'Silva, 41, discusses films and people that have influenced him the most.
When did you fall in love with the movies?
It started with Star Wars over three decades ago. I had begged my family to take me to that movie. I was amazed to see the spectacle unfold, though my mother (a classical piano teacher) complained during the interval that she did not understand a word of it. But for me, everything in the film was magical.
Is there someone else in the family who loves movies as much as you do?
My mother's father (Walter Netto), who is 95. He used to take me to the movies, and, more importantly, discuss them with me. I saw some of the best Indian and Hollywood films because of him. He also kept a thick notebook, and from 1940 he had been entering the names of the films he had seen, with a few lines about them.
Is the notebook still around?
Very much. I began adding some of the films I had seen and wrote a few lines about them. Just to keep the tradition going. The 400-page book is almost full.
Image: A scene from Kurbaan
'I am immensely moved by Guru Dutt's Pyaasa'
Apart from Star Wars what other film made a big impact on you?
Guru Dutt's Pyaasa. I must have been eight when I first saw it on TV. I was crying. And my family was like, Why are you crying? I thought they won't understand. But I continued crying and I enjoyed it. Even today when I see it, I am immensely moved. I was also influenced by Guru Dutt's Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam and Yash Chopra's Deewar.
And yet you did not go directly into the movies.
I studied commerce and worked for ad agencies. But movies were my first love. I was to study at the Film Institute in Pune but my plans were cancelled because of a strike there. But I did take courses in filmmaking.
What was the reaction of your family when you told them about your secret ambition?
(Chuckles) It was like what is this Catholic boy going to do in Hindi films? My parents (a marketing executive) asked me how I would go around directing films with people dancing around trees.
I said there were other kind of films and that is why we call them moving pictures. I also told them of the off-beat films made in India and that some of them (like Guru Dutt's films) had their own audiences.
What do your parents feel now about your work as a writer and filmmaker?
Though they had wondered why I was getting into the movies, they backed my decisions. Ours is a very liberal family. They watch whatever I do with a lot of interest.
Image: A scene from Pyaasa
'Karan is the most non-interfering producer I have come across'
Coming to Kurbaan, why do you say that the film cannot be written off?
I tell everyone who asks me why the film has not done well, to go and see the film in the theatre. Don't listen to me but see the film, I say. And I tell them to let me know if they were not moved by it.
You must have heard the positive and negative things about the film too.
I remember the good things people have to say about it. We have been hearing from audiences in India and abroad, particularly the Muslims in the UAE [United Arab Emirates], how much they liked the movie.
Why didn't Kurbaan have a strong opening?
I think Kurbaan gave a shock to the system. It was like, to put mildly, offering pasta to a guy who eats dal and chaval every day. I believe the film will be around for a long time as more mature audiences will see it and recommend them to their friends. It could have a long life on TV.
What were your thoughts about directing a film when Karan Johar offered you Kurbaan?
I wanted to make films away from the normal path. The story idea for Kurbaan came from Karan and I came on board as a scriptwriter. But when I found the subject so engrossing and challenging, I wanted to direct it. When Karan heard about my desire, he simply said, 'If you wanted to direct it, you could have asked me straightaway.'
How do you see him as a producer?
I have written nearly a dozen films directed and produced by others. Karan is the most non-interfering producer I have come across. I think he came to the sets or the shooting locations only once, and that too discuss a project with Kareena Kapoor. When he trusts someone, he does so with a full heart.
Did Karan Johar offer you any guidance in directing?
Not while directing the film, but he was a great help in shaping the script. Once the script was hammered out, I was on my own.
Image: Rensil D Silva and Karan Johar
'I did not have anything against masala films like Ghajini'
What did you tell yourself about the project?
I wanted to keep Karan's vision alive. We knew we were not making a film like Ghajini or any other masala film. I did not have anything against such films but clearly we had set out to make a very different film.
Kurbaan was not a small-budget film. It must have cost around $6 million.
In India, films dealing with terrorism are not made on a big budget. But here was Karan who had allowed us to shoot in America where things cost a lot. We have to pay a lot to get permission to block a street or shoot in the subway. Getting permission itself takes time.
You shot quite a bit of the film in New York and Pennsylvania.
Some of the scenes were shot on very cold days. It was like our breath was freezing. But we were all passionate about the film and the things that had to be done were executed.
Image: A scene from Ghajini
'I want to make a comedy so that I can relax'
How are you maturing as a writer?
I want to write on a variety of subjects while making them different from the films in each genre. I have written the script for Raavana, a Mani Ratnam-directed film with Abhishek and Aishwarya. And then there is a mature love story with Amitabh and Sarika. I have also written a crime thriller David Dhawan is directing. Hook Ya Crook, starring John Abraham, Amrita Rao and Genelia D'Souza is a different kind of project for David.
Would you want to direct a comedy next?
I have been with Kurbaan for three years. It was an intense experience. I want to make a comedy, not because I want to prove myself to be a director who can take up another genre [but because] I want to have a relaxed time directing a light-hearted film.
As a writer-turned-director, what is the best thing you feel about Kurbaan?
Many of my screenplays have been made into films by other directors. Some were good, some weren't. With Kurbaan I was able to bring my vision to the screen, thanks to Karan, and a team of excellent artists and technicians.
Image: A scene from Hook Ya Crook