'Gippi reminded Karan Johar about his own childhood'
Debutante filmmaker Sonam Nair is excited. She has received a positive response for the trailers of her first feature film Gippi that releases on Friday, May 10.
The film revolves around an adolescent girl who is rather insecure about her weight and looks and how she deals with it.
The young director is the first woman to direct a film for Dharma Productions, owned by Karan Johar.
Sonam talks to Sonil Dedhia about directing a film on teenagers, admits that the film somewhere reflects her personal life, and acknowledges the support she got from Karan Johar.
Is it true that Gippi's story is similar to your personal story?
Yes, there are incidents taken from my personal life.
Initially, I just wanted to write a script and not to make a film. So I took some incidents from my life and started writing about how I used to be fat and would get bullied. In the process, it became big enough to be made into a film.
It became the story of a girl going through puberty. Later on, I felt that the story could be converted into a good film so I went to (director) Ayan Mukherjee. I had worked with him as an assistant on Wake Up Sid.He liked the story and asked me to take it to Karan Johar. It was a different genre so we weren't sure if he would like it but Karan really loved it and decided to produce the film.
Image: Riya Vij in Gippi
'Gippi is a commercial yet risky film'
Wake Up Sid was also produced by Dharma Productions. Did that give you easy access to Karan Johar?
It was easy to get Karan to read the script. He is a very smart man and selective about the films he wants to produce. Since I knew Ayan and he knows Karan very well, so yes, the process got easier.
It is like a dream launch for me. I couldn't have asked for a better start to my career.
What was Karan's reaction when he first read the script? Was it difficult to convince him to produce the film?
No, it wasn't difficult to convince Karan. The script reminded him of his own childhood.
Karan too had weight issues during his growing up days and had a complex about it. He could instantly relate to it. Also, the budget of the film wasn't really big so he was ready to take the risk.
Talking about the risk, Gippi is a children's film and the genre hasn't really been able to click.
Yes, it's a bit of a risk. The film is not for toddlers and over and above that, it is about a teenage girl, which is a rare thing.
I'd say the film will speak for itself. It will open up lots of genres. I think the pre-teen, adolescent space hasn't been explored much. So we are taking a risk.
It is a big risk that Karan is taking but somebody had to take it. At the same time, Gippi is a fully commercial film. It has comedy, fun, drama, songs and music.
Image: Sonam Nair
'Riya was very shy and introverted when we first auditioned her'
How many girls did you audition before you finalised on Riya Vij?
She was one of 30,000 girls from Delhi and Mumbai who made it for the film. From the first day, we knew that she had the look of Gippi, so we were, like, let's see if she can act.
Riya was very shy and introvert when we first auditioned her. As timed passed and as more auditions happened, she started to feel more comfortable.
She auditioned six-seven times and each time she gave more expressions, had more feelings. Riya is Gippi in real life too; she was not pretending, she was not doing over the top things. She was being herself.
Your film has a subplot where Gippi falls in love with a much older guy. Was it difficult to make Riya understand all these emotions?
No, not at all! If there is an attractive guy, you naturally feel something, you blush, feel butterflies in your stomach. I told her think of the actor you like, and the scene came out well.
Riya is someone who doesn't act; she says her lines very naturally. I had to literally push her, especially in the songs, to be a little over the top (laughs).
Image: Taha Shah and Riya Vij in Gippi
'The film was made on a shoestring budget'
Dharma Productions is known for big budget films and Gippi is the banner's cheapest film.
We were given a budget and certain restrictions were there but that was what the film required. We were not making a multi-million dollar film.
The money allocated to us was adequate for the film's requirement. In fact, we had to stretch a bit as I had asked for Vishal-Shekhar for music compositions. I wanted a few things looking nicer, one or two locations that I had in mind. But all in all, it was made on a shoestring budget.
Subconsciously did you ever think that you had to keep the larger-than-life Dharma Production flavour in your film?
Karan didn't put any pressure on me to make the film in a certain way. He doesn't know how to make a realistic film. But I wanted to add a tinge of Dharma flavour to it. So, yes, at the back of my head I did have that thought.
I didn't want a Dharma film to look tacky. Women are into aesthetics, so it came easy for me (winks).
Image: Riya Vij with her co-star in Gippi
'I want to make films dealing with issues that happen to real people'
More female directors are making films in Bollywood now.
It's a welcome change. I loved Zoya Akhtar's Zindagi Na Milegi Doabara. Farah Khan is the hardcore commercial filmmaker.
Last year, Gauri Shinde made English Vinglish which was such a beautiful film.
It will be great if we get more female directors. I am glad that I will be joining such a talented pool of directors.
Have you decided on your next film?
As of now, I am just hoping that the audience likes Gippi.
I want to make films dealing with issues that happen to real people. I want to make films that I can relate to.
Image: Riya Vij in Gippi