May 30, 2002 
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Shaad Ali
'Directing is a tough job'
Shaad Ali steps into mentor Mani Ratnam's shoes

Vivek Fernandes

He has blue blood coursing through his veins --- cinematically and otherwise.

For Shaad Ali, son of filmmaker and Prince of Kotwara Muzaffar Ali (who directed Rekha in the highly acclaimed Umrao Jaan fame), a career in Hindi cinema was nothing unusual.

Shaad, who debuts as a director with Saathiya, a remake of Mani Ratnam's Tamil hit Alai Payuthey (starring Madhavan and Shalini), says his foray into cinema was a fulfillment of a childhood ambition. "I have always been around recording studios, shooting floors and cinema halls. After my schooling, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in films."

"I helped my dad with a few projects, including a film called Zooni (starring Dimple Kapadia and Vinod Khanna that later got shelved), that he was doing at that time and dabbled with television. Around this time I heard about Mani Ratnam and his film, Roja. I admire his work and went to work for him during Bombay.

"For over four years," continues Shaad, "Mani Sir has been like a father to me. I was fortunate enough to work with him as associate director of the Manisha Koirala-Shah Rukh Khan starrer Dil Se.

"Mani Sir is an institution. Film is his religion. There is no one better you can learn from. He is undoubtedly, and I say this without batting an eyelid, the best filmmaker the country has produced," states the 27-year-old.

Alai Payuthey was a project that Shaad Ali was closely associated with. "From the initial scripting to the final post-production of the film, Alai Payuthey was a complete hands-on project for me. After the film's success Mani Sir had three options: remake the film himself in Hindi, entrust it to someone else or he could give it to me. He chose the last. I jumped at the offer. I could not have asked for a better break. I have stalwarts like Bobby Bedi (producer of films like Bandit Queen, Fire), and Yash Chopra as producers; and Anil Mehta, award-winning cinematographer (among his latest works are Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Lagaan), who put up with my crazy demands."

Technically, Saathiya is not Ali's first shot at weilding the baton. He had earlier directed a music video for Vasundhara Das' Meri jaan. "That was a fun project. Vasundhara is a personal friend who asked me to direct the music video for Magnasound," he recalls.

Vivek Oberoi As for Saathiya, he says, "The film is basically a slice of life. It is contemporary, but adheres to the classic format. Though the film is a remake we have tried to treat it differently. The two families that we have now are from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to introduce transcultural backgrounds for the characters. Contrary to what it may seem, it was not a conscious marketing device."

While the original film was based on collegians, Ali wanted Saathiya to have a mature feel. He asked noted poet-lyricist Gulzar to write the screenplay and the lyrics for the film. "It took a lot of persuasion to get Gulzarsaab to write for me. As added advantage, we have A R Rahman's score, too."

"The most difficult part of the shooting was the 25-day continuous shoot we did for the songs. We travelled all over the country --- Rameshwaram, Chettinad, Humpi and Goa [in Southern India] and Manali [in Northern India] for the five songs. We were to shoot some of these sequences in Rajasthan and Gujarat, but when the riots broke out we had no option but to flip our schedule overnight. All the trouble we took scouting for locations and the arrangements went down the drain," recalls Ali.

"We finally shot at places I had never seen before; Anil Mehta and I would scout for locations late at night with torchlights and shoot there the next day. We had to travel with a crew of over 100 people. As a director you are responsible for their care and see that they rest well. It is a tough job."

Saathiya stars current Vivek Oberoi [Ram Gopal Varma's Company], Rani Mukherji, Tanuja, Satish Shah, Swaroop Sampat and Sharat Saxena.

Rani Mukherji "Rani is an old friend. We met often when I was an assistant to Mani Sir. She fit the role perfectly, it was role she was born to do. She is a complete clown. We had to shoot a scene where she had to be unconscious, but she would burst into a fit of giggles every few minutes. We had to shoot the entire scene over a zillion times."

Ali also shares a great rapport with Vivek Oberoi. In an earlier interview, Vivek had stated, 'Shaad has an open vision and lets his personality reflect through my character rather than closet him into a preconceived idea.'

"Vivek and I are childhood friends. We went to the same school for a number of years and our parents know each other. We kept bumping into each other socially and I cast him one night over dinner. The recognition he has received with Company is well deserved and it definitely help the film."

The film is also expected to have Shah Rukh Khan step in for a special appearance at the request of producer Yash Chopra.

Shaad Ali still has his fingers crossed. "I keep wondering if I have filmed the shot right, if I made the right judgement or took a wrong call. I cannot afford to get complacent. I am confident and then again I am nervous. It is pretty taxing."


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