'Shekhar Kapur told me to remain an actor'
Television, theatre, films, acting, scriptwriting, direction. Saurabh Shukla is taking it step by step
Satya had a very predictable storyline. What made it special were the characters," says Saurabh Shukla, actor-associate writer of the Ram Gopal Varma blockbuster.
He intends to repeat the trick in his directorial debut, Mudda. "There are not too many stories. The treatment is what is different. A man and a woman can either fall in love or hate each other. Most probably, they will love in love. But the way they meet, what they talk etc will always be new because people are different."
Saurabh, who always focuses on characters and people either in his scripts or film, was awed by Hollywood's A Beautiful Mind. "When I saw the film, it was like a slap on my face. I thought why didn't I think of this story before?" he says, about the Russell Crowe film.
The now well-known Gopi (of his debut television serial, Karan Razdan's Tehkikat), and Kallu Mama (in Satya), Saurabh wanted to direct films since childhood. He and his friends even saved money at school to make a film using a still camera.
Later, someone suggested that theatre would take him closer to making a film. It was only after he joined theatre that Saurabh realised how different the two mediums were. He went on to become a theatre actor, playwright and director. Three of his plays (Uljhan, Maruti and Tandav) were even selected for national festivals.
Saurabh's directorial venture starring Arya Babbar, Prashant Narayanan, Dali Aruwalia and Rajat Kapoor, has two angles: a love triangle and a power equation. Troubled by city life, Rajat Kapoor shifts to a village. "The story is very traditional," Saurabh explains. "It's not that it has never been told before. But the way it has been told is fresh. My film focuses on the characters."
Saurabh says he chose a village as the backdrop because the power in the villages is on your face. "One cannot voice one's opinions openly because word travels very fast, putting you in trouble instantly," he says. "People hide much more in villages. The powered handful is not modest about their power, so the violence is higher there. One has the freedom of speech to talk against them among friends in the city. It is because of the sheer size of the city."
Surprisingly, the lead in the film Arya Babbar is not the regular hero, romancing the woman or fighting against evil. He plays the son of a powerful Zamindar and feels he has the right to do anything. But Saurabh insists that he does not play a negative character. "I never treat people as negative or positive, so I would not like to say that about Arya's character. Their acts can be negative but they are not negative themselves. I never take sides in a film. Arya's character is very complex, not that of a villain."
He cites the animated Hollywood film, The Beauty And The Beast. "In the beginning, you are scared of the beast, but as the film progresses, you start liking and sympathising with him."
Besides, as the love triangle goes, Dali and Prashant are in love, while Arya loves Dali.
Saurabh has tremendous confidence in his lead actor. The fact that Arya's debut film, Ab Ki Baras bombed at the box-office does not bother him. "I selected Arya because he fits the role perfectly. He has given a tremendous performance. I had seen him in an interview. Then I went to Rajji (Babbar) and narrated the script to him. I know Ab Ki Baras did not do well, but that's not a problem. A film does not do well due to a combination of factors, not a single factor."
Saurabh claims that he chose his cast based purely on the script. "There are two ways of choosing a cast. Either one must have saleability in the cast or go according to the script. My producer (Ravi Mavani) had enough faith in me and he let me choose my actors according to the script."
Incidentally, he has never assisted a director before. "I never sat in my makeup room during films," he says. "I would hover around the director or cameramen and ask questions."
Saurabh, who has penned such scripts as Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, Kareeb and Satya says he borrowed a lot from his college days in Delhi for Mudda. "I saw a lot of politics there. I haven't made this film based on one incident but on various incidents in my life in Delhi."
Mudda, which means issue, is not a serious film. It's a feel-good, happy film. The music by Jeet Pritam (Shahara of Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai) is traditional, yet contemporary. "I could not use instruments like the saxophone, as it would not gel well with the traditional feel of the film," explains Saurabh. "But at the same time, I did not want the same old traditional music, as it would make the film 'small'. So we've used a lot of 'world music'. It doesn't sound out of place. It has ethnic, folk and trance blended well." The film, which is shot entirely in Maharashtra, is slated for release April 2003.
The actor-director was, incidentally, in the professional wing of the National School of Drama, when filmmaker Shekhar Kapur noticed him. Kapur was so impressed that he created a role for Saurabh in Bandit Queen. "That was a big achievement for me!" Saurabh smiles proudly. "I told Shekhar then that I want to become a director. He laughed and told me to remain an actor."
Later, Kapur cast Saurabh in Tehkikat. He directed the first episode and later, producer Karan Razdan directed the rest.
As an actor, Saurabh has experimented with many roles: bad character in Abbas-Mastan's Badshah, a kind-hearted friend in Subhash Ghai's Taal, a cold-blooded killer in Rahul Rawail's Arjun Pandit, a stressed businessman in Mahesh Bhatt's Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan and a kind Sardar in Mahesh Bhatt's Zakhm. But he admits that there really is not much to choose from.
He will next be seen in Sudhir Mishra's Vapsi (which is also written by him), South director Teja's Tusshar Kapoor starrer and a television serial Josh which will be aired on Star Plus in April 2003.
He is also busy with his directorial ventures. Besides Mudda, he is making a thriller produced by Shabnam Kapoor and Jaaneman Jaan Le Tu.