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'Sushmita is not a Kiran Bedi'

Ronjita Kulkarni | October 09, 2003 14:48 IST

Robby Grewal and Sushmita Sen on the sets of SamayRobby Grewal did not join the film industry for money. Or fame. Or even a passion for films.

He simply wanted to get away from his father's business.

The 28 year-old director, who prefers to be called Robby than by his real name Harmohinder Singh Grewal, started his own ad film company, Red Ice, in August 1999 with partners Gary S and Sujit Sircar in New Delhi.

With ads like Dettol, HMT, Cadbury, AirTel, Standard Chartered, and Horlicks behind them, they came down to Mumbai in 2001 to make films.

Robby took six months to script his first film, Samay: When Time Strikes. Films like Filhaal, Zor, and Sirf Tum made him decide that his leading lady had to be Sushmita Sen. "She has the persona and body language of a strong woman," he says. Just like ACP Malvika Chauhan, the hero of his film.

More on Samay!

Samay: A preview
Robby shot Samay in Mumbai in 45 days. He spoke to Ronjita Kulkarni about his debut venture, which hits the theatres on October 10.

Why did you get into films?

I was trying to get away from dad's business and joined a media company. Later, I started my own. I love watching films, but I was never passionate as such about films. I think anyone who is into visual arts wants to become a director one day. It is the ultimate high.

I am a very instinctive person. I have not had any formal training in filmmaking, but I was very clear about what I wanted to make.

For six months, all I did was write Samay with my co-writer Sameer Kohli. I did not meet my friends or go out anywhere. I lived my film in those six months.

I think writing makes or breaks a film. You create something when you write it. Directing is when you give shape to it. The creation is much tougher. If you have a good screenplay, chances of it going wrong are less.

Robby Grewal, Sushmita Sen and Sushant Singh on the sets of SamayBesides, thrillers have to have a good screenplay. By the end of it, I had a thick comic book, with everything in it -- from camera angles, dialogues, everything.

You could see the film without a single frame being shot!

I did not want any changes in it. Of course, I did take suggestions during shooting, but the basic narrative did not change. There were no market pressures on my head.

It is my film completely. So you can blame me for it.

As a newcomer, did you face any problems?

No, none at all. I am really blessed. When I came to Mumbai, I was told that since my film did not have any hero, no songs and dances, it would be tough to get someone to back me. So I was prepared to struggle.

The first producers I met was iDreams Productions. They agreed in the first meeting itself.

Sushmita Sen was my first choice. I had a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with her in which I narrated the script and she agreed immediately. It was very smooth.

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Normally in Bollywood, there are hazaar [thousand] meetings where you have to keep convincing people. I did not have to go through that.

What is Samay about?

It is a thriller. I have tried not to add drama or comedy, as I did not want to lose the essence of a thriller.

ACP Malvika Chauhan [Sen] has to investigate a strange murder case. There are no motives or clues. Later, she realises the murder is part of a bigger picture. Mind games play a strong part in this film.

There is just one song in the film, Laila laila. It is an item number. I did not want too many songs as it would take the thrill away.

The main lead was supposed to be male. Why did you change it and make Sushmita the hero?

Yes, when I scripted the film, I had a male cop in mind. One day, I was having a discussion with iDreams and they just happened to ask, what if a woman were the lead of the film instead of a man?

I went home and slept over it. The next day, I felt that it was a very novel idea.

I was very clear that I would not change the screenplay. The male cop was anyway not the dishum-dishum kind who would bash up criminals. Also, I have always felt that women are stronger than men. Not physically, but in all other ways. To showcase that on screen seemed interesting.

If I had written the character for a woman initially, I may have played it safe. Since there are so many cop films coming up, mine will have an extra element to it because this cop is a woman.

Once I decided that, I knew that only Sushmita Sen would fit the role. She has the persona and body language to carry out this role. But I did not model my character on anyone. Sushmita is not a Kiran Bedi.

Sushant [Singh] was always on my mind for the role of an inspector.

Tell us about Sushmita's look in the film.

Sushmita plays a cop in civilian clothes. She doesn't wear the uniform at all. She only wears browns and greys. She's like Jodi Foster in Silence Of The Lambs. She looks very realistic, yet good. I've grown up watching policemen in those tight pants. I can't relate to them.

How was the experience of working with Sushmita?

Initially I was a bit apprehensive to direct a star like Sushmita. But we connected very well later. I think it is very essential for an actor and director to connect. She never threw tantrums. She was very professional and punctual.

She was very clear about her character. During the shooting, we were so involved that I started calling her Malvika.

Robby Grewal [extreme left] and Sushmita Sen [extreme right] on the sets of SamayI love it when my actors give suggestions. Sushmita and Sushant are very intelligent. We had a lot of creative discussions. I have not taken any cinematic liberties.

Once, Sushant was supposed to hunt for some files in the police station. I wanted him to go to the filing cabinet directly and look for them. But he said that it would make better sense to ask the man responsible for the files to show him where the files were. So we turned it around and made him ask the policeman first.

Why did you name it Samay?

The film is very time-based; the movie takes place in 12 days.

Tell us about your first day as director.

I was very anxious the night before the shoot. Before the first shot was taken, Sushant, who is a good friend, asked me softly, "Kar lega kya [Will you manage it]?" I just smiled.

After the day's shooting, I went up to him and replied, "I think kar hi loonga [Yes, I think I will]."

Were you inspired by any Hollywood film?

There are films which have been at the back of my mind, like all Alfred Hitchcock films and M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. But they are not a direct inspiration. Direct inspirations are always poor imitations.

The first sequence of Samay is taken from Hitchcock's Vertigo. It is a tribute to this great director. He was a genius, the way he played with camera techniques.

What kind of films do you like?

I like Ram Gopal Varma's films. I loved Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas. I love the way these directors make films.

What do you like best about Samay?

The title montage is very interesting. It was designed by Kaushik Sircar.

The tension of making a film and keeping up with the schedule was exhilarating. I loved every second of shooting.

I was so involved and obsessed with Samay that I would not eat my lunch at all. My family would get very upset. But that's how I am.

Any other films on the anvil?

My partner Sujit will direct a love story. It will start by the end of the year. We also have some other ideas in the pipeline.

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