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The Rediff Interview
/ Meghna Gulzar, director
'I don't disregard my father'
February 01, 2007
Her first movie, Filhaal, based on surrogate motherhood failed at the box office. But that did not stop Meghna Gulzar, daughter of respected lyricist-writer-director Gulzar and the hugely talented actress Raakhi from making another film.
This time, her second film Just Married is about an arranged marriage between a couple played by Fardeen Khan and Esha Deol.
Meghna talks to Patcy N about the film and why, her father and she agree to disagree at times. Excerpts:
What is Just Married about?
It is about the first few days of an arranged marriage and what that is like between the couple. They happen to be in a space where they encounter three other couples who are not necessarily on their honeymoon and in the course of the film, they learn about each other. Each couple takes away something from the other, whether it is a lesson or just an inspiration.
How did you get Pritish Nandy Communications to produce Just Married?
I went to them with my script. They liked it and agreed to produce it.
How did you decide on the cast?
That was a long process because we had five other couples, apart from Fardeen and Esha, to cast in the film. From the beginning, we knew we wanted Esha. Fortunately, most of the casting suggestions were similar to what my producer and I came up with.
They suggested Fardeen. I have seen Fardeen's movies in which he has done comedy. I have seen him do roles where he is playing a suave, cool dude. My character is a very normal everyday kind of a person -- he is an average contemporary young guy. Fardeen doesn't have a set image. He is neither an action nor a romantic hero. So I thought he would fit in any role well.
I am very glad we took that decision because we have a cast that has an amazing chemistry. They have come up with very nice performances.
But their box office records are not too good�
I am not worried about their past box office record. Some films of actors with a great box office record often do not work. You can't hold it against the actor. You cannot always blame one person for this. You have to look out for an actor who suits your character. The director should do this. The distributor will look at his liability and the producer will look at his commercial viability. And if they suggest this, I am sure they know what they are doing.
Where did you shoot for the movie? How was the experience?
We shot the movie in Ooty. It was my first movie with such a big cast. Everyone on the sets was new. So it was actually like a new bride meeting her in-laws. It was chaotic with all 10 actors having their own suggestions while I had my own point of view. I was shooting outdoors and the climate wasn't very favourable. I think the palpable energy that was there throughout the making of the film may have made it seem challenging. But on second thought, it made us work harder and better.
What sort of research did you do?
I got the idea after I read an English short story on an arranged marriage where the two people had barely met. Whether they go off on a honeymoon or they move into a new house... the point is that they have to live with the other person, which is actually like living with a stranger.
I thought it would be nice to know what people feel about it. Whether it is a love or arranged marriage, every honeymoon has a special anecdote. So I asked a couple of my friends and colleagues to tell me stories about their honeymoons. None of that is in the film because those experiences were completely unbelievable. People would not believe that such things happen in real life.
One of them was of a couple who went camping for their honeymoon. It so happened that the kerosene they were carrying got mixed with the food and they had to go without food for three days. There were some really interesting stories, but I just wanted to get the feel. Basically, I wanted some kind of trigger point to write. I don't know how much of that has helped me subconsciously. But none of these stories are in the film.
Both Just Married and Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd are based on life after marriage. Just that, one has a single couple while the other has six. The title and the story are almost the same. What is the difference?
How can you say that without seeing either film? Most love stories have only one couple in it. Are all those love stories the same? If yes, then people should stop making love stories. I have not seen the other film. So how do I tell what the difference is.
Is it a copy of the English film, Just Married, starring Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy?
It's extremely presumptuous to say that. Just because the title is the same, it doesn't mean it is a copy. Moreover, I don't think you can find arranged marriages in the West. Also, the English movie is about how love goes out of the window because the couple gets married. It's not an arranged marriage story at all.
Such comments hurt at some level because people make presumptions without any basis. But I will not say anything. I will let the movie speak for itself. Which is why I am saying that you are juxtaposing my film with Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and I am sure Reema (Kagti, director of Honeymoon Travels) is also getting irritated answering the same question.
There are so many films made on the underworld. You cannot say all those films are copies of each other because every film has its own perspective. People should come to such decisions after they see the film.
Did you take instances from your personal life?
Not really. There are no personal experiences in the film. I did not have an arranged marriage. But being a woman, if you have to share a space with a man you are not familiar with, the discomfort would be there. I wrote out the character keeping in mind what would make me uncomfortable. That is only personal aspect to it.
You went through a series of title changes as well. It was First Honeymoon to begin with� then Baat Pakki. How did you decide on Just Married?
First Honeymoon was a working title. It was never the official title because you have to register it and give the film some name even when you are working on it. Baat Pakki was also a working title.
We knew that once we finished the film, we would arrive at a title. These were just options. Just Married was most apt, easily understood and identifiable title. More than anything else, it suited the film the most. It was my idea of keeping the title Just Married and my producers liked it.
Is it true that you rejected your dad's poem? Why did you do that? Aren't you scared since he is a veteran in his field?
It's not about being scared. My parents raised me in a way that I can be honest and open with them. We have always had an open and democratic relationship whether it's talking about lyrics, my life or my boyfriend.
When I ask my father for changes, it does not mean that I disregard him or his seniority as a lyricist. As a director, I have to look at the film and the relevance of those lyrics in the film as a whole. Sometimes, I do suggest that, 'papa, if you could do it like this, it would be better.'
If he has a counter point, he argues. If he is right, I concede and vice versa. It's really difficult to explain how we keep the father-daughter thing out of the realm. But I think we have done pretty well.
You are hardly seen in party circles. What do you do in your free time?
I spend my time with my family and friends. I am not much of a party person, so I don't go out too often. I go out for dinners but then again, only with family and friends. I like to read, listen to music, and watch television, which gets reduced substantially when I am making a film. I like watching films, painting, gardening...
What were you doing post Filhaal, which released in 2002?
It took me a year to put Just Married together. We started it around February-March 2006, and shot it in one schedule. It took us another six or eight months to finish post-production. Besides, in the last four years, I wrote three scripts, made music videos, wrote a book on my father... I have been doing quite a bit.
Since Filhaal did not do quite well, how positive are you about the success of Just Married?
I don't agree with it. Filhaal was never meant to be a glamour box-office hit. We always knew it was not a 'massy' subject. It was for a niche audience, and it connected with them. So I don't see why I should regret making that film.
At the same time, I wouldn't say that now I am catering to a larger audience. I make films about stories -- subjects that excite me enough to write a script and then challenge me enough to make a film on it.
Nobody can predict that this film will work and that won't. Otherwise, we would never have a flop in the industry.
I have a film with White Feather Films. It is not my script. It's something new that I am doing. It is called Bread Butter And Cash, and is in the casting stages now.