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'They are people, they are flawed, they are human'

By PATCY N
February 28, 2022 11:51 IST
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'They (the characters) are not bad people; they are good people, who make bad choices.'
'The idea was to show that when people are put in a situation, which side of the moral spectrum do they fall on?'

IMAGE: Ayesha DeVitre with Director Shakun Batra. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ayesha DeVitra

Weeks after its release, Gehraiyaan is still making its way to conversations.

Like the film or not, everyone sure has something to say about Gehraiyaan.

Ayesha DeVitre, who has co-written the film along with Director Shakun Batra, is enjoying these reactions.

Ayesha dives into the film once again, and tells Patcy N/Rediff.com, "Sometimes you wonder, maybe if Tia had told Alisha the truth about the property, maybe Alisha would be well settled, maybe she would have had money and who knows where life would have taken all of them..."

What feedback you are getting for Gehraiyaan?

The reactions have been very positive.

We've had a couple of polarised reactions and we are embracing those too because at the end of the day, it's a film.

The fact that people are talking about it, whether positive or negative, the fact that we are making people think, that in itself is an achievement.

The cherry on the cake is that most people are enjoying it thoroughly.

The film is about family and relationships. What intrigues you to write on such topics?

I love writing.

Characters excites me.

I love human relationships.

So whether it was our first film -- Shakun and I were both children when we wrote Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu -- it was a slice of life, romantic comedy.

We wrote about the world we knew.

Both of us are urban people.

Both of us come from happy families.

Yet, sometimes, we have seen dysfunction within families, within our friends' families, or extended friends' families.

You get inspired by what's around.

The most important thing for any writer is that we want to tell a story.

With Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, it was easy.

With Kapoor & Sons, we went into a bit of dysfunction. Yet, the characters were rooted as they were good people caught in bad situations.

With Gehraiyaan, we went a step further. We delved into what real people are like, which is grey.

They are not bad people; they are good people, who make bad choices.

The idea was to show that when people are put in a situation, which side of the moral spectrum would they fall on?

No one knows that.

That's why all three films are distinctly different, even though they are all human stories.

IMAGE: Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi in Gehraiyaan.

All three stories have a common thread: The parents' influence on their lives.

Don't you think parents influence your upbringing?

Your family is what influences you the most, whether its for the better or the worse.

If we have a difficult family life, we choose not to be like that. We make a conscious choice to be different.

But sometimes, we fall down the same rabbit hole that we saw our entire lives.

In Gehraiyaan, we wanted to touch on that.

You can try really hard not to be what your family represents, but sometimes, destiny or your own choices will send you right back there.

All the characters in Gehraiyaan have shades of grey.

It was not intentionally done.

When we started, we were writing about infidelity. That itself is grey.

Tia, on her own, is a really good person. What she did was morally wrong but all she wanted was to protect her mother.

Someone may think that's completely wrong and someone may think that's justified.

We just wanted to show them in a human light.

We didn't want Tia to be vanilla. We didn't want her to be silly or naive.

At the end of the day, she was her own person.

Sometimes you wonder, maybe if Tia had told Alisha the truth about the property, maybe Alisha would be well settled, maybe she would have had money and who knows where life would have taken all of them...

But that's the beauty of where your fate takes you.

IMAGE: Siddhant Chaturvedi, Deepika Padukone, Ananya Panday and Dhairya Karwa in Gehraiyaan.

How did you get the inspiration to write such characters, whether it's Tia, Alisha, Zain, Karan, Naseer, Jitesh, Ananya's mother over the phone... Are these characters around you?

It's not necessary that these people will be around you.

Sometimes, it's things you watch, things you read... sometimes, it's your imagination.

As a storyteller, I observe people.

I could be at an airport or a shop or on the street, I am constantly observing people.

Sometimes you make up your own stories when you observe something. Like, if you are at a dinner table, and see a couple fighting, I try to visualise what that fight could be about.

As a writer, I don't judge people.

When I'm writing, I don't try to safeguard my characters.

It's very important that I'm not judging them.

They are people, they are flawed, they are human.

Can you decide which actor will play your characters?

I personally don't get a choice but my opinion matters.

Shakun and I have done three films together. We are very closely associated.

We are best friends.

We never particularly write with actors in mind.

When you flesh out the film, you start seeing which actor would fit.

As soon as we were done with the script, we knew Deepika was the only one we wanted for Alisha.

I am also a hairstylist and I style a lot of actors and actresses.

I work very closely with Ananya; I have seen her grow as an actor.

I really believe in her potential.

Shakun didn't know much about her work, so I asked him to meet her. I vouched for her.

Ananya comes from a well-to-do home, she has the luxuries of life, so she doesn't have to pretend to be that person.

She's very different in many ways from Tia, but there's a certain vulnerability that she has.

The second he met her, he knew she was the one he wanted to cast.

IMAGE: Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi in Gehraiyaan.

Don't you think Dhairya Karwa's Karan needed more screen time?

We don't write characters and think of their screen time.

Sometimes on paper, a character's screen time maybe less and as we develop the film, as we start shooting, it gets clearer and things may get added.

For us, the story was always about the protagonist, which was Alisha, closely associated with her sister Tia.

Dhairya was a part of the story; the catalyst.

If we had followed his track, we would have deviate from the story we wanted to tell.

What was important was to make the character believable.

He wasn't a bad guy.

Deepika didn't leave him because he was a bad guy.

He was someone struggling with his own problems and insecurities.

When he fights with her, he may be hitting below the belt but that's because of his own insecurities.

Every character has to fit into a story and take the story forward. The scenes are written with only that in mind.

Which character was closer to your heart?

Its very tough.

I have only one child, but if I had many, and you asked me which was my favourite, it's very tough.

They were all such difficult characters to write.

You put in so much love for the grey characters as well. You need to be able to understand them to be able to portray them to the world.

Like Zain's backstory. Some people picked up on it, and said, 'His dad beat his mum, so maybe he had that violent streak in him to kill her.'

So there are shades of your past that will catch up with you.

IMAGE: Deepika Padukone in Gehraiyaan.

You tackled a sensitive topic of depression in the movie. How difficult was it to handle it?

You will be surprised how many people are going through it in today's fast-paced life.

Everyone around you is tackling some sort of anxiety, some sort of mental health battle.

We were sure we didn't want to minimalise it. Yet, we didn't want to build the story around it.

We were asked this question with Kapoor & Sons as well, about Fawad's (Khan) character being homosexual. But that was not the story, it was one aspect of the person.

The same way, Deepika struggles with her anxiety in the film. That's not the story, it's one aspect.

It's the thing she struggles with, the thing that holds her back, and then takes over.

But that's not the story, it's part of who she is.

IMAGE: Ayesha DeVitre with Director Shakun Batra on the sets of Gehraiyaan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ayesha DeVitra

As a writer, do you go on the sets and give your inputs to the actors?

I didn't go for one of the schedules to Goa -- they shot in Goa for some Alibaug outdoor sequences.

The first wave of COVID had just happened.

Otherwise, I was always on set.

I don't interfere.

I give Shakun complete liberty and creative freedom.

But because of the wonderful relationship we share, we discuss a lot.

We talk, we rewrite, we add.

Sometimes, an actor can convey a dialogue in a way you never thought they would, maybe do it better than what you have written.

Sometimes someone may do something, and it's not what you wanted to convey, so you need to hold back a little.

Even though our script is bound, a lot of improvisation could happen.

Writer-Director Vikram Chandiramani says your story is heavily inspired from his short film The Perfect Murder in 2019.

I have not seen it, neither has Shakun.

But I'd love to watch it.

IMAGE: Ayesha DeVitre with Alia Bhatt and Mickey Contractor. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ayesha DeVitre/Instagram

Tell us about yourself.

I am born in Mumbai.

I studied at Xavier's College. I did my bachelors' degree in arts, and came first in economics and commerce in the university. After that, I decided to become a barber. (laughs)

I joined (hairstylists) Nalini and Yasmin's, and started my career in hair.

I got my first break in Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na where I did the hair for the entire film.

That's where I met Shakun; he was the assistant director on that film.

He was this guy from Delhi who had no budget to hire a writer and I used to make him laugh with my funny stories.

One day, he said, 'Let's write together.'

I had no professional training in writing, but he said, we can learn together.

And that's exactly what we did.

We downloaded a bunch of scripts, tons of movies, tons of scripts, screenwriting books... and we wrote our first movie Ek Main Aur Ek Tu.

By the grace of God, it was appreciated, and our journey began.

The fact that I did not have professional training always held me back.

But after Gehraiyaan, I realised that anyone can be a writer as long as they have a story to tell.

Do you still do hairstyling?

Very much!

I thoroughly enjoy it.

I don't do movie hairstyling anymore; my partner Saajan goes on movie sets.

It gives me time to write.

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PATCY N / Rediff.com