'Rani made it very clear when she signed the film that she would shoot only during her daughter's summer vacation so as not to disturb her role as a real life mother.'
Did you know Rani Mukerji was apprehensive about working in Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway?
Producer Nikkhil Advani explains why, and reveals how Rani balanced her roles as reel and real mom.
"Rani would wake up at 5 am as due to the time difference, Adira's classes began at 6 am. She would attend classes with her daughter, then shoot for seven-eight hours, go back to the hotel and help Adira with her homework," Nikkhil tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the shoot of Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway in Estonia?
We were to start shooting in March 2020, but then COVID struck and a nationwide lockdown was announced.
We waited for months for life to get back to normal, but it was impossible to cart a crew from India to another country when the virus still had the world in its grasp.
We eventually flew out with a skeletal team of 50, as compared to the usual 200-250, taking multiple flights to reach Estonia.
We shot there in August and September.
The virus was still rampant then. How difficult was it keeping everyone safe?
It was a huge challenge, more so because we were working with young kids.
Estonia is a really small country, maybe as large as Mumbai, and once our seven-day quarantine was done, the team from India entered a bubble.
The whole country was in a bubble then and we were adhering to all the health and safety protocols.
But there was no guarantee that they would keep us safe from the virus.
Still, every member of the unit was tested every single day.
This took a lot of time and cut into our shooting hours.
Ashima (Chibber) and her team had to figure out how to maximise our time on the set.
It was even more difficult when we were shooting on location because people around us were wearing masks and this story is set in 2011 when there was no pandemic.
We had to leave some of our best shots on the editing table because there are people in the background wearing masks.
Ours was one of the first films to start shooting during the pandemic anywhere in the world.
The good thing about this was that after months of being shut in, everyone was eager to get back to work.
Also, knowing what the film was all about, every single member of the team, be it the cast or the crew, was proud to be associated with it and bring this story to the screen.
Rani Mukerji took her daughter along to Estonia for the shoot, right?
Yes. By then, schools had started online classes.
Rani had made it very clear when she signed the film that she would shoot only during her daughter's summer vacation so as not to disturb her role as a real life mother.
She could have refused to travel in August and then we would have had to cancel the shoot.
But the trooper that she is, Rani took Adira along with her.
Rani would wake up at 5 am as due to the time difference, Adira's classes began at 6 am.
She would attend classes with her daughter, then shoot for seven-eight hours, go back to the hotel and help Adira with her homework.
It reminded me of the time my wife Suparna had flown to the US with our daughter Keya.
Suparna had enrolled for a master's degree in public policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard University.
Keya was six then and her school had allowed her to take classes online.
Suparna would attend classes with her before going to attend college.
I was shooting for D-Day at the time and whenever there was a break of five-seven days, I would fly to Boston to be with them.
What was your daughter's reaction to Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway's trailer?
(Chuckles) She sent me two hearts and a 'Well done, bro!'
You must miss your family a lot when work takes you away.
I am forever grateful to my family because had they not supported me, I might never have been able to make these films.
(Laughs) Suparna, in fact, tells me to stay away when I am in the 'zone' because I can be quite sullen at home then.
The teaser of the second season of your SonyLIV Web series Rocket Boys was released on August 15 last year, on India's 75th Independence Day. When do we get to see it?
It will be released in March.
As everyone knows by now, it revolves around Dr Homi J Bhabha, who engineered India's Nuclear Programme and Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who established the Indian space programme.
Their journey also involves Indian classical dancer, choreographer and instructor Mrinalini Sarabhai, Dr Sarabhai's wife, and we showed the eight episodes to their daughter Mallika.
She loved them, but offered comments on certain scenes and dialogue that we have assured her will be tweaked.
You have also finished shooting the second season of another Web series, this one on Amazon Prime Video, Mumbai Diaries.
Yes, it is in its final post production and should be out towards the middle of the year.
The first season followed the staff of Mumbai General Hospital on the night of the terror attacks, November 26, 2008.
Season Two also unfolds during a difficult and emotional time with the now familiar characters trying to pull off miracles, dealing with loss and celebrating impossible victories.
Will it continue over multiple seasons?
Yes. This is the genre I like best, part fact, part fiction.
No matter how busy I am, I will take time out to do Mumbai Diaries.
Is a second season of your period drama series, The Empire, also in the pipeline?
We would love to take it forward, following up with Humayun and then Akbar, but Disney+Hotstar hasn't greenlit another season.
So as of now, The Empire is not coming back.
But Mitakshara (writer-director Mitakshara Kumar) is adapting the biography of a classical musician for us.
For that matter, even Abhay Pannu, the writer-director of Rocket Boys, is doing another show for Emmay, as also Ashima Chibber.
There are also a couple of films in the pipeline.
Saurabh Shukla returns to direction after 12 years with Mat Chuko Pahlwan with Jitendra Kumar who has become a household name after Permanent Roommates, Kota Factory and Panchayat.
The other is directed by Madhumati Sunderam.
Is there any film or series that left you disappointed?
If you had asked me this question three years ago, I would have said yes, but Emmy is very careful about our choices and collaborations now.
I'm proud of all that we are doing.
I just feel that the comedy drama Kaun Banegi Shikhawati could have been a little better. We were hampered by the pandemic.
But the directors, Gaurav Chawla and Ananya Banerjee, have just completed a show for us and it is top class.
It is a paranormal horror thriller which will come on Amazon Prime Video.
We have a lot on our plate.
Are there any more films inspired by real life in the offing?
There's one on honour killings in the North.
The story has been with me for four years and the subject is very relevant today.
What's happening with 1911, which brings to the screen Mohun Bagan's famous victory over the professional footballers of the East Yorkshire Regiment on July 29, 1911, to lift the IFA Shield?
1911 is on hold for now. The rights are with John Abraham and it's being developed.
We have a football film, Maidaan, coming up in June on the golden era of Indian football with Ajay (Devgn) playing legendary coach Syed Abdul Rahim.