A slice of our lives

New-age director

A slice of our lives

She’s relaxed, in a mood to rewind back and share tales about her 16 years of struggle in Mumbai, before her dreams turned real. A quiet confidence mixed naturally with a natural wariness about how her first celluloid outing will be received by the audience gives Barnali Ray Shukla an edge among debutant filmmakers. She is writing and directing Kucch Luv Jaisa that releases on May 27.

Barnali’s life moves from post-graduation in botany to a stint at research-based journalism that proved to be the turning point for this “Bengali born in Chennai, raised in Delhi and now living in Mumbai,” as she describes herself. “I topped my MSc and intended to do my doctorate in tissue culture. My first tryst with fiction was when I would travel frequently from Delhi to Kolkata, where my parents shifted to, and would get curious enquiries from fellow women passengers trying to be matchmakers. I would invent the weirdest stories to fob them off and I found myself pretty inventive! Bored about the idea of doing my PhD, I responded to an ad looking for a researcher to work on a documentary on divorced couples. Honestly, I hunted for genuine cases and even made up a few. Of course, I did confess to the filmmaker and he suggested that I must start writing fiction,” she quips.

At that point of time, Barnali’s plan was writing books, and films were a far-fetched dream. She pursued a media diploma course in direction and production in Delhi and made short films. She then joined NDTV. “On February 14, 1997, I landed in Mumbai to join Amit Khanna’s Plus Channel,” she recalls. “I was a part of their Star Plus show, Kabhi Kabhi, written by Anurag and Abhinav Kashyap, which starred Shefali Shah. Soon, Anurag suggested that I join Ram Gopal Varma as an assistant director, for whom he was scripting Satya. I was hesitant about films, especially of these kind, but he said, ‘If you have taken the jump, take the plunge too!’ I had some hand in shaping the visual look of the film, which also starred Shefali.”

Her inspiration

Barnali credits Varma with being very open-minded and giving her one of the most important career suggestions — “Do not assist anyone in more than two films. Writing is a better profession. As an assistant director,  you might never get out of an assistant director’s mindset,” he once told her.  Later, Barnali was to script many serials. “It was all about learning the craft as well as earning money,” she says. “I did a show called Remix, worked with Ekta Kapoor on Kahani Ghar Ghar Kii and was associated with filmmakers like Sudhir Mishra and Shristhi Behl. I also did two short films for Channel [V]. Meanwhile, I worked on three story ideas and the first one was Kucch Luv Jaisa.”

How does she reconcile the multiple sensibilities of all these varied genres and associates with her own? “I think that the integration happens more by observation and watching everyone. Every film is like a baby that cries for attention for its specific needs,” she says. A visit to the Planman (film production division of the famous IIPM Business School) office for some work resulted in Barnali observing the poster of their film, The Last Lear, which had Shefali Shah in a key role.

“I suddenly realised that Shefali would be the perfect actress to essay my character of a bored housewife. Eventually, I met her and left my script with her. The same evening, she called to suggest a meeting with her husband, Vipulji (Shah). I wondered whether my rather real film would be up his alley. Never in my wildest dreams I thought that he would agree to produce such an atypical film.” Barnali adds, “After the meeting, Vipulji stated that he had to take his wife seriously as this was the first-ever script she had told him to read! And when I asked him if he was being polite in meeting me, he replied, ‘I don’t meet anyone unless I want to!’”

Realistic

Barnali grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan’s movies of the ‘70s, but feels that her movie is different from the kind of cinema she savoured as a kid. “It’s more real and I believe it will connect to audiences. Nowadays, we read about so many women, especially housewives, battling depression because their husbands hardly spend any time with them. My heroine is one such housewife and therefore, identifiable. She is the ideal ‘trophy wife’, the good hostess, quintessential mother and daughter-in-law. But when her husband, played by Sumeet Raghavan, forgets their anniversary, she decides to step out and enjoy the day and encounters Rahul Bose, a criminal on the run, who pretends to be a cop, and actually yearns for a normal and boring life!”

Asked what triggered the story idea, Barnali says that her husband (actor-producer-director) Saurabh Shukla had a large role to play. Explaining why she cast Rahul Bose, the debutant director says, “Shefali suggested his name as they had worked together in Park Avenue. Rahul took seven days to agree, but he did it because he found the role challenging for him. Having an actor who is excited about the script is always a bonus.”

Vipul, she reveals, has a very different sensibility of cinema. “His inputs were sensible,” says Barnali with a smile. She is also very happy with her music director Pritam’s work.

“We had worked together a decade ago on a serial called Little Mirchi Thoda Pepper,” she says. And what does her husband think about the film? “He has not watched it, yet!” she says. “In fact, I have to pinch myself to believe that my first film is about to release!”adds Barnali. 

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