Novel adaptation

Novel adaptation

Reality bites

Novel adaptation

Rajiv vijayakar speaks to director Dibakar Banerjee, and actors Abhay Deol and Emraan Hashmi, on casting against the stereotype and working in unfamiliar territory in their upcoming film, ‘Shanghai’.

The tag line of the latest Dibakar Banerjee film goes: “A film about a dream called Shanghai and a truth called India.” Dibakar Banerjee, whose repertoire includes the dark comedy, Khosla Ka Ghosla, the dark caper Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and the dark saga of betrayal, Love Sex Aur Dhokha, now looks at the dark side of politics in his adaptation of the Greek author Vassilis Vassilikos’s thriller Z. However, the story has been tweaked to suit a small Indian town in 2012, where a heinous conspiracy has been revealed. The whistle-blowers are three unlikely associates — NRI girl Shalini Pearson Sahay (played by Kalki Koechlin), slimy scribe and part-time porn filmmaker Joginder Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) and Tamilian Brahmin bureaucrat T Ananthakrishnan (Abhay Deol). The film has music by Vishal-Shekhar, including an item song, which is essentially a satirical track on today’s India.

The intentional casting against the grain was Dibakar’s idea all along. “Acting out the role of a pedantic, boring, cold and a very religious Tam-Brahm who is just on the right side of 40, Abhay Deol would have been the last actor you would have visualised for this role. But I wanted to cast against the stereotype,” says Dibakar. Quips Abhay, “It was a tough challenge and I was scared. I first dressed that way and began to feel like the character. The brief was clear: I was older, mature and a bureaucrat. I had penetrating eyes. Everything about Mr Ananthakrishnan was alien to a Punjabi ‘Arya Samaji’ like me!”

But even before he put on the right adornments of make-up, hairstyling and dress, Abhay decided to work on the Tamil accent. “That was the key,” states today’s ‘thinking’ actor. “I wanted the accent right, and not project the Bollywood stereotypical avatar who says “taak” for talk. I also realised that Tamilians do not pronounce certain phonetic syllables and I had to incorporate all that,” smiles the actor.

Dibakar reveals a side of Abhay that confirms his dedicated approach. “For three months, Abhay insisted on being coached in the language and read books to improve,” says the director. “Every day, before his shoot, he would insist on sitting with me and the coach, in his vanity van, to get everything right. He refused to shoot otherwise. He became my director and almost a schoolmaster! I think this shows his discipline.”

Outside the comfort zone

This being a good point to talk about Abhay’s co-actor Emraan Hashmi, we ask Dibakar about the much-publicised friction between the two heroes.” Laughs Dibakar, “I do not think that secure actors like Abhay and Emraan ever bother about scenes, footage or the way a film is publicised. They are too immersed in their own characters and performances. But they also realise that a film requires teamwork.”

Jokes Emraan, “Oh no, he’s lying. We are still at each other’s throats. We cannot stand each other but we are putting up our act to market our film!” And Abhay and Emraan have a hearty laugh.

Emraan continues in a slightly serious vein. “Dibakar’s biggest strength is that he hurls an actor out of his comfort zone. He wanted me to look repulsive and get a paunch and so, he stuffed me with pasta,” he recalls. “I became so weird-looking that my wife wanted to leave me. But getting the physicality right is half the battle won. I had to look sleazy as well. I play a small-time journalist-cum-model coordinator, a euphemism for a porn filmmaker. “That sounds like a familiar zone,” I thought, “after the serial kisser that I am touted to be, it’s the next level. Now, let’s see where I go from here.”

He adds, “But I don’t get to kiss any girl. With my lips, I can only do one thing at a time — kiss a girl or chew paan. Here I am, doing the latter.”

When asked whether he has hiked his price to a rumoured 11 crore after his recent string of successes (One Upon A Time In Mumbaai, Dil To Baccha Hai Ji) and super-hits (Murder 2 and The Dirty Picture), Emraan replies, “My rate is something that will not pull down the film or be detrimental to my career. Neither will I over-price myself nor will I undervalue my worth,” he grins as he adds the obvious: “I cannot reveal the actual figure.”

Kalki Koechlin as a young, angry and passionate girl states, “All that came to me naturally,” but shudders at the memory of one sequence where she had to keep beating a man. “I had to hit him with what seemed like golf-swing strokes. I don’t know whether the poor man is alive today,” says the reticent actor, who prefers to smile and giggle as her heroes chat.

Dibakar calls the film as much an indictment of politicians and of the system as it is a thriller, whodunnit and a mystery. Agreeing in a matter-of-fact way that he had let T-Series have their way in incorporating an additional item song for “commercial reasons”, the maverick filmmaker stresses that all his films were commercial anyway. “I already have one song in which a political tamasha is happening even as violence is unleashed in another part of the town. I have used my music as per the film’s needs. We have used a lot of street music and what I call political music —there are a lot of drums that signify violence. In India, there is always the violence of dominance. A political procession will expect you to move aside to make way for them, but if it comes in our way, we have to wait in the car for an hour or so until they move away!”

Dibakar candidly says that he will never sit on the fence about showing reality. “My films will always reflect my opinion and judgement of anything,” he states, and admits that his co-writer Urmi Juvekar controlled the writer-director in him. “We are creatures of emotions. A lot of the credit also goes to her in planning out this film since 2008. Based on a Greek novel, it has taken on contemporary dimensions and is relevant to India, as it is today. We’ve made a lot of changes through the years.”

How did he manage to convince flop-Hindi-star-son-turned-Bengali superstar Prosenjit to do a key negative role in the film. “It was not easy and took me about 10 weeks,” smiles Dibakar. “Prosenjit (son of old-timer Biswajit) had two issues — the character and the fact that he was getting outside his comfort zone. But he liked my treatment of the role and took to practising Hindi so that things fell into place.” A PVR Pictures co-production with the filmmaker, Shanghai is Dibakar’s most expensive film. But, as he remarks, “A costly Dibakar Banerjee film does not need huge sums. Most of the budget went into transforming Latur and Baramati, both small towns in Maharashtra, to my requirements. And sometimes, the changes we made were so realistic that we had to remind ourselves that what we were looking at was an outdoor set, and not the town itself!”

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