He has built a brand over just three directorials — Vicky Donor (2012), Madras Café (2013) and Piku (2015), the second of which was not a commercial success but a critical one.
Shoojit Sircar’s films have stood out for their innovative content, out-of-the-box stories and scripts, converting A-list stars into real characters, be it John Abraham in Madras Café or Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone in Piku.
He has now tackled a complex social issue with Pink, which he has co-produced and co-written. He would rather I wait to know the details and the meaning of the title — after watching the film.
I explore Shoojit’s world with a relaxed meeting one evening, discussing his moves and his movies after his debut film, Yahaan (2005), which was on Kashmir militancy and sank at the box-office. What kept Shoojit going since?
“If the box-office had mattered, I would have followed that film with some mindless movies,” he replies with a smile. “I still think that my debut film was a strong and bold one, but probably ahead of its times. You see, I like to tell stories. But films are not my bread and butter, because for that I have my ad films and the other things that I do. My team keeps my ad films division going, and I direct some only when my client wants me to.”
Nevertheless, there was a seven-year hiatus between Yahaan and his next film (and first hit) Vicky Donor. Was it a phase of self-doubt? “Not at all!” Shoojit replies. “I had made a film that I still hope will see the light of day — Shoebite, actually my first film with Bachchan-saab. It is complete but the producers had some issues.”
Ad filmmakers have rare successes to their names in feature films, and Shoojit is probably the only one to have maintained a good grasp on both. What is the big secret? “There is nothing, really. The key difference is to detach from cinema while making an ad film and vice-versa,” he replies. “With an ad film, you are selling a product and are at the mercy of your client and selling your soul as well. But in films, it is your soul that speaks.”
Does working with big stars like John, Deepika and Amitabh give him the freedom to be bolder with his content? “That’s not how it works,” he says vehemently. “A film is a vision. As a director, I know my film better than anyone else. The script comes first and then the casting. Vicky Donor was produced by John, but he did not star in the film.”
He goes on, “I will always do out-of-the-box films, but there are people who put money on my movies. This is because they trust me more than the films I make. When the audience goes to watch a Shoojit Sircar film, they know what to expect. And I have to give them all an engaging film. Every movie is a test, because no one will put in money if I don’t deliver a good story. It is also a moral responsibility for me.”
Why had he brought in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury to direct Pink? “Aniruddha was the one who came to me with the subject. His one-line narration of something that happened in his neighbourhood was something my partner Ronnie Lahiri in our production company Rising Sun Films and I liked. It was an original subject and Aniruddha, who has directed one of our Bengali productions, wanted to do a film in Hindi — he has directed many Bengali films and has won the National Award twice.”
Won’t people assume that he has ghost-directed the film because Aniruddha is not widely known? “When we developed the story, I worked on the script,” says Shoojit. “It was a complex subject that needed research and access to files in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata high courts before we crystallised the script. You could say that it was a fruitful collaboration where I brought in my experience in Hindi cinema. You can call me as assistant or associate in direction, someone who had his indulgences in the film, but friendly ones in the interest of the film.”
Why has Shoojit never directed a Bengali film after producing two of them? “I am a Bengali but have never lived in Kolkata, so I lack the knowledge of the small nuances in language and culture that are needed to make a Bengali film,” he explains. “I have been and brought up in Delhi and am familiar with everything about the culture and social aspects, which you have seen in Vicky Donor and Piku. But yes, no one thought that Deepika was anything but a Bong.”
In the last 11 years, which would he call his favourite film? Shoojit waves his arm rapidly and says instantly, “No, no, no! Please do not ask me that! It would be an injustice to all my films and the technicians who worked so hard to choose one. Yes, Yahaan was my first baby, so it will always be special.”