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'My first love story had to be a musical': Neeraj Pandey 

In his first love story, 'Auron Mein Kahan Dum Tha?', Ajay Devgn and Tabu play lovers whose passion remains undiluted even after life separates them for 23 long years.
Last Updated : 29 June 2024, 00:17 IST

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In 16 years, Neeraj Pandey has done it all — almost! Making a smash debut with A Wednesday!, he has since done assorted genres like Special 26, Baby, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story and the magnificent patriotic web franchise, Special Ops. As producer, writer or both, he has had many more triumphs: action-thriller Naam Shabana, the short film Ouch and the Secrets series that explores history and also regional movies, including the award-winning Marathi film, Taryanche Bait.

He now steps into untried terrain with his first love story, Auron Mein Kahan Dum Tha? (Who else had the courage?), which as a romance is also totally fresh in concept. Ajay Devgn and Tabu play lovers whose passion remains undiluted even after life separates them for 23 long years. We start our conversation with the intriguing title.

“Well, the feedback is that it’s one of the rare long titles that sticks well to the story,” he says with a smile. ”I decided it after the script was ready. You will have to watch the film to find out why I have chosen it.”

Why did he not show Ajay and Tabu as the younger pair too, as is the norm, since make-up, prosthetics and VFX are all so advanced today? Shantanu Maheshwari and Saiee Manjrekar play the younger pair. “I did face a lot of resistance there,” he smiles again. “But to me, de-ageing just did not make sense here. This is not about a flashback, and until it is believable, you won’t buy it.” 

And how did he think of Ajay and Tabu? “I racked my head there as well,” he says, “I knew they would be perfect for these roles, but I remember being nagged by the thought that Ajay and Tabu have done so many films together. These included movies in which they were not romantically teamed.”

Did they exceed expectations? Neeraj grins and says, “I know that’s the fashionable thing to say, but honestly, you expect so much from them as seasoned performers, something new too, they did justice to all that I expected from them.”

What sparked the concept, and why a love story? “Well, I have not made a love story before, though some people close to me insist that the Dhoni biopic, though real, was more of a love story than a cricket film, and one must respect all feedback,” Neeraj laughs. “Well, you talk to someone, or an incident happens, and your mind starts going into a direction, and you spin a yarn, and develop even a backstory. It must have started like that, I think! And when a story fires you up, you start working on it. This time, I knew it had to be a musical, and the music had to stand out and support the narrative.”

For a musical, are not three songs too less? “Not really. ‘Ae dil zaraa’ is there in three parts, along with ‘Tu’ and ‘Kisi roz’,” the filmmaker replies. “Each song comes in not as a break but as a part of the story.”

Oscar-winner M M Keeravani is his composer again after ‘Special 26’ and ‘Baby’. He composed the mukhda of the semi-classical ‘Kisi roz’ in five minutes flat in raag yaman. Neeraj thinks this film will show a new side of Keeravani to Hindi cinema.

How does he decide on his next film or series? Do trends influence him? “Not at all!” he exclaims vehemently. “From concept to release, every project takes a minimum one-and-a-half to two years. How can we predict trends that far? The story has to fire you, bas!”

Every filmmaker has personal favourites and we ask him which is his most satisfactory work to date. “It is yet to come!” he says. “Maybe if you ask me this question 10 years later, I will have an answer.”

The second season of Neeraj’s ‘Special Ops’ will release in September. 

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Published 29 June 2024, 00:17 IST

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