Milind Dhaimade on Tu Hai Mera Sunday: ‘The middle class is a breeding ground for great stories’
Like some of the characters of his debut feature film Tu Hai Mera Sunday, which released on 6 October, Milind Dhaimade has always lived in Mumbai. He grew up in the less affluent parts of south Mumbai and since he got married, he has been living in a middle class neighbourhood in the suburbs. Perhaps that explains his keen eye for new settings within Mumbai, a city which has, over the years, been documented in every way possible. If we have seen Juhu beach many times in Hindi films, Dhaimade focuses on the spot where a group of boys play football. Tu Hai Mera Sunday is about that group of people—a motley crew which includes a North Indian, a Parsi, a Muslim, a Catholic and a Gujarati—and their struggle to find a place to play every Sunday. In an interview, Dhaimade, who has worked for years in advertising, spoke about the idea behind the film, the rewards of casting TV star Barun Sobti, and how the film, currently in theatres, is fighting for, well, space.
How did you come up with the idea of the film?
I know a guy called Vinay Kanchan from when I was working as the National Creative Director in Everest Brand Solutions. He started a group called Juhu Beach United to play football every Sunday. He is like a football evangelist. He was passionate about the idea of getting people for a game. Sometimes I would also join them.
I remember thinking how disparate the group was: there was somebody from advertising, somebody from the corporate world; there was a guy who used to stick posters at night and a narial paaniwala. Everybody played seriously.
After the game they would sit down with chai, biscuit and talk about life. When I first thought of quitting my job in advertising, wondering what is it that would make me happy, I thought of Vinay and those guys. Then I thought: what would happen if they don’t get to play football on Sunday? What if someone in Juhu Beach tells them they can’t play there anymore?
The cooperative housing societies of Mumbai are an important part of the film’s setting.
I think no one has covered this part of Mumbai. We only see local trains, Mohammad Ali road, congested places or couples making out on Marine Drive. But there is palpable life beneath all this. My film is about people who find spots of happiness in this tight space.
Housing societies are getting tighter; there is more space for cars than there is for people. You don’t find kids playing in buildings anymore. I am the secretary of my society and we are pretty nice. But I have seen and heard of phenomenal society battles. They go to fisticuffs; people tear each other’s clothes.
There is a scene in the film where someone buys a road-roller and parks it just to claim his space. It’s a classic Mumbai thing because this city fights for space more than any other. And when you don’t get the space you try to vent out in other ways. I believe a large part of this angst that’s growing in the country comes from these small problems. A line in the film goes: “Everybody in this city is two minutes away from explosion”.
I think there was a middle class voice in stories set in Mumbai. Vijay Tendulkar wrote about it. Basu Bhattacharya and Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Sai Paranjpye made films about it. I think we don’t have that anymore. The middle class is a breeding ground for great stories.
A motley crew of characters with different religious and social backgrounds is almost a Bombay film cliché. Why did you feel it made sense for your film?
Lot of intellectuals laugh at it. They say, “Yeh kya hai, Amar Akbar Anthony se ek Hindu, ek Muslim, ek Christian daal diya”. But when you are from Mumbai you have to acknowledge this diversity. I would be dishonest to say that it doesn’t exist. I grew up in the middle class section of Walkeshwar. I went to St Xavier’s High school with an eclectic bunch of people. It’s important that minorities get a positive representation in films. A catholic isn’t always drunk; a bawa can’t always be eccentric.
How did you go about the casting?
We were clear that if we don’t get the right actors we won’t go ahead with the film. I realized that if I go to studios, they might push for stars. Not only would that be unmanageable, stars won’t be able to play everyday people.
I wanted Shahana Goswami for the film. She lives in Paris now; she’d done certain kinds of roles which aren’t like the character she plays in my film. I sent her the script and she loved it.
I didn’t know Barun Sobti was a TV star when I thought of him for Arjun. I found his pictures when I randomly searched for “Indian actor” on Google. I saw an interview and what I found interesting was that for a TV star he looked like a shy, reticent guy. I asked him one question: what is the one thing in life he wants? He said he doesn’t want to work for money. That was exactly like the character he plays.
His fans later went ballistic on Twitter. When the film played at 2016 London Film Festival (LFF), we had his fans from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey who came just to see him. We still have people from there who write to us.
The film played at the Mumbai Film Festival last year. How is it doing at the box office?
We never thought of it as a “festival film” because it’s such a happy, urban film. But the Mumbai Film Festival helped as the BFI (British Film Institute) picked it up from there (for the LFF). What really helped was Film Bazaar. It got picked up there from the Work In Progress lab? and made us realize that it has some international potential. The film released in US, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea as well.
The audience awareness in India has been wonderful. Lots of people want to see it but aren’t able to because of bad slots. The theatres are giving us a hard time; there aren’t enough screens. We are trying to convince them that this film can do well commercially. We had a good Sunday—we got an average of 70%. We are fighting for it.