Actors Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval were one of the best-loved screen pairs in the 1980s. They are back together for Avinash Kumar Singh’s debut feature Listen…Amaya. The 1 February release features Naval as a single mother whose daughter Amaya, played by Swara Bhaskar, befriends Sheikh’s character. Severe complications arise when Amaya sees her mother and her friend making eyes at each other (southern actor Amala also appears in a key role). The 108-minute Hindi indie, written by Singh and his wife, Geeta, has been self-financed and produced by their advertising commercial production company. Edited excerpts from an interview with Singh:
What is the logic behind the title?
The “listen” is to make you stop for a second, and that’s the whole point of the film. There is something you need to hear and allow yourself the time to hear what is being said. But at no point in the film do we preach. We leave the thing out there for people to make their own judgement.
How do you feel now that your film is finally going to hit the cinemas?
It’s a combination of abject terror and being numb. We are fighting against other releases on the same day. As a small indie film, you are battling so many fights at the same time that it doesn’t matter whether you are up or down. We completed the film in August last year, and it’s out within six months. That’s because we are releasing the film with our own money. Had we not done that, we would have been roaming around and begging people to release the film, and it would have taken us three years.
What made you cast Swara Bhaskar?
We first saw Swara in Tanu Weds Manu. I was later sitting at a café in Bombay. There comes this hurried ball of bags and hair and noise who stops by our table, chatters with the person I am with and runs off. I got her number and called her 45 seconds later and said I wanted to speak to her about a film. We met the next day. She read the script, I told her that Farooq and Deepti were in the film, and she agreed.
The casting of Deepti Naval and Farooq Sheikh after so many years must have invited a lot of comment.
My reply to questions is that I have no idea why they were not cast together before. They have their own answers in terms of the quality of scripts that were given to them.
They are spectacularly talented actors. Swara Bhaskar is another revelation, she has taken her character to another space and level. That’s another advantage of being indie—we didn’t have anybody calling the shots for us. Besides, every character demands its own actor.
Do you pay tribute to the Naval-Sheikh pair?
That’s for viewers to find out—there is a little gift in the film.
So is Amaya the kind of child that the screen pair of Naval and Sheikh would have had?
They may not have had this kind of a nasty child. Swara kept saying that we made her the villain of the film. The weird thing is that Swara ends up looking like Deepti’s daughter in the film. We cast really well.
The movie is set in Delhi, in Sunder Nagar. My wife and I spent several years in Delhi. We moved to Mumbai two years ago to give film-making our best shot. The funny thing is that even Chashme Buddoor (the 1981 comedy starring Sheikh and Naval) was shot in Sunder Nagar. It was a bizarre coincidence.
The film is set in the present, but Amaya sounds like an old-fashioned conservative.
You can be as modern and forward-thinking as you want to be, but what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? One of the scenes has Amaya slap her immediate boss when he makes a pass at her. She has no problem with her friend getting married to a man 20 years older than her. But we explore what happens when the stuff happens to her.
The story is like an onion—every time you peel it, various other things start to emerge. That’s the strength of the script. When you walk out of the theatre, you say it’s a nice film. Then when you wake up the next day, you say, dammit, there was that other thing as well. It’s a credit to the script and the performances.
How challenging was the film to make?
The movie is a hard-core indie in every sense of the word. We put in our personal funds, with help from friends and family. We were asked why we didn’t do something more commercial. A film that makes Rs.1 over and above what is spent is commercial.
This is actually our second script. We had another script called Raag Malhar, again a relationship-based story. We had signed on Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranvir Shorey, Sandhya Mridul, Om Puri, Shahana Goswami and other actors. We went looking for money for two and a half years, but it didn’t arrive. The industry refused to entertain us. While waiting for that to happen, we wrote Listen…Amaya. It was born out of a desire to not go through that again.
The film cost Rs.4.5 crore. There’s a saying that you need to jump off a bridge and build your wings on the way down. Even if we crash and burn, 10 years down the line we will know that we gave it our all.
Listen…Amaya releases in theatres on 1 February.