My films are made on tight budgets, in very little time: Shoojit Sircar
New Delhi: In an industry which finds it increasingly tough to draw audiences to theatres, the critical and commercial success of director Shoojit Sircar’s films is unusual. His last few outings, Piku (2015), Madras Café (2013), Vicky Donor (2012) and Pink (2016), the last of which he wrote as well as produced, have not just set cash registers ringing but also struck a chord with audiences and critics alike for their unique storytelling. Which explains why expectations from his romantic drama, October, featuring current box office magnet Varun Dhawan are sky high.
Ahead of the film’s release later this week, Sircar speaks to Mint about the exhaustive writing that goes into his films, strategizing budgets and how people will continue flocking to cinemas. Edited excerpts:
The trailer of October doesn’t give away much about the film. You’ve described it as an unusual love story. How did it come together for you?
It’s not just about the trailer. In the past two years since Juhi (Chaturvedi, who has penned the story, screenplay and dialogues) and I started writing this film after Piku, whenever I was asked what I was doing next, my response was that this was an unusual love story. All my stories are mainly slice-of-life and rooted to real issues and situations that I have experienced myself. This one also has glimpses of my personal life which I shall share when you see the film.
When we were doing Piku, I had shared with Juhi that I wanted to do a love story but not the regular kind where everything looks very rosy. I wanted to explore a slightly deeper side but with the kind of sarcasm that Juhi has in her writing, the way Piku or Vicky Donor probably were, along with moments and reflections of society and real life. This is a story that revolves around those thoughts.
Does a lot of that come from Juhi? What is the kind of relationship that the two of you share?
Yes. Actually the writer is the most important part of the filmmaking process. That’s why I never hesitate in giving credit to a writer which I don’t think even Hollywood does. Juhi is undoubtedly one of the finest writers we have. She has great understanding of society, language and the human nature. Our partnership is based on the integrity of the film we want to make. The basic relationship has to do with the story, we have no commercial interests on whether the film has to work or not. It’s just that the story has to be told in as real a manner as possible. We pick things up from whatever we see around ourselves, there are lots of personal experiences in Piku, Vicky Donor and now October. There is a lot of fluidity in her writing, and a drama that is very poetic. That kind of writing has, I would say, turned this film into poetry.
Do you like to see popular faces in radically different avatars? What Deepika Padukone did in Piku or what Varun Dhawan is doing in October seems very different from what they are known for or have done before.
No, it’s not like that. I hadn’t seen Varun’s other films and we are poles apart in terms of the kind of work we do. We were looking for a debutant (for the lead role in October) and auditioning people to find the right face. Varun and I had wanted to connect for a while and a chance meeting happened at my office in 2016, one that had been pending for a year. I was leaving after auditions and he asked if he could come by though he wasn’t dressed properly. He hopped in anyway and I clicked a picture. There was something I saw in his eyes, and that’s the test for a character, whether it’s there in his eyes and behaviour and whether he can bring it all together. For the girl also (debutante Banita Sandhu), I was looking for a fresh face. Then around July, we were casting for a commercial and I came across her, sent the picture to my producers and to Juhi. That was it, I didn’t have to look for anyone else.
Reportedly October has been shot in 38 days. Even your other films seem very tightly budgeted and planned. Do you think there is a need to strategize these things in the industry?
I can’t speak for other people but the budget of my films is super tight to an extent that people can’t even imagine. I’ve always somehow believed my films would have a limited audience, though with Pink, Vicky Donor and some others, I was fortunate they got the recognition they did. With this film, as with the rest, the idea is that the budget should be so tight that my job is done with two or three days of box office collections and I can say thank you and leave. The rest is for the producers and the film to make. I spend most of the time on writing, the films are made on very tight budgets and in very little time. I think it’s easy for me because of my ad-film experience.
The Indian film industry is in a phase of transition, theatricals are falling, OTT platforms are emerging. What way do you see to keep bringing people to theatres?
I think it’s all about the pure magic of cinema. You want to go and have some emotions stirred and evoked within you. Nothing else will matter. The really big films that had assured returns have also turned out bad in the last two to three years. So it’s all about making sure audiences have a good time out there, some people just want to laugh and enjoy while others really want to watch good, serious cinema. That we have various kinds of audiences now is very good and it has been so for a while. And then the digital medium is also there, with Netflix and Amazon coming in, your film has a longer shelf life. So it’s definitely an added stream of revenue.