New Delhi: After four films and eight years, Vikramaditya Motwane seems to have finally struck the balance between the director in him and the co-founder of movie production house, Phantom Films. His latest offering, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, starring Harshvardhan Kapoor, weaves a story around an ordinary young man taking on societal wrongs. The action drama hits screens this week. In an interview with Mint, Motwane talks about balancing creativity with economics, and the types of cinema that work best. Edited excerpts:
Udaan (Motwane’s first film) is considered one of the most influential Indian films ever made. Does that put pressure on you or impact the work you do? Did it have any influence on Bhavesh Joshi Superhero?
Not anymore. It used to be the case. When I was doing Lootera (his second directorial venture starring Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha), I felt a lot of pressure. But now, all the stress is gone, and I am just trying to experiment with stories. Even with Bhavesh, I have struggled so much.
Is there a need to find a balance when you are wearing multiple hats—that of the producer, director and writer?
Unfortunately, yes. From an economic perspective, I still think I am a bit of a novice, and I can be naïve about some of the commercial stuff, too. With other people, I can be a good producer. However, while thinking about the things that need to be done, I may have become a little more aware of the commercial aspects of things as well. But at least between Anurag (Kashyap, filmmaker and co-founder of Phantom) and me, we try to push the envelope within the limitations of what we know. So we know how much we can experiment within our boundaries—be it with Bhavesh Joshi or Trapped. I don’t think we have been irresponsible directors at any point, where we lost too much money. That sense of responsibility we have always had as filmmakers. After working in a production company over the last five years, you know there are certain commercial elements you cannot change. Some of that realisation has seeped into my way of working. I do not know if it is good or bad.
Bhavesh Joshi has been described as a common man’s journey to becoming a superhero. Is the realistic formula crucial to Bollywood filmmaking today?
What is happening with our movies now is that there is a split—there is high-concept stuff, and then there is big-screen cinema. That’s pretty much what we do these days. Anything in between, if its neither a great spectacle nor high-concept enough to drive you to the big screen, I don’t think it should be made or is being made. I think Bhavesh falls a little bit into both categories—it is not something you have seen before and also makes for an experience with all the action and other elements. But the slice-of-life, realistic space, is one I have always liked. I do tend to go that way.
Phantom is also doing a lot of work in the digital space, especially with video streaming platforms. In that context, what do you think will bring people to movie theatres?
A big-screen spectacle is something that you can’t see anywhere but in movie theatres, or something that is going to have a very strong word-of-mouth. Either you have to make something like a Baahubali, an Avengers or The Jungle Book, or you have to make something like Raazi, which is going to draw people in by word-of-mouth praise. The whole idea of solid word-of-mouth has become much more important than the past because feedback travels far and fast (because of social media). The film can collapse from one Friday to another if people do not like it. But it can also grow from Friday to Friday if they do like it.
Why did you zero in on Harshvardhan Kapoor for the role? Is it true you considered other names?
Imran Khan and Sidharth Malhotra were attached to the film, but it didn’t happen with either, for various reasons. I zeroed in on Harsh because my brief for the character was that he was a little lost and was trying to find his way—he picked that up very well. He has got this vibe where he can play a lost child who has not found direction in life and, then one day, he does. I think that’s what I was looking for.
Is there a conscious comic book vibe to the film?
There is a graphic novel feel to the film for sure. We have tried to do that with the posters and it is also very subtly done within the film. There is a definite intention. But if you were to compare, the vibe would be closer to Christopher Nolan’s Batman than an Avengers. Actually, it is not similar to anything. It’s more like a 1970s film with the angry young man fighting society.
What is next for you and for Phantom?
For me, and for Phantom, there is Sacred Games (the series he is directing for Netflix along with Anurag Kashyap). It is going to be out immediately. After that, for me, I really don’t know. I will probably just take a holiday and then figure out what to do. For Phantom, there are going to be a couple of Amazon Prime Video shows, Super 30 (the Hrithik Roshan-starrer on Bihar-based mathematician Anand Kumar to be directed by Vikas Bahl), and eventually Anurag’s Manmarziyaan (a romantic drama starring Abhishek Bachchan, Vicky Kaushal and Taapsee Pannu).
Do you think the clash with Veere Di Wedding will affect your film?
Honestly, I don’t think it will affect either film. I think we have a big enough infrastructure to accommodate two films that are very different from each other. And I think it will only result in healthy competition.