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Interview with Vipul Shah

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Courtesy: IndiaFM

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Beginning his career with Gujarati plays, Vipul Shah moved on to television and gave birth some of the most famous soap operas on Indian television. He then made his debut in films with Aankhen in 2002 with an unconventional theme of robbery by three blind men. His next film Waqt also did pretty well. And now, he is stepping into his next venture, Namaste London, which is his most ambitious project till now.

Are you aware that there are other films coming out with the name London in its title like London Calling and London Dreams? And then there is Namaste London. So don't you think this might confuse the audiences?
Also people will see the visuals in the promos. And after watching that, I don't think there is any scope for confusion. As far as we are concerned, this is the most appropriate title we don't think that we'll change it.

Namaste London sounds like a crossover film.
Yes, Namaste London is basically story of cross culture. How the youngsters living in the western world live London, UK, USA, Canada, Australia or even Middle East perceive love compared to the younger generation living in places like Punjab, Delhi, Mumbai. So when youngsters from India meet those from London, what kind of spark will it generate? That is the basic of the concept of the film.

With a cross-cultural setting, will this film fall into the category of Karan Johar or Yash Chopra films?
Not really! No film maker can actually make film which is on lines of something done recently or probably what some filmmaker has just made. Everybody has to come up with their own individual, independent and original ideas. And that is what we intend to do. I don't think that there is any similarity between the kinds of films you have mentioned. I don't see any similarity between them. Every director has his own style so no maker can actually make a film which is made by other director. He has to be individual. I should have my own style my own narrative. If I don't have my own style and narrative, people are not going to accept my film.

Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif's pairing did not set the box-office rolling with Humko Deewana Kar Gaye? Do you think their pairing will work this time?
Not really. I don't think people go to see a film only because of pairs or whether their last film was a hit or flop. I really don't consider that as an issue. I did my casting based on the characters and they both fit in the characters Akshay is playing a boy from Punjab which suits Akshay's personality very well. The girl's character is of someone who is born and brought up in London. Katrina is born and brought up in London, so she was a very natural fit. So my casting is based on the fact that they fit the characters and not on the basis of whether their last film worked or not. Besides that film has done pretty well in the overseas and India as well. It's not a big hit but is definitely a surplus film.

What is it about Akshay Kumar that you have cast him in all your films so far?
I think he is a brilliant actor and he is a very big star. We share great comfort level. He is one of those actors who have achieved everything in his life without being a part of any "big camp" and yet he has emerged as a very reliable and successful superstar of today's times. I share a great working rapport with him and very comfortable working with him. So that is the reason for him being in all my films.

Upen got rave reviews for 36 China Town? What does he have to offer in Namaste London?
When I signed Upen I had not seen a single frame of 36 China Town. I just saw some of his pictures. Upen is born and brought in London and I was looking for a young guy who was supposed to play Pakistani boy who is born and brought in London. Hence, I felt Upen was a perfect choice for that character. After I signed him for my film, 36 China Town happened and I am pretty happy for him for such great reviews he got. I hope that my film does the same for him and his career becomes better and he reaches the next level.

There is Javed Sheikh in this film as well, a Pakistan actor in an Indian film based in London. What made you sign him?
He is a playing a Pakistani father. I needed somebody like him to play that part and I am very happy that he is doing it.

Pakistan has passed a resolution that Indian actors are allowed to work in Pakistan but Indian films will not be released. Do you think this is fair?
I think that it's a gradual process, sooner or later our films will release there. But just because today we are not allowed to release our films there, we can't stop this on going process of peace and harmony between two countries. This is our contribution and I am sure sooner or later they will realize and acknowledge that the Indian film industry has been very receptive towards not only actors and any Pakistani talent; be it singers, music directors, anybody. So I am sure, sooner or later it will have its own impact and we will get the clearance to release our films. I am sure that soon we will overcome all these hurdles.

You have brought together the unique combination of Himesh Reshammiya and Javed Akhtar for the first time. Was it your idea or Himesh's?
It always is the director's choice of whom he wants to work with. Himesh had been telling me that whenever you make a love story, give me the music and I really thought that he was an extremely passionate about it. So, I thought of casting Himesh when I thought making this film and he was the only choice in my mind. But at the same time I was also thinking that how can I take his music to a new level, what will be my contribution in it. So, I thought that if I can request Javed saab to write the lyrics of the film, I will have nice fusion of Himesh and Javedji's individuals styles. They both have the distinct and strong style and if they can be combined into the music album, I think it will work very well. And the way the things are shaping up, I think my idea will work.

Himesh's at an all time high. So how has the music of Namaste London turning out? Will he sing for this film as well?
See it's a love story. So obviously, there is a great scope for music. Unlike my last two films Aankhen and Waqt, where I was restricted in terms the film's situations because the subject didn't allow music to come naturally. This provides me with a great opportunity because it's a love story and it has lot of situations for good music. Himesh and Javedji's combination has done some terrific work for the film. All in all, I am really expecting this music to do exceptionally well.

Last time you had cast your wife opposite Amitabh Bachchan. Will she been seen in the film this time too?
No not really. There is no part that I can really offer to my wife Shefali. It's unfortunate, it's my loss but I can't help it.

People usually cast international actors in their film to add the star value of the film. But you have an international cinematographer in the film. Why did you want a foreign cinematographer?
Peter Field is the DOP of Troy and Da Vinci Code. He is one of the key technicians I have in this film. But apart from him, my film's costume designer is Alison whose last major film was Tomorrow Never Dies. The makeup artist of my film, Kateling, is the head make up artist at the BBC. My casting director is Claire Saunders whose last film was Woody Allen's Match Point. So my entire crew is from Hollywood and they are not just amateurs in Hollywood, they are highly qualified professionals in Hollywood. So the idea is to make a better film which can compete on International level, compete with anything we are doing in India. Today's generation, today's audience is very knowledgeable, very sharp. It's very difficult to please them and if you want them to like your film, you have to give them something really good. And that's the plan and I hope all this technicians will help me to create in a cinema which is for today's audiences. It equals international standards hopefully they will like it.

Why London as location?
London is a very beautiful city. The fact that so many Indians are part of that city and it is like their home now makes it their home now. Besides London is an integral part of the story, so we are shooting there.

From the 3 films you have done where do you rate Namaste London?
Obviously, every director wants to go ahead with every film that he does. I started with Aankhen which had a very exceptional story of three blind guys robbing a bank. Then I did Waqt, a family film, where father-son issues were dealt very uniquely. This is a love story and I will try my best to create something which is new and unique and interesting for the audiences to see. Obviously, every director with every film and all the experiences that he has wants to go to next level. Namaste London is a very ambitious project as far as I am concerned because I am doing a love story for the first time. It's going to be shot extensively in London, Punjab, Himalayas and Rajasthan deserts and other places. We got a great technical crew with us; we got Himesh Reshammiya and Javedji's music. So, there are lot of great aspects to this film and I hope that they all combine well, gel well together and we create a good film.

Once you had said that you will not make a film without Amitabh Bachchan. So what went wrong this time?
That's a very unfortunate. I was actually working on a script before Namaste London which I had narrated to Mr. Bachchan and that was an action film which had lots of stunts that he would have had to perform. But then he was severely ill back then, so and I thought that it was not appropriate to put him through that kind of stress, though he has never told me "no" I felt that I should not do it. Then I started looking for another script and Namaste London happened. Unfortunately there was no role in this film which I could offer to Amitji. I won't go to Amitji with anything less than the main role. But very soon I will be starting something new with him and we are already talking about it. Yes it is a sad thing that I am not having Mr. Bachchan in this film but Amitji and I may be working together very soon.

Talking about your earlier films, Aankhen was an interesting concept. But weren't you apprehensive while making the film that had a concept of 'blind man robbing the bank'. Was there a doubt, whether the audiences will accept it or not?
Absolutely not! Because 5 years back when I started making films I was very clear that nothing will work which is not unique and not different and also that times are going through change. I think that was the phase when Indian film industry really started experiencing the change. To name a few films Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Chandani Bar were some films during that era which were quite a novelty. And then Aankhen, I thought, was one of the great plots that came in Indian Cinema. So, it was a phase when we all felt that Indian cinema was changing. Obviously, the process is slow; now it is gaining some momentum. These are few films which are the pioneers in this new phase of Indian Cinema. I am always going to be proud of the fact that Aankhen was one of those films which was in many sense an institution in bringing about the change. Because all these films were successful it gave confidence to everybody that if you make a different film, chances of it doing well is much higher, unlike earlier times. When I was making Aankhen everybody was discouraging me and saying not to make this film, it won't work. However, I was very confident that this film is going to work and it did happen that way. So, Aankhen was very important film for me.

There was buzz some time back that a Hollywood remake of Aankhen was under the making. Usually Bollywood apes Hollywood but here it's the opposite. How does it feel?
A company has purchased the rights to remake Aankhen in English and they were talking with Robert De Niro to star in the film, that's what I was told by my producer. The producer of Aankhen is looking into that matter. Besides he is busy with his work and I am busy with mine therefore we are not in touch so I am not aware of what's happening with that. I always believe that if it has to happen, it will happen and there is no point to keep chasing it. So I have left it to the producers to decide when it is going to happen and how is going to happen.

From Aankhen to you second film Waqt, there was quite a change in the genre of your film. Why did you think of making a family drama after a thriller?
It's not sudden transition. I have always believed that as a filmmaker I have to keep doing new subjects and try new things. If I keep making only thrillers or only family films, it's not going to help. When I did Waqt and it turned to a huge success, lot of people told me that I should cook up another film immediately with Akshay and Amitji with similar theme and I could have done that. But then there would have been no joy for me as a director because I somewhere wouldn't have been happy. It wouldn't be a film from my heart; it would be more like a commercial proposition. I think Amitji and Akshay both wouldn't have liked that. They probably would have done the film but they wouldn't have done it feeling very happy about it or I wouldn't have directed it feeling very happy about it. So that's why I don't like to repeat myself, there is so much more to do. The audience is ready to accept every new thing that is dished out to them. They are so open to new ideas which give so much liberty to a film maker. And when you have a platform, why make films on similar subjects? You could always explore new things.

You started with television and have directed serials like Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka. Tell us a little about your early days.
I in fact started with theatre. I did theatre at Prithvi where we never get use to get paid much. If the day turned out good, we use to get paid Rs.35 per show. That's how I started. For almost around 3 years I did that theatre. I would say that was my training ground and my learning experience. Then I did some commercial theatre in Gujarati. I then did some Gujarati serials for Ahmedabad Doordarshan. They were made in Rs. 18,000 per episode. That used to be the budget of the entire episode. So right from the writing to direction to production to editing, everything had to be wrapped up in a span of one and a half day and then we used to courier the tape to Ahmedabad Doordarshan ourselves. There was no infrastructure so we couldn't hire anybody. Then I did 'Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka' which actually became the first serial in Indian television history to complete 1000 episodes. Also it changed the way television was done in India. We never had daily soaps on prime time back then and when I went to Sony saying lets experiment with this particular show, they were also reluctant about it. I however said let's try since its not going to cost you much. If it works, great; if it doesn't, we will pull it out. And I am very happy that Sony accepted the proposal and they put it on air and it went on to make history. Simultaneously with Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka I did another show called 'Alpaviram' for Sony which according to the channel and also a lot of people is one of the best shows made in the Indian Television. So there was a sense of great satisfaction. Then I did another show for Zee TV called 'Babul Ko Duwayien Leti Jaa' and now I am doing a show for Sony called 'Thodi Khushi Thode Ghum' which comes on TV from Monday to Thursday. I have received some fantastic response for that show. It's already at No.1 position on Sony. So that is going quite well.

What have you planned post NL?
There are millions of plans actually. Lots of them! But right now everything is on hold. I am waiting for Namaste London to get complete and released. I will see the response of the film and then I will think what should I do next.

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