After writing Loins Of Punjab Presents, you are back with yet another comedy, The President Is Coming. What is the film all about?
The film is about six young Indians who compete with each other to shake hands with George W Bush during his visit to India. The film is based on a play with the same name which I had written couple of years ago.
How did this idea come about?
When George W. Bush visited India in 2006, among the many things he wanted to do was to meet the faces that represent the Gen-Next of India. He actually went to Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, and met a few young Indians. We just used that as a take-off point for our film. To bring in the humor element, we thought what would have happened if there was a reality contest to select one Indian worthy enough to shake hands with George W. Bush. That's how the idea for the play and thus the film came about.
So when did the play release?
I wrote the play in 2006 and it premiered in Mumbai in Jan 2007. The response was pretty good and we did quite a few shows around the country. Now it will be interesting to see what the play audiences think of the movie and am also sure that the movie will get an audience of those who have not watched the play.
Who all feature in the cast and a little bit on their roles?
The film stars Konkona Sen and Shernaz Patel besides a host of other talented actors. Konkona plays a Bengali novelist short listed for the Booker prize who wants to shake hands with George W. Bush. Besides her character, you have various other characters that represent the new-age India. So you have a stockbroker, you have a call centre employee played by Anand Tiwari, you have an accent trainer played by Vivek. There is a posh South Mumbai woman played by Ira Dubey who is making her debut with this film. Namit Das plays a software engineer while Sachin Puranik plays an NGO son-of- the -soil sort of a character who wants to shake hands with Bush because he too is a farmer like Bush. And oh yes...I must add that a very important role is played by George Bush's right hand as that's the hand everyone in the film wants to shake.
So...who is playing the role of George Bush?
(Laughs) That's a bit of a secret. Various body parts of George Bush show up in the film like his shoulder, his right hand and his belt buckle. We've got a couple of interesting Bush impersonators in the film too. As for whether George Bush actually is seen in the film, for that you will have to wait and watch the film.
Is the film in English or Hindi?
It's in English.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background...how did you get into the world of showbiz?
I used to live in US for a while. I started writing for T.V. shows such as Law and Order, Frasier etc. I was then asked by my good friend Manish Acharya if I had an idea to share for his first film. We sat down together and worked on an idea which is how Loins Of Punjab Presents came into being. The film released in 2007 and did fairly well. I'd been writing plays for a while and was asked by Rahul D'Cunha to write The President Is Coming for his theatre festival. Rohan Sippy saw the play and found it funny. He asked me and Kunal Roy Kapoor (the director of the play and the film) if we would be interested in adapting it into a film and we said why not? The rest as they say is history.
Is it some coincidence that both your films Loins Of Punjab Presents and The President Is Coming have a reality show backdrop to it?
(Laughs) I was asked this very question by some people when we showcased the film at a film festival in New York. They were like, "What's with you and contest based movies" Maybe I should think about a love story of a midget as the subject for my next film. That would take it very far away from any such connection (laughs)
Rohan Sippy is producing this film. How has it been working with him?
Wonderful...I did not know Rohan before the film but have got to know him really well during the making of the film. The reason Rohan, Kunal and myself get along so well is because we share a similar sense of humor. Rohan's knowledge about the United States far exceeds mine. He is the complete opposite of your typical Bollywood producer. His effort was never to make this story less intelligent but to make it more intelligent. It's been a big learning experience for me working with Rohan and yes it feels nice to have one of the most prestigious Bollywood production houses' (RSE) name associated with your project. It proves that Bollywood is open to these kinds of new stories and that there is an audience who wishes to see different, intelligent and entertaining cinema
The film is directed by Kunal Roy Kapoor who also directed the play. How has it been working with him?
This is our first motion picture. Kunal and I fight all the time over small things; it happened when we were doing the play and even while making the film. We've become great friends over the years. Kunaal's greatest asset is that he is probably is one of the best comic actors. He has a great understanding of comedy. In fact he was seen in a small role in Loins Of Punjab Presents and is also doing Aamir Khan Productions' Delhi Belly. I am sure he will go on to be a very successful comic actor. In the film, he has managed to bring in comedy just the way he would do it which I think is fabulous
The Presidential elections just got over in US. Wouldn't it have been an apt time to release the film around the elections?
Yeah, we were just discussing that. If John McCain had won, I think the whole world would have been too depressed to watch a film about George W. Bush. But now with Obama, there is a lot more hope. Also, so much of US politics is in the news out here and in all the craze of Obama, our meager effort is to show that you shouldn't forget Bush's right hand that has shaken hands with so many top dignitaries and is now looking forward to shake hands with a young Indian (smiles).
The film has been making the rounds of the festival circuits. Where all have you been and when is it releasing in India?
The film is releasing on Nov 28. The promos should go on air anytime now. We've showcased the film at film festivals in San Francisco, New York etc. We've done a couple of more screenings in India and it was interesting to find that audiences in US laughed at exactly the same places as audiences in Mumbai (India). This whole notion that audiences abroad are cleverer and more intelligent than the Indian audience is not true. I think we constantly underestimate our audiences. I am of the belief that our audiences are ten times more intelligent than we think they are.
Indian cinema is going through a phase where a lot of new, young talented filmmakers are coming up with innovative stories to tell. How clued in are you to Bollywood? Any recent films that have managed to catch your fancy?
Bollywood is all over the place so one always keeps hearing of what's happening in the world of Bollywood. Among recent films, I really enjoyed Rock On. I would have loved to have taken a crack at that script (laughs). I like the work that Excel Entertainment does. I loved working with RSE too on The President is Coming. Manish Acharya and I are old friends so I am sure we'll do something again. I am most excited about this whole new generation of producers because I know they won't throw me out of their office even if I go to them with some unconventional story ideas.
Finally what's in store after The President Is Coming?
My next story is set within the world of Bollywood scriptwriting and talks about how stories go on to become films and so on. It's about a guy who makes a living in Bollywood by copying English films. I am still working on the script and hope to direct it myself.