You had written the script of Udaan seven years back, why did the film take so many years to see the light of the day?
I wrote the first draft of my film Udaan way back in 2003 and since then was nurturing it. The reason I could not go ahead and make it earlier is that it is an off- beat track and till the advent of the multiplexes in 2006, it was very difficult for a film like Udaan to get an outlet for its release. I had to face several issues like the film had no stars in it and where and how will be able to show my film. I have always maintained that the story of any film is the king. Nowadays economics-wise, it is easier to screen such films because the perception of the audiences over the years has changed. I have faith in my film and it should not be difficult to recover its cost of Rs 3.5 crores. I and cinematographer Mahendra Shetty followed the story in Udaan by using the realistic technique.
How did you come in contact with Anurag Kashyap in the first place?
Anurag Kashyap, whom I met for the first time on the sets of Deepa Mehta"s Water in Benaras, is my friend since 1999. At that point of time he could not come forward to produce my film because he was himself in a mess as a director since his films like Black Friday, Paanch etc were rotting in the cans for want of a buyer. Earlier, I had written Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal as well as Dev D with Anurag Kashyap. I was the cinematographer for short films like Shanu Taxi and Midnight Lost & Found. I was also the sound designer for Anurag Kashyap"s Paanch.
How would you describe your film Udaan?
Udaan is a simple straight forward film which deals with the journey of a seventeen year old boy. It is about a boy who wants to break free from his clutches. It was quite tough to zero in on an actor who could play the role of the protagonist in Udaan. Jogi was the casting director. Though the personality of the boy was nice, his screen test went awfully wrong and I sent him to Vikas Kumar for training, especially since he was very raw. What I liked about Vikas is that he taught him not just acting but also how to react on his own to his co-actors. After the training with Vikas Kumar, Rajat learnt to react spontaneously on the seventh day of rehearsals itself before we went on the floors and my battle was won.
How tough was it to shoot Udaan without any big star and a minimal budget at your disposal?
I shot Udaan in a span of 42 days on Super 16 in sync sound. On the sets, I had to deal with actors who were of different ages. I directed a six year old as well as 84 year old actor. I wanted to show the life of a seventeen year old boy. How could I have possibly cast a star in that role? Most of the filmmakers today just cannot make a film with newcomers, because they are used to making films with a budget of Rs.50 crores and feel that it is not economically viable to make films with newcomers in that case. Some people even suggested that I cast Darsheel Safary since he had become a big child star after working in Aamir Khan"s Taare Zameen Par but I put my foot down. I feel that not having a star is the plus point of the film. I had Ajay Devgn in my mind for the role of Ronit Roy but then I felt that the feel of the film would have gone if I had cast Ajay in my film.
In what way did Anurag help you in making Udaan?
Anurag gave me a lot of freedom and didn"t interfere at all though he was the producer of the film. It was, in fact, Anurag who got me actors like Ram Kapoor and Ronit Roy. I do not watch TV. The only time that I switch on my TV is when I have to watch the football matches. Though I resisted the idea of casting Ronit and Ram initially because they are TV actors and thought that having known character actors from films would help the film. But I went ahead and cast them and I am glad I did because they have done proper justice to their roles in the film.
In what way are you and Anurag different as filmmakers?
Both Anurag and I are passionate about films but yet are different. While Anurag is very spontaneous, I am not. As a filmmaker, I tend to come prepared on the sets because of the training that I had received from Sanjay Leela Bhansali. From Anurag, I have learnt the fearless approach as a filmmaker. I had earlier assisted Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Deepa Mehta. From Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I learnt everything in terms of making music, costume sitting etc. Sanjay is a very meticulous filmmaker who has his paperwork ready several months in advance.
What did you learn while making Udaan?
Most importantly, Udaan has taught me how to keep quiet as a writer when I set out to direct a film. I am now learning to differentiate between the writer and the director. It is necessary that you should respect your writer as a director. It has also taught me how to deal with my actors too. If you want the best performance out of every actor, you have got to approach every actor differently. You learn the technique only on the job.
What did you learn from both Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Deepa Mehta while assisting them?
From Deepa Mehta, I learnt how to deal with actors. While Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a hands-on director, Deepa is a hands-off director. Deepa withdraws after sometime and lets the actor do what he or she wants.
Do you feel that it was a boon that you could make your film without stars?
I should confess that my economics worked better without stars in my film. I have been a purist as far as I can. There is less insecurity in me as a filmmaker to sell my film, for the simple reason that the economics is okay. I have nothing against the stars but I will consider casting a star only if he or she fits the role. Let"s face facts, as a viewer; I make it a point to go to see a film which stars Salman Khan, not for the sake of the director but for the sake of the star. At the same time, I"d not hesitate to state that actors are an integral part of any film and also have the right to say what they want but as a filmmaker you should know how to strike the right balance. For that you need to come to an agreement beforehand by sharing your vision with your actor before you go on the floors.
Are you very fastidious about making films only with your subject or are you open for scripts from other writers too?
As a filmmaker I like good stories. Filmmaking is basically about story telling. I am also open to others" stories though I am a writer. For a filmmaker, the most important thing is the time you spend on your script and see how it grows step by step before you translate it on celluloid.