says the former advertising filmmaker to Nikita Wadhawan as he talks about his first brush with success, Sonam ‘the actress’ and more
He is just two films old but Ram Madhvani is someone who brings out the best in his actors. In his first feature film “Let’s Talk”, Ram discovered Boman Irani who is touted as one of the best in the industry. And now with his National Award winning film ‘Neerja’, he made us take notice of Sonam Kapoor’s acting skills as well, till then she was always peddled as just a fashion princess. Excerpts from the interview:
How was the experience of Talk shop, for a change you were the star?
Actually, as directors, we don’t expect that. I consider myself as a ‘Mazdur’ or a labourer. So, I don’t like any special treatment nor do I expect this. But they made it very comfortable. It was very casual. It did not feel like a shoot and it felt like somebody having a conversation with me. I had an exorbitant time.
You started your journey as an advertisement guy and one of your Happydent ads was a rage and is appreciated even today…did expect this reaction?
It was Prasoon Joshi who wrote the ad. But after we made the ad the client setup a new factor to keep up with the demand. So the ad was also very popular critical and commercial success. The combination of the two is very rare in one’s life. I really want to thank Prasoon and the client for that.
You did get an award for it at Cannes, but you did not go to receive it. Was that a regret?
I do regret not attending it. I did not go because I was shy then and was not comfortable being part of the circle. I regret it now because I feel it would have been a great memory. I am a very low profile person and my business needs me to be very social but I rather be at home with family.
Do you think after your ad the line between commercial and critical ads blurred?
I have never done a commercial or a feature film for critical acclaim. One of the things advertising teaches you is how do you speak to the audience. If I don’t speak to 800 million people, I won’t get repeat purchase and people won’t work with me. I make a TVC for the audience and the client, hence I am an advertising filmmakers.
Was that the same thought behind Neerja as well?
For Neerja, I implemented three learnings from my advertising days. One – what does the product says, second – how it should be said and three – what does the audience feel at the end of it. Implemented this in Neerja, so while writing, shooting and editing I had to be the audience.
Neerja was a critical and surprising commercial hit as well. Were you overwhelmed by the response?
I never expected the response. I did know that we were happy with the film, but the reach that we got, I did not expect that. People need something to cry as over time we all have become so numb. With everything that is happening around us, we have no catharsis. Movies are one of the rare places you can cry without worrying about judgment. And this was an intended effect.
You not only made a turning point in your career but also made people take notice of Sonam’s acting skill…
I don’t agree with that. It is wrong to say that behind every actor there is a director, it will be better to say that in front of every director there is an actor. Eventually, I can push somebody off the edge but they have to land. I was genuinely very fortunate that Sonam was there in this film and she embraced the worldview where we came from. And that is a big deal.
How did you train all your actors?
We hold a lot of workshops with everyone. We made sure that people felt like they were actually part of the whole journey. People had their own passports, we even made all train with their family. Not just the main cast but even the passengers and the air hostesses were trained that way. The first time that the terrorists enter is actually the first time that the whole cast saw them. We didn’t even train them together. So all this helped in getting those right emotions out from them. So, I believe in organised chaos to get to the truth.
How was the feeling when you got to know about the national award?
I was actually in an Ayurveda retreat when I got the news. I was on a two week health holiday and my phone was in my room. When I returned to my room I was shocked, I had 100 messages and so many calls. I got very nervous, and then my son came to my room and he told me that I got the national award. It was a nice and emotional way to receive it.
On the day when you received the award, along with your family, Boman Irani was there to support you as well. How did it feel?
Boman is a really close friend. It was a highly emotional moment and I feel really proud and special to have all of them there.
How has Boman and your become friends?
Boman acted in my first film “Let’s Talk”, at the time I had seen him before in two plays and I knew it then that Boman was one of the most special talents I have seen. When I offered him my first film, I had to literally force him as he wasn’t interested in cinema. After which Vidhu Vinod Chopra saw my film and cast him in ‘Munna Bhai’. So gradually he bought his new house and he invited me and also part of each other birthday. We ever discuss scripts and he is someone who is very special in my life.
Talking about houses, you have boasted about having the best library in Mumbai?
No, it is just that I have a very good collection of film books. The books that I have is that on interviews with filmmakers, on films, and scripts and filmmaking.
Which is your favourite out of all of them?
You can’t have one favourite. I have books on making of the Godfather, Apocalypse now, 2001 space Odyssey and much more. It is not possible to choose a favourite from them. Everybody is a God and you stand on their shoulder, hoping not to let them down.