Abhishek Chaubey: Naseeruddin Shah convinced me to make Dedh Ishqiya!

BollywoodLife met the director of Ishqiya to find out more about his latest offering, the follow-up to the Vidya Balan film Ishqiya

However much he would have liked to propel his successful movie Ishqiya forward as a new story, director Abhishek Chaubey was not particularly interested in the idea of a sequel – at least, not so soon. But such was the response to the first movie that the producers and actors of Ishqiya, including stalwart Naseeruddin Shah himself, were eager to take the successful venture ahead in the form of a new tale. Naturally, Chaubey could not resist the temptation to make Dedh Ishqiya. But the director maintains that he started working on the script only when he was convinced that his movie demanded natural progression. We met the 36-year-old filmmaker to find out what his new offering is all about….

You were a writer before you became a director. How easy is it is for a filmmaker to direct something he or she writes?

I think it’s important for a director to write. People whose work I have admired are writer-directors, be it Vishal Bhardwaj, Dibakar Banerjee or Anurag Kashyap. So I learned fairly early on in my career that I had better learn the craft of writing before I started making my own movies.

Do you think you can do justice to a script that you have not written?

Theoretically speaking, yes, I can direct a movie if I am offered a good script, but the chances of me taking to a script written by someone else are very grim. We don’t have the Hollywood kind of model where a studio owns a script and then searches for a director to make the movie. After writing like a maniac and directing movies, today I feel I can work with a writer, but I have to sit with him/her on a daily basis for our process of visualisation to match.

Is Abhishek Chaubey the director happy with Abhishek Chaubey the writer now that he can see the final product? In another words, have you made the film exactly how you visualised it as a writer?

It never happens like that. A director has this false sense of control that he is handling everything. You might have conceived a certain situation in a certain way both as a director and a writer, but then so many people add to your final product. From the costume designers to makeup artists to cinematographers, people give their input. That doesn’t mean you don’t go ahead with your conviction, but film at the end of the day is a collaborative medium. In an ideal scenario what you see onscreen is better than what I have written. But then again, I am a very harsh critic of myself, so I am never one hundred percent satisfied.

Has the sequel to Ishqiya grown organically, or have you propelled the story forward because the original movie was a success?

Oh, I never thought that I would direct a sequel to my original film. In fact, my producers and my actors pushed me to do it. Actually, I was writing something else and I was not thrilled enough with the germ of Ishqiya 2 or Dedh Ishqiya, but then something happened. Something about the story got me excited and thereafter it was a relentless pursuit to make this movie.

Do you feel more pressure now since Ishqiya has set a benchmark and the sequel is expected live up to that, if not to go beyond?

See, there are some pressures that help you move forward. Yeh expectations ka pressure toh aane hee wala tha, iska main kuch nahi kar sakta. Mera sirf yeh manna tha ki yeh film main dil se bana lun, bas. (The pressure of the audiences’ expectation was inevitable since the original film was a success. I can’t do much about it. All I could do was to make this film from the heart.)

Interestingly, Naseeruddin Shah said in a recent interview that he doesn’t enjoy acting in a movie much and he chose to do Ishqiya because he was getting to portray a romantic hero of sorts, a kind of character he has not done too often. So how did you convince him to play the man in love once again, since he doesn’t like to repeat what he has already done?

In fact, Naseer bhai had to convince me to make this movie! We met at the screening of Saat Khoon Maaf when Dedh Ishqiya was nowhere on the horizon. At that time I told him that I was writing a script and Nasser bhai was like – Yeh sab chodon, pehle Ishqiya ka sequel banao!

Dedh Ishqiya has two good looking female leads. How did Madhuri Dixit Nene and Huma Qureshi come on board?

Even before we started writing the movie we knew that we wanted Madhuriji to play the character she is playing. Huma came on board a month after we finished writing the script. At one point we were also considering Kangna Ranaut for Huma’s role, but her dates were clashing. I knew Huma as a good actor, but I had to do a screen test to make sure that she could become the character I had conceived in my mind.

Ishiqya has a bold feel to it. In fact, it has sexual undertones in terms of the portrayal of characters and their sensibilities. And here you have Madhuri Dixit who is known for her elegance and her Dhak-dhak image and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun kind of roles. So did she have any reservations about acting in your movie? Did you have any apprehensions about casting a mainstream heroine for an unconventional role?

Even if the sequel has thematic similarities to Ishqiya and even if it has the mood of the original film, the story is very different. Madhuriji’s character Begum Para is a women in her 40s. She is beautiful, sensuous and very mysterious. She is a Kathak dancer too. She is a begum, so she has a royal air. There is no physical lust or passion portrayed in the movie. There is no physical intimacy.

In fact, she told Visha Bhardwaj that she would like to do a film like Ishqiya. And if you ask me, I would say no one could have portrayed the character as gracefully as Madhuriji.

How was your experience of directing veterans like Naseer and Madhuri?

Oh, there are inputs and improvisations, since movies are a collaborative medium. So yes, there would be discussions on the sets and we would shoot accordingly. Making a movie has to be a process and there have to be moments of discovery for me also. Aise nahin hain ke picture dimag main dekh li hain, ab sirf shoot hee karte hain!

Ishqiya was a game-changer for Vidya Balan. Do you think Dedh Ishiqiya will boost Madhuri’s new innings in the movie industry?

I am not a king maker or a queen maker, I am a filmmaker (laughs!). My job is to save my skin and deliver what is asked of me. I don’t think anybody makes anybody’s career. If you are talented, you will find a way. My job is to get the story and my characters right. I want my audiences to forget Vidya Balan or Madhuri Dixit and see them as characters.

How have you changed as a director?

I can barely watch Ishqiya now without being embarrassed about what I made. I think one learns from one’s mistakes. I made many mistakes while shooting Ishqiya and I ensured that I didn’t repeat them while directing the sequel. And when I say mistakes I don’t mean only in a creative sense. Filmmaking is not only about me being this creative balloon. It is also about managing about 250-300 people who are on the sets waiting for your directions, eager to work with you, to make a project work. People get hurt very easily. Their egos are fragile. You have to be skilful to handle all that. So yes, I have changed and I learned a lot from my previous film.

Finally, why is sex missing in the seven stages of love you portray in the film?

There’s sex in mohabbat, in love, but in Babban’s (Arshad Warsi) lustful mind this question pops up, because sex is not mentioned forthrightly. But yes, sex is part of love!