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Real To Reel

Madhur is known for content-rich films. What was the idea behind Calendar Girls and behind introducing five new faces or spending money on the look of the film instead of signing big names?

Madhur Bhandarkar (MB): There are two things. First, presenting very high-octane content and, second, this film required new girls. It is basically a platform for newcomers. We wanted talented newcomers who we could groom for the industry. The film is edgy, it has a lot of <g data-gr-id="261">drama</g> and obviously it is a very contemporary film. It talks about the realism of today. 

Around 75 <g data-gr-id="258">per cent</g> of the story is real. It talks about morality, values and what is going on in the high society and the glamour world. When I told Sangeetaji (Ahir) about this concept, she was very excited about it. Sangeetaji and I go back a long way and we have always wanted to work together.
When I narrated the script to her, she instantly said we should make this film because the title ‘Calendar Girls’ is very catchy. She said coming from Madhur Bhandarkar’s stable, it will be fresh. That’s how the journey started.

Sangeeta Ahir <g data-gr-id="280">(SA):The</g> concept is an eye-opener for the public, people who have not seen this industry but have only had a glimpse of it on television or read about it in the papers. They all believe that this is a platform for Bollywood or the glamour world. So there is this crazy curiosity to know what Calendar Girls are all about. That was one reason I thought newcomers would be the USP of the film.

Madhur never makes films that are filmy or have unnecessary <g data-gr-id="287">drama</g> but he does open a lot of cards. The film carries a message of woman empowerment. We talk about equality, but are you ready to accept a woman who dons a bikini? Would we accept it if our daughters wore bikinis or are we just paying lip service to empowerment? The film shows the bold journey of these women and how strong they actually are.We see so many women wearing sarees and championing different issues and protesting but how challenging is it to achieve something like that? That’s what inspired me to take on this film.

It was very important for me to show this journey, especially to parents, because nowadays everyone wants to be a part of the glamour world and Bollywood. So, yes, this film does open up a lot of cards and Madhur has done that fabulously.

Madhur’s films are always high on content and he chooses actors like Bipasha Basu, Tabu or Priyanka Chopra, who enhances the script and takes it to a different level. Was it a risk giving five new girls such a huge responsibility?

MB: Definitely but the film business itself is a very risky business, as we all know.
SA: The content in this film is so big that it takes the film to another level. Today, the participants on dance reality shows are extremely talented, and it leaves you stunned. So, today, apart from regular careers, reality dance and music shows are also becoming career choices. There is a first step for everyone and, for each of these actresses, this is the first step.
MB: If this film had five established actors, I couldn’t have made it the way I wanted to.

But didn’t that make your job that much more difficult? How did you manage to extract the right kind of performances from each one of them?

MB: Absolutely! When we started looking for faces, we zeroed in on 60-70 girls, whom we filtered to 35-40-20, and then we finally locked in on these five girls. Obviously, they all had to audition. Then we decided on who would play which character. We did workshops so that they could get the right chemistry among themselves.

Calendar Girls is not about bikinis; in the song Awesome mora <g data-gr-id="248">mahiya</g>, you see a bikini for only 60 seconds. The film hinges on the performance of the characters, its content and the drama. It’s shocking, it’s edgy and sometimes very emotional.

When I was sure about their performances, we had a team including my writers, assistants and DoPand we sat down and discussed the potential in each of the girls and chose the leading girls. We did look tests. When you look at these girls, each one looks like the girl-next-door.

You feel that, yes, this girl is from Rohtak,  this girl is from Pakistan. Established actresses would perhaps not get the characters right, so the script demanded fresh faces. Secondly, the Kingfisher Calendar platform is for newcomers; they become actresses or achieve stardom later. Initially, they are just new faces.

If we ask all five of you about the process before you started shooting, how difficult was it to meet Madhur’s expectations?

Satarupa Pyne (SP): We did a 15-day workshop where we got to know each other. The best part about the film was that we were asked to be ourselves. I am Bengali and in the film too I play a Bengali. My Bengali accent helped me play my character. To make your debut in a Madhur Bhandarkar film is a huge achievement. You also have to be lucky to get a break under such a fantastic director. I have been a model in real life too, I have posed for a calendar, so I already had the elements that my character demanded.

Ruhi Singh (RS): Madhur Bhandarkar is a perfectionist and we kept wondering whether we would meet his expectations. But since he is a perfectionist, he knows how to bring the best out of his actors. That’s why his films are perfect too. He got all of us to play our respective characters perfectly. Madhur taught us how to act and how to react.  We were all very nervous but even if we had just one line to deliver, he would narrate it to us, and show us how to do it. He made sure we were always comfortable.

SP: On the day we started shooting, I was nervous and emotional. I felt like crying and it so happened that the scene I was doing required me to cry. Before the shoot, when I felt all choked up, someone accidentally pushed me and I started crying. That was so real, and it came naturally to me. But the other day, when we were shooting another scene which also required me to cry, I was trying to act because I was feeling quite normal. So he (Madhur) came to me and asked, ‘Why are you acting? If I slap you, how will you cry? Cry exactly like that.’ He wants things to happen naturally.

Avani Modi (AM): I was the fourth one to start shooting. One day, just before my schedule, I met Madhur sir in his office. I was very nervous about playing a Pakistani in the film. I have never met anyone from Pakistan in my entire life but since Madhur had cast me in this role, I had to prove myself. 

So I told him I was very scared and he said just one thing, ‘Tu <g data-gr-id="267">kyun</g> tension le <g data-gr-id="268">rahi</g> hai? <g data-gr-id="269">Tujhpe</g> <g data-gr-id="270">toh</g> main bahut confident <g data-gr-id="271">hoon</g>.’ That was enough for me to know that he had faith in me and knew I could do it. It boosted my self-confidence. <g data-gr-id="272">Uske</g> <g data-gr-id="273">baad</g> <g data-gr-id="274">toh</g> <g data-gr-id="275">humne</g> <g data-gr-id="276">aag</g> <g data-gr-id="277">laga</g> di.
Akanksha Puri (AP): From day one, none of us felt any pressure and we all were in our respective comfort zones. That’s exactly why we are in the film. I am playing a South Indian actress in the film, Nandita Menon, and although I am not South Indian, I am very close to Nandita. He (Madhur) saw that in me and allowed me to portray it in the film. From day one, energy levels were very high and there was no pressure and we were like a family.

He kept saying ‘my film is my baby and all my actors are like my family’. He treated everyone like family, that’s why the atmosphere was so much fun.
AM: I want to add something about Sangeeta ma’am. She is a lady <g data-gr-id="249">producer</g> but she made sure we were comfortable.
SP: When we were on the sets, we were treated like queens. We felt even more motivated because we felt like stars and our performance naturally came out as stars. (Laughs)
AM: We didn’t just have a stylish director but a stylish producer too.
SP: When she used to walk in, we used to try and make out what brand she was wearing. She was an inspiration to us. The food on the sets was amazing too!

You must be aware that Madhur Bhandarkar takes inspiration from real life for his films. After this film releases, will you be ready to answer questions pertaining to which individual your respective characters resemble?

SP: We have been following him (Madhur). He has to merely look at a journalist to know what question he is going to be <g data-gr-id="283">asked</g> but he did not explain the reference to us because we would have tried to copy the individual. So he didn’t reveal the real-life characters. We merely followed his vision.

RS: As Satarupa just said, Madhur sir knows how to handle the media. Being a Miss India, I was taught to be patient, diplomatic and keep a cool head. If I had my crown with me right now, I would have given it to him (Madhur). He can just answer just about any question.

MB: You know, if I wasn’t a filmmaker, I would have become a journalist.
AM: Yesterday, someone said, ‘He is the journalist of the film industry.’
MB: Absolutely, and that reflects in the film too.

Speaking of answering questions, how did your director answer all your questions? Did you, as a producer, ever ask him where and how you would be spending money?

SA: We were totally in sync and I never interfere with creative calls.
MB: Everyone knows I make films within their budget. I have been doing that for so many years.

Your films – Page 3, Fashion, Heroine and now Calendar Girls – have quite a similar backdrop, which is the glamour industry. How do you manage to not repeat scenes or take any references? How do you make each film different from the others?

MB: As I said, the glamour world is like an ocean. There are lots of things in it. Page 3 isn’t only about the glamour world. The film industry is completely different, and so is the fashion world. Calendar Girls is also completely different. We have been talking about ‘calendar girls’ for a long <g data-gr-id="265">time</g> but nobody had revealed even a little of this world.

The glamour industry has an ugly side too. While scripting, how do you know what you can show in the film and what you cannot?

MB: I have always maintained that I make films rooted in reality and based on what is happening in society. As I mentioned earlier, 75 <g data-gr-id="228">per cent</g> of this film is based on real issues. 

But, sure, since we work in related industries, we have relationships to maintain and we have to tweak the characters so that it doesn’t hurt people’s sentiments. People called me after Fashion, Page 3 and Heroine. People called me even after Corporate. 
I remember people stopped buying strawberries at traffic signals after watching Traffic Signal. If you read stories about these things in newspapers, why can’t I capture it on celluloid? When you take those stories and package them into an hour-long capsule for television, why can’t I make it into a film? I am merely portraying facts; I am not being judgmental. I believe I am holding up a mirror to society. These things happen in real life and one has to show the good side and the bad side. Whether Fashion, Page 3 or Heroine, they showed both sides. People claim I am obsessed with the glamour <g data-gr-id="290">industry</g> but that is because the glamour industry is huge.

Since the film features only newcomers, how are you planning to promote the film?

MB: In today’s times, marketing is necessary not only with newcomers but also with stars. Producers say that if you shoot for 60 days, you should also promote your film for 60 days. It is mentioned in the contract as well. As far as marketing is concerned, I am going all out to promote the film. We have 12 colleges and we are embarking on a nine-city tour across the country because we have to connect with the audience, especially the youth.

The marketing strategy is already planned. There are TV shows, interviews, channels, discussions… So the plan is in place, including regional channels. When big stars promote their films, imagine the kind of publicity we will need! We have started and will keep going till September 25.

Any final words?

SA: I am just waiting for support from people. He audience is always looking for something different. And here’s something different. I hope they accept it in a good way and <g data-gr-id="231">sabko</g> <g data-gr-id="233">acha</g> <g data-gr-id="235">lagey</g>, <g data-gr-id="237">bas</g>.
MB: Public ka support chahiye, aur zyaada kuchh nahin.
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