Box Office India (BOI): What took Kahaani 2 so long?
Sujoy Ghosh (SG): Actually, it didn’t take all that long; we just had to choose the right story, one that would mainly appeal to her, next me and then my co-producer. We needed one that would make us go, yes, this is the story we want to make as a sequel! We had many stories but none of them was Kahaani 2 material.
Considering how much the audience loved Kahaani… there were lots of expectations from Kahaani, a lot of love, a lot of respect attached to Kahaani. So we were very careful while selecting a movie that would take the Kahaani franchise forward. I think wahi dhundne mein chaar saal lag gaye.
BOI: Vidya, how did you respond when you heard the story?
Vidya Balan (VB): My initial response, before I even listened to the script, was do we really need to make a Kahaani 2, because we had explored a lot of eyes for Kahaani 2 but it was just not working out. And then I heard this and felt it actually could be Kahaani 2. You will understand why I am saying this only after you watch the film. So there are lots of stories within the story. For me, Kahaani is … is a story within a story.
BOI: Sujoy, was it easy to convince her?
SG: What is easy to do is taking the Vidya Bagchhi franchise forward. We had the Kahaani name, but it was important to be convinced that this story could be told. And I think the Kahaani brand helped us otherwise people might not want to listen what we want to say. I had somebody called Vidya Bagchhi, who is extremely popular, which is why people want to see her. That would be the wrong reason to make a film. Thankfully, she agreed to be a part of this film. And, yes, it was not easy to convince her at all.
BOI: Was Kahaani 2 more difficult to make?
SG: Much more because more than anything, we both wanted to have our head wrapped in something we wanted to say.
VB: And we had to tell ourselves that this was a completely different film, we had to divest ourselves of that positive baggage because when you make a film, you have to make it without any baggage. So I think it was more difficult, especially initially, when people would ask what happened to Vidya Bagchhi? What about the other characters? But Sujoy was very clear that it was different story. We are taking the franchise forward, it is not a sequel.
SG: We took a shapath (promise) that we were not here to improve Kahaani or not create the same characters. We are telling you a new story.
VB: (Cuts in) Ho bhi sakta hain…
SG: Inshallah ho gaya toh bahut achcha hain. But that was not the intent with which we decided to make the sequel. The intention was to tell a story that we wanted to say.
BOI: What made you include Durga Rani Singh in the title of Kahaani 2? Wasn’t she a character in another film you had announced earlier?
SG: The name is very close to me. When you write something, it always looks very exciting and sounds like the best script ever. Then, after a year, that same script sounds like a potty script. So that script had its moment and then it took a step down.
VB: Even today I don’t think it’s a potty script.
SG: No, I don’t mean potty script, that’s a little too harsh. You know the excitement when we first wrote it. That excitement has dipped.
VB: But he loves the name, so he decided to keep the name Durga Rani Singh.
BOI: When did you start writing this script?
SG: I think the first time we discussed the concept was the day she moved into her new house. When was that?
SG: She gave me two hours to narrate the script but I narrated just two lines. She was, like, nikal yaha se. The germ of the story was there since then but I didn’t know how to stitch it together. When you make a film, the story has to be engaging, the script has to be entertaining. We just can’t tell the story the way we want to, we need to tell it in a manner that will entertain the audience. You have to package it as an entertainer or else you might as well make a documentary or a Power Point presentation. So it took us a while to make it entertaining.
BOI: Kahaani is a brand now but don’t you think the flipside is that people now have huge expectations?
SG: There are lots of expectations but if you let them into your head, you won’t be able to deliver your next. Kahaani is in its place; this is a new film with new twists.
VB: I think that’s why he said we are making a completely different film and we are not trying to compare the two. The good thing is that people stopped asking questions after the trailer released. Till then, they were wondering whether it was the same Vidya Bagchhi, whether Nawazuddin Siddiqui would feature in the film, whether Sujoy would bring back Bob Biswas’s ghost, because they loved the characters.
So there were all these questions and we were wondering how we were going to tackle those questions. The moment the trailer released, people got sucked into that world and they stopped asking questions. I think that was the first positive step. Now I am honestly not feeling any pressure of Kahaani. Because of Kahaani, people have expectations from Kahaani 2 and I think that’s a good thing.
SG: I was never more scared than I was the day before the trailer released. It took us so long to get the trailer right, in the sense that we didn’t know how the audience would react, whether they would throw chappals or tomatoes at the screen.
BOI: What was the feeling on the sets of Kahaani? And what was the feeling when you were shooting Kahaani 2?
SG: When I started Kahaani, the only person I knew was Vidya Balan, and both of us where shooting in Kolkata for the first time, shooting in a different environment. And it was exactly the same during Kahaani 2 because I didn’t repeat anyone from Kahaani except my line producer in Kolkata and Kharaj Mukherjee. Everyone else was new on the sets. It was like a reboot.
VB: Honestly, I was wondering what it would be like because both of us had changed in the last four years. And on the sets, we were both looking to each other for support. So I was wondering if it would be any different, but on the first day itself, it felt the way it did six years ago on the sets.
SG: When I went on the sets on the first day, and after watching the first shot, I knew the film was in good hands, that she would take care of the acting and half my work was done.
BOI: Why didn’t you repeat any of the character actors from Kahaani?
SG: They were not required because the kind of characters we have in this film required a certain look and feel. Since Kahaani was set in Kolkata, I needed people predominantly from Kolkata. But this story is not based in Kolkata; this one is based in other parts of West Bengal. So you have various kinds of people, from the North East, North India etc. This script demanded a different set of characters. The only character which the script demanded was Kharaj da (Mukherjee), without whom I don’t think she would have shot the film.
VB: I love him as an actor, he is so cute! First, he is a cop and there are these little things he does as an actor that are amazing. Sometimes, I watch him perform in shock. What an actor! He does it so effortlessly that his lines never sound like dialogue; it comes naturally.
SG: He can do anything on screen and get away with it.
BOI: When Kahaani released, it was a time when very few content-driven films were being made amid the usual masala cinema. It was kind of a path-breaking film. Today, the audience is actively seeking content-rich cinema. Does that make it more difficult for content-centric films to stand out now?
SG: Content-driven films are always difficult to make. But to get the right content, I think we can do only what we believe in. There is nothing more to it. So you need the right idea and believe in it and put in your best. Sometimes, it turns into a Home Delivery and sometimes it becomes a Kahaani.
BOI: Vidya, what was your reaction when you watched the trailer? Were you involved in the process of cutting the trailer?
VB: No, I was not involved. He showed me the trailer once without sound. I never watch my films until they are absolutely ready because I don’t get a sense of it without sound. So I didn’t react to it as I couldn’t hear the lines. He showed me the trailer when I was dubbing for Kahaani 2, and I clapped when I watched the trailer. I said, ‘It is flying, we will fly with this.’
SG: Yes, and I said, ‘Tera hi picture hai. I knew you would say this, now as long as the audience also says this, we are okay,’ (Laughs)
BOI: The first trailer was very critical but was it a long process?
SG: A little, because it was based purely on one’s gut; you see something and you like it or you don’t like it. We have this amazing person called Binny Padda, who is a magician. All my life, I have entrusted all my films to Binny. I give it to Binny, and he takes his time, and he creates magic for us, and we just bask in the glory. But it is actually he who does all the work. I wish I knew how to do this but…
VB: But I think cutting a trailer also needs an objective perspective. You can’t be too close to the film because then you either give away too much or not enough. He is an objective person and that really helps. I have seen this with him multiple times, he gets the essence of the film and what needs to be told bang on.
SG: Whenever I write a script, I first give Binny a copy. With this film too, I first gave her the script and then I gave Binny a copy.
BOI: Does there come a point during a shoot or after the shoot when you know whether it is or isn’t working?
VB: I don’t know if the film is working or not or whether the story is or is not but I think it takes a couple of days to get a sense of the character for me and to get entrenched in that world. That usually happens seamlessly, and you know when that has happened. But Sujoy and I talk a lot about the film. People ask me what kind of preparations I do but we don’t really sit and… It is also very difficult with him because half the time, he talks rubbish. He is constantly distracting. (Laughs)When something strikes me when I read the script or when he writes something and calls me, there is constant thought where there is a major preparation that happens. We are pretty much in sync. I know when he is not happy with a take even if I am happy with it.
SG: That is the worst part.
VB: And I know when he is saying, ‘it was okay, let’s go ahead’. And then I say ‘no’ because I can sense that it is not okay as I feel that he wants that something extra which he is not able to articulate and neither am I. So you are in sync after a while, especially now that we have known each other all this while.
SG: Do you know what she does? She memorises the script. Not just her lines but everybody else’s lines as well. And I have to sit and listen to it. How boring is that?
Then she goes and discusses it with the other actor also. In a way, that’s good as I can give her all my responsibilities.
BOI: As an actor, which character did you enjoy playing more, Vidya or Durga?
VB: I think Durga is far more layered. And I don’t think I could have done Durga four and a half years ago. For some reason, Vidya Bagchi was like someone I knew as I was involved in every step of the process, so I knew that character too well. But while he was writing Durga, we were not talking to each other so I didn’t have a clue to what was happening. But, of course, I think Durga is far more layered. They were fun in different ways. Vidya was comfortable and Durga was more challenging.
BOI: While Vidya was in search of her husband, Durga is in search of her daughter.
SG: In the next film, she will be searching for her mom or mother-in-law. (Laughs)
VB: Then you will get to know that it was she who has kidnapped her mother-in-law. (Laughs)
SG: Durga is much more complicated, unlike Vidya Bagchi, who was very cushioned. Everybody was very protective about her. Here, Durga is quite alone in the world and she has to look after herself. That is the basic difference between the two. Durga has to fight it out.
BOI: While watching the trailer, one is unable to figure out whether Durga’s character is positive or negative.
VB: Yes, even I haven’t been able to figure that out as I was in a coma in the film. (Laughs)
SG: Yes, good question. We would like to figure that one out.
VB: You have all the answers. Stop acting!
BOI: Kahaani stood out also because of how you explored Kolkata. Is there anything similar in this film too?
SG: Hopefully, yes, because we have shot not only in the suburbs of Kolkata but in other parts of West Bengal. We shot in a place called Kalimpong.
VB: Which is beautiful. I want to promote the film there but they have only one theatre, which is why they are not taking me there. People shoot in Darjeeling but this place is divine. It’s like heaven on earth. This film has explored West Bengal, not just Kolkata. Also, the Kolkata you see this time is very different from earlier.
SG: Yes, hopefully you haven’t seen this kind of Kolkata before.
BOI: So, expectations from December 2?
VB: That everyone is going to love Kahaani 2 and Durga Rani Singh.
SG: Yes, same, same.
BOI: And where do you see Kahaani 3?
SG: Inse dates poochhona!
VB: Aap likho pehele.