Millennium Post

Three for the road

How was Imtiaz Ali to work with?
Alia Bhatt:
 It’s every actor’s dream to work with Imitaz Ali and it happened just after my first film. I am really grateful to have been given a great script like this one. Neither of us knew if I would be able to pull it off. He knew I was from an urban environment, was protected and I have not seen very much of life. I am very young and probably that was the similarity between me and my character. I would have to coin a new word to describe what it was like working with Imtiaz. On a personal level, it was life-changing and as an actor, I learnt so much from him. It was very exciting because I learnt something new every day. Every successive scene and shot he took helped me get under the skin of the character.
Imtiaz Ali: I had not thought it would be great casting her but I realised, later, that she has a very high emotional quotient. So I thought it would be interesting to see how she would react to situations and how she was in the story.

How about you, Randeep?
Randeep Hooda: 
The best thing about Imtiaz is that you don’t feel alone around him, even though he never intrudes into your space as an actor. I believe he is the only director who so goes through the emotions that you as an actor are experiencing because he has written the material himself. Then, very quietly and subtly, he suggests something. But his instructions are not really scene-specific. He best instructions he has given me was that this character was... well, he SMSed me one night saying, ‘Phlegm in his chest’. Maine socha bhai bimaar ho gaya hai, antibiotic le le. (Laughs)
He called me at 4 am and said he felt my character has phlegm stuck in the chest. That was the biggest pointer he gave me. It was quite similar to Tishu (Tigmanshu Dhulia). When Tishu while filming Saheb Biwi Gangster, he had told me that although my character was the gangster in the film, he wanted it to be sympathetic. He wanted me to be child-like. So, while shooting Highway, before every shot, I ‘coughed’ up that phlegm. I would cringe and screw my face into a grimace. That would be the starting point of that scene, and then I would carry it forward. He made me feel that I could just be the character and not give a damn about whether the cameras would catch it. That’s a very unique quality in Imtiaz.
Imtiaz: He was playing an angst-ridden character, like phlegm trapped in his chest. During the time when we were shooting, he was that character. Also, when we travelled from one place to another and we weren’t shooting, he used to drive the truck that he drives in the film.

Were you given any instructions to this effect?
 Instructions-wise, I had to be fed a lot more. What we would do is talk and read a scene together. We had rehearsals, and Imtiaz would say, ‘Alia, just read, don’t perform.’ I realised that just reading and talking about what must have happened before helped me paint a little picture for myself. Also, I wanted to feel like a loner and be on my own, so I told my mother and my sister not to accompany me on shoots. This helped me get into the part and the head space of this character Veera. So those four five days kicked my character into the space I had to be in. Imtiaz doesn’t actually instruct you; he doesn’t tell you what to do. He gives you an emotion, he acts it out. He says, ‘If you are angry, it’s out there; you aren’t going to hide it.’ As Randeep said, there was no acting; it was just kind of ‘being’. Every time I would act, he would say. ‘don’t play.’
Imtiaz: I guess it was easy for Alia to be the character she plays in the film as she comes from a protected environment and has never seen life on the road.

Randeep, did Imtiaz ever tell you why he chose you for your character?
Randeep: Yeah, he had watched Monsoon Wedding and he felt I was the best thing in the film. I was surprised because when I was in Venice, the American distributor told me I was the only one who was not ‘acting’ in the film. I took that really badly. I was in a shambles in Venice and I wanted to get out of that place as soon as possible. I thought it was no place for me so I joined Naseer’s (Naseeruddin Shah) studio. Today, I would take a statement like that as a compliment. So there’s that, and he had seen a few of my plays. He said he didn’t want an actor who looked like he had just stepped out of a vanity van. So I guess the way I approach my work is also the way he approaches his.

Imtiaz: He was the obvious choice. He knows the terrain I was talking about. He knew some of the people he had to play, and he understood the dynamics. I admired him as an actor when I watched him on stage.

Alia, were you surprised when Imtiaz approached you since you had done just one film at the time?
 Obviously! I was at the Marrakech Film Festival and had met him a month before that at the premiere of Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. One month later, I was in Marrakech and he messaged me, asking if we could meet. I was with Varun (Dhawan) then and I was so excited that I showed him the message. He said, ‘Shhh! Don’t go overboard about it, Alia, just react normally.’ We met after I returned from Marrakech and I thought it was another script. I thought it was the one with Ranbir (Kapoor) because that was the film he was making next but he told me it was another film.
It was a really tiny script and I was anxious to read it. When I did, I was bowled over. After a while, it hit me that I was going to play that character. When I called the next day, he said, ‘Alia, do you like it?’ I said, ‘I love it!’
Imtiaz: I first met her when she was five years old, so I must have written the story for her when she was five. I thought this should be the girl to play that role. Let me wait 15 years. (Laughs)

Being an industry girl, you know that every script has its destiny...
Yes, this was my destiny!

Imtiaz, is there any specific reason the film was shot linear?
 I thought up the story a long time ago and I had written the script in many different ways. But I didn’t use any of that. I left it open and said, let’s see what happens. I knew I had a good story. I had good actors who were suitable to the roles, and then I thought let’s not plan too much. So the only way to do that was to go linear as I would know what would happen in a particular scene before I moved on to the next. I thought there would be a greater feeling of going forward.

Randeep, how did it begin for you?
 I got a call from one of his assistants, Abhishek, who said Imtiaz wanted to cast me. I didn’t take it seriously. I said, ‘Yeah, ok’ and forgot about it. Then one day, Mukesh Chhabra called me. THE CASTING DIRECTOR MUKESH CHHABRA! 
Bahut zyada hawa kha raha hai woh, theek karna padega usko!
He asked me to meet Imtiaz. He gave me the script and I read it twice. First, I read it for the story and then I read it for the character. I was thrilled. I took Imtiaz to meet these Gujjar boys who were also criminals and we spent a couple of evenings with them. We recorded their dialect and found a dialect coach to get the dialect right. There, we picked up a truck. He asked me, ‘Aap chalaoge kya TATA 407?’ And I agreed. The two of us started traveling to meet the Gujjar people. I went to Imtiaz with lots of different looks... a white eye, scar on my face and black teeth. I think he wanted it to appeal to female audiences so he shot down all my suggestions and decided on a normal look. I wanted a different look because I felt it was important that for people to think there was nothing in common between Alia and me. So, I went about lying in the sun, I stopped combing my hair, stopped applying cream to my face. I started drinking more and told to myself, ‘Yeh, badhiya role hai! Six pack ki jagah aap peg lagate ho.’ (Laughs)
When we were shooting in Jammu and Kashmir, Imtiaz told me, ‘Sir, bade chikne lag rahe ho.’ I said, ‘Achcha, nikalo vodka.’ I started drinking in the afternoon, which meant that the next morning I would look like the back end of a donkey, which surprisingly appeals to a lot of women.

Alia, according to Varun Dhawan, who recently visited our office, you cried while reading the script.
 Yes, there was a point when Imtiaz called me to his office and asked me to narrate the script to everyone. I wondered why he wanted me to do that but I had read the script two to three times by then so I started narrating it to his team and the assistant directors who were present.
During the narration, there were experiences my character goes through and they made me emotional. Then I called up Varun to say, ‘You know, I narrated the script and cried. Can you imagine that?’ Crying was a big deal for me, I was not sad.
Randeep: (Cuts in) This happens when somebody is doing their first, second or third film. But after you’ve played a lot of characters, you have to bring in a change. People always say you try to look intense whereas I always try to do something different with every character I play. You have to keep yourself interesting for filmmakers and the audience. To achieve this, you have to learn new things.

Also, according to Varun Dhawan, Alia will win the National Award for this role.
Randeep: Inshallah! I hope so too.

Alia, what do you think?
 I also hope.
Randeep: I know certain other National Award winners as well and other award winners. I hope you get it. Then click a picture with the award and upload it on Twitter (Laughs).
Imtiaz: I should pay Varun Dhwan. (Laughs)

For promoting the film?
Yes, I hope he is right. National Award? Yeah!!!

Randeep, what do you think of Alia’s performance in the film?
Randeep: Her performance is very honest. She is very alive in her role. When she’s going through the gamut of emotions in the film, it’s infectious. It’s a great quality to have as an actor and she has it.

Alia, what do you think of Randeep’s performance?
Alia: Every time I think about his character, Mahabir Bhati, I get emotional. He doesn’t have many lines in the film and that’s what his character is all about – he doesn’t say very much and yet he does. I have always considered him a great actor but after watching the rushes, I realised how brilliant he was. You can do it only when you’re really affected by the character. And he was. He was so into that character that he would seat alone, grumpy. Like King Kong.
Randeep: (Cuts in) In the movie only. Otherwise, I am more like Jack Nicholson (Laughs).

Alia, you have also sung a song in the film?
Alia: Yes, one never dreams one will get to sing for AR Rahman.

Randeep, you didn’t get a chance to do a song?
Randeep: Yes, and I will never work with them again! (Laughs)
Alia: But you got to hit me.
Randeep: Imtiaz said, ‘Darna mat, kheech ke maarna. Lagna chahiye usko, I want that feeling. Phir bhi maine kam hi maara poora haath nahi laga.
Alia: Oh, please! You hit me very hard.
Randeep: Poora haath kheech ke maarte hai na tab aati hain kaan mein jhanjhanahat.
Alia: I felt as if my jaw was broken.
Randeep: I loved the reaction although I was very worried but she came up to me and hugged me.
Alia: The shot was, he slaps me and I fall to the ground. Basically, after he slaps me, cut ho gaya. But since I was on the ground, crying, everyone on the sets was staring at me, thinking, ‘Is she going to quit the film now?’ I realised how bad he must have been feeling so I got up and hugged him.

Imtiaz, what’s your take on the music?
Imtiaz: I think music is the most interesting thing I get to do as director on the film.

On special arrangement with Box Office India
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