Yes, We Cannes!
Box Office India (BOI): Richa, how did the journey of Masaan start for you?
Richa Chadda (RC): Namaste, my name is Richa Chadda and I came to Mumbai from Delhi to become an actor. My director Neeraj Ghaywan gave me this opportunity to be a part of this film. With us, we have Vicky (Kaushal) who marks his debut with the film which I believe is the most promising debut of the year. I’ve fallen in love with him and the film because of him. Then we have Shweta (Tripathi), an award-winning actor from IFFLA (Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles) for another film Haramkhor, which will also release soon. Masaan is her debut because this film is releasing before that film. And we all get along very well.
BOI: How did it all start?
NG: Well, it started around six to seven years ago, when I had a corporate job. I was travelling to work with a colleague and he told me about these ghats in Benaras where they cremate bodies. For them, it is a routine and they do it throughout the day as well as the night. It doesn’t stop. What fascinated me about this place was that only men are allowed there. How can a person endure so much and what must they be thinking while doing this? What kind of outlook towards the world does he have? How would they appreciate the quality of life?
These were the thoughts that came to my mind and I immediately constructed a short story around it. I told my colleague about the story and forgot about it but somewhere in my subconscious, the story haunted me and pushed me to make this film. So a year-and-a-half later I quit my job with Hindustan Times, where I was working as an online marketing professional. My passion for cinema grew and I really wanted to pursue film marketing but that didn’t happen. To cut a long story short, when I quit my job, I pursued the short story and turned it into a script. I wrote 20 to 30 pages and they were hideous. It was so bad that now I don’t even want to look at it.
Things started to shape up and got moving only after Varun Grover came on board. He wrote the film. During this time, I was also assisting Anurag Kashyap on Gangs Of Wasseypur. That was like a two-and-a-half year film school for me.
BOI: What were you doing in Gangs Of Wasseypur?
NG: I was an assistant.
RC: He kept tabs on the continuity.
NG: Yes, if you want to be precise.
RC: I know because he used to come and tell me before each take.
NG: Yes, it was great. I mean, for my first film, I got to do research and handle continuity and ended up being a part of post-production as well. So while working on the two parts of the film, I learnt a lot.
RC: Till three months ago, when Masaan was going to Cannes, Neeraj was working on the Making Of Gangs Of Wasseypur DVD Director’s Cut and calling us to dub till March as it was releasing in the US. So we all moved on but he didn’t.
NG: We were shooting Masaan and one day I had to work on Gangs Of Wasseypur. It feels like I will always be an AD for that film. During that time, I was also making a short film. The reason Varun came on board was because I give a lot of importance to realism and the characters because you know that such characters exist somewhere. The characters that these guys have portrayed in the film exist in some space and I wanted to be honest to them. Hence the research and detailing of the script. I was not familiar with Benaras as I had not lived there. I have lived in Hyderabad, Pune and Delhi. So I thought I shouldn’t get into it by myself. Varun, although not from UP, has spent a lot of time in Benaras. Varun and I have a weird chemistry. He and I both come from an educated middle-class background and we are both engineers. So our value system is very similar, our worldview is the same and that made for a good collaboration. When he came on board, we set off to Benaras and stayed there for a month and a half. We had a story template but after we did our research, it changed the story as it brought a lot of perspective to the script. When we took our research and collated it with the story, Varun wrote the screenplay.
BOI: Was Richa an obvious choice for you as you had worked with her earlier?
NG: Richa and Shweta were written in. For me, Richa represents an actor who is extremely intelligent and has a great sense of humour, which makes her so much easier to have a conversation with. She is very easy to talk to and throughout the film it has been like a co-creation with the actors. So the actor and I have both arrived at the character together. I had a huge thing about my actors getting the right approach to their characters, whether at body language or linguistics. Hence Richa was always my first choice.
Shweta’s character Shalu Gupta, represents the ideal small-town beauty. In small towns, it is not a tall lanky model who is attractive; for them an angelic face is attractive. Small-town guys look at her and tell their friends, Yeh teri bhabhi hai, iss se dur rahiyo.’ Also, women are a lot more perceptive and intelligent than the men are. That is how the characters have been written. Coming to Vicky’s character, he plays Deepak. He is the Dom family boy who goes to college and falls in love with Shalu. Now his casting was very interesting because he and I were assistants on Gangs Of Wasseypur. We became great friends too.
At that time, Rajkummar Rao was to play this character but the dates didn’t work out. And Vicky did one audition which was so good that I cannot forget it. It blew me away as it was such a contradiction to the image I had of him. Then, for a few years, he disappeared. We met again three years later, when I was doing the post- production of Wasseypur. I asked him. ‘When did you grow up so much?’ His character is the one who is extremely rooted and culturally someone had to be very sharp to play that part. He worked on the character and spent time on the ghats.
Sanjai Mishra’s part was to be played by Manoj Bajpayee. He somehow wanted to be part of the film but, again, there were date issues. Actually, there is a sequence in the film which had a huge Durga pooja setup. Since we shot that sequence during real festival, we had to shoot during that month. So those dates were sacrosanct. Manoj Bajpayee didn’t happen so we asked Sanjai Mishraji, who was to play this other character. But when I met him, I spent an entire day with him, I narrated the entire story to him for almost four hours.
That day, he started speaking to me in Bhojpuri as he belongs to Benaras. He knew everything about the Benaras ghats. And he comes across as a very warm and affectionate father and is also extremely naughty. I could see my character in him and I knew he would be best suited to play this role. Then we have a scene where these small guys jump into the water and start collecting coins. We wanted someone who was from there because Mumbai kids end up being irritatingly cute! Thankfully, we found that boy and we auditioned in Benaras. That was the casting process.
BOI: Individually, what was it about Masaan that attracted you guys to take up the film?
RC: I just had to do it. Ever since Neeraj started developing the story, he began discussing it to me. That’s how I knew when the final draft was ready and that he was struggling to find funding. And, mainly, the story is so strong that I had to do the film. It’s a very mature role; characters like that don’t come along very often.
BOI: Can you elaborate on your character?
RC: I was telling him that I used to feel very agitated and restless during the initial days of the shoot. I realised only later that my character and I had absolutely nothing in common. She (Devi, her character) is an introvert whereas I am outgoing and talkative. So while playing the character, I was initially very frustrated. Then, I realised that it was perhaps because my character had no output or life or any lines that I felt so agitated playing that role. I have just two pages of dialogue during the entire film.
NG: When you don’t have lines, it’s very challenging, and she did an outstanding job. You have to communicate through your silence and eyes.
RC: Yes, I had to detox from the film after I finished shooting. After the shoot, I went to Goa as it was a very difficult role to play. And while shooting, I did not understand why I felt the way I did. I was very confused because I would think, these people have been assistant directors on the sets of Gangs… they never irritated me then, so why are they irritating me now? Then I realised something… there comes a point in my character’s life – and I had the benefit of shooting chronologically so it’s there at the end in the film and even while shooting, it was filmed at the end – where there is a catharsis of sorts. After that, I was okay even in real life.
VK (Vicky Kaushal): Neeraj and I knew each other from Gangs… so we knew how we work, we knew each other’s sensibilities, also what kind of people we are and what kind of films we like. We also come from the same school of cinema, that of Anurag Kashyap. So there was no question of saying yes or no to Neeraj. It was always about Masaan saying yes to me. I remember him calling me and discussing what was happening in his life. At the end of that conversation, he told me Tu mera Deepak hai. It took some time for it to sink in that he had finalised me for the film. But only once I was cast did I get to read the script.
ST: As soon as I got to know he was playing the lead, I called him up and realised that he hadn’t read the script. I kept pushing him to finish reading it because when I read the script, I loved his part the most.
VK: It was all about innocent love. But I was also worried because I had never seen that world, I had never met someone who worked in a shamshaan, I had no idea what their lives were like. I had never been to Benaras. So I was very nervous about whether I would be able to get into the character. Initially, you struggle to get a good film but when you are cast, you keep wondering whether you will be able to do it not. But Neeraj stood by me and guided me throughout. We went to Benaras. I spent months there learning how people there behave and I also learnt the dialect. Then there were workshops which helped me get into the character. Once we started rolling, it was not difficult.
ST: Neeraj gave me a narration in his office and it was my character that made me say yes instantly. I fell in love with her. But while reading the script, I also fell in love with Devi’s character, which is played by Richa. All the characters have been sketched very beautifully and there is so much about them. You can deliver so much in just one single scene. So I said yes.
BOI: Lastly, the movie will belong to the Indian audience on July 24. What are you expecting?
RC: Love, they will give us love.
NG: I think from the day we were started, we were never pressured by expectations. We are very encouraged by the response. There is a popular perception of festival films being boring. But like The Lunchbox, even this film will break all barriers.
It will cut across all classes. Once, I actually called my driver, cook and 15 people from different walks of life and showed them Masaan. I told them to give me their feedback and also told them that they were free to walk out if they didn’t like it. They were so happy that they told me that I should make a sequel soon.
BOI: Will there be a Part 2?