In Sepia Tones

The leading pair of Anurag Kashyap’s  Bombay Velvet – Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma – in conversation about the film and more.

What is Bombay Velvet all about?
Ranbir Kapoor (RK): Anurag (Kashyap) had a vision to make this film, and he wrote Bombay Velvet eight years ago. He tried to make this film but was unable to map its budget. At that time, he was asking for much more money.
Anushka Sharma (AS): (Cuts in) Asking for more money?
RK: Yes, to make the film.

When he was in talks with Viacom18?
RK: He was talking to many people and I don’t think it was commercially viable. I still don’t think it is a commercially viable film. Ab toh ban gayi hai, budget bhi out hai. The promotions are underway and the film works only on that as it is not the kind of film that will be an opening film as it is based on its content. When the script was given to us, the film had all these characters, the dynamics between these characters, and their world back in the ‘60s. Even though we have this preconceived notion that Anurag Kashyap makes only dark, intense films, Bombay Velvet is his attempt to make a Hindi film where there is a hero, a heroine and a villain. And there is a love story, there is a ballet of Mumbai city of that era and a story that is very engaging.

AS: I agree! It is not a home video and is a very respectable film. All of us who were part of the film loved the process of making it. I don’t think I have experienced this kind of working environment before. In terms of the sets that were made, the kind of milieu that was created, and the co-actors… everyone was top-notch in the film.  There is no actor that didn’t do well or was not up to the mark because everyone delivered spectacular performances. The experience was so very rewarding that it made me start looking at my work differently. I started questioning what am I going to do with my career. I think, for an actor to get to that place and question himself or herself, is a big deal and for a film to do that to you. I love the film and the reactions to it are spectacular. There is so much in the film that has held the entire genre intact and I think people will respect that.

You mentioned preconceived notions about Anurag Kashyap. Is this an accessible film for the audience?
RK: I would like to believe it because it was accessible to me. I can never judge what the audience will think and whether the film will work or not. But the script, my character and the whole set-up appealed to me. And when something appeals to me, I believe it will appeal to the audience. I had also liked the script of Besharam. I liked that character and thought the film would be fun. It wasn’t made in the best way possible and I think maybe we were too arrogant about the film. We got a reality check as the film didn’t work at the box office. But we don’t know the formula for a successful film or, for sure, if the film will work or not. There is a lot of negativity surrounding Bombay Velvet, you know, things like the film is over-budget, and there were also a couple of stories that my father saw and didn’t like. But he watched the film a week ago. So, you know, there was too much negativity attached to the film and it was upsetting but I guess we focused on trying to make a good film we believe in. The audience no longer rushes to watch every new release. Now, a film has to make the audience feel there is something special about it and that they need to watch it in cinemas. We now have many sources of entertainment, so how do you make an ‘event film’? We thought the backdrop of the ‘60s and the fact that there is Anushka, Karan (Johar) and myself would be engaging. On these counts alone, this film can validate a certain budget. I mean, this is not your mainstream masala film, which has the potential of achieving a certain box office number. But, like I said, there are many open-ended questions that you can ask us but we will not be able to answer. All we can say is that this is a film that we believe in and we made it; now dekha jaega.

What was the response to the first trailer of the film? And why did you release a second trailer?
RK: The first trailer’s response was actually very low key; a couple of us expected that. It was not a good reaction. When you have a film of this nature, your first theatrical trailer is your main vehicle to generate curiosity among the audience as we don’t have chartbuster songs with a hero and heroine dancing. So it was very important for Anurag to prepare the audience and let them know what the film is about, and it is not about the songs or music videos being shot a certain way. As the music label has paid a certain sum of money and you also have to service them too. But the film is not selling the music, it is the music and the tracks that are mating the tone of the film and are based on the story.

So I confess that we don’t know how to market this film as there is no set pattern we can follow, like Bang Bang was marketed, or NH10, or even Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani as the film already had hit songs and we didn’t have much to do. So we don’t know how to market this film. But we are trying to be honest about the communication. The film is dark with a murky backdrop. It is a love story, it is about good and evil, it is about Bombay city, it is about Anushka playing a jazz singer, and it is about this character Johnny who dreams of becoming a big shot. So we are preparing the audience for this.
AS: I think the response to the second trailer has been better and that is very reassuring.

Even Rishi (Kapoor) sir tweeted that he loved the second trailer.
AS: Yes.
RK: That is a great thing as he is not someone who would be politically correct. He loved the film too.
AS: I asked Ranbir whether he really meant the things he had said or whether it was because we were outside the trail show. Ranbir said, ‘No, if my father is saying something good, that means it is good.’ (Laughs)

When you are working on a commercial film like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and PK, and then you do something that is off the beaten path like an NH10, does it change you as actors, how you approach the role?
RK: I don’t think so.
AS: Not at all.
RK: I was doing Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and Wake Up Sid at the same time. I approached my work in the same way. Of course, it’s different characters, different worlds but you play your roles accordingly. When you’re working on a film, you completely surrender to it and don’t know whether it’s going well or not. You’re just focused on your work. I didn’t sign this film because it was an offbeat film. When we signed the film, we thought it was a very commercial Hindi film. If that doesn’t come through then that’s not in my hands. But when I was working on this film, we felt it was a very engaging film, very entertaining film, and a story people would relate to. We are not doing this film for self-satisfaction. It’s not a pseudo-intellectual film. We are not making it for the critics and we understand that box-office success is more satisfying than critical acclaim. It is tough to blend art and commercial cinema. It’s easier to get away with an art film, regardless of how good or bad it is. That’s what I realised with Besharam, a genre where you are trying to appeal to the larger audience, or with films like Dabangg and Kick. It’s a very tough genre. With my generation of actors, it might take us some time to understand what a pan-India audience wants to watch.

AS: When you’re doing a film, you know who you’re catering to. For instance, when I was doing NH10, I knew who I was catering to. I am not going to expect business of 100 crore from NH10. It is satisfying enough when the audience you’re aiming at comes to watch your film.

RK: (Cuts in) Having said that, I don’t know whom Bombay Velvet is catering too. According to me, the story caters to a wide audience because the story of the film is one that has not yet been told.
AS: (Cuts in) The uniqueness of the film is that it cannot be categorised. You cannot determine the kind of audience that will watch this film. And that’s where we too are confused because we are getting into the arena together with the audience.

Anushka, this is your third release in the last six months – PK, NH10 and now Bombay Velvet and then Dil Dhadakne Do. And, Ranbir, conversely, you have a solo film after a year and a half, with Roy in between. What are the pros and cons of having back-to-back releases and gaps between releases?
RK: I have always maintained that I don’t have control over the releases of my films. Fortunately – and this applies to Anushka too – I am working with filmmakers who are the best. And we are not the kind of actors who will say, ‘I don’t have a release’ or ‘I have to have a release this year’, or ‘I have two releases so push my film to next year’. We never do that. I don’t think it works like that. Bombay Velvet was to release in November and then they postponed it… The reason they postponed it was for the betterment of the film. Then it doesn’t matter whether your film releases in a year or in two years.  But I do believe in ‘out of sight, out of mind’, and there are many actors coming out with good films. Although it’s fine if you come up with a good product in the end. Anushka didn’t have a release for such a long time and I used to ask her, ‘Are you okay?’ And she was fine. The directors we are working with excel at their craft. If they take time, it’s always for the betterment of 
the film.

But do you think there is such a thing as ‘over-exposure’, like four releases in seven months?
AS: It totally depends on the films. If they are good films and they are attaching some value to your career, then it’s great. Going back to what Ranbir said when I didn’t have any releases and people used to ask me if I was all right, I knew what I was working on and what films were to release. So I don’t have issues except for doing so much back-to-back promotions as I am not used to seeing myself so much on camera and in the news. But what works in my favour is that each of these films is very different from the others, so I am not getting typecast by genres. So it’s good to have films like this back-to-back.
Speaking of negativity… there is negativity about this film only within the industry. But when you talk to exhibitors, they say audiences are looking forward to watching Ranbir-Anushka on screen. They are waiting for May 15.
RK: (Cuts in) Yes, that is one thing we in the industry have to understand. We tend to look only inside our industry, listen to them and judge a film accordingly. We don’t have a relationship with the actual audience. We sit at home and think, ‘Twitter pe yeh bol rahe hain means yahi sahi hain.’ We don’t even know who is talking about it on Twitter. But one gets a sense of where this can lead. We also feel that the media has been negative towards Anurag and they went too deep into Anushka’s personal life. These were the topics discussed at press conferences whereas you feel you have worked so hard on this film, so let’s talk about the film.

You are bang on when you say that the negativity is coming from our industry. Industry mein baith ke sochte hai ki agar Karan Johar or Excel Entertainment is saying something on Twitter that’s only correct. Which is wrong, everyone has their own perception.

But how do stars like you connect with the audience?
RK: It is hard but I believe I am very lucky to work with directors who have their own audience, whether Imtiaz Ali or Anurag Basu or Ayan Mukerji. I believe that these directors are doing a great job and I contribute my life experiences and connect with their characters. But the hard work is actually being done by them. And I am lucky to work with them. I believe an actor is as good as the director he or she works with. In Bombay Velvet, if my performance and Anushka’s is too good but if the film is not good, it will not make any sense. It will have no meaning. You’re only as good as the film is. You’re only as good as the director is. And I think we are lucky to work with directors who have a sense of what’s happening in India. When I shoot in small towns like Shimla or a village in Chandigarh, I realise what are these films we talk about? That’s not the way the entire nation looks at cinema. At the same time, you want to do roles which you relate to, so you want to mix it up. You have to mix it up and make a film which connects with the audience and also which you can relate to. Because if you don’t believe in a subject, how will you act in it?

How do you connect with reality, Anushka?
AS: The simple fact of coming from outside the industry helps me a lot. Like how you guys were discussing about how people look at a film and discuss things. I never looked at a film in such detail; it either entertained me or it didn’t. Initially, when I used to hear those filmy chats, I used to wonder how they managed to talk so much. That’s not the way we looked at films. But that’s not how we look at things; we are not looking into the texture and elements. I think I will hold on to that feeling. If there is anything I hold on to, it’s my upbringing, where I 
came from. 
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