Laughing their way through

How did Hasee Toh Phasee begin for both of you?
Sidharth Malhotra: It started with Phantom wanting to do a film with Dharma. Vinil Mathew has been associated with the film for a while now. Then Phantom liked it and they came to Karan (Johar) with the script. And at that time, there were two young boys in Dharma, me and Varun (Dhawan). So our names came up when they were deciding who should do the film. Luckily, the script came to me. Meeting Vinil made it interesting as I had watched his ad films.
Parineeti Chopra: I went to Vinil sir a lot earlier and I had read the script. I thought that it was lovely and I loved my role in it. They were planning to shoot it when I was doing
Shuddh Desi Romance
, so I wasn’t able to do it then. About three months later, Karan called me and said he was now on board with the film. He also told me, ‘We know you want to do the film and we would really like you to do it.' So it all worked out.

What was it about the script that attracted you?
Parineeti: My role really grabbed me. It was very new and this character is a scientist and not a normal person. She doesn’t blink at all, sticks her tongue out when she speaks and is always breathless. I have not seen this in characters which are not medically unfit. I had not seen it in a normal rom-com. So I thought it would be great fun playing it. Then Karan told me that Sidharth was doing the film, and I thought it was perfect casting for Nikhil (the character).
Sidharth: When you read the script, there are so many odd situations and you feel these two characters are really quite bizarre. There is a love seat and we get stuck in it. And the female character likes to eat toothpaste. I wanted to meet the director. So when I met Vinil, we chatted at Dharma and I analysed my character because the character is a little odd. He is breathless, he is always moving, he doesn’t say things correctly. It gave me a sense of confidence that the director is capable of making a film like that. When I met Vinil, I was convinced that he would pull off this quirkiness in a funny way.

Now that the film is complete, how close is it to the script that first attracted you?
Sidharth: It is exactly what we had read.
Parineeti: Exactly the same.
Sidharth: The writing itself is quirky. The comedy is not like maine punch maara...
Parineeti: ...aur koi gir raha hai, koi pad raha hai.
Sidharth: The comedy is in the situations, in the expressions, in the subtlety, in the newness of getting elements like getting a love seat or her eating toothpaste. So it’s come out in a quirky and different way.

Sidharth, in your first film, you had an experienced Karan guiding you as director and producer. However, this is Vinil’s first film. Did it feel different?

Sidharth: There was a big difference! I think you feel more pressurised, you have to have some of the answers because the roles have changed. Now I am one film old and the director is new. He tells you things like this is not right, what do you think? Do this scene in a different way, rehearse it like this. Sometimes they listen to your suggestions, which is dangerous. I think it was a little scary as there was more pressure on me as a performer, there was more expected of me. But we are answerable to Dharma and Karan because he had made a decision to launch us and this was a chance to prove our mettle. So there’s a lot more expectation but also a lot of excitement. Eventually, doesn’t everyone want to do a solo film? And that’s what I am doing now.

Both of you had strong backing when you made your debut – Sidharth with Dharma and Parineeti with Yash Raj. What kind of leverage did that give you?
Parineeti: It was a great start because I never really wanted to become an actor. But because I had my first three films with them, I have always been protected and have had great mentors in Yash Raj Films. Also, the way they make their films, their ethics, the way they manage films, the crew they choose... it’s all very professional. So I think I have been disciplined very well, at least in my first three films, and I carried that forward in Hasee Toh Phasee
. They back you, they market you, make sure your films do well, they make you look good.

Was it difficult to get out of the YRF comfort zone and getting into a new set-up?

Parineeti: Not at all. I think Adi and Karan are very cool producers. They don’t think like regular producers, ki arrey, yeh meri heroine hai aur isspe itna paisa lagana hai. They treat all their actors, their staff and crew like their own. You can talk to them any time you like. Or you can talk to Adi any time you want. So there isn’t any difference, really. Everyone is really cool and young and happening there. Another thing is that YRF didn’t tie me down with my contract. My first film had to be with them and I was free to choose my films after that. I coincidentally ended up doing two more films with them.

Sidharth, for you Phantom was a new set-up.
Sidharth: Yes. Dharma had obviously launched us in a big way and this was another script that came to me from them. Luckily, Phantom and Dharma got together and this film came to me. When things started to roll, Phantom took over and that’s when I realised how spoilt we were at Dharma. Budget constraints meant we couldn’t take anything for granted at Dharma. But it was good to get a taste of what other people were doing in terms of how they functioned on a set. But we are Dharma talent too and we will do more Dharma films. But we are also trying to do films outside and, hopefully, I will get to work with many other production houses.

And many new leading ladies.
Sidharth: (Laughs) Yes! Many new leading ladies, which is always more exciting! This film required only so much interaction with my character and her character. If it doesn’t work, the film won’t work. Hopefully, the chemistry and the fun element will come across.

From the trade’s point of view, what attraction does Hasee Toh Phasee hold for the audience?

Sidharth: It has everything for the whole family. You could say that SOTY was aimed at a younger audience but this film is for the family. It has joint family elements, and we are playing these characters that are not restricted by age. So the pan-age group factor will create a lot of appeal.

Is it certified as a U film?
Sidharth: It’s U/A certification. Everything these days is U/A, I think only cartoon films get a U certificate nowadays. (Laughs)

With just one film under your belt, are your decisions to sign a film based on commercial or purely creative considerations?
Parineeti: They are purely creative. I can’t decide what a film is like when it is still on paper. You get an idea when the songs are released and you start shooting. That’s when you realise, ‘Oh, this is the scale of the film, so maybe this is going to be the future of this film.’ I choose from a creative point of view, as far as the story goes, my role goes or the director goes. That’s how I should choose because I am not making the film; I am merely acting in it.
Sidharth: It’s the same for me. The attempt is to do a film that is different from your previous film. I have tried to be this guy in the film who doesn’t pay attention to his hair, his clothes, or how I look in the high-speed shots. People did say I was looking younger and cuter but that’s just how I look. This boy is nowhere near the boy I played in SOTY. So the attempt is to make something different from my previous film.

But, Sidharth, isn’t the box office important to you, especially since you are a hero and our industry is very male-centric.
Sidharth: The box office will work for me when I do good films. I can’t choose to do a film simply because the director or the film sounds commercial. I don’t know what ‘commercial’ means.
is the most non-commercial film in Indian cinema and yet it made so much money. So I think nothing beats good content.

Speaking of Barfi!… Parineeti, female actors have a lot more scope to bag meatier and meaningful roles these days. How open are you to experimenting?
Parineeti: I have been experimenting since my very first film, which was with four other girls. Ishaqzaade was completely non-glamorous and in Shuddh Desi Romance the girl was blusterous in her thinking. And Hasee Toh Phasee is different from those. I would like to believe that my next two films will also be very different. I experiment because I have a very short attention span and get bored very easily. I will continue to experiment because I genuinely love doing different things.

On special arrangement with Box Office India
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