One ‘Happy’ Family

Let’s start with you, Sonu. How did the journey of the film begin for you?
Sonu Sood: It all started when I got a call from Farah and she told me that she wanted to cast me in a film of hers. I told her I was shooting for a film and that I would not be able to assign her dates. She said that she wanted to cast me and I would have to promise to give her dates. Straight away, I flew from Bangkok, where I was shooting a film, to Dubai, and I flew back and forth for three days to shoot for Happy New Year. That’s how I came on board.

Were you aware of the role she was planning to cast you in or did you think it was another villainous role that you were going to get?

Sonu: I knew that Farah wanted me in a positive role and I also knew that she would have a great role in mind. I have played positive characters in the past too. But I was sure that since this was a Farah Khan film, it would have a lot of dancing. In fact, this film has given me a platform to showcase whatever dancing skills I have and it has also helped me try my hand at comedy. The film has such a brilliant star cast and that was another reason I knew I had to do the film.

Boman, can you tell us how you became a part of the film?

Boman Irani: My journey began around 10 years ago. It was literally the silver jubilee function of Main Hoon Na and I was driving to that function. Farah asked me if I was on my way to the function.

I said yes and she said, ‘I have news for you. We are doing a film called Happy New Year.’ I said, ‘Wow! When are we shooting?’ She said, ‘Probably next year,’ and I said. ‘Wonderful!’ But Happy New Year didn’t happen then and she started working on Om Shanti Om instead. Then, when Farah and I were shooting Shirin Farhad Ki Nikal Padi a couple of years ago, she and I spent a lot of time together and that’s when she told me she was reviving Happy New Year. She asked me again if I was interested in doing it. I said, ‘Without a shadow of a doubt.’ A couple of months later, Shah Rukh came on board and you know that when Shah Rukh comes on board, everything begins to move, and fast! So it’s been precisely a year and a few days since we took the first shot of Happy New Year in Dubai although it feel just like yesterday. But that’s another journey and we can talk about that later.

Vivaan, how were you cast?
Vivaan Shah: Huh?!
Boman: You scared the hell out of the poor boy when you asked that question. Did you see the jhatka you gave him? You have that look on your face when a schoolboy is caught doing some badmaashi.
Sonu: Vivaan, they asked you about your safar.

Was it a safar or did you suffer?
Vivaan: (Laughs) No, I didn’t suffer. The journey started a little over a year ago. Before we started shooting, we went for a screen test and I auditioned for my part. I got called back for another round of auditions and another, and I didn’t know what was happening because I didn’t believe that I was going to get the role; I was simply auditioning. Then Farah attended one of the auditions. That’s when it dawned on me what this film was about. Up until then, I didn’t know anything about the film. I used to audition just like that. It was the day Farah came in for the auditions that I realised it was a Farah Khan film and that Shah Rukh Khan sir had to be in it.

So, at the audition, she asked me if I was a good dancer. I lied outright, saying I was, in fact, a brilliant dancer as I assumed it would increase the probability of me landing the role. But she went, ‘Oh, damn! We need a bad dancer.’ So I said, ‘No, no, I am a very bad dancer!’ When she saw me dance, I guess she believed me and that’s how I landed the role.

Sonu, action is a cakewalk for you but dancing is integral to this film. Was dancing tough for you?
Sonu: No, not at all. I have done a lot of dancing in my South films and in the Hindi films I had done in the beginning of my career. However, I never got noticed in those! But, certainly, when you do a film like Happy New Year, which revolves around dancing, along with lots of action and lots of comedy, it’s the perfect film to showcase your talents. With a director like Farah, you can never go wrong. All you need to d is arrive on the sets and everything falls in place. Also, with Shah Rukh, who was a great co-star, I think Happy New Year was one the most special films for me, to date.

What was SRK like as a producer and as a co-star?
Sonu: I have done 60-odd films during my career, including my South films, and I can say on record that Shah Rukh is the best producer I have every worked with. He is also the best co-star I have worked with. He is always on his toes. He also goes out of his way to help other actors and is very committed. You have to really love cinema like Shah Rukh does, to deliver the kind of films he does. When the film was being shot, I behaved like a good student of cinema and so I learned a lot from him.

Did he behave like a producer on the sets?

Boman: Never! In fact, he is one of the few producers who actually asks us, ‘Yaar, aaj mood hai shoot karne ka? If not, then let’s chill and party.’ He was the one who taught us how to play FIFA. In fact, Sonu, SRK, Abhishek, Vivaan and I used to spend hours in his van playing. He pampers you so much that you get addicted to being on the sets. That’s the beauty of working in a film which has Shah Rukh as producer.

Boman, you have worked with Shah Rukh on many films. Can you tell us how your friendship has blossomed over the years?
Boman: (Smiles) Shah Rukh hasn’t changed much, thankfully. I met him on the first day of the shoot of Main Hoon Na. We were shooting in Darjeeling he came in late, and knocked on my door. I was in my pajamas. He introduced himself, saying, ‘Hi, I am Shah Rukh Khan. Welcome to my film and thank you for doing it.’ It was very gracious of him and he told me that he was put up in the room next to mine, and I could reach him any time. If there was anything I needed, all I had to do was knock on his door. Well, I didn’t knock on his door but during the making of Don and Don 2, his doors were always open for me. I don’t think his door is ever shut for me, till about 4-4:30 in the morning, when everyone finally leaves.

Let me narrate a funny incident. I was once sitting in Shah Rukh’s room and we were chatting, and two guys were sitting across the dining table. Shah Rukh asked me, ‘Who the hell are those two guys?’ I said, ‘How the hell am I supposed to know?’ The same thing happened when we were shooting in Germany during the making of Don. Two guys walked in, Shah Rukh offered them drinks and asked them if they wanted to eat something. Then he turns to me and asks, ‘Woh do log kaun hain, yaar?’ (Laughs)

But as a producer, he has this ability to fuss over you and his team makes you feel like a prince, like you are on this very special mission and you have to be treated like royalty. Moreover, every actor is treated the same way, with dignity, grace and, more importantly, luxury. It’s not about whether you can afford to do it or not; you have to have the heart to do it. If you work like that, you deliver better quality work. On the set, he is a huge star. In fact, he is the biggest star. But I think he leaves that for his fans. For his crew, he is an actor and a producer, and he plays that part very well.

Boman, since you and SRK are such good actors, did you guys improvise on the sets? Did you help him or vice versa?
Boman: Helping each other while acting is a very subtle thing. When we are acting, he feeds me stuff, I feed him stuff. We have our discussions and we know immediately if some notes are not in tune. We instinctively know what could be done differently. We know when we need another take. And if something goes awry, then we are, like, you know what, let’s do it another way. There is no ego when it comes to acting. If egos come into the picture, we are not playing our characters correctly.

Did you share that same equation with the rest of the cast?
Boman: I don’t speak for Shah Rukh and myself alone, I speak for the entire team. Everybody is willing to listen to everybody because I think the film is about a team. So the work process has to also be undertaken by a team. It is not a story about individuals; it’s a story about six people. If six people are not in unison, the film doesn’t work. We worked marvelously together. This was one of the best experiences of an ensemble cast. I have worked in many ensemble cast films but this was the best experience so far.

Sonu, what were Boman and Vivaan like as co-stars?

Sonu: The biggest thing Happy New Year has given me is Boman, Vivaan, Abhishek, Shah Rukh, Deepika and Farah as friends. I miss them when we are not shooting. I hassle Boman a lot but I think it comes automatically when you love someone so much. It was he who taught me FIFA. I used to trouble my son a lot by switching off his TV and video games before I knew how to play that game. After Boman taught me the game, I started to play it with my son too. My son must really love Boman for that. Apart from that, I think it’s very important for any actor to have great co-stars. When you have the right crew, you have the right suggestions coming your way. That’s the USP of Happy New Year.

Each one of us has our own body of work, and when we all were put together, we all looked good and complimented each other. That’s the specialty of Farah; she really got us together. I always say to Shah Rukh, that after Happy New Year, it will be very tough for me to choose my next film because I would always look out for a producer like Shah Rukh, a director like Farah, and co-stars like Boman, Abhishek, Deepika, Vivaan and Shah Rukh. I think life is going to be tough after this film.

Was Farah a task master on the sets?
Sonu: Farah has a golden heart and works very hard. She has seen it all and she knows how tough it is to make a mark in this industry. I connected with her very well. If Farah didn’t scold us for 24 hours, we used to think something was wrong! I remember, one day, Farah said very politely, ‘Sonu, chalo ek shot de do. Boman, chalo shoot kar lo.’ We asked her if she was feeling all right. Then she shouted at us and said, ‘Aye, idiot, jaake shot de!’ Then we knew she was fine. We loved hassling her. You will see a great equation of six actors with a great director. A film like Happy New Year needed a director like Farah and without her the film would not have been possible.

Now that the film is complete, it’s all about the numbers game. There are huge expectations attached to this film. Does that put any pressure on you as an actor?
Sonu: No, this film will exceed all expectations. Numbers are for the trade. For actors, producers and directors, we want to make a good product. And we are really proud of Happy New Year. Every time we see the rushes, every time we see our film, we feel we are blessed to be part of it. Numbers will follow automatically but our target was to create a good film and that is what we have done. And full credit to our director.

Vivaan, what was your father’s (Naseeruddin Shah) reaction when you told him you had signed Farah Khan’s film?

Boman: He said, ‘What an idiot soul!’
Vivaan: (Laughs) Arrey, no sir, In fact, he was very happy for me when I told him I was going for the audition. When I finally landed the part, he was very happy. In fact, Farah ma’am told me that he had called her…
Boman: (Cuts in) And he told Farah, ‘Mera beta kuch nahi kar sakta, usko kyun sign kiya?’

What can the audience expect from the film?

Boman: I think the trailer is a great indicator of what the audience expects. Sometimes you watch a trailer and you still don’t know what the film is all about. With Happy New Year, it is very clear it is black and white in colour.

Sonu: It is very difficult to visualise what you can expect from a film like Happy New Year. We were awestruck by the spellbinding sets and visuals. I have always wondered how Farah visualises on such a large scale. It is not about just one song but everything that was shot, each frame, the entire film. Happy New Year was not just an experience for us but it will be an experience for the audience as well.

Vivaan: I would have to agree with Boman sir. The film will surpass the audience’s expectations. It is truly a vision of Bollywood wrapped in one film by someone who is a master at her craft. This is a film made by someone who loves Indian cinema and knows Indian cinema inside out for an audience who loves Indian cinema.
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