How to treat a guy who left you at the altar (and you do not yet know it was unwillingly).
Abhishek Chaubey on the journey from Ishqiya to Dedh Ishqiya
Did the idea of a sequel happen right after you finished Ishqiya or did it develop later?
I had no idea that Ishqiya (the 2010 film starring Naseeruddin Shah, Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi) could and would have a sequel. It was my producers who really wanted a sequel, but I had no story to tell! So, I told them: Well, I don’t have a story and so I can’t make the film’. They got together and told me that they would get me a writer and I was like: Ya, okay’. I was working on something else at that time and they got a writer on board who came up with the basic idea that later became Dedh Ishqiya. It was from that idea that Vishal sir (Bhardwaj, the film’s producer) and I wrote the script.
So the starting point wasn’t the attempt to cash in on a successful franchise because that’s what gives rise to most sequels in Bollywood…
I don’t have the cashing in’ bone in my body! (Laughs) I was excited by the story and that’s why I decided to make the movie. It was only when the basic idea of the film came to me that I decided to give it some thought. Vishal sir insisted that we work together on the script. Somewhere during that writing process I realised that I really do want to make this film because, even at the risk of sounding cliched, it’s something new and unique.
Ishqiya was a dark comedy and had the undertones of a classic noir. Is the tone and theme of Dedh Ishqiya similar?
Yes, there are certain thematic elements that are common between the two films. The basic emotions that Ishqiya was about… romance, betrayal… are present here too. However, the two films are very, very different in both their skin and soul. It’s a completely new world in Dedh Ishqiya that we are exploring from the eyes of the two men (Naseer’s Khalujaan and Arshad’s Babban). Barring a few cosmetic similarities with the first film,Dedh Ishqiya is a completely new experience.
Is it true that you had only Madhuri Dixit in mind for the central role of the femme fatale?
Vishal sir had told me once that he had read a Madhuri interview where she had mentioned that one of the films in the recent past that she had enjoyed was Ishqiya and to return to films, she was looking for a role like that. I felt good hearing that. When the story of Dedh Ishqiya happened, it needed a central protagonist and we felt that she fit the part perfectly. A Begum who lives in this palace and has this regal air about her… it was a role that was calling out for Madhuri. I first met her in August 2011 with the basic outline of the script. She really enjoyed it and did say immediately that she would love to be a part of it. I went back and wrote the screenplay and she was the first person to read it. The process of getting her on board was very smooth and didn’t take much time… it’s just that I take a lot of time to write!(Laughs)
What did Madhuri bring to the role that probably some other actress couldn’t have?
First was the persona that she brought to Shahi Begum. Second was her beauty, of course. We needed a cracker of an actor to pull off the part and who better than Madhuri to do that?
Was it intimidating directing Madhuri and Naseeruddin Shah in what is just your second film?
As a director, I had to be on my toes. I had to know my stuff very well. They came in with so much talent and so much experience. They’ve been working since I was a baby(laughs). It was a bit unnerving at times, but the atmosphere on set was very cool. I wasn’t stressed out… I let these guys loose and they performed on the basis of their instincts.
How much creative liberty did Vishal as a mentor and producer give you?
We wrote the script together and so both of us know the film inside out. He has a lot of faith in me and let’s me be completely. I remember he came to the Dedh Ishqiya set only once and he made me wrap up early because he wanted to have a drink with me!(Laughs) He’s been my biggest sounding board and in the prep stage when we were having some scheduling issues, he was always there to solve it for us.
Will there be a third Ishqiya film or are you looking at doing something completely different?
Ideally I want to get out of the Ishqiya space and do something different. But that’s not saying that a third film in the franchise won’t happen. As of now, I have no story in mind for another Ishqiya film.
Prem and Nisha reunited yet again! Saree-clad Madhuri sure looked gorgeous as she visited the sets of Big Boss 7.
Films and scenes that had me in tears II Lajja
Manish asks Janki to abort their baby.
An excerpt from an interview with the lovely Huma Qureshi
Two heroine scripts are always dicey and to have Madhuri Dixit as a co-star can be intimidating. Any apprehensions about being overshadowed?
There was no scope to feel insecure. When I read the script I knew exactly what my lines were, how much screen time I would get and what was expected of me. I didn’t have to jostle for space. On a personal level, the only sensible thing for me to do was not get competitive with Madhuri. That would have been a really stupid thing to do. Also, I think the whole business of getting insecure about co-stars is a thing of the past. Today all actors get bound scripts. In Dedh Ishqiya, every character is important. The film needs what each of us brings to the table or it won’t work.
What was it like working with Madhuri?
She is a very unique actress. She is like Colgate.
You know, in smaller towns people don’t say ‘Give me XYZ brand’ when they want to buy toothpaste. All toothpastes are Colgate! When I was growing up, no girl would say ‘I want to become an actress’… they’d want to be ‘Madhuri Dixit’. She is what it means to be an actress. She is the ultimate actress. I remember when we were doing readings together, she was so good. I would forget my lines and just keep looking at her. I associated her with being a ‘commercial’ actress, so in a sense Dedh Ishqiya is a different genre for her and she adapted so well. I think that’s what I learnt from her… to adapt to any situation.
We used to talk about how movies were made back in her days. Apparently an actor would sign three-four films in a row and then you’d shoot the important scenes. Those scenes would be shown to distributors and financiers. Money would come in depending on the feedback and that’s when they would complete the film. Can you imagine?! It was such a chaotic way to work.
You have a dance sequence with Madhuri. That must have been nerve-racking!
When I was first told about the dance sequence, I thought they had lost the plot. I told them I’ll do it only if I got about 12 years to rehearse (laughs). Clearly, that didn’t happen! It’s a Kathak piece that’s choreographed by Remo (D’Souza). Most of the sequence is filmed on Madhuri. Before we started shooting, she gave me a big hug and said, ‘Don’t worry, I don’t bite’.
Anjali from Pukar remains one of the most complex characters Madhuri ever got to breathe life into. It also counts as one of her most astounding performances.