It’s hard to define Shoojit Sircar’s films. Most people don’t know whether to call them ‘commercial’ or ‘unconventional’. Going by the trailer of his latest film October, the film is again hard to define. He calls it a ‘spiritual film’. “There are some sequences that were so personal... there were some moments when I could not stop my tears. Even in the editing room, I had tears in my eyes, but those were tears of joy, because that’s how real the film had turned out to be,” the director says during the promotion in Mumbai.
The film, starring Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu, has been produced by Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar.
Excerpts from the interview:
Working with Varun Dhawan
Shoojit and Varun are collaborating for the first time in October, which is releasing today. But before signing him on, the director had not watched any of Varun’s films. When asked how much did he have to work on the actor, Shoojit replies, “I haven’t seen his films. I just knew that overnight he’s become a star. But I didn’t cast him because he was Varun; I only cast someone if they fit my character. When Varun was cast in Dan’s role, it was tough for him, because I asked him to unlearn a lot of things. I told him, ‘Forget your past five-six years. You have to work fresh on this’. He had to undergo preparation because October is more of a spiritual film and not a chick flick. It’s a spiritual experience for me because I have experienced the backdrop of the story in 2004.”
Was it challenging for him to cast a commercial actor like Varun?
“It’s difficult to explain in words when you are casting someone. There is no tick box. There is a lot of gut and instincts that work. When an actor sits opposite me, I just look into his/her eyes and see if I can see through them. I want to see if there is honesty, integrity left in them or not; Can they express through their eyes? I found that in Varun,” he says, adding, “Somehow I felt that the image I had of Varun, because of his work in commercial cinema, is not true. He is a different boy. The audience will see a new Varun.”
Obviously, the biggest USP of his film is Varun; but Shoojit maintains that the hero of his film is not Varun. “The hero of my film is the story and the writer. Varun is a team member. It’s a collaborative effort.”
Title of the film
Ask him if the title of the film has any connection with the month of October and he replies, “Whatever Juhi (Chaturvedi) writes, has some significance, it can be the title or the name of a character. She beautifully plotted a season as title of the film. There is no denying that she is one of the finest writers we have.”
The filmmaker says that Delhi is also a character in the film. “In fact, Delhi and Kolkata are always a part of my films. I like to portrays different shades of these cities in my stories. In Pink, it was the darker side of Delhi, in Piku you saw a humorous and lighter side and in this one, you will see a poetic Delhi. This is a calmer side of Delhi,” he says.
The tagline of the film says, ‘it’s not a love story but a film about love’. Ask him to define love and Shoojit says, “My definition of love is October. When you watch the film, you can see through me and learn what kind of person I am.”
The director adds that when he’s watching a film, it’s very important that he can look through a director to see who s/he really is. “If I don’t see a director’s heart and mind through a film, then there is something wrong. That’s very important. I have seen Satyajit Ray’s and Steven Spielberg’s films and I know the kind of person Ray was, and Spielberg is. In Spielberg’s films, there is some human angle and we know that nobody else can do it.”
Successful collaborations with Juhi Chaturvedi
Shoojit and Juhi have worked together in not just one but several critically acclaimed films like Vicky Donor, Madras Cafe and Piku. The filmmaker says that there is no secret behind their collaboration. “We align quite well, though we fight all the time on the set, but for good reasons. We are liked-minded people and we know how we want our films to be. We both know the fact that we will not lose the integrity of our compassion towards films for commercial reasons,” he explains.
Defining commercialism in films
Ask him if he keeps the commercial aspect in mind while making films on out-of-the box subjects like Vicky Donor or Piku? Shoojit, however, contends that his films are not unconventional or out-of-the-box. “Blowing cars is out-of-the-box. My films are very normal and having normal discussions is very normal. I don’t call my films out-of-the box; in fact, they are very real and simple stories. Because we have seen some rubbish, suddenly we have alienated normal films as out-of-the-box. We have seen Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Mani Ratnam to Adoor Gopalkrishnan making films that are not unconventional. I would like to correct that term,” he says.
He further adds that a lot of dramas in life are normal unlike Bollywood-ish where one is jumping and shouting around. “Pick a film like Piku and the scene after she lost her father, what do you expect her to do? She will introspect about what life will be like after her father has left. In fact, you will not find anything dramatic and non realistic in October too.”