exclusive by Devansh Patel
A pen is mighter than a sword. This saying stands true when it comes to writer Kamlesh Pandey after you read his answers to the interview below, and if you asked him why he chose a career in writing, he'd answer that it was much more a case of the career choosing him. Writing runs in his blood.
Let's face it, today most of the movies we see are just plain bad. Except for a few, there hasn't been a lot to get excited about lately (the last ten years or so.) It may be that the majority of professional storywriters and scriptwriters out there are not producing quality material, they're just simply collecting paychecks. We don't blame them, but wish we could collect six-figures for some of the trash that is being written. Anyway, welcome Pandey, a mixture of old school and new school types who wants to believe that his grey hair hasn't stopped him from penning new age films like Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6. After months and months of carefully plotting story, creating vivid characters and structuring a hundred and twenty pages in such a way for maximum dramatic impact, Pandey has become an orator of sorts. We found that out when the acclaimed writer invited us at his Juhu Link Road residence to talk about his writing and experiences in Delhi 6. A die hard patriot and a real lover of real India, he gets most of his inspiration from small town and villages and says, "That's where the real stories are found, not in Mumbai". A die hard fan of Raj Kapoor films, he believes that Delhi 6 is a modern interpretation of Raj saabs Jaagte Raho and questions, "If Raj Kapoor was alive today, how would he have made Jaagte Raho?". One of the most passionate writers we have today, Kamlesh believes, "We are no less than Vyas who wrote Mahabharata, Tulsidas who wrote Ram Charitra Manas or Valmiki who wrote Ramayana. We are their children". Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent and UK's Harrow Observer columnist grills Kamlesh Pandey over two hours in what went down as one of the most memorable interviews ever done by Devansh Patel in the past decade. So as the final word of the below interview was written, we got a bit saddened and recalled what the genius writer said, " The best reward for a writer is that he is the first audience of his work. Once it goes out of your hands, it belongs to the whole world. You lose it and just relish the moments of its creation".
How did the idea of making Delhi 6 cultivate?
The idea came from Rakeysh. He is from Ballimaran which is a part of Delhi 6 Chandni Chowk area. This was while I was writing Rang De Basanti. He once mentioned his memories of Delhi 6 and the kind of people, issues and behaviour, etc. Infact, I lived with Rakeysh in Delhi while doing the research for the film. I loved the place, its people, the culture and the attitude. People of Delhi 6 still call the soft drink which they serve in restaurants and dhabas, 'Campa Cola'. The guy will then bring a Pepsi or a Coke. That's what Delhi is about. The city is still trapped in a certain time zone. Rakeysh and I sketched bits and pieces of the city without knowing the fact that we will come out with beautiful film titled Delhi 6.
So what was the basic idea of Delhi 6 you wanted to come out with?
The basic idea of Delhi 6 was that of an NRI boy who comes to India with his grandmother, and like many other NRI's, he too finds the basic infrastructure not present; there is poverty, filth, superstition, etc. Eventually he hates India but by the end of the film he falls in love with it. Plus there was a love story weaved into the film too. But we thought that the basic idea wasn't enough. We needed something else.
And what was that 'something else'?
If you've seen my film Tezaab, it was Awara of 1988. How I started was with the thought that if Raj Kapoor was alive during that period, what Awara would be like. Tezaab had many tributes to Awara too. The introduction of the villain of Awara, K.N.Singh, in Awara is exactly the introduction of the hero of Tezaab, Anil Kapoor. Coming to Delhi 6, I remembered Raj saab's Jaagte Raho. It was a very simple film with Raj Kapoor looking for water. It was a man's search of water. But through that one simple incident, Raj Kapoor exposes the hypocrisy of the entire society; the biases, the hates, the loves, the double faces and so on. So I thought, let's make a modern interpretation of Jaagte Raho. Raj saab is my university. Not only me, but for many. Thus Delhi 6 also exposes the two-facedness of our society.
There is a very big statement in Delhi 6 about Americans too, right?
Yes there is. It's about George Bush but we haven't named him. There is this whole big sequence shot in New York about Indians and the Americans which you'll see in the film.
I'm sure the audience will accept Delhi 6 because of Rang De Basanti's success.
We don't know that. But what we know is that if Rang De would've flopped, Delhi 6 would not have existed. Rakeysh's Aks was a little ahead of its time. It was a very significant film where we tried to say something very important. But I think we missed the audience or the audience missed us. I'd like to say that the audience failed us because we let them get away with murder. For the success of every bad film, audience is equally responsible and not only the maker of that film. We have appeared for our exam and our exams are over. Now the audience will give their exam. This proves what they want – good cinema or bad cinema.
A man like you having grey hair can write about what's prevalent in today's time. You sure are a mix of old and new school types.
Rakeysh jokes a lot with me on that front (laughs). I was in the same flight which banged into the helicopter and I narrowly missed meeting our president mid air (laughs). I then called Rakeysh and said that my journey is still not over and he replied saying that I am still young to write for about a hundred films. I am not old to die. I like to keep in touch with what is happening to our present India. I don't only meet the people to find what's doing the rounds but I am a regular subscriber to the magazines or the work of fiction written in Hindi by many of our youngsters today. Mumbai is not the real India. The stories are not in Mumbai, the stories are out there in small villages and towns. I get the vicarious experience through the writing of what India is thinking and what our young India wants.
Have you scripted any character in Delhi 6 from the real India?
Yes I have. There are couple of people in Delhi 6 who are real life inspiration from my village in Allahabad. There is a person called 'Gobar' in Delhi 6 played by Atul Kulkarni who is a real person. I was a kid in my village Balia in Eastern U.P. when I knew him. He is so fascinating as a person that I want to write a whole film on him. His real name was different though. People often ask me that I should pursue direction but I tell them that I am not that greedy. Once you become a director, only one film is there for you in your mind, but as a writer, I am doing almost half a dozen films, animation too. I have a far richer life, not in terms of money, but in terms of telling stories which no director can claim to have.
How many changes did you make in the script of Delhi 6?
I have lost the count of the drafts. It's strange but true that the final draft of the script wasn't ready and we started the shoot of Delhi 6. I think, scripting is a very alive process. Sometimes, things happen suddenly and unexpected. That's why you have to be always open for changes all the time. A script isn't just a mere piece of paper. The best reward for a writer is that he is the first audience of his work. Once it goes out of your hands, it belongs to the whole world. You lose it. You relish the moments of its creation.
Relish some moments from Delhi 6 like how the name of the film was born?
There is an interesting story behind this. Me and Rakeysh were walking in the night in old Delhi where he was introducing me to the different areas. I was an alien there. While walking, we noticed that there was a fight going on in one of the corners of the street. During that time, the name of the film wasn't finalised. In fact, the name that we had in mind was revealing the whole story. Anyway, then one of the boys was getting beaten up by other three and that's when he said, "Haath na lageeyo, Delhi 6 ka launda hoon". I happened to hear that and told Rakeysh that we found the name of the film. What an attitute that boy had. Delhi 6 isn't just the postal code, it is the identity of the people living in old Delhi and it's culture.
But we also hear that the old Delhi was a set, right?
Yes, it was. I went for the shoot to Sambhar in Rajasthan where the re-created the old Delhi. Every sign board in that town was painted with Delhi 6 including the posters of the local Delhi politicians, the banners, etc. What a great job Sameer Chanda has done. I couldn't recognise that the set was old Delhi. It felt as if we were in Delhi 6.
With writers like you so clear about what they want, don't you think that writers should actually narrate the scripts to the actors along with the director?
I leave that part for Rakeysh to handle. Yes, we both are in sync with the script. The director knows as much as the actors know. Not that I avoid the actors but I am neither close to them nor far from them. Writers are more comfortable with the directors and not the actors and the same goes to the actors. They are more comfortable with the directors than writers. It's better that the director does the narration because finally, it's his vision. Rakeysh is very good with people and I am not. Sometimes you have to be a bit political, manipulative, smart, you have to see how people are reacting, etc. Rakeysh has these expertise and I don't. But when I am needed, I am always available.
We personally think that writers are the engine of the car. Without which the car cannot move ahead.
You're right. We writers have a very responsible role to play. We are story tellers of this nation. We are no less than Vyas who wrote Mahabharata, Tulsidas who wrote Ram Charitra Manas or Valmiki who wrote Ramayana. They were the story tellers of their time about our country and country men. We are their children. Whatever story I write, there is something of me going into it. D.J, Aamir Khan's name in Rang De Basanti, was me. When I left college, I was very much in demand because I was a writer. Many of my friends used my services to write love letters to their girl friends. Once I was out of the college, I was nobody. I was zero. That's why I kept going to my college to reclaim my old glory which was not there any more. DJ was me. In Tezaab too, a lot of Munna, Anil's character, was me. That anger and the angst is what I possessed while writing Anil Kapoor's role. I still am like that because you have to keep your anger alive in order to bleed your stories out of your system.
Did the same angst make you write Rang De Basanti?
Yes it did. Rang De Basanti started almost fifty years ago. As kids, we once heard Chacha Nehru say, "Anybody who is found corrupt in this country will be hanged by the nearest telephone pole". So next morning, we kids were going to school and saw all the telephone poles empty. We were so innocent that we believed in Nehru because we loved him beyond our limits. Forty years later, the telephone poles are still empty. Not a single politician nor a bureaucrat has been hanged from the nearest telephone pole. That was the angst which made me write Rang De Basanti.
A true Bharat you are.
Thank you. Well, each of your question has an interesting story. This one also. Our country isn't called 'Bharat' because of the great king Bharat. 'Bha' means light and 'Rat' means in search of. Imagine the great people who put the whole meaning of this country into the name. Bharat is a country which is in search of enlightenment and not in search of global domination, fame or economic growth. Our country has always been in search of light, even today, and that is the real glory of India.
Why should one go and watch Delhi 6?
Because Rakeysh and I have made one of the most unusual films which is so unique and fresh and so Indian. There hasn't been a film lately which is so Indian.
Tell us a bit about the pigeon in the film. Why so prominent on all the posters and hoardings?
(laughs) The pigeon is there because of Om Puri, who plays Sonam Kapoor's father. What to give him in terms of his role. Also we wanted to cover the roof tops of old Delhi. There are no sky scrappers in old Delhi and the roof tops make the most fascinating visuals in the mornings and the evenings. So how do you use the roof tops was the question. Then again, the pigeon is also a metaphor for Sonam Kapoor who wants to escape that environment. Om Puri's role in the film is to take care of the pigeons and feed them. It's a tradition which is still exists in India.