Monday, 16 March 2009

"Preity is nominated along side Susan Sarandon at the Genie Awards 2009", Deepa Mehta in a candid chat with Devansh Patel

exclusive by Devansh Patel

Heralded as the most imaginative director working on social issues surrounding the women of today, yesterday and tomorrow, Deepa Mehta is the creative mastermind behind films such as Fire, Earth and Water to name a few. Her films are known to create pandemonium amongst the politically incorrect society of today but her latest film Heaven On Earth aka Videsh has brought the politically correct society to stand up and not only notice this extraordinary piece of story telling but also recognise it. How? Well, Preity Zinta won the Best Actress award at the prestigious Chicago Film Festival last year and is now nominated along side Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon at this years Genie Awards to take place in Canada in April. Now with so much surrounding the film, Deepa should have gone all pink, but instead, the talented Mehta goes all purple. Believe it or not, the Holi colour isn't just coming off her face. "My friends have painted my face all purple and I am scared to get out of my hotel room and attend press conferences", she said. Exclusively speaking with our London correspondent and UK's Harrow Observer columnist Devansh Patel, the affable, confident and dynamic Deepa lets her demons out in this exclusive Bollywood Hungama interview where she reveals of her inspiration to make films, her aspirations to work with Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerjee, her next film with Akshay Kumar, her new find in Videsh, Vansh Bhardwaj, her coming together with the Oscar winner A.R Rahman and why she can deal with the authenticity of India far better than the West.

Under what name is your film releasing across the globe besides India?
Across India, the film will be released with the name 'Videsh' and in the rest of the world as 'Heaven On Earth'.

With a story so strong and its message out loud and clear, do you think a change in the name of a film really matters when it's speaking of a universal subject?
I am not the distributor of the film, I am a film maker. If the distributor knows that the change in the name is helping the Indian audiences, I will listen to them because that's not my expertise.

Jag Mundhra had shown some startling issues surrounding a Punjabi woman's plight in his film Provoked. Are we going to see your woman, Preity Zinta, going through the same torment in Videsh?
I must say that Heaven on Earth or Videsh is very different from Provoked. It's like what Shakespeare said – There are three stories in the world and it's how you tell them that makes one different from the other. Yes, this story is partly about domestic abuse, but for me, the film is about the power of imagination. When reality becomes so grim, how can you use your imagination to liberate yourself. That is what the film is about. The milieu is of course the isolation of the first generation working class immigrant, whether they are in the U.S, the U.K, Australia or in this case Canada because it's the first generation that suffers the most.

Films are tagged as commercial, art house and world cinema. What tag fits the kind of films you make or have made over the years?
This is so bizarre (laughs). I don't think I fit any of them. I just write and tell stories. Only when a film is very particular, that's the very minute it starts becoming universal. I hope my films are universal.

Let's talk about the word 'universal' then. How universally inspired you get to tell stories every time you make them?
I am attracted to stories, I don't sit down and say – What is going to be my next film and what is it's issues. If the story is generally about a subject that I wish to know more about or I don't know so much about, I get glued on to it. For example, it was the sectarian war in my film Earth which really intrigued me at that point in time, also, Rwanda was going on at that time. I just couldn't understand the whole concept of sectarian war. I wanted to explore it further and that's why I did Earth. I used religion to cover up the marginalisation of certain sections of the society, it's a misuse of religion by society and that's how Water came around. Heaven on Earth has a lot to do with and understand the word 'abuse' in a larger canvas. It just doesn't come out of nowhere. Everybody is a victim, even the abuser. The point is, there is no black and white. That's what motivated me to do Videsh. It's not about issues but wanting to know more about something.

Let's talk about your new find – Vansh Bhardwaj. Tell us a bit more about this talent.
He is amazing. It's his first film. He was a lead in the play I saw, a play by Neelam Man Singh Chowdhary. She did Girish Karnad's Naag Mandala. I was so blown away by the play that I used it in the film too with Girish's blessings. I think the theatre actors have a lot of depth and discipline. I asked Vansh if he wanted to be a part of my film and he readily agreed, and you put him with a star like Preity Zinta, nothing beats it. I must say, Preity was very generous to Vansh.

The Best Actress at the Chicago Film Festival 2008 – Preity Zinta. Will she be able to surpass the best?
(laughs). I think it'll be really immodest if I said that this isn't her best performance to date and the other directors won't like me too much. But I think she is superb in the film and personally, it's a world class performance.

Preity is also nominated under the Best Actress at the Genie Awards 2009 along with top international celebs, right?
Yes, you're right. She is nominated for the Best Actress in a Leading Role along with Susan Sarandon. The awards are to take place next month in April.

Do you agree that it rightly takes a director to suck out the best of the hidden talent from an actor in order for them to win an award on a global platform? And why can't other directors do the same?
I think it's the work. It's doesn't necessarily have to say that a director is very important. I can never forget Cher in the lovely movie Moonstruck. What a wonderful performance. Everybody was shocked that she could act like that. She also won an Academy Award for the Best Actress for Moonstruck and she went up on the stage and said, “I would like to thank my hair dresser”. She didn't thank the director. It was a bit weird but what I'm trying to say is that, generally, good directors really take out wonderful performances. But for a film to do well, it isn't the director alone. It has to start from the script.

What other films are you working on?
I'm working on two films currently. One is a film called 'Exclusion' with Akshay Kumar and the other is based on Sulman Rushdie's book called The Midnights Children.

Any film maker likes commercial and critical acclaim. Are you content or hungry for more?
The day I get content, I will stop making films. Contentment makes you lazy and gives you a false sense of security. If you want to make films, you need to be hungry for more.

In your future projects, would you like to work with actors of your past films like Aamir, John, etc?
I can't think of any right now. But I am really looking forward to be working with Akshay Kumar in my next film.
I hope one day comes when I work with Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerjee.

You're a Canadian citizen. Don't you get impressed with stories from the West as well?
Yeah, some of them. I just feel that I can deal with the authenticity of India and the Indians far better. It's not that I haven't done anything in the West. I have. I think to get into the western mind sets is difficult for me, not impossible, but it's not entirely satisfactory.

What is it that you're trying to say with Heaven On Earth?
That you can't be simplistic about it. It's out dated now that the West has a lot to offer than India. So if anybody would be able to revisit the fact that perhaps, they should not be so ready to leave home. As the character says in the film – Sometimes it's better to live in Hell than in Heaven where there is more self dignity.

How did you celebrate Holi?
I've got a lot of purple colour on my face from which I can't get out. It's scary because I have to attend the Press conference for the film too. I had great fun with friends and we celebrated the festival of colours with a lot of rang.

You've worked with the music director A.R. Rahman before. But how about working with the Oscar winner now?
(laughs) Yes, A.R did the music for Fire, Earth and Water. I'd love to work with the Oscar winner now, you're right (laughs). He definitely deserved an Oscar. But we should never ever forget that he has always been a brilliant music director and just because the West has recognised him doesn't mean that he is more recognised now.

Sum up your film Videsh in one word please.
Videsh is a celebration of the imagination.

Friday, 13 March 2009

"Neil tried his level best convincing me to sing but I told him that no one is going to hear me sing", Bipasha Basu

by Devansh Patel

With a star on the Bollywood Walk of Fame (we wish), kilos of awards and rewards on her mantelpiece, eight strong years of her relationship with John Abraham, she's been a mainstay on the 'most beautiful' lists for almost a decade now and a whole host of film projects ahead of her, life is good right now for Bipasha Basu. We also researched about the bong babe's 'thriller' fascination. Right from her debut mystery film Ajnabee to the present Race and to her newest next Aa Dekhe Zara, Basu has a knack to turn the thrills into chills. So before we got to talk to her over a specially arranged interview, Bips decided to add some frills too - It took us fifteen text messages, a few phone calls and two days to get through to her. But what added the thrill to our conversation was that the dusky damsel apologised on making us a bit distressed, not that we wished her to do, but she sweetly did making us feel mortified. Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent and UK's Harrow Observer columnist gets up close and personal with the exuberant, fervent and coherent actress Bipasha Basu where she unlocks the mystery about the high point in her career, her latest film Aa Dekhe Zara, co-star Neil Nitin Mukesh, director Jehangir Surti, boy friend John Abraham, her gruelling fitness regime, her best captured moment on the digi cam and why the Indian Film Industry desperately requires a casting director.

To be blessed with both good looks and talent is one thing and to be blessed with a beautiful figure is another. What sort of gruelling work-outs has the bong bombshell tried and tested in Aa Dekhe Zara?
(laughs) There isn't anything special. I've been following a very healthy way of living for the last five years. I got into working out right from No Entry. Everything takes time. You can't get fit in just two months. So I guess, with each passing year I've passed through different levels of fitness. Now I am in this phase where I am enjoying all sorts of activities. It could be weight training, cardio, yoga, etc. I try a bit of everything and mixing it up depending on the type of roles I play. For certain roles, you could be a bit curvaceous, sometimes you need to be a little more athletic and depending on that, I change my mode of training.

Ajnabee, Raaz, Jism, Dhoom 2, Omkara, Race and now Aa Dekhe Zara. What's this attraction to thrillers Bips?
Well, I have to thank Ajnabee. I never used to watch Hindi films while I was modelling, and because my first film being a thriller, it got me the much acclaimed fame, and there I was in the world of acting. I somewhat have this special love for thrillers and I love watching them. It's great to be a part of so many thrillers I've worked in.

Do you think the mousey-girl-next-door type roles are passée, out, I mean?
Mousey is a little difficult for me to play anyway (laughs) If I did play, I could be a very strange mousey girl. I can't be little because I am tall (laughs). Jokes apart, A girl-next-door role is definitely not passée. It has been an essential crux of quintessential Bollywood for years, and yes, there is a scope for such roles still but being stylist and glamorous has surely taken over, and that in turn is because the actresses are too glamorous now-a-days.

This is going to be Neil Nitin Mukesh's first theatrical release in the U.K and with you adding the thrills and chills, it just adds on to it. Are you more anxious like him?
I am never really anxious about any of my films because I enjoy doing them and I just leave it. Then it's the audiences call. I would want them to like the film but sometimes things don't go your way. Even if they don't like my film, I don't get disappointed and I move on. So anxiousness I don't have. I am happy because it is yet another film which is different and fun and I enjoy it even more when I work with new talents like Neil. I am getting to work with so many kinds of heroes and he is definitely a new kind. It was interesting.

So how are the singing abilities of this 'new kind' hero Neil?
(laughs) Very good, and better than mine for sure. Neil tried his level best for me to sing too but I told him that no one is going to listen to my songs if I sing. So let's just spare our film with my voice for singing. I have no aptitude for it. But people have really liked the fresh take on Aa Dekhe Zara songs.

ADZ – The rising, the band was launched for the film. It takes us back to the band which Pritam launched for Anurag Basu's film Life In a Metro. Don't you think these bands should not be restricted to one film alone?
Absolutely right. But they are getting a great platform to showcase their talent by providing music to the film and at the same time, we did the big launch to promote the band. The band is tremendously talented and to hear them live was like something else. I think, a band with the films music together is a great association for each of them. You cannot just tie them down to one film. Their work should grow, not stop.

Any research went into playing a DJ?
I have no idea about DJ's except the fact that they play great music and entertain a lot of people. The DJ part is the back story of the film and it's just one song 'Rock the Party' where we show a little bit of DJ-ing. When you give a profession to a character and a back story, it helps in a way to perceive the character and how he or she would look like or how they would behave. My role is of an independent girl living in Kolkata who aspires to be a singer and she is into music all day. She is a tom boy sorts, she speaks very firmly, she has got a great sense of humour, she has an indigo coloured hair, a tattoo, wears funky pants and cargo's throughout. It helps to style the character differently.

What's the best moment you've captured on your digi cam so far?
It was 30th of July 2008 when my niece, Nia, was born. I was in the gymnasium when my mother called informing me that the baby was delivered. I rushed back and there she was. A picture perfect moment.

Has there been a high point so far that you look back on and think that where your career has changed direction?
Honestly, I've never really thought so much, neither have I planned right from day one where my career will lead me to. For a person who didn't want to be an actor, then, getting into it full time as a profession, liking the work I do, everything has been different you know. At various point of time, my first film Ajnabee, then Raaz, then people telling me don't do a Jism and still doing it, going into No Entry to do a full on commercial masala entertainer, then Corporate, Dhoom 2, Race, Bachna Ae Haseeno, I think the high points have been many and I've enjoyed every bit of it. No matter what I do, even the smallest of the roles have got me some kind of appreciation, and I thank my audiences for that.

Brief us through the debutant director, Jehangir Surti.
(laughs) He is a very shy, sweet and a timid kind of a guy making this thriller. We always had to shake him up and say, “Jehangir you have to start cracking the whip and sometimes scream and shout on the sets”. So I did a little bit of Jehangir's work for the first two weeks (laughs). I was the one cracking the whip because I was the only seasoned person on the set and everyone else was relatively a new comer. They were all really scared of me and that got them into a little bit of discipline. I had to act off screen too.

They say that if the casting of the film is right, you've won half your battle. Casting directors don't exist in Bollywood. Do you think they should?
You're right. We still don't have casting directors in Bollywood. I wish we had casting directors and our business was well organised and functioning that way. But the kind of stories we make don't require a casting director. We make fun fantasies and sell them all the time, and these are the kind of films accepted widely as Bollywood films. Definitely, we are having a change and are making different films but the numbers are very few. A casting director is a must for our movies now because we are experimenting so much with our stories. It's time for a change.

Is it getting easier to juggle being an A list actor who is still single?
I will be single till I get married (laughs) but at the same time I've been in a relationship with John since eight years. It feels like me and John have been a couple for eight years, all going pretty and strong. I'm loving every bit of our relationship which we are juggling since almost a decade now.