Ashim Ahluwalia likes characters who don’t play by the rules

In an interview with a leading Indian daily, Ashim Ahluwalia whose film Daddy is about the life of gangster-turned-politician Arun Gawli, says that he likes to portray the stories about those who reside in the underbelly of the society. He is glad that filmmakers have approached new styles of storytelling. Talking about crafting movies like Miss Lovely and Daddy that deal with the underside of the city, he said, “I am drawn to characters who live on the margins of society. I feel that I am on the margins of the industry and so, I like characters who don’t belong and are outsiders. Be it a gangster like Gawli, a C-grade actor or a producer making something in the middle of nowhere — when they don’t belong is when they are free. You see them for who they because they don’t conform. I like characters who don’t play by the rules.”

When asked about his style of filmmaking and the target audience of his second feature film Daddy, he said, “I think of people I know when I think of the audience. That could be my driver, who knows about Gawli. Or, it could be a friend who is a cinephile. It could even be somebody who is really into Bollywood and watches every single release. I don’t think you can make a film keeping box-office collections as the primary objective. People who make a film keeping that in mind often fail. I have never felt that anything I have made has lost money. When a producer says, ‘Get me a star and I will give you the money to make the film’, it still doesn’t guarantee box-office success. Films should engage emotionally and can’t be made with a calculator. So, my logic is you are better off with me because you will make a cheaper film and get back your returns faster.”

On questioning about striking a contradiction by working with a mainstream actor like Arjun Rampal but not going by the rules of mainstream cinema, he said that it is not easy to slot his films.

“My films are difficult to slot. Miss Lovely went to the Cannes Film Festival, so technically, it was an art-house movie though the narrative was about the B-grade film industry. My first documentary was about call-centre employees, but it was shot like a sci-fi movie. I take to these hybrid forms. I don’t want to be slotted as a Bollywood director, an art-house director or an independent director. The best response I got for the Daddy trailer was, ‘There is so much of you in this’. I take that as a huge compliment because I can retain ‘me’ in my films. Arjun knew what he was getting into, as we had shot a commercial together. I don’t mince my words. I find filmmaking in Bollywood to be plain lazy. The industry assumes that since everybody is used to a certain format, one can continue doing that. While working on Daddy, my question to Arjun was, ‘Will I have the freedom to direct it the way I want and will you back me up?’ I told him that if he wants to protect this project and doesn’t want to get typecast again, he needs to co-produce the film. I have a clear image about how a space, environment or a city looks. When you are making a movie like Daddy, you know that it has to be shot in central Mumbai. If I am making a film on Arun Gawli, I can’t have him wearing branded clothes. Arjun agreed with me on that. It’s not a normal gangster movie from Bollywood. I wanted to shoot with a 27-year old French-Canadian female director of photography, who had never shot in India before. I was convinced that she was right for the movie. These decisions would have had any other producer balking. Filmmaking is not my bread and butter, I do commercials for that. When I am making a film, I want it to be my take,” he said.

When asked about his response to mainstream cinemas that call independent films as ostentatious, he said, “Well, it’s an unvalidated statement for me. Independent cinema is the reason why Bollywood has become more interesting, it was dying otherwise. An actor like Nawazuddin Siddiqui has infused new life into Bollywood. Many of the current directors have also come from the independent space. There is a certain synergy between the two spaces, it’s not a case of one versus the other. Christopher Nolan’s first project was a black and white film, which premiered at Sundance. He is now making the Batman series; he is mainstream Hollywood now.”

On probing further about his vision in filmmaking, he said, “The concept of Bollywood itself is undergoing change. I hated the films of the 1990s not because they were bad films, but because they didn’t allow me to make the kind of films that I wanted to make. But times are slowly changing and even the most traditional producer might call you today and say, ‘I want something different’.”

Talking about his thoughts on the movie The Godfather and Ram Gopal Varma’s style of making films on gangster chronicles, he said, “I am not even a fan of The Godfather or Ram Gopal Varma. I prefer the Italian mafia films from the 1970s, which is what Francis Ford Coppola ripped off. We are obsessed with The Godfather, and I have never understood why because that’s not the only film made in that genre. Satya was an interesting film because the environment and the actors were real and that was very refreshing. That is closer to the kind of cinema I love. Though it’s very filmy, it was radical in what it did for the genre within the paradigms of Hindi cinema.”