The acclaimed director and producer talks about bringing powerful stories like Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway to life
By: Mohnish Singh
Emmay Entertainment has established itself with hard-hitting films like D-Day, Airlift, Satyamev Jayate, and Batla House, along with notable streaming shows such as Mumbai Diaries 26/11, Rocket Boys, and The Empire.
The latest offering from the leading production house, which was founded by Nikkhil Advani, Monisha Advani, and Madhu Bhojwani in 2011 is Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, which sees Rani Mukerji portray a real-life mother who took on an entire nation after her children were taken away by authorities.
Eastern Eye caught up with producer/director Nikkhil Advani to discuss the film, how the story reached him, and his way of convincing Rani Mukerji to come on board. He also shared some interesting trivia about his 2003 directorial debut Kal Ho Na Ho, which clocks two decades this year.
Emmay Entertainment has added another successful movie to its filmography with Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway. How does it feel?
Just a lot of happiness, satisfaction, and gratification. But, at the same time, there is a lot of pressure also because we know that whatever is going to
come next from us, whether it is our paranormal horror show for Prime Video, or lovely films we have on the way, we must work harder. We need to ensure that the final product is going to come close to the benchmarks that have been set with our works like Rocket Boys, Mumbai Diaries, and now Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway.
How did the Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway story reach you?
During the first wave of lockdown. One Sunday, it was sent to me, and I started reading it and sent it to Monisha (Advani). I said, ‘Drop everything, please read this’. I think the story of Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway resonated with me on many levels. I was like, ‘We have to do this story’.
Did you also shoot it during the lockdown period?
During the first wave of lockdown, we had just started working on it but then it got delayed. The film had a very chequered kind of destiny, I would say. There were times when we thought, ‘is this going to work?’ But when I saw the final
product, I knew that our director Ashima Chibber had done a good
job. I knew Rani Mukerji was as usual going to deliver a performance to remember. The fact that Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway has become some kind of a cultural wave makes all of us at Emmay Entertainment happy.
How did you know that Rani Mukerji would fit the bill?
To be honest, I didn’t know anything, because Rani had not worked outside Yash Raj Films for so many years. So being practical, one would think, ‘No, she is not going to entertain us and read the script’. Ashima, however, was of the
thought that she would be perfect for the role of Debika Chatterjee. She went to Monisha and Monisha came to me. I said, ‘I will just make a phone call’.
What happened next?
There was nothing to lose, so I made that phone call. I have heard ‘no’ from so many people for various roles, for the tough films we make. For me, I thought I will make a phone call and go back to doing whatever I do. I think it’s the timing. Everything just fell into place. She was looking for a film that she could sink her teeth into. The credit for getting her onboard for the success of the film should actually be given to Ashima Chibber.
A lot of stories that come from the house of Emmay Entertainment are inspired by true events. Is it a conscious decision?
I want to qualify this question about Emmay Entertainment being able to do such stories, this realistic kind of genre or cinema inspired by real events. We
are also doing a paranormal horror show after this.
You have a horror show and two movies on the way. Are we also getting The Empire 2?
I think that is a question you need to ask Gaurav Banerjee at Hotstar. They took the rights from me for the first book.
Your first film Kal Ho Naa Ho is completing two decades this year. Is there some interesting trivia about it that nobody is aware of… Shah Rukh Khan did not want to do the film after shooting for the first four days. He called me and Karan Johar (producer of the film) and said, ‘I cannot do this film’. The reason was that he had a serious back issue and was going to Germany to get his surgery done. He said, ‘I can only resume after six months’. He said, ‘Call Salman (Khan). Let him do it’. We said we will wait for six months.
D-Day is also completing a decade this year. You changed as a filmmaker after that film, I believe. Do you agree?
Yeah, Irrfan Khan totally changed me as a filmmaker. Before making my first film, I worked as an associate director for so many years. Seven years of my life I was an assistant director. My approach to a day on the set was very methodical. As an assistant director, you have to be methodical and concentrated on the execution. You must be able to finish 50-60 shots or two scenes in a day, or whatever your schedule is for the day.
On the first day of shooting on the sets of D-Day, I was asking Irrfan Khan, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I am a good actor, you have written a good script, and Tushar (Kanti Ray) is a good cinematographer. Sit on the monitor and enjoy yourself.’