Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar has only been active in films for one and a half decade, but he has carved his own niche in Hindi cinema with a series of critically and commercially successful films such as Vicky Donor (2012), Madras Cafe (2013) and Piku (2015). Critics laud him for his craft and reward with amazing reviews and viewers love him for making carefully observed movies about relationships. After co-producing the path-breaking film Pink in 2016, the acclaimed filmmaker is back with his next directorial October, starring Varun Dhawan and debutante Banita Sandhu. In an interview with our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, Shoojit Sircar talks candidly about October, his actors, and much more.
Could you please tell us something about your new film, October?
It’s a very simple film. After watching the trailer, people are responding that the film is intriguing and thrilling, but it’s not. It’s a very simple story, not a love story, but a story about love and relationships. The story can be relatable to anyone. Fortunately, in the film, it’s a boy-girl story but it could be for anyone.
In my films, I try to highlight and tell a story about little moments and emotions of life that every individual goes through. When you will see the film, you will realize that the emotions are simple and relatable. This idea was there with me for a long time, a personal experience since 2004 and that is the backdrop of the film. Then Juhi Chaturvedi created the characters and beautiful scenarios.
How did a newcomer like Banita Sandhu land a lead role in your film?
We were looking for a fresh cast, a new talent. When I saw her, I noticed that she was intelligent and her eyes were very expressive. She didn’t have to do much to express herself. She did very little and yet it expressed a lot. With a little expression, you can see what is going in her mind and that is a good acting on her part. Along with that, my gut and instinct told me that she was the right choice. I clicked a picture of her and sent it to Ronnie and Juhi and suggested that we should go with her for the role.
Banita is not born and brought up in India. So, was the language barrier a problem?
She is from Wales but she learned the language and dubbed herself, and she was perfectly fine. The outcome came out perfectly. The main thing was to express and understand the character. That is very difficult. She is just 20 and is in college, yet she is mature enough to recognize her character which I found in her.
How did Varun Dhawan get cast in the film?
We needed somebody young, around the age 20-21. Varun was not on my casting list. I knew him through his commercial films, and the character in my movie is very different from his previous roles. One day, he came to my office and I saw the honesty and innocence in his eyes. He held something nice and vulnerable within him.
What do you have to say about his performance?
It will be one of his best performances that you will ever see, and now you can’t think of anybody else for this role. He embraced the role perfectly. He is just perfect as that character. It took some time for him to get into the skin of the character. The things he learned up till now, he had to unlearn them. One thing that is very good in Varun is that, in his successful period, he picked up a film which has an unusual and unconventional story. I think that is very brave of him.
What did Varun Dhawan do to perfect his character?
Firstly, he had to unlearn a lot of things. Secondly, we had to calm him down, then the third was to express less, like less is more and lastly, to know the character’s job i.e. training in the hotel industry. I worked in a hotel industry and I really wanted people to know what goes behind in a hotel industry – hundred of people are working behind to make sure you are comfortable.
The trailer shows so much and yet so little, so what should the audience expect from the movie?
As long as it is building the curiosity, making you want to go and watch the film, the trailer’s job is done. And I always try to create a trailer where I can intrigue the audience but contrary to that, everything that is in the trailer shows that you have to put two and two together. Though it’s a very simple film, it’s not a thriller. It’s a very simple slice-of-life story about family, relationship, people and some love.
How was it to work with Banita Sandhu?
There is a process (for acting). It mostly comes from and depends on actors. Is the actor ready to do it or not? Is the actor ready to surrender or not? That she has done it and so did Varun. They completely surrendered and left it to me. She is studying in London and lived in Wales, so much of our starting interaction was through Skype. We did simple exercises and discussed a lot to understand the milieu of the character. It’s like filling the hard disk with a lot of information, so that was my job – talking, talking, and talking. I did that with both of them. Sometimes both of them would say that we have got it but still, I would talk and provide them with enough information.
How was your experience directing October?
When you perform, it’s not easy. You spend the whole night thinking about it. You have to concentrate and when you come and perform it, it takes a toll on you. As a director of the film, I would say that I didn’t feel I had to give too much of an effort because, I think, we were prepared thoroughly. We knew what we were jumping into. We were all on the same page.