MUMBAI— This April sees ‘October’ coming – we mean the film. Starring Varun Dhawan with Banita Sandhu and directed by Shoojit “Piku” Sircar, it has him playing a hotel staff member. The transformation, he notes, is deep, and overall, he feels that he is better now – as person and actor.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, India-West caught up with him at a Mumbai 5-star.
Q: Shoojit Sircar tells us he has never watched any of your films, other than their promos here and there.
A: Yes, and though I wanted to work with him for long, I was just a viewer of his films. I did not know what to expect other than the fact that it would be different. But how different would it be? That question was answered in every possible way!
A: He wanted my energy low, my talking low, and he reshot all my walks, as he told me that I was walking and talking like a hero. He wanted a real person, so whenever he could cut a shot, and I would ask him why he did so, he would say, “Because you are acting. I want you to be real!”
I figured out a different walk for myself with legs spaced a little less apart and practiced walking down the hotel corridors. After seven days of all this, I began to feel like a different person. And I stopped doing weights for the entire 35-day schedule in Dwarka, Delhi, and Manali.
Q: Were there other instructions or restrictions?
A: Yes, and they were all aimed at a specific objective – Shoojit is a genius who is either too intelligent or has some strange power! My morning instructions were not to look at my phone. Do you know that it helps a lot? Half of our anxiety comes from these devices and our obsession with WhatsApp or social media. He suggested that I go look at plants, or at least at nature. If both were not possible, I was to listen to music, and I went back to all my college-time and current favorites. I even made a compilation called “October music” after discussing songs with our composer, Shantanu Moitra. I needed to know how and what Dan, my character, was feeling.
Q: Was it necessary for you to go so deep?
A: I was feeling as if I was a part of Shoojit’s family of partner Ronnie and writer Juhi Chaturvedi and was being taken care of – Banita Sandhu (the leading lady) and I were the only newcomers in this family, and it is really credible that both of us were treated on par. The way Shoojit broke the film down was unbelievable. Nothing in the film will remind you about Varun, the star of so many films.
Shoojit would ask me, “What would Dan do here?” or “What would he say?” I would answer, and he would say, “Then do it!” When someone says something to you, you normally take a few seconds to react and reply. Shoojit allowed me that luxury in the scenes, even my blank stares before I replied were kept in the film!
There was this huge chunk of the script that he had told me he would not reveal in advance. Everyone was in the loop and was instructed not to tell me. On the first day of the shoot in Dwarka, he revealed it, and my face was like one of those shocked selfies! I was devastated, but he got the reaction he wanted in my performance!
In short, I never felt that I was shooting a film. A film has its advantages and limitations. But this time, I have never been so vulnerable in front of a set. I was thrown into real life, and that’s when the floodgates open! One day, I started crying for five to six minutes on the sets, just like a child, and when I stopped, he just put his hand on my back and said, “Chal ab shot lete hain (Let’s take a shot now)!”
Q: What else was different about this film?
A: He would suddenly come and spoil my hair – that became his favorite exercise as he wanted it natural. My make-up man had concealed a pimple that had appeared – Shoojit removed the make-up over it! One day, he would tell me to miss a meal, on another not to bathe, and on a third day, after a hearty meal at 11.30 p.m., he told me not to sleep that night!
I did chores like cleaning hotel lifts and floors and making coffee even when the camera was not switched on, and it was so liberating! Of course, I broke a lot of glasses, and Shoojit has even retained some shots of that!
The film is about heartbreak, not in the puppy love sense but about understanding what the world is. Like when in your first job, someone speaks rudely to you, and it shatters you, as even your parents have never spoken like that with you!
Q: With such a fulfilling experience, did you ever question your choice of films until now?
A: I began questioning things about day-to-day life, about how we gradually get corrupted after childhood! The film did change me, but I don’t really want to change so much. I just discovered that my ideas as an actor that had gradually ebbed since my first film were regained. It was like a spiritual rehab. I had to unlearn everything.
And then the last schedule was in Manali where I was given an opportunity to mend myself. I was reset and healed in those few days! The view from everywhere was superb, Banita was there even though her work was over, and Ronnie (co-producer Lahiri)’s dog, a Beagle, was with me and even in some shots. But by that time, my mother had got worried about what the film was doing to me based on what I would talk with her on the phone, and wanted to come and see me!
Q: How different was this experience from “Badlapur,” your last different film? And from your mainstream films that you once said were more demanding?
A: “Badlapur” was totally different – Sriram Raghavan and Shoojit have totally different styles and while Sriram wanted me to suffer, Shoojit wanted me to surrender. Commercial films are physically more demanding, you also have to look good and deliver, so they are equally exhausting. But these films give an emotional trauma.
Actually, it depends on how deep you go into any film. And frankly, I am trying to mentally junk the so-called barriers between what is called mainstream and what is called non-mainstream.
Q: According to what we read, your father (director David Dhawan) is so inspired by you and this film that he wants to do his first serious film with you.
A: Oh, dad’s been thinking of making a serious film for years now. And of late he wants to make it with Rajkummar Rao, his favorite new actor, I keep telling him, “Dad, just do it!” The two of them have even spoken many times for this.
Q: Are you apprehensive in any way about this film?
A: Frankly, I am. I want people to like this film. I know critics will give it three, four or whatever stars. But the people should love it too. In this case, Friday will not matter as much as the three days to come. Our streaming partner Amazon is excited about it and calls it a global experience. We are dubbing it in Spanish for Spain and also looking at releases in Russia, China, UAE and Australia among other countries.
Q: What about the 100 crore thing?
A: Look, I have charged less than half my price for it, so the film does not have to make big money to be profitable. But I confess that I am a part of the system that has created over-awareness in people about the business done by a film. That’s the worst thing that has happened and a very unhealthy trend. As it is, I am not going to get anything in the 100 crore a film makes! And when it makes 100 crore, the distributor actually gets Rs. 50 crore, as the remaining are divided between others. Then his share may also not be his alone.
We do not want to over-market this film, and that will be true of all my films to come. We think too much about everything! When “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” released, and Anushka Sharma wanted to release her “Phillauri,” she complained that I was marketing my film so much that they had to do the same.
Q: Like Shoojit, Banita also says that she has not watched any film of yours?
A: And you say I am a star! Arey, kaahe ka star (where am I a star)? (Laughs)
Q: How was your equation with her?
A: Like any good friend. We would chat on normal things like music. She has this cute habit of narrating a joke and laughing herself before anyone else. After seven such examples, I asked her if she could wait until I laughed. And that’s how we became friends. She’s ten years younger to me, and now it seems she has been reading about my dad and me on Google!