MUMBAI—Anil Sharma is the man behind the iconic “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha” among others. His son, Utkarsh, who played Sunny Deol’s and Amisha Patel’s son in that film, is being introduced in the male lead in Anil’s new film “Genius.” The female lead is Ishita Chauhan, who was chosen from over 4000 girls who auditioned.
India-West met the trio at the Raheja Classique Club in Mumbai for a quick chat.
Excerpts from interviews:
Q: As a director, how do you adapt to this promotions overdrive?
A: I feel we are in a market selling our wares – “Lo bhai, meri moongphali lo (Come, buy my peanuts)!” Someone started it, and those who do not follow it now will be out of the race. When I came in, we just had to release a few posters and the film, and the audience would like it or reject it. Doing all this is really exhausting, but until all of us stop it together, we have to keep making this extra effort!
The world has changed. I have never worked so hard even during shoots. I am working from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. And this gain is just a seemingly blind perception. South India does not do promotions on this crazy scale, Hollywood does not either.
Q: You were to make “Genius” with an older hero, but you changed script for your son. Why was that?
A: Heroes here are supposed to be 35 to 40 in age. My script needed someone in college, and all my scenes were not working out. I needed a 22-23-year-old student arrested by RAW from the Indian Institute of Technology. I write stories first and then cast the hero, and the need was of a hero of that age. We thought of the story first, not the hero.
At that time, Utkarsh returned after training as an actor from the USA. He said he needed a year for his unlearning as well as to understand the nitty-gritty of the world in which he has to work and succeed! He also had to build his body, learn dance and more. Though I had seen his work and I decided he was apt, I still auditioned him.
Q: Nawazuddin Siddiqui is known to be choosy. How did you convince him to be the antagonist?
A: He has an extraordinary role, and his presence takes my film commercially very high. Speaking for him, he gets accolades and appreciations galore, but praise does not make your house run, praise does not buy you a house or a car! Praise cannot buy your children security even if it takes you to the skies in your branding!
For all this, commercial films are a must – with a solid role! I had one six-minute monologue in my script in which the character narrates his backstory. An actor who could hold his scene for six minutes was needed. Nawazuddin immediately accepted after I narrated this scene. My film has a unique combination – the characters are very real, but the treatment is stylized and grand.
Q: Your career has a pattern of big hits like “Shraddhanjali,” “Hukumat,” “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha” and “Apne” interspersed with flops or tepid successes. What is your own analysis of this?
A: I only make films I understand, and which I want to make from my heart. And then I make them in a way that the audience gets full value for the 200 rupees it is spending per ticket – that is my biggest worry, that they feel the money has been wasted. I am never bothered about opinions, or about getting stars or not getting them.
I come to know my film is a flop by 3 p.m. on opening day. Sometimes the scale of the grandeur goes wrong, and you deviate from a script. Sometimes, the major scenes let you down. Either way, there is always something that goes wrong within the script. But none of my films have really lost big money in the long run, whether it is “Ab Tumhaare Hawale Watan Sathiyo” or “Veer.” From a Rs. 10 investment, at least Rs. 9 came back.
Q: Why did you choose Ishita among thousands of people?
A: She looked right – her innocence and eyes stood out. She also came from a good family.
Q: A lot of your music in this film sounds dated, sound-wise.
A: Himesh Reshammiya’s success ratio is so high that it is all about his conviction. He always says that his music is ahead of its times. He never composes for the short run or for Mumbai or the metros. People like Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Himesh Reshammiya should be complimented that they understand a pan-India audience. Their strength lies in the intrinsic compositions, not in the decoration – orchestration or sound.
Q: Did you decide on becoming an actor after “Gadar?”
A: Not at all! “Gadar” happened by accident. As a four or five-year-old, I did not know what acting was. They needed a kid my age and were not able to find anyone. Amisha (Patel)-ji would always tell my father “Cast him! Cast him!” as she would come home for rehearsals and I would play as a kid with her. But my father felt that if I did not live up to the role, stalwarts like Amrish Puri-ji and Sunny Deol-ji would feel he had forced his son in.
But when eventually there was no choice, he asked me— and I refused! Then, as the schedule was to happen very soon, it was explained how my father and the team would lose a lot if I did not agree! So I agreed, and the next day I was on a flight to Lucknow! I was explained the scene in which Amisha-ji would come running to me, and I had to hug her and kiss her on the cheek! That was easy! I had done that so many times with her at home!
But frankly, the rest of the film was a very traumatic experience – running after trains, shooting on tall mountains, blasts happening around, and so on! So I decided to think about acting only after watching Salman Khan transforming into his character in “Veer,” during which I was assisting dad. I was fascinated that as an actor, I could get a chance to live the lives of so many characters in so many eras.
Q: What happened next?
A: I would do plays in school, even the role of a tree!. I always respected the smallest characters, because I had seen strugglers approach my dad for the smallest of roles. I also went to USA to study filmmaking at the Chapman University in California and made several short films, some of which went to film festivals. My school even pushed one of my films for the Student Oscar category, but it never made the nominations. Then I did an acting course at Lee Strasberg. I also love writing – poems, short stories even character sketches.
Q: Why do filmmakers make their progeny start out with their banner, but actors who are children of actors almost never get a break at home.
A: True. Hrithik Roshan is an exception because he was also a filmmaker’s son.
I think that it is the decision of the filmmakers who are big as production houses.
Q: How do you look at your debut when you have a phenomenal actor like Nawazuddin Siddiqui as your antagonist?
A: My father had done the groundwork for this story. It was to have a 45-year-old hero. When I came back from USA, I was surprised to know that he wanted to make it with a young hero. He had seen my work and also auditioned me here. As an actor, you know your scenes are going only to get better, and you will grow when you are pitted against an experienced actor. Like I had shot with Mithun Chakraborty-ji already before Nawaz-sir came on board, and I think he saw those rushes before agreeing to do the film.
Q: What is special about him?
A: The fact that despite his position. Nawaz-sir still credits all his talent and knowledge of acting to his training at the National School of Drama. He says he hails from a very small town where he acted in small events like Ram-Leela, wherein a certain loud acting was needed. He attributes his knowledge of acting today to what he learned at NSD and not to his inborn talent! Apart from that, whenever he is on sets, he is always working on his character.
Q: Films here are a completely different ballgame, so how did you unlearn what you learned there?
A: I went there to test our culture! I have watched our cinema from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s that is so rich that I don’t think they even have the capacity to blend so many elements. But they are also making superhero films like “The Avengers,” whereas we have a divide here.
But emotions are universal. It is just that what is inside comes out wherever you are in the world. The way they are organized is something we must pick up. Like over there, the slightest delay finds actors demanding more payment, but here we are emotional and do not get into all that.
Q: There is so much competition now. How do you look at it?
A: There is no justice to success vis-à-vis merit. Some talents do not even get the chance. So you only survive through perseverance. But it is good there is competition. The industry expands as a result.
Q: You adjusted your release dates to avoid “Yamla Pagla Deewana 3” as the Deols are your family friends. But you ended up clashing with a strong brand in “Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi.”
A: If a film is good, it will do well in the second, third and fourth week. Our film is a thrill ride, a modern yet masala edge-of-the-seat thriller, whereas that is a comedy.
Q: When a hero is launched at home, the heroine gets second preference.
A: Anil-sir has never discriminated against me. We both are his actors. I was being launched. I never felt I was an outsider. In fact, I was always treated as family.
Q: What is your background?
A: I have been a child actor in so many ad films and also in two movies, “Hijack” and “Aap Kaa Surroor.” I just had a tiny role in the latter hit.
Q: In between, how was your journey?
A: I was focused on my studies, and I am still doing B.A. (Bachelors in Arts), I am in the first year. Every day when I came back from school or college, I had to watch a film even before my studies or dance classes! I was in my eleventh standard when I decided that I wanted to be an actor. After my twelfth standard, I came to Mumbai and then Anil-sir called me for an audition.
Q: So how did you learn acting?
A: Anil-sir trained me actually! Before the shoot, we had workshops and rehearsals. This went on for three months. Utkarsh and Anil-sir would give me tips. Anil-sir and the writers would discuss my role with me and how I could get into character.
Q: Who inspired you to want to become an actor?
A: Deepika Padukone – everything about her.