Neeraj Pandey: Today, I know more people from the armed forces than the film industry

03/30/2017

MUMBAI, Mar. 30: He brings realism to the reel world, weaving stories around it that create ripples in our fantasy land. Sparking debate, dialogue and thought-provoking argumentation. Yet, with the EQ (emotional and entertainment quotient) always high. Indian Cine Director, producer, writer, Neeraj Pandey, says he can't "customise" stories; instead, he'd rather cull out stories that are untold on celluloid. As his next production 'Naam Shabana', directed by Shivam Nair, releases tomorrow, he talks to us about his unusual casting choices, writing his own rules and living by them. Excerpts....

From directing a film like 'A Wednesday' nine years ago, to producing a multi-starrer like 'Naam Shabana', your journey has been interesting and quite a revelation...
My journey hasn't been a planned one, but it's been fabulous so far. A lot of things happened by default and fell into place. Now, as a filmmaker, I've tremendous sense of relief as well as responsibility. The former is because I get to do my own thing in the manner that I like to, and the latter because there is a space that I have been able to create as a filmmaker. I feel accountable towards the audience.

Your films are high on content, sometimes a far stretch from the Bollywood mould. The risk is always higher when you take this route, isn't it?
Frankly, this is easier for me. When you say that directing takes a lot of strength, let me tell you that actually, it doesn't. It is the most natural thing. In all humility, it comes easily to me. If I had to customise everything according to the industry, then it would get really difficult for me.

You always pull off a brilliant ensemble cast in all your films. Your first outing 'A Wednesday' had two stalwarts —Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher. Then, you cast Akshay Kumar, who surprised us with a film like 'Special 26'...
On 'A Wednesday', calls were taken by me and my partner Shital (Bhatia). Now, we have a casting director who comes up with suggestions. I have been lucky so far because I have always got the talent that I wanted. Also, I believe that anti-casting works big time. I like casting actors who have a body of work which is very different from the role I have in my mind for them. I get excited to see how actors can reveal their other side in my movies.

Rightly said! In a way, Akshay Kumar almost transformed on-screen with the characters he played in 'Special 26', 'Baby'...

I keep saying that 'Special 26' was just a catalyst for Akshay. Honestly, he helped himself. He had a body of work that was different, so for him to try something so unusual was a brave choice. As much as people say that I might have helped Akshay, you have to give that man some credit. I wanted to cast him in 'Special 26' for a simple reason — he had not done such a film before. Imagine an action thriller without the action hero doing any action! Manoj (Bajpayee) performed the biggest action sequences in that film. It is great working with Akshay because he is simple and easy. He gets motivation to the sets rather than looking for it once he is there. We have readings and discussions and then he just goes out and executes it. With him, there is no trying to figure out the process and such details once the camera is rolling.

The concept of prequels is rare in Bollywood; in fact, it has not been attempted here. 'Naam Shabana' is one such, which is being produced by you...
Yes, it has never been done here, though it's a practice in the West. I remember that when we were doing the post-production of 'Baby', we figured that though Taapsee Pannu doesn't have as much screen time, she will become the talking point of the film. So, the idea for 'Naam Shabana' was born right there. We obviously had to wait and see if 'Baby' worked, and after that, we discussed the idea with Taapsee. We brought in the entire cast of 'Baby' and everyone was super excited about it.

Your films are always fictional stories with an underlying thread of realism. Whether it is about the task forces, Mumbai terror attacks or heists. I believe that you personally research your subjects...
As a storyteller, if I am not affected or if I don't believe in something, then I can't narrate the story with conviction. For that, I should actually understand the world my story is coming from. I research my stories a lot, and I believe that there is no other way to do it. I strongly feel that such stories need to be told and it is my duty towards the audience. Yes, balancing realism with entertainment is tough, but my job as a storyteller is to tell you a story, and it is up to you to take whatever you want to from it. My agenda is not to force you to believe in something.

 

 

 


You have spent a lot of time with men from the armed forces, and you know a lot about their lives. Has it changed your perspective?
My admiration for them just grows by the day. The amount of selflessness that is attached to their job is highly respectable. It is interesting to see how their mind works in high-pressure situations. It is just amazing. You sometimes hear stories from the task forces that are so so dramatic, I think apni filmein kuch nahi hai (laughs). Their stories are what I call real stories, real drama. Ever since I started interacting with them for 'Baby', my circle has just grown. Today, I know more people from the armed forces than the film industry and I consider myself fortunate. When I go to Delhi and meet them and they acknowledge me, it feels great. I go to their camps or offices and interact with them like I belong to their world. I guess they also feel connected with me because of the movies that I make.

You have been in the industry for about nine years now, but you come across as someone very unlike most filmmakers. You keep a low-profile and you are hardly seen at filmi parties...

 


Filmmaking is my profession; I don't think it is my life. I love my job, but at the end of the day, it is a job for me. I stay away from filmi parties, socialising and all that. I think people who meet me quickly understand that I am not a party person, so they don't invite me to their parties at all (laughs). It is not my thing and it doesn't come naturally to me.(TOI)

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