After earning critical acclaim for his first film My Brother Nikhil, director-producer Onir is regarded as one of the few filmmakers who push boundaries to create new cinema and to explore new territories.
Sitting tensely on a couch at the press conference of his forthcoming film Sorry Bhai, he speaks to Businessofcinema.com and shares his views on his forthcoming film and the kind of films he likes to make.
What’s Sorry Bhai all about?
It is basically a potpourri of fun, romance, comedy and emotions. It centers around a close knit family–that’s Shabana Azmi, Boman Irani, Sharman Joshi and Sanjay Suri. Sanjay is working in Mauritius and he invites his family to attend his wedding with Aliah, that’s Chitrangada. The family comes, but then the younger brother and the bride to be fall in love. So that’s the premise of the film.
How did the entire concept and film fall in place?
In 2005, my writer Ashwini Malik came with the basic one liner of the film. I remember while reading it I was quite sure I wanted to make the film. I was laughing, I was smiling and there were moments of tears. At the end of it I was feeling good and mainly it was a genre I hadn’t explored before. I think it was important for me personally to try new genres considering the fact that I am just three films old. I needed to figure out my strengths and weaknesses and had to try this new genre.
A lot of people told me, why not another film like My Brother Nikhil. No, I don’t want to be doing another film like that. I wanted to do something new, at the same time it was not just a fun comedy film, and it was talking about forbidden love and for me that was challenging.
It is a taboo and it is a difficult situation and that was challenging for me to deal with the situation. I want my audience to empathize with the characters, to love them and accept them and that is what is challenging and I like it. I find it no fun to make films that everyone else is doing, when I make a film it has to be challenging.
So the actors you selected were your first choice?
Actually I had no idea Chitrangada was looking for a comeback. I was going crazy looking for a lead actress. I didn’t want a giggly or a teeny actress. I was just hoping and wishing that she was there. A friend of mine told me that was looking for a comeback. The difficult part was getting her number, so I got it and sent her an SMS.
She immediately replied saying mail me the script so I did. She called back and said I want to do the brother’s bride. The film was initially called that. So I said let me come and meet you, I took the contract and the cheque along. One hour later she was signed on.
At one point I thought of someone like a Preity Zinta, but then looking back I think I couldn’t have had a better choice. With regards to Shabana and Boman I knew I had to have them. She was an actress I always wanted to work with and she was the first person to say yes, that gave me a lot of strength. The other person I wish to work with is Naseeruddin Shah. Sharman and Sanjay both fit the role perfectly and when everything fell in place, I was so happy.
Was it difficult funding the film yourself?
It is it is, it has always been so. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends Sanjay Suri and Jaspreet Singh Walia. I completed the entire first schedule without an investor, that’s when Vashu Bhagnani stepped in. It was really incredible because we were one week away from leaving for Mauritius and I had no idea how the money was going to come. All I knew was I wanted to make the film and I had two friends who were supporting me. Unlike most corporates, Vashu Bhagnani took it up and hats off to him.
Did you approach any corporate to fund the film?
Yes I did. The star cast wasn’t impressive enough for them at that point; they all wanted to make bigger films.
So you think they are going to be sorry about their decision?
I Hope so. I think, they are already. For me what is important is to have the appropriate cast. And honestly Mumbai Mantra has been a pleasant surprise, because Anand Mahindra himself, when he saw the film he said he had read the script on the flight and had two small reservations about it. After watching it he said Onir you have already handled it. The only thought in my mind was, here is a man who heads this huge company and he made time to actually read the script. When we were talking he was using film nuances which most people don’t understand and that made me extremely happy. Most of the corporates when they talk, speak of scripts and things. But honestly all they want is a star and you will get the finance.
Today for the sake of convenience people classify Hindi films as either art or commercial, so what kind of films do you make?
(Laughs) I think slowly I am fitting into this middle path. Honestly I realized this that the art house cinema looks at me as an outsider of the commercial type and the commercial cinema guys look at me as the art house type. So that’s where I think I’m in the middle path making sensible commercial cinema. I like realistic films but at the same time I like a sense of styling. There are a new set of directors who are making such films. For me my films are a conversation with people primarily that are here.
So what next? Do we see an outright commercial film coming up?
(Smiles) No. I cannot make anything that I don’t enjoy myself; if I wanted to do that I would have done that right from my first film. The reason for doing what I do is that I am not desperate to be a director and make my first film. I am very desperate about making a film that I want to make and I cannot make something I do not enjoy.
What’s next on your plate?
I have signed a film with Studio 18, which is an adaptation of Chashme Baddoor. The script is ready, for me the only condition was that I don’t want it to be a remake. I think the original is too beautiful and people should see that. Once they agree to that and buy the rights, I will take the concept and begin on it. Now after the release of Sorry Bhai I will start working on the cast.