Films probably run in his blood, being the grandson of the late actor Prem Nath and the son of Prem Kishen. However, unlike his grandfather and father he has chosen to be behind the camera rather than in front. Though it’s his first time in the director’s chair, Siddharth Malhotra has had plenty of experience in movie-making. He has assisted some of the best directors in the industry and also runs his own production house, Cinevistaas.
This young debutant’s film – We Are Family – starring Kajol, Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal, is scheduled for release on 2 September.
In this exclusive chat with Businessofcinema.com, Malhotra talks about his first movie and more…
With We Are Family, being your debut feature, don’t you think you’re taking a risk by remaking a Hollywood flick, Stepmom? How did you prepare yourself for such a huge undertaking?
I am not remaking the film; I am adapting the film. Yes there is a thin line but also a major difference. We have kept the soul of Stepmom and the basic concept the same but have changed the setting, Indianised the characters of Kajol, Kareena and more so Arjun Rampal. In Stepmom his character – Ed Harris – didn’t have much to do but in my film Arjun is an integral part of the events unfolding. I have also tried to show the point of view of the three children.
It’s a compact film made with a lot of honesty and heart. So for my debut film I wanted to deal with human relationships since I am a family person.
How did you convince Dharma Productions to make this film? And how did they decide you were the right man to helm this remake?
I had no idea that Karan at some point himself wanted to make this film and Dharma CEO Apoorva Mehta, always believed it would make a super Hindi film. When I raised the topic with Karan and gave him my adapted script, he loved it. After that we did a lot of work on the script before we decided on the final adaptation and then we bought the rights officially.
Karan is also a creative producer so he knows his directors well and who will be good with what script. Normally we are the ones who bring our subjects and convictions to him. I guess he had the faith in the way I had adapted the film and also in the way I was looking at the film, to know I was the right person for this.
Did Karan Johar offer you any help or advice on how to remake the film?
Karan was involved in the scripting process as a bouncing board, to give us his inputs where he felt things could be enhanced. This helped us a lot and besides that, he only saw the film after my final edit. He never interfered with the song recordings or shootings either here or in Sydney. He let me make my film and choose my technicians the way I wanted to and finally gave his take on my final edit. I guess he is happy with the final product!
How was the experience of working with Kajol and Kareena Kapoor?
I’ve been a huge admirer of Kajol’s work and could never have made this film ever without her. I was adamant and clear about that ever since the scripting stage. I remember meeting her at a party, when I was writing the script and strangely going up to her and saying – ‘Hi! I’m Siddharth and I’m writing this film for you and please don’t say no’.
A year and a half later, I went to her again and did whatever it took for her to say yes to this film. Today. she is a good friend and undoubtedly a superlative actor so the experience was great and I hope I do every film with her.
Kareena is my second cousin and Karan and I both were very clear we wanted her to play Julia Roberts’ part in Stepmom. She fitted the role to the ‘T’ and I believe she has outshined Julia Roberts’s performance. I am fortunate she agreed to do this film. She let me mould her in the character of Shreya.
Stepmom saw success at the box office. Do you feel pressured to achieve a similar level of success for We Are Family?
No, I don’t feel pressured at all. Honestly, I have made a film that I believed in. One thing I’ve learned from Karan is that honesty always shows on screen and is appreciated. I know I’ve done everything possible to ensure the best for this film and have been true to what we set out to make.
Being a television producer, what’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your transition to feature filmmaking?
Being a TV producer, the biggest lesson I have learnt is the importance of planning. Half your problems are sorted since we have to deliver an episode a day. Moreover, we are always ready with a plan B. Coming from that background, the amount of mess ups on my sets were miniscule as my team always had a solution ready for any problems that arouse on location at any point in time. Working out all the pre-production details is the key to make a film within budget and also have a smooth shooting schedule.
Not many people are aware that you are a trained singer. Didn’t you think of singing for your debut film?
Yes I’ve trained under Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan and Ustad Sultan Khan Saab and did come out with a album. However, I believe if you’re not the best in what you do then don’t be part of the race. At that point Shankar Mahadevan had come out with his album Breathless and Shaan was at his peak. I wasn’t half as good as them and to reach their level, I would have had to leave all work and put in hours of riyaaz everyday, which I couldn’t. My love for cinema was more and I also had to run my production company. I’d rather be a master of one than a Jack-of-all-trades.
You have done a short course in filmmaking. According to you how important is film school versus hands-on experience filmmaking?
I went to New York University and have done a diploma in filmmaking. I have also assisted directors like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Tarun Mansukhana and Sooraj Barjatya. I guess both have their advantages but I would vouch for hands on experience, as there is nothing as valuable as that.
Fortunately, I worked with makers who were not insecure about themselves, so they imparted knowledge to assistants for them to grow. If you work with such people who involve you everywhere, then nothing is better than hands-on experience knowledge.
What are your plans after We Are Family?
I’m planning a family romantic comedy. In We Are Family, I hope you laugh and cry a lot. In my next film, I hope you laugh loads and cry a little!