Sooni Taraporevala is one of the most acclaimed Indian screenplay writers. Her Salaam Bombay, a story about the street children of Mumbai which Mira Nair made into a film, won an Oscar nomination.
She has also written the screenplay for films like Mississippi Masala, Such A Long Journey and The Namesake which won critical acclaim too.
Taraporevala has now turned director with Little Zizou, a comic flick which revolves around the dilemmas of an 11-year-old Parsi boy, Xerxes Khodaiji (played by debutant Jahan Bativala). The film is a satirical take on two Parsi families.
She speaks to Businessofcinema.com about her debut film and her experience as first time director.
What kind of audience are you looking at?
I am looking at it as a popular film, which will appeal to all age groups since it’s a film that can be seen by all communities it has universal characters and emotions.
After almost 24 years as a screenwriter how did you decide to produce and direct this film?
I have been writing scripts for other people for almost 24 years now and I’ve written for a wide variety of directors, producers, and studios – of course my main collaborator has always been Mira Nair but I never wrote a script for myself
After The Namesake, I was back home in Bombay with some time in my hands. I began writing, this time for myself. I had been vaguely keeping notes and collecting material for an idea I had. I wrote with actors and locations in mind and since it was a subject that I knew best – I also thought I’d be the best person to direct it. So that’s how it happened. It wasn’t a conscious career move.
You have written the screenplay for some good films like Salaam Bombay, Mississipi Masala, The Namesake etc. and now you’ve tuned director with little Zizou, how was the whole experience?
It has been a fantastic experience a dream run. I was lucky to be working with a great cast and crew. They were not only top of the line but also brought love to the film.
As a screen writer do you feel that directors do justice to some of the screenplays or scripts you write. Are they able to deliver what you imagine while writing?
(Laughs) Yes I have heard of such horror stories but I have been really lucky and I am happy with the way the directors have used my work, in fact they have taken the script to a different level.
Do you feel writing is something that can be taught? Also do you think there is a shortage of really good writers in Bollywood?
Personally I don’t think so since it’s a creative field and I never really went for any formal training or classes as such what ever I learnt was on the job.
As for writers maybe there was a time when there was a shortage of good script or screenplay writers but not anymore now things are changing rapidly.
How do you think film making has changed over the years in India?
In India the way of making films has changed a lot, we have the younger lot making films now and film making has become more organized, proper call sheets are being made etc. The stories too are different and there’s diversity and it’s a very encouraging sign.
What are the challenges you faced during the production of the film as a director and a producer?
The budget of the film was not huge so we called every favour possible and we put in a lot of effort to make this film, which perhaps shows in the film. The biggest challenge that I faced as a director was the scheduling. I wrote the film with more than 170 scenes, which are shot on location on a 42 day schedule so I was constantly worried about how to get what I wanted without compromising while sticking to the schedule so that I do not fall behind.
Having said that, I want to mention that it would not have been possible without my chief AD, Nitya who ran the sets for me so that I could concentrate on my direction and creativity. She always made sure we completed our shoot as planned.
How did you manage the funding for the film?
I found the funding by chance. Very few people were interested in it and we were finally close to signing the deal when my co-producer and friend Dinaz Stafford ran into her friend Chitra Subramanium at the premiere of a film. She asked Dinaz what she was up to – Dinaz told her we were working together on Little Zizou, and we were planning to sign with a company to make the film. Chitra told her – hang on – don’t sign – we are very interested. We met them two days and then Dinaz and I partnered and started Jigri Dost Productions that made the film. Studio 18, has become one of the three biggest players in the industry in India and they were wonderful to work with they gave me complete creative freedom and total support.
How difficult was it to direct the kids, Jahan and Iyanah in the film?
It was very easy directing them because both of them are my kids so I knew them inside out and they knew the story inside out! While writing the script I wrote keeping them in mind. So that made directing them really easy and they had a great time behind the camera where everyone mothered them. In fact they even made my jaw drop sometimes with their performance because they went far beyond my expectations.