Mera Naam Shaji is a thriller: Nadirshah
The multi-talented filmmaker talks about making his third film after Amar Akbar Anthony and Kattapanayile Ritwik Roshan, and his approach to directing comedy
Despite delivering two successive hits — Amar Akbar Anthony (AAA) and Kattappanayile Ritwik Roshan (KRR) — director Nadirshah still gets butterflies in his stomach whenever he sets out to make a new film. “Every film feels like a first-time experience for me,” Nadirshah tells us. “There is fear, anxiety...everything. I think it’s good to be a little scared because if you approach everything with a laid-back attitude, there is a chance that you might not give your best.”
A man of many talents — acting, parody, mimicry, and music, to name a few —Nadirshah is known for his ability to know when and where the audience will laugh. Those who have worked with him closely attest to this. “When people see my name in front of a film, they expect a humourous entertainer with a certain standard which I have to make sure I deliver. I’m staunchly committed to every step of the filmmaking process — from the moment the story is narrated to the film’s completion. And I try to come up with fresh material each time,” says the director, whose third film Mera Naam Shaji comes out in theatres tomorrow.
Starring Biju Menon, Asif Ali, Baiju Santosh, and Nikhila Vimal, the film revolves around three strangers — all named Shaji — and the unforeseen situations they are pulled into. As with AAA and KRR, Mera Naam Shaji was originally attached to a different director. Both were abandoned projects which got a fresh lease of life after falling into Nadirshah’s hands. “Mera Naam Shaji is relatively different in tone to AAA and KRR, in spite of the situational humour it contains. It’s more of a thriller and addresses a less-discussed issue experienced by a certain section of society. It’s something that only a few of us are aware of,” he adds.
When asked about his approach to directing comedy and how he retains the freshness in multiple takes and later in the dubbing stage, Nadirshah says timing matters most for comedy. “You may laugh at a joke when you hear it for the first time, but you may not laugh the second or third time. The same goes for filming a funny situation. I’m not concerned about the joke losing its freshness after multiple takes. It’s still fresh for a third person. Sometimes, it’s the tiniest details that ruin a good joke — and you won’t even see it coming. Suppose a character is saying a line and another character is responding to it, the time taken by the second character to respond can make or break a joke — it can just be a two-second difference. Also one has to make sure that the modulation is recreated exactly in the dubbing stage. Sometimes a line unsaid on the set can be created off-screen, in the dubbing studio. We have been able to produce some wonderful comic moments that way in all my films.”
But methodical execution is not all, Nadirshah reminds us. He mentions one problematic area that is often ignored by many. “A joke that worked during the filming, dubbing, and even the final screening, can still be rendered weak after it goes through the re-recording process. It happens when the sound mixer adds a piece of music that doesn’t match the joke, which can create a big problem. The director has to be involved here too. There are some filmmakers who don’t take the necessary effort in this particular department; they leave everything up to the mixer, and later they wonder why everyone laughed before the music mixing process and why not after.”
His thoughts on using sync sound in comedies? “I like sync sound, but I haven’t used it yet. I might in the near future. But it’s a challenge. Precautions have to be taken to ensure that no other sound intrudes on the set. It’s a lot of work. You may have to devote thrice the time you would normally require for a dubbed scene. Just imagine the sound of a cow suddenly interrupting a serious situation,” he laughs.
As someone who has worked with big stars as well as newcomers, Nadirshah doesn’t mind encouraging a bit of competition on the sets. “I believe a healthy competitive spirit does wonders for my films. Take Mera Naam Shaji, for example. I would get the best result only if each of the three leads strives to be the best ‘Shaji’ of all. They shouldn’t simply stand there when the other person is performing better than them. Even if the role is of a shorter duration they should give it their best. A perfect example would be Asif’s role in AAA. He earned claps for it, no?”