Producer Shaailesh R Singh: People in Chennai are excited to see Kangana Rananut as J Jayalalithaa
Producer Shaailesh R Singh fields questions on Jabadiya Jodi, Hurdang and the upcoming biopic on J Jayalalithaa
It’s a busy year for producer Shaailesh R Singh. His latest, Judgementall Hai Kya, an inventive psychological thriller starring Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao, is holding fast in theatres. Moving ahead, Shaailesh has produced Jabariya Jodi, his second consecutive collaboration with Balaji Motion Pictures. Fronted by Sidharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra, the film casts a comical look at the groom-kidnapping menace in Bihar. Shaailesh is also in the finishing stages of Hurdang, a love story set in the 1990s, and is gearing up for Thalaivi — a big-canvas biopic on late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.
We spoke to the producer about the appeal of real-life stories, the ripening of the Hindi mainstream, the preparations for Thalaivi, and the casting of Kangana Ranaut as the Tamil icon.
What drew you to the subject of Jabariya Jodi?
The director, Prashant Singh, has worked with me for 13 years. He started as an apprentice on my first film, Bas Ek Pal (2006). During the time of Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), he came up to me with the idea of Jabariya Jodi. Interestingly, when you tell anyone about groom kidnappings and forced marriages, the first reaction is to laugh, followed by shock. We’ve tried to bring out the irony of the whole custom. In India, among the lower middle-class, dowry is a big problem. So the film is about a crime against a bigger crime. It’s just like Robin Hood.
Several of your films (Shahid, Aligarh, Simran, Omerta) draw from real-life characters or events.
Hindi films in the past were set between Switzerland and La La Land. For me, the characters and world have to be relatable. Or else I need to be told I am watching fantasy, like The Lord of the Rings. It’s wrong to mix up the two. When we made Tanu Weds Manu, the whole industry had rejected the film. But somewhere down the line, it changed things. Nowadays, more films are shot in Lucknow than in Mumbai.
How is Hurdang shaping up?
We are shooting in Allahabad. The film is backdropped on the Mandal Commission agitation during the ‘90s. The most relevant issue right now, I feel, is reservation. Sunny Kaushal and Nushrat Bharucha play lovers caught in the storm. The film talks about the struggle and the career of the students, who participated in the protests. The agitation went on for three years. 363 students self-immolated, out of which 64 died. The present generation has no idea about this past.
What’s the status of the Jayalalithaa biopic?
We are through with the script (by KV Vijayendra Prasad and Rajat Arora). The film has entered pre-production. Most of the technicians are on board. Kangana has gone back to Manali to begin her preparations. She’s learning everything from the Tamil diction to classical dance. She is a talented actor, and will make sure people see her as Jayalalithaa. We are set to roll from the first week of October. Shooting will begin in Mysore, and continue in Chennai.
This is your fourth collaboration with Kangana. What did you make of the controversies during Judgementall Hai Kya?
Whatever happened at the press event, it was between two people. It could have been sorted out. It suddenly went out of proportion. People reacted as they did. I believe both the media and Kangana should forget it and move on.
How much of Jayalalithaa’s life is being covered? Are there efforts to fictionalize accounts or change names?
From films to politics, it’s a huge life. But definitely, the highlights have been covered, and told in a story form. People of Tamil Nadu know everything about her, so it cannot be fictionalized. As for names and events, I can assure you that we are keeping it as real as possible.
Did you consider casting a Tamil actor for the role?
It’s a question that came up in the beginning. We wanted Kangana for the part because she is a pan-Indian star. I am meeting a lot of people from Chennai who are excited to see her as Jayalalithaa. Historically, Jayalalithaa was the biggest female political icon of India, followed by Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee. I feel her story needs to be celebrated nationwide. I’m certain Kangana will do justice to the part.
You are also collaborating with a Tamil director for the first time.
AL Vijay is a fantastic director. I loved his Madrasapattinam (2010). I think he will make a great film, the way he is looking at things. GV Prakash is giving the music and Irshad Kamil is doing the lyrics. We are putting together a great team. We have approached three-four international artists to do the prosthetics. Since it’s a bilingual, the cast will be a mix of Hindi and Tamil actors. We will make the formal announcements soon.