Shoojit Sircar: Always in awe of Amitabh Bachchan
The director on reuniting with Big B and Ayushmann Khurrana, capturing Lucknow authentically, and the furore over Gulabo Sitabo’s digital release
Love thy neighbour? Not quite in the world of Gulabo Sitabo, Shoojit Sircar’s new comedy premiering on Amazon Prime Video on June 12. Amitabh Bachchan plays Mirza, the 78-year-old owner of a crumbling Lucknow mansion overrun with tenants. Ayushmann Khurrana’s Baankey is the worst of them, skipping rent and telling off his big-nosed landlord. The film pits them in a game of squabbling, gazumping and driving each other up the wall (that is, if the wall holds). It’s a cinematic match-up for the ages, cannily coordinated by Shoojit and screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi.
In this interview, Shoojit spoke to us about regrouping with his squad, capturing Lucknow authentically, the furore over the film’s digital release and why he is never over the awe of working with Amitabh Bachchan.
The film was initially set in old Delhi. What made you shift the setting to Lucknow?
Besides Juhi being from Lucknow, the city itself has a special and different diction from the rest of North India. Also, Mr Bachchan is from UP, so he was aware of that lingo. As we see in the trailer, the old city of Lucknow plays an important role in the film. Nothing has changed about that part of the city: the structures, the people, the old markets. It’s always noisy and chaotic. We wanted to pick up those moods and moments.
In Piku, Big B’s character is deeply attached to his ancestral house in Kolkata. Something similar appears to happen here. How central is the idea of home to your stories?
All my life I have lived in a rented home. My father was in the Air Force, so we kept moving. Sometimes we lived in a one-room home, then a two-bedroom one. Slowly we moved to a quarter and finally bought a house. It was a matter of existence as well as where you are rooted. This film, in particular, deals with people from a (limited) economic background. For them, it’s a matter of everyday survival, which we see all around us.
Ayushmann had made his Bollywood debut in Vicky Donor (2012). How was it reuniting with him after eight years?
He was aware he was coming back to Shoojit Da’s family. As such, he knew where to adapt and what to do. One thing that will never be in my film is playing to the gallery. It will have to be absolutely real to the character. Everyone should feel it’s not Ayushmann but Baankey. That way, he has not changed much. He’s still grounded as an actor, and there’s a lot of bonding and understanding between us.
You tend to bring out a new side to Big B each time.
To put it in one word, Mirza is one of the naughtiest characters he’s ever played (laughs). Of course, with him being Mr Amitabh Bachchan, that sense of awe is always there. But there is also a lot of mutual respect that has grown. Our relationship has matured. We understand each other much better. A little look of the eye is enough to get each other. There’s a lot of trust too, which is the most important thing between an actor and a director.
Your first film with him, Shoebite, was stuck in a legal battle for years. It remains unreleased till date. Did that experience inform your decision to release Gulabo Sitabo digitally?
The pain of Shoebite will never go away. Before every film, I’m scared if it will be released. Apart from that, the digital medium is going to be here and at some point I had to experiment with it. I feel this was a situation and I adapted to that situation. Yes, there was criticism and a lot of people showed their resentment. I understand their point, but I think everything will move on and we will move together.
Do you feel the pandemic has fundamentally altered how movies are distributed and consumed
The magic of the cinematic experience will never go. We will always have theatrical releases and both will co-exist. But we must understand that in terms of behavioral pattern, there’s been a shift. More so because of the lockdown, people are tuned into the digital medium. So now it’s a question of experience: what people want to watch on OTT and what they want to see on the big screen.
You’d also finished shooting Sardar Udham Singh, starring Vicky Kaushal. At what stage is the biopic now?
We had to stop work on music and editing because of the lockdown. But now the Maharashtra government has allowed post-production to restart with guidelines. I’m at home in Kolkata right now but that shouldn’t be a problem. Yes, some physical work will be required, but a lot can also be done online.