A story for the run – The lead cast on Happy Bhaag Jayegi
With its mix of humour and romance, Happy Bhaag Jayegi approaches its upcoming release, sporting the grandeur of a big fat Indian wedding. From what looks like an exciting adventure trip, trailers give out a lead you would want to explore, not to mention, by transcending borders.
Straight out from their characters to give way to people they are in real life, the lead cast that includes Abhay Deol, Jimmy Sheirgill, Ali Fazal, and Diana Penty, talks to Pandolin about the journey of helping a story, come alive on screen.
You have mostly been part of films that feature an ensemble cast. How difficult and important is it for you to make yourself stand out in films like these?
The idea actually is to not have yourself stand out. And try to stand true to this principle. Problems arise when actors try very hard to over-shadow the others. This happens a lot in our industry. People try to overpower you if they have just five more dialogues than you. But I don’t mind having just one line in the film, but a meaningful role; a significant role. While doing Fukrey, I suggested that the director should have me play my part as a mute. I would do a better job then. The other actors become my strength then. And listening to them becomes my craft. And that is how you make yourself stand out.
The idea actually is to not have yourself stand out
What were your apprehensions and inspiration to take up the role that you play, considering the film revolves around the title character?
I have never been apprehensive about that. If that was the case, Jimmy (Sheirgill) and Abhay (Deol) should have been more scared as they have done so many more films. But this is something that has never bothered me. In fact, when Mudassar (Aziz,Director) came to me with the script, Guddu, the character that I play in the film, seemed like a very boy-next-door, vulnerable kind of a character. They have in fact put all those kind of shots in the trailer. But we tried something really cool with it. There was a point when the producers felt that my character should not stand out and get lost in the crowd, but I am thankful that Mudassar stood by it and the shots are still there in the film. So I am looking forward to seeing the reactions to it.
How would you describe your chemistry with the other characters?
My character is the only one who has an individual chemistry with all the actors. And he is different with each of them, which is what makes him very street-smart beneath his innocence. He is sort of the underdog of the film and which is what won me over. Diana and I have a relationship in the film that is very said, and that is quite hard to play. So that was important to crack and I found that in the writing. Jimmy and Abhay both are such fantastic actors, so that made my job much easier. It is always a bonus to have good actors around you.
From the trailers, your character seems like an extension of your role from Tanu weds Manu. Is that true?
Not at all. My character is in fact very different. It is a very enjoyable character. Somebody who would let go of all inhibitions. For characters like this, you cannot think too much. You just have to go with the flow and with the director’s gut. So if he says you have to dance on yaara-o-yaara, you have to go ahead and do it. You can’t be conscious about how it is going to look. Bhaga’s character has been designed in a way to make the audience laugh and that is what I tried to stay true to.
You are known to have a great comic timing, often stemming from situations that generate humour at the mere presence of your character. How easy or difficult is it to pull that off?
It depends completely on the writing. You can have the best of actors, but given the wrong script, they could be completely wasted. And at the same time, you can have the worst of actors with the correct lines and correct script, and they might be able to pull that off. I clearly remember the kind of reviews I received for Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar; I haven’t received such reviews for any role after that. I am still the same person, but that script and that role was very apt for me, so it worked for the viewers. Apart from that, I don’t have a problem with slapstick, but I enjoy such roles and such humour much more.
I clearly remember the kind of reviews I received for Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar; I haven’t received such reviews for any role after that
What attracted you to the role in Happy Bhaag Jayegi?
When one is looking out for a role, one seeks something new. A story that hasn’t been said before, or a role that hasn’t been explored. I found that in this film. When Mudassar first met me with the script, he had already done a lot of work. Everything was quite well-defined and clear, and there was little that he had left to imagination. Following this, we had a lot of script readings, and I explored not just my own, but all the other characters in the film. Also the readings gave us enough room to finish our dose of laughter, so that when we were on set, we were more equipped to give a take. And they also helped me know all three of them (the other actors) much better, and even though I haven’t worked with any of them before, the set-up was quite comfortable. The entire journey has been a lot of fun since then (smiles).
Was the film an instant yes for you? What drew you to it?
Pretty much. Generally, when I get a call like this, I am cautious about the script, the director, what has he done, etc. But when Aanand (L Rai, Producer) called me, there was an instant relief, that alright, its backed up. Then it completely depended on the script. And yes, after reading the script, I pretty much said a yes instantly.
Your body of work continues to associate quality with the roles you pick to play. Does that put any pressure onto you about the choices you continue to make?
I have often been asked this question. But it is not like that there wasn’t any pressure earlier. There was, just that it was different. Earlier there was a pressure to do good work; to prove yourself. But now the pressure is to continue the delivery, or to be more specific, better the delivery. I am myself quite critical of the work that I do. I don’t like quite a few parts that I have done, even though people have loved them. I don’t say anything about them though, I keep my opinions to myself. All of it is part and parcel of the job. But the most important thing is that I love what I do. And at the end of the day, that is what matters.
Now the pressure is to continue the delivery, or to be more specific, better the delivery
Despite playing characters that look similar on the surface, you continue to add nuances to your performances. What is the procedure you follow to internalize these characters?
It starts with relatability. If you can’t relate to a character, then you can’t internalize it. Physical changes are superficial ones. Like the make-up and prosthetics. Accents are another thing to learn and adapt to. But these external changes are a good start, they give you a direction. Bilal in Happy Bhaag Jayegi, for instance, speaks Urdu, since he is from Pakistan, while I speak Hindi. But this is the only superficial difference. After this you find something you can relate to.
For example, he studied abroad, he has grown up in a city, he is open minded; but then there are things that are not me, like he is very submissive to his father, he doesn’t voice his opinions, he does what he is told. So the process starts with differentiating the characteristics, external and internal. Things like geography, social status etc., and then of course emotional needs like ambition, drive, solace and things like these. The key is that nothing else supports a character and its definition, than a well written script. If the script is good, all these questions are automatically answered.
How would you describe your role in the film? How different or similar are you to the character you play?
Happy is a crazy character. She’s is fun, she is loud, she wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s impulsive, she says what is on her mind. And it is all these quirks that make her very endearing. Talking about similarities, I am not at all like Happy. I think five hundred times before I say or do anything. But there are certain things that are similar between us, like I am opinionated, I am independent, and so is she. But overall I don’t think I am as loud-mouthed or animated or impulsive as she is.
You took a long four-year gap after your first film. What took you so long to sign a project?
Honestly, I didn’t stand in front of the mirror and say, ‘Oh, I am going to take four years off’. I just didn’t feel anything towards the other projects that came my way; nothing clicked. And it is not like I disappeared or left the country. I was pretty much here. I continued my endorsements, I was modelling, I was reading scripts, meeting people. All of that was happening in the background. This break gave me some time to adjust to this new lifestyle.
I didn’t stand in front of the mirror and say, ‘Oh, I am going to take four years off’
What is the kind of preparation that you went through to play Happy?
A lot actually. Like I mentioned, Happy is very different from me as a person. She is a loud Punjabi girl. So my training began with a lot of script readings. I spent a few days in Amritsar, not doing anything, just absorbing the place, their vibe, their culture and just sub-consciously letting it all in. Apart from that I also took help from an actress, Nilima Sharma. I spent a lot of time just talking to her, listening to stories, hearing her experiences, the environment she grew up in, and a lot more. I picked up a lot from her, especially things like her diction and body language. And all of this came through in the film (smiles)