A story should be thought-provoking and make people introspect: Ronnie
If a film is being produced by Ronnie Lahiri, every department is bound to have constant support and inputs from him. For Lahiri fulfills his creative juices by being closely associated with every aspect of the films that he makes. Similar is the case with his upcoming film Pink in which he is bringing the dangerous side of Delhi to the fore, introducing his discovery, Andrea Tariang from the North East, and also two Pakistani singers Faiza Mujahid and Qurat-Ul-Ain Balouch. An unconventional producer, Lahiri has produced fascinating films like Vicky Donor, Madras Café and Piku under his banner Rising Sun Films – a company that he started with director Shoojit Sircar in 2007. In a tete-a-tete with Pandolin he opens up about Pink and his style of working.
The idea of Pink first came to you from director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury somewhere in 2012-2013. What was it about the subject that excited Shoojit Sircar and you?
At that time, we were in the middle of Madras Café, so at that immediate moment, there was not much of a reaction. After that when we had some downtime, we started discussing the ideas that we had. When we thought about Aniruddha’s idea, we first thought that the idea was nice. Then we started thinking if this idea could be made into a two-hour film or not, and if we would manage to engage the audience. Because certain ideas can be limited to a three-minute, five-minute or a one-hour film. Eventually Shoojit got involved into the whole story and started working on it. He told me that he thought that it could be made into a three-hour film. And so we decided to get on board someone like Ritesh (Shah, Writer). But when Aniruddha came to us, he wanted this film to be made in Bengali because we had produced his previous Bengali film Aparajita Tumi. But we told him to make it in Hindi since the subject is more of a national issue.
Shoojit and you even decided to set the story in Delhi. Why did you think it should be based in Delhi and not any other city? Since you both have stayed in Delhi, has that also helped the film?
Aniruddha had initially based the story in Calcutta. But then we decided to place it in Delhi. When Ritesh came on board, even he had spent a lot of time in Delhi. So all of us knew the nuances of the city and how it functions. That is why it was more comfortable for us to place it there. Also be it Vicky Donor, Madras Café or Piku, all the films have explored different parts of Delhi. Delhi as a city is more in the news for the kind of subjects that we have explored in Pink. Of course, these things keep happening all over India. Perhaps Delhi being the national capital, such things are highlighted more. That is how people associate with the city. So we wanted to have that little dark side of the city. In Vicky Donor we have shown a very amiable side of Lajpat Nagar and in Piku we showed CR Park. Pink will have another side of Delhi where we show how the city can be a little dangerous.
Pink will have another side of Delhi where we show how the city can be a little dangerous
Can we say that Delhi will play another character in the film?
Absolutely! Delhi is a very strong character in the film. Since we (Shoojit and I) both have lived in Delhi, we knew the kind of people that the city has and their body language. That is why we were involved in the entire process with Aniruddha, because he is from Calcutta. He has just been a visitor but Shoojit, Ritesh and I have lived in Delhi.
What has been your involvement as the producer of the film?
The functionality in Rising Sun Films is that there is no clear-cut division of one’s work. It is not that if we are producing the subject, we’ll only talk about money and not the creative aspects. For us, creative satisfaction is more important. Rising Sun Films has a very democratic set-up. It is like a home where all of us are involved in every aspect. I’m a part of every story sitting and give my inputs. Initially, the whole story was about three girls. Then I discussed with Shoojit and told him that if we are talking about three working women staying in Delhi, why don’t we put a North Eastern girl in them. Because there are a lot of girls from the North East who are working in metros and facing a lot of challenges. They look and dress differently. Also, I was born and raised in North East. The initial 21 years of my life were spent there. So I definitely have something for the region.
With this subject, Shoojit immediately understood where my suggestions were coming from and he incorporated them in the story, as earlier a North Eastern girl was not part of the script. Coming to casting, our immediate choice was Taapsee (Pannu, actor) because we had seen her work in RunningShaadi.com, which is produced by us and is yet to release. And Taapsee was bang on for the role. Andrea Tariang was my discovery as I insisted on getting a North Eastern girl. We were quite clear that we had to cast a girl from the North East itself, and not someone who just looks like a North Eastern girl. And that was a challenge. After looking around at many places, I thought of my friend’s daughter who is almost the same age that we were looking for. That’s how Andrea Tariang came on board. Her father was my senior from school. Kirti Kulhari came through the audition and the moment we saw her, we didn’t look anywhere else.
Besides this, I get pretty involved in music as well. Qurat-Ul-Ain Balouch who sung the ‘Kari Kari’ song is someone whom I have known for four years. The moment we were discussing music, the first brief I gave Shantanu (Moitra, Music Composer) was her voice. Again, Shantanu is someone whom we have worked with for almost 20 years, since our days in Delhi. The whole idea was that she (Balouch) is a big sensation in Pakistan but has never sung in India. Same was the case with Faiza Mujahid, who is a friend of mine and has sung ‘Jeenay De Mujhe’. I have known her for 5-6 years and this song has been with me for around 4-5 years. So at Rising Sun Films, it is a process and everyone gets into every kind of thing. There is no clear demarcation.
We were quite clear that we had to cast a girl from the North East itself, and not someone who just looks like a North Eastern girl
Rising Sun Films has made movies such as Piku, Madras Café, Vicky Donor, Aparajita Tumi etc. How do you manage to work within smaller budgets but still deliver great stories?
There is no deliberate attempt at finding different kinds of stories. It is pure gut. When the idea of Pink came to us, the most important thing was whether the idea hit us. After that, like I mentioned, we were concerned if we would be able to engage the audience. During our school days, every time the teacher would ask us what the moral of the story was? At the end of the day, when you tell any story, it should have a moral. It is important for a story to be thought-provoking to make people introspect.
Besides Rising Sun Films, Pink is also produced by Rashmi Sharma who is a well-known name in the TV industry. Since you come from an unconventional cinematic point of view, did your creative opinions match with each other?
If you look at her serials such as Shakti, our basic thought process is very similar. We had developed the entire idea much earlier. When we met them, they were planning to enter into feature films. They wanted something that would fit into their philosophy and our feature film was bang on for that. After that, they were pretty much on board with us on everything. They knew that we have been doing this work for long. In fact, I would say that they were humble enough to say that they were learning the process from us, as for them the process was completely different. Philosophically we were in the same space. Rashmi also said that though she is using a different medium, but what she has always tried to say in television is similar to what Pink is trying to convey.
There are 10 national award-winning people associated with Pink. How has that boosted the quality of the film?
During the post-production, we generally started talking and realized that there are 10 National award-winning people associated with the film. Honestly speaking, I was looking for the eleventh person as it would have then completed a football team (laughs).
We didn’t select any of them because they had National awards. Everyone brings in their own inputs and experience. They have all got awards because they are good at something and everybody has contributed in their own department. Mr Bachchan has four National awards to his credit, DOP Avik Mukhopadhayay has three National awards, the director is a two-time National award winner, Shoojit and I also received a National award for Vicky Donor. Another National award-winner, musician Shantanu Moitra does very few films but puts his heart and soul into every project. Sound designer Bishwadeep Chatterjee who has two National awards to his credit is a thinking man. Then we have sound mixer Nihar Ranjan Samal with two National awards, re-recording mixer Sinoy Joseph with one National award and Sound Designer Dipankar Jojo Chaki with two National awards respectively. So when you’ll see the film, you’ll realize that if a film has been made by ten National award winners, what the results are. It is not that they are all doing only their own bit. They are thinking on the whole. At times Shantanu has also commented on the story and what could be done in the editing stage. His work is to not just create the music but he also give inputs whenever required.
We didn’t select any of them because they had National awards
Another observation about the subject of your films is that it has always been a mix of everything. While Yahaan and Madras Café were war dramas / political thrillers, on the other hand Piku and Vicky Donor were fun films that hit the nail in a very light manner. Do you deliberately choose subjects in this manner to have a break in between?
The basic idea is to make messages. Every film has a different treatment. In Piku and Vicky Donor, it was medicine coated with sugar. Whichever script comes to us at the point, we end up making it. Then we develop the story ourselves. Our scripts are developed in-house.
You met Shoojit in 1999. It will be a cliché to ask the kind of bond that you’ll share, but I would still want you to put it in words.
Our relationship is more like friends and family. Since we have known each other for so many years, there is a level of comfort. If I suggest something to him, he always appreciates it. And the same applies vice-versa. Now it has come to a scenario that we are more like husband and wife, where one doesn’t even need to say things (laughs). It is an unsaid kind of a relationship where we both know what the other is thinking.
After such an enriching experience of producing some important films, do you also want to try direction?
A lot of people have asked me this thing. My simple theory is that one should do what one is good at. It is a career choice that you make and I’m very happy with the choice that I have made. Otherwise if I start thinking on the other side, my existing job will also suffer. And I would like to do it to the best of my ability. Like I said, I do everything in the film for my creative satisfaction. To fulfill my creative juices, I’m on set every day, during the edit, while the music is being made and everywhere else. I want to continue being a producer because it is teamwork. Shoojit’s there on creative end and I’m handling the entire production.
My simple theory is that one should do what one is good at
What are your forthcoming projects?
Runningshaadi.com will release next year. Other than that, we’ll sit down post the release of Pink and think about the subject that we want to work on. There are a couple of subjects that we are working on and will soon choose one out of them. But there is nothing to announce because we only believe in announcing when something is ready to go on the floor. There is no point in saying that we are working on five films at the moment. There has to be just one film at a time.