Akshay Kumar was a natural choice for Baby: Neeraj Pandey
After delivering gripping thrillers, A Wednesday and Special 26, Neeraj Pandey is back with an action-packed espionage. In an exclusive chat, the National Award winning filmmaker talks about putting together his third directorial project Baby.
When and how did the idea of Baby come to you?
A year and a half ago, after I had written the novel Ghalib Danger, I was looking for a screenplay. The idea of Baby was in my mind but it required detailing.
How long did you take to finish the script? Did being a Producer and Director interfere with your process of writing or compel you to incorporate scenes to please the audience?
Writing action scenes doesn’t take too much time; thinking about those scenes does. There is no denying that as filmmakers, we are always looking to please the audience. However, you cannot fall in that trap of appeasement every time. You have to stay true to the story. You can achieve a balance between what you want and what the audience wants without having to stoop low.
You’ve written the scripts of three of your films — A Wednesday, Special 26 and now, Baby. Are you willing to direct other scripts?
Absolutely! I have no problem or any resistance in directing other scripts.
So far, all your films have been thrillers. Is it a conscious decision to stick to this genre?
It is a mere coincidence. A Wednesday was a drama/thriller. Special 26 was a heist drama and Baby is an action thriller. So while it is thriller, each film is different. The similarity of the genre was a challenge but that is the beauty of this job. Every film will pose different challenges irrespective of the genre. You learn with each and every project you take up.
Having delivered back-to-back hits, do you feel the pressure to deliver another hit in Baby?
Not at all.
Do you envision actors for the roles while writing the script or they came only after it is ready?
While you are writing the script, you start getting an idea of which actor would suit best for which role. However, we take a final call only once the script is in place.
This is your second film with Akshay Kumar and third with Anupam Kher. Could you tell us a little about your association with these actors?
It is always easier to work with people with whom you are comfortable. This genre was in essence home turf for Akshay because he is good at action. We felt that he came across as our first choice, but at the same time, you try not take this for granted and cast someone even when they won’t fit the role. Having worked with Akshay and Anupan Kher, we understand each other better, and so the process of communication is swift and quick.
There are actors such as Kay Kay Menon, Danny Denzongpa and Rana Daggubati. Were they the original choice for the film?
For Baby, we pretty much got the cast we set out for. Vicky Sidana, the casting director, did a wonderful job and got some terrific actors such as Jameel Khan, Mukesh Bhatt, Rasheed Naz and Mikaal Zulfiqar, besides the marquee names, on board. I think it is a fantastic ensemble cast.
Would you describe yourself as a methodical or a spontaneous director?
You will have to ask my actors that. I don’t think it would be right of me to describe my own self.
But there must be a certain way of working…
There is a bound script only because we would like to follow a certain vision, right? Of course, we are always looking at enhancing, so you are not closed to suggestions/spontaneity. Little things such as a better line or a better repartee can make the script better but the story will never change.
Did you conduct script readings or rehearsals with the actors?
Yes, readings are a must. We like to have a certain sense of control over the material and basic understanding of what the act is. So we had readings to simply ensure that everyone was on the same page and understood the characters and the flow of the narrative. This always helps, as execution becomes faster.
What role does music play in Baby?
There is only one OST track and a promotional song. The genre of the film is such that there is not much scope for music. And that was the brief given to MM Kreem saab, our Music Director, Meet Bros, who collaborated with us on the promotional song, and lyricist Manoj Muntashir. We told them how we wanted the music in the film.
What brief did you give the DOP, Costume Designer, Production designer and other HODs regarding the look and feel of the film?
We had Sudeep Chatterjee as the DOP, Falguni Thakore as the Costume Designer and Sandeep Ravade as the Production Designer. Additional, photography was required on the film for which Sudheer Palsane graciously stepped in to help us. The brief given was to keep the film’s look and feel as real as possible because the story is rooted in a real world. I also told Sudeep to opt for natural light, a brief given to all crewmembers, as the story is not set in a brightly lit world.
What challenges did you face while making Baby?
There was lot of travel involved. The film starts in Istanbul then moves to Delhi, Bombay, Nepal and ultimately Abu Dhabi. The story was constantly moving and we had a tight schedule. There is never enough time or money — challenges that comes with every film. Also the travel was grueling, especially in Abu Dhabi and Nepal, as we had to meet local people, work with a new crew and so there was a lot of coordination. We also had a fight choreographer, Cyril Raffaelli, from France and Abbas Ali Moghul from India. And because it was a huge team, we had to get them on the same page, which was a bit time consuming. But we had enough time in terms of pre-production and we managed to complete the film on schedule.
How different are the action sequences from the larger than life or previous films in the same genre?
The film is in a real zone and that was the brief given to Cyril and Abbas Ali. We tried to keep it intense and real, and hopefully have managed to achieve it.
Akshay Kumar is the action king of the film industry. Did he demand some challenging action sequence?
Yes, that’s what happened when we discussed the action sequences before the film rolled out. The idea was to push it in a direction that Akshay had not attempted before. And in that context, it was an extremely demanding film. Akshay is not getting any younger but he is one of the fittest people in the industry. He trained hard and managed to pull off all that we intended to do.
Akshay Kumar’s last release Holiday revolved around terrorism, like Baby. Do you worry that the story could come across as repetitive?
I don’t think so, as the story is completely different.
A lot of people felt the romantic track in Special 26 was unnecessary and slowed the pace of the film. Please comment.
It is a story, and if some viewers don’t like something in it, there is nothing that can be done from my end. You cannot design and tailor-make things for every member of the audience. All you can do is accept the fact that some people are going to like it and some won’t, and move on.
— Rachana Parekh