My cinema has to resonate hope, human struggle and victory of human spirit: Vibhu Virender Puri
Like his protagonist in Hawaizaada, National Award-winning film-maker Vibhu Virender Puri set out to do the unthinkable — tell the story of a man who apparently made the world’s first unmanned plane. As his first risky flight as a film-maker comes to an end, we get him to recount his journey.
“Majrooh Sultanpuri has written — Jo sab karte hai yaaro woh kyu hum tum kare? If hum bhi jo sab karte hai woh kare toh kya farak hain humein aur unmein. Atke raho, zid pe ade raho, a day shall come when the mountains shall move. They do move and dreams do come true and I am living one such dream,” says Vibhu Puri.
Let us go to the beginning — how and when did you get the idea for Hawaizaada?
I wanted to make Chenab Gandhi — another film that I wanted to make, which was set during partition. I was emotionally attached to the film because my grandparents travelled on foot from the other side of the border. I have grown up not listening to fairy tales but stories of partition. And these stories have never ever been about bloodshed and murder. They have been about human spirit, of friendship and moments to cherish. So when I decided to make a movie about it, I was quite involved and deeply attached to it.
When it didn’t work out, it left me with a lull and void. I come from a film school where I was educated to make films and that is the only thing I know to do to earn my living. I am a bad storyteller and story writer because I wait for the story to come to me. I can’t reach to them. It may sound absurd and romantic, but that is how it is with me. I need to work on something for years and years to be able to come out with it. When things were not going the way I wanted it to for Chenab, with a heavy heart I had to look for something else. I didn’t have a story till the time I read about Shivkar Talpdae. I thought the story was so inspirational as well as outstandingly impossible that it couldn’t be true. Also, we had never heard of him. It took me a month or two to convince myself that he was real. Every morning I would get up with Shivkar Talpade sitting right next to me and telling me to get me out of this world of unknown. It was that man himself who inspired me so much to write about him. I read about him in January 2011 and today we are in January 2015.
Given the mysterious nature of your subject, what kind of research did you do to substantiate his achievements and make a plausible script?
I read a lot. I went to libraries, researched about Vedic planes, interpretation of the Vedas, etc. I met engineers, scientists, Vedic scholars, historians, art curators, etc. Some were of the opinion that he was a legend and some felt he was a fluke. The answers I got about him were so diverse that it mystified the man even more. Hence the struggle and desire to go out and search for him became even more.
Did you meet Shivkar Talpade’s descendants?
He doesn’t have direct family left any more. His extended family still exists and I connected with them, but for them also he is this larger-than-life legend. I met people who even called him Vishnu bhagwan ke avatar (reincarnation of Lord Vishnu). This is what happens when stories get passed from one generation to another, and every generation adds a new dimension to it. For example, I came to the conclusion that he used mercury as the fuel to fly his plane. But when I met some of his family members they claimed that he was so great that he used his urine to fly the plane. So there is a lot of exaggeration in our folk literature. Shivkar Talpade was somewhere in the middle of folk and real.
Saurabh Bhave is your co-writer on Hawaizaada. Can you tell us about your association with him?
Saurabh is also from Film and Television Institute of India. He has done a scriptwriting course. I met him through friends and teachers when I got this idea. Since Hawaizaada is set in Bombay (Mumbai) I wanted to associate myself with a Marathi boy or a girl. Saurabh’s personality is completely opposite to mine. I am someone who will write the same line over and over again whereas he is someone who will do it and be happy with it. He is an extrovert. I am an introvert. So in a way, we complemented each other. And we wrote the whole film together.
Is the film set in the fantastical realm or have you based it on reality?
I am a child as a film-maker. I want things to be larger than life, fantastical and have a fairy tale-ish quality to it. I have treated the film with a lot of care and tenderness, but I have left a lot of things unresolved; things that will leave a lovely tangerine taste in your mouth. For me it is not a film, it is visual literature. It is poetry, which maybe lyrical, haiku, may have symmetry, may be completely progressive and unromantic.
Do you prefer to write the stories you direct?
I think film-making is dictatorship; it isn’t a democratic art. Film-making has to begin from one person. Of course people come in and add on to the idea but somewhere jitna kam dilute ho utna aur achcha hai. I write my own stories, screenplays, dialogues, I go on to write my own songs and also choreograph it. I like to make sure that there is a piece of me in everything that is there on the screen. As a director, you need to get into the music, the art, the action, the performances, etc. Mithunda keeps telling me, ‘Tu bohat hi shaki film–maker hain. Kisi pe bharosa nahin karta (You are a distrustful film-maker. You don’t trust anyone)’. But it is also because this is my first film and till now people don’t know me. My technicians have now started to understand what I want. A couple of films later, they would know what Vibhu exactly means. So that would take time and I am trying to break a lot of hypothetical and pre-existing notions about cinema, films and world.
At the end of the day, cinema isn’t about a boy falling in love with a girl and running away and 20 goons chasing you or 20 cars flying in the air. We have ridiculed cinema. We have ridiculed what Guru Dutt, Manmohan Desai, Raj Kapoor or Satyajit Ray said about cinema. What we post on Facebook today becomes literature. People are writing poetry on Facebook. Of course, it is a great platform, but somewhere we need to be a little more puritan. Especially with cinema, because it is much more than a source of entertainment. It is an art form. For me it is an amalgamation of all possible art forms, from painting to performing arts to dance to music to bhaav and navras. Cinema is an envelope of art form so how can we ridicule it to be a money making machine? If I had to make money then I would put up a stall of golgappas, there’s a lot of money in it and little effort required. So why should I struggle for four years to make something? So somewhere there is this stubbornness to make my kind of film on my terms and conditions and that is what I have been fighting for the last four years.
That means there was a struggle to make Hawaizaada happen. Can you tell us about the journey to find producers?
Everyone I would meet had heard great stories about me — like he is an incredibly talented guy, he’s from a film school, he’s a gold medallist, his film went to student Oscars, he won the National Award and he has been a prodigy of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. He was supposed to produce his film. So everyone was keen to meet me when I approached them, but when I narrated my story, that’s when it bothered them because it didn’t look commercial.
When a first-time film-maker comes into the industry and pitches his story, people expect him to either make wedding stories or rom-coms or daily gangster films or movies with tons of sex and abuse. We have made that a norm of sorts. But I have never understood any of it and it’s not my world. I come from another planet where everything is beautiful and life is a boon that God has given us and it is full of hope. I can’t make stories of hopelessness. If I know that my tomorrow is going to be worse than today then I will commit suicide. Human beings live in the hope that their tomorrow will be better than today. My cinema and stories have to resonate hope, human struggle and victory of human spirit. So as a first time film-maker, it was difficult for me to convince people to Hawaizaada.
There was a lot of resistance from a lot of producers, but I was lucky to find the right people such as Rajesh Banga. For him, it was not a film, it was my dream for him. Then Reliance supported a lot. And I must mention my actors, Ayushmann (Khurrana) and Mithunda (Chakraborthy) have stuck to me like two pillars of support.
Speaking of Ayushmann and Mithunda, were they your initial choice for the roles they play in Hawaizaada?
I really wanted to work with Ayushmann because I feel there is a brilliant actor in him which people haven’t tapped till now. People have only seen him as an urban Punjabi eligible boy with a guitar in hand. The character I had written is of a kooky scientist from 1895 — a simple Marathi boy, who is very different from Ayushmann. So I wanted to cast him. When I met Ayushmann, I felt only he can do justice to the film. When I started the film, I had an image of Shivkar Talpade based on a picture available on the internet. But in the last two years, Shivkar Talpade’s face has changed; it has become Ayushmann’s face for me.
For Subbaraya Shastry’s character, I was trying to work with some other actor as my Producer wanted him, but I wasn’t enjoying it. One day I told my Producers that I don’t care about numbers or anything, I need to go and meet Mithunda. I picked up my phone and called him. He was in Ooty and told me he would call me after two days once he would be back in Bombay. Everyone said he won’t call me. But on the third day I got a call from Mithunda saying that he was back and asked to meet. Within 15 minutes of the narration, he asked me when do we begin to shoot.
How many days did the shooting schedule last?
We shot it for about 90 odd days spread over 12–14 months. We started shooting in September 2013 and went on till October 2014. The pre-production went on for six to eight months.
Since it is set in 1890s what research did your team go through to recreate that era?
1890s is an era no one has seen. Till the time Raja Ravi Varma showed us what the Gods looked like, we never knew what Ram or Sita looked like. It was the artist’s interpretation of images. That is what we have tried to do in this film. We, as artists, said this is what our world in the 1890s would have looked like. I don’t know whether it was like this or not. It’s a world born out of my imagination.
What was the brief given to the HODs (Cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, etc.)?
I am a visual Director. I know the power of an image. There are several sequences in the film that don’t have words, like the entire seven minutes of climax doesn’t have a single spoken word. I chewed the brains of my DOP (Savita Singh, who also happens to be his wife) to the core. She is also an FTII graduate, a year junior to me and a National Award winner. My brief to her was that I need to get the right contrast — one that no one has ever seen in a Hindi film — which seems to elude all of us. And she has managed to get such a beautiful mixture of lovely contrast and glamour where it doesn’t look gritty. Our references have always been paintings. Similarly my Costume Designer Sahil Kochhar and Art Directors Amit Ray and Subrata Chakraborty, have gone and created a whole world for me where we have worked on every single detail in the film. We have shot in some crazy places. We have made a ship in the film. We have got a real plane and there are three different stages of the plane.
What was the biggest challenge while making Hawaizaada?
Like I told you, the film was shot over 90 days spread over 14 months, so the biggest challenge was to match continuity. I had to understand the pitch/sur of every scene. So one had to make sure it matched the previous scene that was shot four months ago. In between all of this, there were a hundred million production issues because it is my first film and it doesn’t boast of Aamir Khan or Salman Khan. We did face our own set of problems but we sailed through it.
Speaking of Aamir and Salman – why didn’t you cast a big established star actor?
I come from a school where the script dictates everything. For me, the plane was made when Shivkar Talpade was 30 years old. So I needed a younger generation actor. I wanted someone who didn’t have an image, who doesn’t come with any baggage. So I think Ayushman was the best guy to play the character.
Are you nervous?
Nervous for sure. I would be lying if I say I am very confident. Yes, I am confident because I am happy with the way we have made it. I am just nervous and I hope people like and enjoy it. But having said that, my biggest reason for making this film was that I wanted people to know about Shivkar Talpade. He made the world’s first plane but sadly couldn’t make it to our history books. My job was to tell people about him and it is gratifying when people from different walks of life like a common man, a film-maker, a spiritual leader, a glamor guy, a sportsperson talk about him. Somewhere we have been redeemed. We have reached where we wanted to reach. Now the destiny and fate of film is secondary and depends on the Almighty. Whatever happens, I shall accept it.