For me, Main Aur Charles is a case study of various characters
While most makers choose tried and tested plots, Writer-Director Prawaal Raman goes for unknown subjects that let him explore not-so-normal situations and characters. In an exclusive interview, the talented filmmaker speaks about what, why and how he went about making his next film, Main Aur Charles.
What made you think of making a film on Charles Sobhraj? Is it a biopic?
No, I am not saying it is a biopic because I am not tracing his life history really. But yes, it is based on the famous 1986 jail break in Tihar. I found it to be a very fascinating piece of work by a criminal, where he just walks out of the jail in broad day light. Every time I read about him I found him very enigmatic. He was the first person to have a PR machinery and device a particular plan to brand himself in the late 70s, something which everyone does now. So, I felt that I needed to decode the mystery that is created about him. I met a lot of people who have spent time with him, dealt with his case, his lawyers, his inmates, journalists, police officers. Each one had a different perspective on what Charles is as a person. When I started speaking to police officer, Amod Kanth, who investigated his case, I realized that I must make the movie around the jailbreak.
Given that your film is about a real life personality, what research did you do to understand your subject and write the script?
Script-writing is considered to be the quickest job in the industry. The moment a proposal is set – that means a star, his dates and studio have agreed to work together – then everything else has to fall in place. The makers have already earned the money. So, there is an urgency to start the film and not let go of the star’s dates, as a result the script becomes secondary.
In my case I believe actors, production houses and studios can wait. I take a lot of time to write my script. In the case of this film, I wrote almost 40 plus drafts till the film went on floor. Each person I met would bring a different insight on Charles so I had to change something in my script. I started writing in 2010 and started shooting in 2013. I do believe script writing is crucial and one should give it time.
Once you zeroed in on the script, was it an easy to find producers?
I didn’t have problems finding financiers. I was signed by two studios but both wanted me to work with other actors. So, I eventually walked out. The first person I narrated the film to is Randeep (Hooda), and I believed he was the correct person for the film. So, there is no difficulty as such in any process. I chose to make it easy for me by doing what I believed in.
Why were you so convinced that only Randeep Hooda would play the role? Likewise why Richa Chadda and Adil Hussain for their respective roles?
When I am writing I don’t think of the cast. Only after the second or third draft I start contemplating on who will fit the characters. I don’t take help from any casting agency because being the writer nobody can understand the characters the way I would. But I have a team to get me access to the actors. Usually, I quickly cast my main cast from the people I have known, met, seen or not seen. Nearly seven to eight people from the cast are facing the camera for the first time.
When it comes to Randeep, I think he is one of the most amazing actors and not just because I am working with him. When I see him perform in certain movies I think he is at par with actors like Daniel Day-Lewis or Al Pacino or, even, Robert De Niro. When I narrated the script to him, his passion towards the character was immense, to the extent that a week after the narration he called me again with more ideas. I like such passionate people who are completely involved in the project. I had seen Richa in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. I find her amazingly great and passionate. Someone from my team had suggested that I consider Richa for the film as she is from Delhi. But I had apprehensions as she has played similar roles in the past. Anyway I decided to meet her and as I was narrating the script I could see her becoming Mira. Usually, I take the decision right away, it is now or never for me.
I had always wanted to work with Adil since Ishqiya. He is a brilliant actor. I met him on his film’s location. Adil didn’t even let me narrate the script, he insisted that we have a cup of a tea and agreed to doing the film. Then, there is Diana Dejanovic, who plays Charles’s lawyer. She is from Serbia. I just saw her picture in The Telegraph and asked the agency to connect with her. She was in Kolkata but was coming to Bombay, so I called her to the office and there was no question of meeting a second time. I simply told her to play Charles’ lawyer.
Did you have readings or workshops with actors as they were playing real people?
Personally, I don’t believe in workshops or readings because once they practice they become corrupt and start devising. I like actors to be spontaneous. The only thing I expect is that they should remember the lines or the thought behind what is written. Unless of course if the actor insists, because of the lines, then I might do it once or twice. Of course, there were make-up, hair and look tests.
Once the film goes on floor do you stick to the bound script or keep room for evolution on the set too?
Not at all. When the script is being written multiple times, then you know the basic screenplay, the dialogues and everything is locked. Flexibility is only to the point that I give freedom to my actors with their lines. If something is written and say Richa wants to say it differently or I have written that Amod (the character) goes and sits on his chair but Adil (the actor) wants to stand by the window, then I am ok with it. Basically actors are like kids; they need to be guided. Their excitement to explore the new-found person they are playing is tremendous, and that makes them childlike. So, you treat them like that. I consider actors to be like kids and tools for me to complete what I have to make.
What brief did you give your crew – CInematographer, Costume Designer, Art Director, Music Director, Editor – regarding the look and feel of the film?
When I am writing I mention basic visuals – like there is a beach with a bed, etc. Once the script is locked I give it to my team to give me visual references for locations. I ask them to show me 15 variations of say a pub, or a house or a hotel or hippie settlements. Then I select a few that become my master file when it comes to talking to technicians – cinematographer (Anuj Dhawan), art director (Jeetendra Kawa), costume designer (Salim Asgar Ali), editor (Nipun Gupta), etc. They come up with their takes and we mutually agree upon it. The lighting and framing of the scenes totally depends on the scene, whether it has to be edgy, flamboyant or dark. My reference would depict the mood I had visualized the scene in. Likewise I provide references to my art director, costume designer, etc.
What role does music play in the film?
The idea of music is for free-play on television and to lure audience to the auditorium. So, making music is almost like a battle for me. Many of my movies don’t have songs. In Main Aur Charles we needed songs. But Charles is not dancing and singing songs, they are in the background. For instance there is Neeli Bullet, which appears when Charles escapes from Bombay to Goa on a bike, so the title. Then, there is a club song, for which we bought an old song, Jab Chaye Mera Jadoo, and reworked it a little. There are three-four more songs that don’t interfere with the script. In fact I had mentioned songs in the script.
Coming to the background score – when I am writing a film I listen to music as it helps build the mood. During the scripting of Charles I heard a lot of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra because of the flamboyant nature of the man. I also listened to a lot of music of the 70s. So, I asked my editor to place the rough tracks on the edited version and give it to the music director (Aditya Trivedi) to come up with his version, but stick to the scheme that I’d given. This is his first feature film. I am actually very happy that I got him on board, ‘coz after the trailer came out a lot of people commented that the background is outstanding.
How many days did you take to shoot the film and where was it shot?
We shot the film in 64 days, including songs, over several schedules. We shot at Udaipur, Goa, Delhi, Thailand and Bombay. And it was all real locations as I don’t feel correct in a designed atmosphere (sets).
Often films on criminals are looked upon as glorification. Comment.
First, my film is not a biopic, it is a film on an infamous jailbreak. But through the instance I did explore the life of Charles, Amod Kanth and other people who were associated with him. I have fictionalized true instances. For me, it is a case study of various characters. Main Aur Charles is an extremely fast-paced thriller, and not a perspective on why Charles was like that or his confession or analyses. It has one-liners and is a sharp and edgy film. Second, I don’t say that the story is that of a killer because nobody has seen Charles kill people though it is believed that he is a serial-killer and has been in jail for it. There is not a single drop of blood or killing in my film.
Third, I am not in love with Charles, I am in love with the plot and what is happening with the characters. When I am writing my characters I love getting into their minds. But there is a balancing act by the counter characters, who are rational and righteous. So, you come out with a balanced take. Fourth, speaking of glorifying crime or a person – my logic is that Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi was a violent film because of the way Jallianwala Bagh massacre was shown. To talk about peace you need to show war. The ‘family films’ of the 80s glorified the antagonist. For instance I have never seen the bad guy without a glass, woman around him and riches. That is true glorification of crime, and not because I chose a subject about a crime. At least, I am not making mundane and twisted films because they have worked.
What are your expectations from the audience, even business-wise?
The number business is the producer and marketing team’s prerogative to attract audience to the theaters. And a lot goes behind it. But I know once the audience comes inside they will love the film. I know what I have made. No community makes a movie, one man makes the movie, and it is me in my case. Of course, my team is most important to give a shape to the film. But I like being a dictator, in a good way.
Most of your films – Darna Mana Hai, Gayab, Darna Zaroori Hai, 404, etc – have been in the dark and horror zone. Comment.
If there is any typical mundane story, where I know the reactions and see it every day, then I don’t think it is challenging enough for me. I find it fun to make movies that are not about normal situations and where I can put my characters in situations that are not mundane. I like horror as I can explore an unknown zone and how my characters’ minds will function in it.
What next are you working on?
Relativity Media, which distributed the original Oculus, along with B4U Television network, approached me to make the Indian version. It was quite a paradox, because I always write my own scripts and am against the idea of remakes. When I had watched Oculus, I thought it was a smart film in the horror genre. When I met Ryan Kavanaugh, the president of Relativity Media, and Michael Hoffman, the director of The Best Of Me, they asked me if I will Indianize the script for the Indian audience. I said, ‘No I will not do that and will have my own take on it and take care of any kind of fallacy I find in your film’. The next day I was signed. So, then my partner Vikram (Khakhar) called Huma Qureshi and Saqib Saleem. I connected with Lisa (Ray) and Adil. The best thing about the film is Madalina Bellariu Ion, whom I met in London. She is only 25 but her understanding of the craft and cinema is tremendous. I have worked with so many actresses in my films but she is brilliant. The film will release in March 2016.