I don’t want to be typecast – Bejoy Nambiar
From his influential debut film Shaitan to the critically acclaimed David and the recently released Wazir, the three-film old filmmaker Bejoy Nambir is already listed amongst the most prominent directors in Hindi cinema. In a conversation with the director, one learns about his love for talking, desire to explore different genres and how he will continue telling stories that he genuinely believes in.
You were working on a reboot of Parinda and ended up making Wazir. How did this change and your association with Vidhu Vinod Chopra happen?
We were not happy with the script of the reboot of Parinda. So I kind of went to excuse myself from directing it in 2013 when David released. That’s when Vinod sir gave me a few different scripts to read. And I happened to really like an English script from the lot. And that is when the journey of adapting the whole script into Hindi started.
Was it the lack of interest in Parinda that made you say no to the film? Or was it the fact that it was taking pretty long to be made?
We (Vidhu Vinod Chopra & I) both were happy with the first half but were getting stuck with the second half. He and I were looking at it differently so we weren’t able to agree on one thing. So I thought it is better not to try and force it and to let go of it.
I read somewhere that it was 1994 when Chopra first discussed Wazir’s story and later talked to Farhan Akhtar during the release of Lakshya. Has this script been in the pipeline for more than a decade now?
1988 is in fact when he wrote the original story idea but 1994 was when he discussed the story idea with Abhijat (Joshi). But then they started writing Mission Kashmir and Kareeb. Abhijat wrote Wazir’s script between 2000 and 2004; the first draft was ready in 2004.
There are ideas that at times take a long time to materialize. Sometimes you write something and then put it away and start working on something else. And then you again go back to it and keep completing it slowly and gradually. But the fact that you believe in the idea makes it come back to you again and again.
Wazir was initially titled The Fifth Move. From the time you read the script till the time it was made, unlike its title has the story remained the same?
The basic core remains the same. But when you start adapting the script, of course a lot of things get added. The additions have been done by two other writers and me. So a lot of things were added.
The duo of Abhijat Joshi – Vidhu Vinod Chopra have given hits like Munnabhai MBBS, 3 Idiots and PK. But those subjects were different from a thriller like Wazir which happens to be your forte. Does it make the experience even better?
For sure! This collaboration itself is a unique one. It is almost like two different schools of learning. Because I have a different approach towards things and they have a different approach. The whole marriage took place over three years and these three years have been quite great. So it has been an interesting experience.
For Wazir, you apparently met several ATS officers to get the details right, as the film deals with the subject of terrorism. Please throw some light on the research done for the film.
I did a lot of research just to make sure that the officers are portrayed in a correct way. Every little aspect has been kept in mind. Even the minute details like they dress up when they are not on duty, what kind of government houses do they live in, what kind of cars do they drive etc. I went to their offices and met all the officers just to get the feel of everything. And the best part is that they were quite accommodating. When I told them the subject, they were more than happy to help out.
When you do such deep research, don’t facts and minute details start dominating the actual script?
Not at all. As long as it is helping my story I don’t see it as a heavy thing. Also you have to find an equal balance between things and make sure that your story doesn’t get affected. At the same time you have to make sure that it looks as real as possible. In Wazir, we were using the facts only to make the story better.
Tell us about the casting process that has brought exceptional actors like Farhan Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan together?
Bachchan sir was already attached to the script and knew about it. Farhan was the other actor that I really wanted. Once they both were on, we knew that we have something really strong.
Tell us about your association with the DOP Sanu Varghese who has worked with you in David as well. What made you collaborate with Sanu once again?
I have been very fortunate as I have always got a chance to work with good people. In David, I had a great time working with Sanu and somewhere even Wazir had the same look and feel. The DoP is almost like the second director on the set and Sanu has believed in both the subjects – David and Wazir. I have had a fantastic equation with him.
What kind of an experience was it to work with Amitabh Bachchan?
It is like a dream come true for me. There was an incident that my mom told me. She said that I was just three years old when I got lost in a crowd at Juhu Chowpati and my sister finally found me staring at the poster of Muqaddar ka Sikandar. I have been a Bachchan fan ever since. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I got to work with him. I hope I get the chance to work with him again.
It is said that you’ve already started writing scripts keeping him in mind so that you get to work with him again?
I even had a role for him in Shaitan. I thought of pitching Rajiv Khandelwal’s role as that of an older cop. But at that point I didn’t get a chance to interact with Bachchan sir. I think every Indian filmmaker once in his life wants to work with Bachchan sir and luckily I got lucky (laughs). Same goes for Farhan. He is someone whose work I have admired from the days of Dil Chahta Hai. I have really liked his work in Luck by Chance and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara too.
Would it be right to say that you’ve grown on diet of Bollywood films?
Completely. I enjoyed Bollywood and masala films.
But your subjects are different from the typical Hindi films.
Because I have to do justice to the stories that I strongly feel about. I’m sure if I try my hand at masala films, I might not do well in them. I have grown up on a lot of interesting regional films and a lot of world cinema as well. At the same time I’m trying to find my own voice as a director. After Shaitan and David, I have got this ridiculous tag that I only make dark films. But I told stories that I felt like telling. Just because I have told only them so far doesn’t mean I can only make those. Once a reporter asked me if I would make a comedy film? I told him that he should go and watch David as it had one story which was purely comic. So I did try my hand at comedy. I’m going to try my hand at different stories. I don’t want to be typecast.
From Shaitan to David and now Wazir, you’ve only made thrillers. Do thrillers hold a special place in your heart?
I think I have an affinity for thrillers and I see myself drawn towards them. At the same time, I don’t think I want to keep doing thrillers. I want to experiment and so I’m writing a love story and drama.
Do you think making only thrillers has led you to being typecast?
We are very comfortable plotting people and tagging them in a way we want. We all tend to stereotype. And that is ok. Because that is the mentality we all have. But it is your body of work through which you have to fight back and prove what all you can do.
Are you satisfied with the kind of response your previous films have received?
Shaitan for sure. I’m really happy that Shaitan managed to strike that chord. It is just very sad that very few people saw David. And it never got released in satellite which is something that I really feel sad about. David somewhere has been really close to me and I hope that someday it finds its audience.
What actually went wrong with David?
There are a lot of reasons that I can give. One of the biggest was that Vishwaroopam released on the same day and it was on the front page news everywhere for over a month. Everybody wanted to watch that film which took away a lot of audience. Having said that somewhere some people didn’t connect to the multiple narrative. They started picking up stories. When we start picking stories, it gets difficult to connect.Very few movies that have multiple narratives have worked in India, which is also another drawback.
And of course we are yet to crack the right way to market films. Every film cannot be marketed in the same way. I’m not someone who knows how to do it but I definitely believe that we need to cultivate a right process on how to market certain genres. A thriller has to be marketed in a different way. And Vidhu sir recently made a right remark. According to him you should come and watch our film and then write about it rather then going to a music or a dance show to promote it. That is absolutely true. You have to find your audience. Similarly David was also marketed in a different way.
Recently you were under fire for your ‘derogatory’ statements about the differently-abled population as you used words such as ‘constraining’, ‘limiting’ and ‘wheelchair-ridden’ which didn’t go too well with Javed Abidi, the Convener of the Disabled Rights Group. Do you think films and filmmakers in India are always under some kind of radar?
I think it was completely taken out of context. We were not looking at creating any controversy or hurting anyone. When someone takes my interview, I generally talk a lot. Now I’ll be more careful that it should be put in a right way. Though I would not want to be like that. I would want to be free. But the sad part is that people are ready to pounce on you.
With Wazir, what kind of challenges has the filmmaker in you met?
This is for the first time that I have worked with someone else’s material. I had to really match up to their level. Abhijat and Vinod sir have been working for the last two decades and I was the new person there. So I made sure that whatever stuff I did would add value. They trusted me and I tried my best to justify that trust. They were part of the writing process and I then went out and shot the film, which they weren’t part of. And then they got back at the time of editing.
People often tag you as an unconventional or offbeat filmmaker. Are things easier now as compared to when you started?
It can be slightly easier for sure as it is not going to be my first film but it is going to be difficult because the stories that I want to do can still be difficult to convince people. I don’t give references saying that want to make a film like this. I’m someone who really encourages original writing and we need to do the same in our country. Wazir becoming a hit at box-office will surely give me access to bigger things but stories that I want to say will always find themselves in a difficult place.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’ve recently done a one – hour tele drama film for Zee. Nobody is dying or getting killed in the film. I did it because I wanted to see how would I make something like this. It is called ‘Dobara’ and is going to air this year. It is part of the initiative where they have brought six filmmakers (including Pakistan) together. It is a complete relationship film. In fact if I don’t put my name, nobody will get to know that I have done it.
Then there is a web series that I’m doing. It has 12 short stories of different genres. I’m writing a couple of projects, let’s see what works as I’m definitely going to start something this year.