The key principle is to keep the audience engaged – Suresh Nair
Journalist turned screenplay writer Suresh Nair who is known for films like Namaste London, Salaam-E-Ishq, Singh is Kinng, London Dreams, Kahaani, D-Day et al thoroughly enjoys the process of writing. In an exclusive conversation with Pandolin, the noted writer opens up about his upcoming release Traffic, forming a production company called Cinemaa, his association with selective directors cum friends from the industry and his plans to turn director.
Traffic is based on a real life story that took place in Chennai. How close is the film to the actual incident?
For me the reference point was the original Malayalam film. The research behind the story was done by the original writers – Bobby and Sanjay who had written the film in Malayalam. My job was basically adapting it into Hindi. I don’t think I can take too much credit for the story of the film because I have just added the flavor of Mumbai to it. It is more or less the same film. It is the film that I had loved and I had been initially instrumental in wanting to get this film made in Hindi. It was one of the reasons how and why I got involved in it. I told Rajesh (Pillai, Director) that it is a great film for Hindi. And that is how we collaborated on this.
In the case of adaptation, does the treatment get different? And is there any kind of pressure while writing a remake.
Few things do get changed. But the beauty of Traffic was that it was a film that could happen in any language and anywhere in the world. There is not much that I wanted to change in the film in terms of script.
And the pressure was largely that it should do justice to the adaptation because it is such a cult film in Malayalam. It is also one of my favorite films. I don’t want people to come out and say that we didn’t manage to turn a great film into something good. That was my only apprehension.
Tell us about your association with Traffic’s director late Rajesh Pillai with whom you were supposed to work on Malyalam film Motorcycle Diaries.
Motorcycle Diaries never happened. Since we were collaborating on the Hindi version of Traffic, Rajesh was really keen that we do that too. But we both had our other commitments and the schedules never matched. It was meant to be a very expensive and huge production to be shot all across India. So it couldn’t have happened that easily.
We had a great friendship and till before his death we were in touch regularly. He was a warm and affectionate person. We had a very great time together.
Coming to the casting of Traffic, did you have any actors in mind while writing the script?
I didn’t think about who would play whom. I just wrote the characters. Casting is something that happens at a later stage.
You have also written a Malayalam film titled Lailaa O Lailaaa. What difference do you find in both the industries?
I think budget is the biggest difference. Malayalam is a very small industry. They get driven more by content. In Hindi you could think of various things but in Malayalam you have to think within a very limited form. Secondly I think the Malayalam audience like rooted scripts that talk about their state. They love a Hindi or Tamil film with a lot of masala in it. But they won’t like something similar in a Malayalam film unless it has a rooted connection to the state. And I’m someone who has grown up in Bollywood. I’m more into Bollywood than Malayalam.
But would you like to do more Malayalam films?
Definitely! There are great actors and technicians in Malayalam. One of my all time favourite actors is Mohanlal. Obviously I would love to do more Malayalam films provided I have more time. I keep getting offers but I have been too tied up with my Hindi projects.
Most of your films are thrillers. What does one have to keep in mind while writing a thriller to keep the audience at the edge of their seats?
I’ve done rom-coms like Namaste London and Singh is Kinng. And on the other hand there is a Kahaani or a D-Day. What you have to really keep in mind is that you have to be one step ahead of the audience. You have to be careful that the audiences aren’t a step ahead instead. They shouldn’t be able to predict otherwise it becomes a problem. Spinning something that looks familiar and predictable initially and then making the scene turn into something else is what one needs to do. You have to surprise the audience. I think the key principle of anything – be it a rom-com or a thriller is to keep the audience engaged.
Being a journalist-and-graphic-novelist-turned-screenwriter, were there any things that you had to unlearn from your previous professions?
I don’t know about unlearning because each of them is a different learning process. Script writing just happened to me. Director Sujoy Ghosh has been a friend for a decade now. When he started Jhankaar Beats, he wanted me to get involved in the dialogue writing process. At one point of time I didn’t even know what a screenplay looks like. For me each film is a learning process. All my films have been so different from each other that it has been a great learning experience too.
Did Sujoy ever tell what made him tell you to write the dialogues of Jhankaar…?
I really have no idea. I think Sujoy is very good at spotting talent. I don’t know what talent he found in me while I was writing for Bombay Times. He just thought that I could be of some help to him. It began as a casual help that a friend wanted which turned into an association that has now lasted for over a decade.
I was working as an entertainment head in Times of India. When I quit I was the deputy features editor of Bombay Times. I also use to write a column but I don’t even know if Sujoy read any of my columns (laughs). In his case it is his gut instinct that says a lot. And Sujoy would often tell me that I should quit. But at that time it seemed like a very cozy job to me. I didn’t want to take the risk of leaving a secured profession and getting into the uncertainty of films. It took me three years after Jhankaar to actually quit. Once I got into films, I ended up meeting Nikhil Advani through Sujoy and common friends. It has been a journey where I have been lucky to have people come my way and give me work instead of asking for it. Nikhil and I started with Salaam-e-Ishq followed by Delhi Safari. And then D-Day and Airlift was produced by him. So I haven’t really gone out and worked with many people.
Was it a deliberate decision of working only people that you were comfortable with?
It wasn’t deliberate as such but when you have made a closed circle of friends and you are working with them, you are already involved in multiple projects. So there wasn’t enough time to work on other films by other people.
Ever since your foray into the industry, have you been satisfied with the kind of response your work has got? Or is there some kind of a struggle that you still experience?
I don’t have great expectations. For me it has been a great journey and I have really enjoyed it. Some of them have been really big hits and some were really big disasters. But I have now figured out that you can’t predict what will work and what not. So I just enjoy the process of it. Apart from writing, I can’t have control on anything else. You might think you have done a great job and still don’t get good results. Sometimes you do a great film and it ends up as a disaster and sometimes a film that you find normal does exceptionally good.
Will it be right in saying that your journey has been quite smooth?
Touchwood yes! I didn’t have to struggle much. I can’t say about the future. As of now I have been lucky to have the right kind of people to work with.
Is there a particular story that is on your wish list but hasn’t become a reality yet?
There are many stories like that. Basically there are ideas in your head which you want to convert into stories but somehow they get pushed and never happen. There are a lot of concepts that I want to do it in the future. In fact last year we formed our own company called ‘Cinemaa’ which is founded by Sujoy, another mutual friend called Sameer Rajendran and me. We have produced our first film called Te3n.
What lead to the formation of this company?
Sujoy and I were also part of another company called Boundscript that produced Kahaani. Though I hardly worked as a producer. But as a goodwill gesture I was given the credit of the producer in Kahaani. We then decided that we’ll make certain kind of movies that will appeal to us and that we have in our mind, which led to the formation of this new company.
Why did you choose Te3n to be your maiden production?
We formed Cinemaa and were working on a couple of concepts. Te3n was something that excited the three of us along with equally exciting Mr. Bachchan, Nawazuddin (Siddiqui) and Vidya (Balan). It is co-written by Ritesh Shah, Bijesh Jayarajan and me. It will release on June 10.
Do you also plan to venture into direction?
It is something that I keep pushing every year. Every time I think of directing, I end up thinking that there is a lot of hard work. Direction is something where you need to write a script that you are comfortable with and feel completely charged about directing. I’m still looking for a script that I want to direct.
What is the kind of script that you would want to direct?
I like Woody Allen kind of movies. And of course with a thrill in it. If I could put comedy and thrill together and make a blend of Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen, that would be perfect.
Tell us about your other upcoming projects.
One of my next projects is Vipul Shah’s Namaste England which is the sequel to Namaste London and will star Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha. Then there is Kahaani 2. There is another film that is going to be made by Airlift’s director Raja Menon. All these films are co-written by me.