Aamad struck a chord with people of my parents’ generation: Neeraj
Terribly Tiny Talkies’ latest short Aamad starring Saqib Saleem was released on Father’s Day. The heartwarming film about a strained father – son relationship has won several hearts over. Writer and Director Neeraj Udhwani, who has previously written films like Mere Dad Ki Maruti, Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji and directed television series too, is overwhelmed. “The film seems to have struck a special chord with people belonging to my parents’ age,” says the filmmaker.
In a chat with Pandolin, Neeraj shares how Aamad is a combination of ‘one of my favorite plays, the strange relation between a father and a son and the mistakes of my youth’.
What is the kind of response you’ve been getting for Aamad?
I am really overwhelmed with all the response that has come my way. I knew we had a good story when I wrote it, and when we were filming. But for it to have this kind of an impact, with strangers writing in and people becoming emotional and teary-eyed in 12 minutes, was something which was slightly unexpected.
Any particular feedback that surprised you?
Yes, well a lot of people who have reached out to me through Facebook, Twitter or common friends are people of my parents’ age. The film has struck a huge chord with their generation. They have been forwarding the film to each other on various WhatsApp groups and are messaging my parents, in-laws, neighbors, congratulating me on the film. Aamad has moved them to tears, they understand what it is like when their children hurt them but seldom apologize, that for me is really surprising. It has connected with an audience that I didn’t know it would reach. People who are above 45 years usually do not use YouTube, they don’t consume that much content, so the fact that they are watching this film is a big surprise.
People becoming emotional and teary-eyed in 12 minutes was slightly unexpected
Where does the inspiration for this film come from?
Sometimes ideas just occur to you. I was doing my Masters in English Literature and studied a play called ‘Dance Like A Man’, written by Mahesh Dattani. It spoke about gender politics and how certain things are expected of a man and certain things are not. It is one of my favorite plays and has stayed with me.
When Sharanya (Rajgopal), Chintan (Ruparel) and Anuj (Gosalia) of Terribly Tiny Talkies approached me to make a film for Father’s Day, I wanted to explore the father-son relationship, which according to me is a very tricky one. There is always an emotional distance between a father and a son which neither of them is able to fill, no matter how old they get. There is respect but there is also slight reverence. They do love each other but the bond is not as intimate as a mother-son relationship and that was another aspect I wanted to touch upon.
As kids, boys have a lot of issues with their fathers especially in their teenage years. I remember I had issues that were actually very silly. As you grow up you realize they don’t make any sense but at that point in your teenage years, you do end up being rude to your parents, especially your father. As children we seldom apologize for our mistakes despite knowing the fact that parents are extremely forgiving. It was the combination of all these things, the play, the strange relation between the father and the son and the mistakes of my youth that somewhere in my head started churning and became the script of Aamad.
While making a film that is short in duration but high on emotion, how does one ensure that this emotion is conveyed and the audience is moved within the stipulated time?
I think being a writer helps, I am first a writer and then a director. I have been directing only for the last two years but I have been a writer for over a decade. I have been writing for television, movies, digital content and all sorts of formats. When you have worked so much, you understand the graph of writing, you know how to maximize an emotion in the shortest time possible. So, I think that has got more to do with experience and honing one’s craft than anything else. Talent is the beginning but after that you need a lot of experience to know and have control over the craft.
How did you decide on Saqib Saleem for the role of the son?
Saqib and I go back a long way because we did Mere Dad Ki Maruti together and share a great rapport. Every time I have a new idea or a movie script, I bounce it off him, he helps me and gives me his opinion on it. When I finished writing Aamad, I asked Saqib if he would read it; he read and loved it. I asked him if he would like to act in it but at that time he was working on Dobaara and was busy with the promotions so I was not sure if he would be able to do it. Finally I sent him a message saying, ‘Bhai, will you do it and if yes, then when?’ He was drunk somewhere, at some airport, and messaged me saying ‘I will do it, I am coming back to India and we will start Kathak.’
Saqib’s most admirable traits is that he trusts the director completely, so as a director, you don’t want to let him down
Saqib took Kathak lessons for the role. What was the preparation for his role like? How would you describe him as an actor?
Saqib did a week of Kathak rehearsals, although Kathak looks very easy, it is actually very tough, especially the multiple turns that you have to take. I don’t think any other actor would have this kind of dedication where he would put in so many hours for a week. Saqib used to train four hours a day and finally he did it! He did really well for a week’s practice. I am really happy that he agreed to do this. I don’t think I could have chosen a better actor.
I have known Saqib as a colleague, as an acquaintance but I had never directed him before. You come to know how people are when you interact with them and I have always found him to be a very down-to-earth, nice guy who has no hang-ups. One of his most admirable traits is that he trusts the director completely, so as a director, you don’t want to let him down. For any actor who is not trained in classical dancing to learn Kathak, there is a huge chance that it may not look good on screen. And the person who will get the most flak for it is the actor as he is the face, he becomes the laughing stock but Saqib had so much faith in me, he said, “If you are confident, then I can do it.” I am glad that we were able to pull it off so well.
How was the rest of the cast decided?
Shaarika Pandit, our Casting Director found the young Saqib, Abeer Pandit. Incidentally, Abeer is Lalit Pandit’s son from the famous duo Jatin-Lalit. Shaarika had auditioned him for some other video and suggested his name. When I saw him, I realized that the boy has a lot of spark and we finalized him. Arif Zakaria is a name that cropped up during casting and I was very happy, as I have been a huge admirer of his work. Charu is also an actress that Sarika suggested. One of the most interesting things about this project is that not just Saqib and me but Ishita Moitra, my wife, who wrote the dialogues of Mere Dad Ki Maruti is the co-producer on this project so it’s like the Mere Dad Ki Maruti team coming back in a way. Aamad is also the first film under Ishita’s production banner Starry Eyed Films.
Could you tell us about the shoot schedule, the time taken?
We shot it over two days at a location in Madh Island. Ishita took care of all the logistics. The reason we were able to shoot it over two days, even though it had two dance sequences, is because of planning. I have directed a lot for television before so again that experience helped. In TV, one has to direct a certain amount of footage in a day, so it teaches you how to think fast, shoot fast and execute quickly.
At no point do they use their platform or power to supersede the director,which is one of the main reasons why the shorts coming out of TTT are so good
You were approached by TTT for the film, how was the experience of collaborating with them?
They are very good. Chintan and Sharanya mostly look after Terribly Tiny Talkies, they are more involved in the short films division. Sharanya being a writer herself has some very good suggestions to give at the scripting stage and once the shoot is done Chintan comes on board and helps the director execute his vision to the best of his abilities. Both of them provide really strong creative support to the director. It was more of collaboration; their opinions really mattered to me. They allow the director the freedom to do what he wants. If the director is convinced with a certain technician or an actor, they go ahead with the director’s conviction. At no point do they use their platform or power to supersede the director, which is one of the main reasons why the shorts coming out of TTT are so good. They are the director’s voice and yet at the same time TTT supports them creatively as much as they can.
Digital has opened up a new avenue for young writers and directors like you. What are your thoughts on it?
One of the best things about digital is that it allows you to tell stories without the pressure of the opening day figures that you face in cinema or the TRPs in television. On digital, the film remains for posterity, so if it is a good piece of storytelling, then through sharing or people talking about it, your views grow slowly and over a period of time they grow exponentially. Digital allows the stories to breathe, to be themselves and the audience will always find a way to those stories, which is why it is a boon to a lot of writers and filmmakers.
Digital allows the stories to breathe, to be themselves
What are you working on next?
I have just finished writing a comedy web-series called Selfiewali PM for ALTBalaji that is going on floors in a couple of days. Ashima Chibber who had directed Mere Dad Ki Maruti is directing this web series. So the past couple of months I have been busy writing that and once that is done, I will decide what next.
Watch Aamad Here: