The biggest hook that got me excited was Akshay Kumar playing himself – Abhishek Sharma
Abhishek Sharma, director of The Shaukeens talks about the film, why it is different from the original and what excited him the most about this project.
Is the dearth of good scripts one of the reasons you decided to do a remake?
No. My first film was a very original idea and even the third film, which was supposed to be my second, the sequel to Tere Bin Laden, is an original sequel which you will get to see a few months down the line. I am a sucker for originality and though we are calling The Shaukeens ‘a remake’, it’s very different. The storyline is not the same as the original. Only the soul, the basic premise is the same – three old men after one young girl. The story, the characterisations, the plot, even the act 1, 2 and 3, everything is completely different.
How did you get the project considering established directors are sought out by established stars?
They were still writing the first draft when I came on the project. I got a call from Tigmanshu (Dhulia) and he said that there is this film which we think you can do justice to. Tishu bhai thought that I created the right balance of humour in Tere Bin Laden. The Shaukeens is also a very tricky topic, it’s a fine line and he thought I had that sensibility. Once he called me I was excited because I liked his work, he is my senior from National School of Drama and I had never met him. So I thought I will at least get to meet him. Once he narrated the basic story, I liked it and was also excited because people like Akshay Kumar, Tigmanshu Dhulia, great actors like Annu Kapoor, Anupam Kher were involved in the project.
Being a writer yourself, did you not want to write the film as well? The film is written by Tigmanshu Dhulia and Sai Kabir, or did you come on the project after it had been written?
Woody Allen says “There are two kinds of directors, writer-directors and director-directors. Writer-directors usually cannot direct other people’s scripts. But there is a third category which is very rare, people who can write their own scripts and can also adapt somebody else’s writing and give it their own soul and they are the rarest.” So I just took it as a challenge, can I be in the rarest? I took it because I loved the concept.
The biggest hook that got me excited was Akshay Kumar playing himself. I am a sucker for high concepts. And I didn’t want my ego to come in between. In any case, because I am a writer, once I take the material, there will be natural additions which will happen while making it.
Basu Bhattacharya’s Shaukeen was a well made film. Was there a pressure to live up to that?
There was no pressure. I know that once people see the film, they will understand that it’s not a remake. People who’ve not seen the original, they of course, will have no comparison while people who’ve seen it will not get any scope for comparison because they are two different films on two very different timelines. The only thing is the basic premise and we have done justice to the original in that sense. As far as I am concerned, I have never been a big fan of remakes in the sense of its actual meaning. There is not even a single scene or a single character which is taken from the original.
Before The Shaukeens, Grand Masti earnt 100 crores. Does it make life easier or is there pressure?
Grand Masti is a sex comedy. Ours isn’t. You can’t compare the two and I shouldn’t be comparing it either because I knew exactly from the onset, what I was making. The only valid comparison that I always have in my head is the screenplay and what I am making finally. As a director you should always better the material that you have. The film should always be better than the script. Box office is a very unpredictable thing and if I start thinking about how many crores that film earnt, then I will be setting a benchmark for myself, which might be more than any other film of the same genre, or might not. The most important thing is that it should be a good film and people should appreciate it for whatever it is. Like Tere Bin Laden at that time made around 15 crore but people still remember it and that is a big thing.
As a director, how difficult was it to balance that the film should not turn out to be vulgar or cheap?
It’s not difficult if as a director, you are clear about the essence of the film. My brief to the writers and actors, both, was that let’s work on the background and the innocence of the characters. If you can bring out the innocence behind them, then they will not look lecherous. The idea was that it should come out as though they are deprived, and not lecherous. Once you establish that, and that is established in the first ten minutes itself, then you can laugh at their innocence and understand them. For any act, there is a motivation. If you have the motivation, you will sympathise with anybody.
The original Shaukeen was way ahead of the time, but now, with sex comedies being a trend too, do you feel The Shaukeens has an audience?
You can bring sensuality without being perverse or vulgar. It’s about the taste and aesthetics. I am purely talking about aesthetics. The old Shaukeen when it came was way ahead of its time but not in terms of vulgarity, it was in terms of sensuality and bringing out the pain of 60 plus old men. It wouldn’t be classic if it was a cheap film. So neither that, nor this is a cheap film.
Tere Bin Laden and The Shaukeens… They are from different genres of comedy.
I am a versatile director and I love to do different things. The only thing which will be similar, I hope, in all the films is the comedy element. Comedy is a language for me and not a genre. So that is the only thing which should be similar because comedy is not a genre in itself – there are many sub genres. The first part of Tere Bin Laden was a satire, Tere Bin Laden the sequel is a farce and The Shaukeens is a coming-of-age comedy of these three oldies. It’s like a buddy film.
You managed to get Akshay to make fun of himself as a star on film.
When you see the film, you will find many original things in the film, not only in the script but even in characterisation and treatment. I honestly believe that my craft is better in this film than the first part, because I’ve also evolved as a director. I am very proud of this film. Also, Akshay Kumar playing himself is a very big thing for me because we’ve not seen this kind of a character in Bollywood. Somebody making fun of himself is interesting and funny. His character in the film is brilliant.
In all the three films that I’ve made or am making, I’ve used real life people. There was a character playing Osama Bin Laden in Tere Bin Laden, in The Shaukeens Akshay is playing himself and in the sequel of TBL we will have someone playing Obama.
Since Akshay was playing himself, people who are related to Bollywood do come in as well. So that’s why we decided to get cameos of Abhishek, Kareena, Suniel Shetty for a scene.
In the film, Akshay Kumar is an alcoholic superstar. Is that your perception about a superstar?
No. Tishu bhai and I just wanted to give him a certain tweak as a character because he is playing himself but there is a fictional side to it because it is a fictional story. So we wanted to give him some sort of conflict, a quirk which was this because Akshay Kumar is the most popular teetotaller, so we wanted to just play against the grain. With comedy, you can take a lot of liberty and poke fun at anybody and anything and get away with it. He is making fun of himself, he is large hearted and people will also love it because he is funny.
Humour is a difficult genre to bring out and it can go wrong if not done correctly. What goes in your mind when you are making it? Is it your personal experiences that you bring to the table?
My logic of humour is that it is about perception of things. Either you have it or not. Some people think from their heart, some from their brain. Comedy is more intellectual, if you see, tragedy and romance is more heartfelt. Comedy is also an underrated genre at award functions because people don’t crack it. It’s just a viewpoint and my viewpoint on life as such is funny, so it comes naturally to me. At the same time, if somebody sees something else, he will bring that on the table. Great filmmakers in the pathos or tragic genre, whether it is Bhansali in today’s times or Vishal Bhardwaj or for that matter even Vidhu Vinod Chopra, can bring certain pathos in their screenplay and in their stories because their viewpoint has a different tweak. People like Raju Hirani and even Dibakar, even he has a great sense of humour, see things differently. Every director treats a scene the way he sees life. Shaukeen could have been funnier or less funnier depending on who the director is.
– Priyanka Jain