This film speaks to your heart, not to your eyes – Vijay Raaz
“When you sit to watch the film, you can feel something stirring inside you,” says the proficient actor Vijay Raaz who made his directorial debut with the recently released film, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore. He speaks to us about the journey of this film that is set in the months following the Indo-Pak partition, his emotional connect with it and his willingness to keep trying new things.
From a versatile actor to a debutant director. What prompted this transition?
I am primarily an actor and was first associated with this story as an actor itself. When a good story comes in front of you, as a creative person you begin to enjoy it, several things touch you. This is amongst one of those stories that became very close to me and when Karan Arora (Producer) saw my affinity and involvement towards this story, he asked me to direct it. And I agreed. This is like an extension of my work itself. It is a new thing in one way and yet not so new as I have been in the industry for a long time and you happen to learn the technicalities along the way. All the characters that I have played have had an aspect of direction from my end too. I bring the character to life from inside while the director handles it from outside. So I didn’t have any trouble in taking up this new role as the soul of this story had already found a place in me. It is the emotion associated with the film that has driven it. There is no transition as such from an actor to director; I don’t consider myself to be in the league of directors. But, yes, if another story comes along in the future and someone is willing to invest it, I won’t mind directing again.
And how have you juggled the roles of the actor and director both? Which was more challenging of the two?
Neither of the roles were challenging, in fact I had a lot of fun. This was like an experiment for me. It is a sensitive topic; the film has very few characters and just one set. To convey your message in such a limited set up is a difficult task. You don’t have the help of visuals, camera angles, song-dance etc., which when put together is called cinema. But for me, cinema is not just this; it is a medium to tell a story, to convey a message. When you see this film, on the outside, it is visually very dry. But when you sit to watch the film, you can feel something stirring inside you. That was more important to me and also the reason why I got associated with this film in the first place.
What is the core essence of Kya Dilli Kya Lahore. How have you blended humour with a sensitive topic like the partition?
This film speaks to your heart, not to your eyes. It is a journey of a different kind. It raises several questions and also answers them in a simple manner without creating a big hullabaloo. Humor is something that sets in once the event has happened and then when we talk about it, there is a light undertone to it, because it is done and you cannot keep crying over it. So humor is not something that is purposely added, it takes its own course. In the film there are several moments that might seem like humor on the outset, you will laugh, but the person who is saying it, is in a lot of pain. For example, there is a dialog in the film – “Hum Chacha Nehru chacha Nehru karte reh gaye aur asli bhateeje toh tum hi nikle”. I play a Pakistani soldier in the film and I’m saying this to the Indian soldier (Manu Rishi). People will laugh at this dialog in the theatre but for the person who is saying it, it is painful because he has lost his people, his country, for him it is not a joke. Humor is not even understood in this manner in the industry. Comedy has been given set formats. But emotions are not always in black and white, they are always layered.
How did you arrive at the title – Kya Dilli Kya Lahore?
While the film was being made we discussed several titles. One of them, which I felt very strongly for, was ‘Cheetiyan’ (Ants). It meant that people who are talking about this issue are like ants, because in front of the political system, the common man is like an ant. When an ant comes under someone’s foot it dies, but when it bites it can kill an elephant. That is their journey in the film. So there were several discussions on this title but it was considered very serious. Then it so happened that Karan was in Dubai and was having a conversation with some people when a person said, “Yaha kya Dilli kya Lahore, yaha hum kya lade ki hum Hindu hai ya Pakistani”. And this thing fit the context very well. There was some initial confusion as it sounds a little political but slowly it became a title that says everything about the film.
What are the kind of preparations that went into the making of this film? Also, how did you prepare for your role in the film?
I don’t do preparations for any role. For the film too we have largely gone with the flow. In cinema, you prepare for the visuals, for things that can be seen, locations, props etc. There are no visuals as such so there was nothing to decorate or prepare. It was all about feeling the emotions and that I felt very strongly.
What is the look of the film and how has cinematographer, Raaj Chakravarti achieved it? Why was the film shot in Fiji?
I would tell Raaj the frames that I wanted and he would work accordingly. I don’t understand camera or lenses but I know what I want to see. The rest was Raaj’s work. The film is set in 1948, so we have paid attention to the color, given it a slight sepia tone, a period look. All this was mainly done in post production.
We decided to shoot in Fiji as we were getting an almost 50 per cent subsidy there.And that benefits the producer too, which is essential in a film like this, because it is commercially risky. And I would like to applaud Karan, who has done a great job as a producer; he took the risk of choosing a subject like this and investing in it. Fiji has several green patches and we have shown Jammu & Kashmir front in the film. It was the first film that was shot under the scheme there so the Fiji government gave us freedom to shoot and show the place as we want. Normally they have a condition that you need to show Fiji only as Fiji, so that they can promote their tourism.
What was the casting process for the other characters in the film like? Was it easy to get them on board?
There are only four characters in this film. And Manu Rishi, Raj Zutshi and Vishwajeet Pradhan fit the characters to perfection. We had to get Manu to put on some weight as he plays a chef in the army. He is not a soldier, doesn’t need to run on the front but everyone who is in the army is trained to shoot. Raj Zutshi plays an Indian and Vishwajeet plays a Pakistani, both of whom have not been affected by the partition. Their characters have felt nothing while the other two characters have been affected by the entire situation. I play a Pakistani and Manu plays an Indian and both of us have had to shift out of our homes, our motherland. So the four characters are very essential to establish the situation and everyone has done a great job with their roles.
How did Gulzar Saab get associated with this film? Does his association with the film prove to be an added advantage?
Yes, it definitely is. Gulzar Saab is a very big name and he himself has come from Pakistan post the partition. He understands this pain very well and has written a lot about it. This was the main reason that when the story reached him he loved it and got associated with this film. We are no one to convince him as he himself has made such good films and written so much about the partition. The emotion and strength of the story attracted him and now Kya Dilli Kya Lahore and Gulzar Saab are like synonyms.
How important are songs to the context of the film? Were there any discussions with Gulzar Saab on the same?
There are two songs that play in the background and help underline the emotions. If there were no songs, there would have been scenes in place of them. But the songs like ‘Kisse Lambe Ne Lakeeraan De’ say a lot about the film, the partition and help promote the emotion. The songs were written after Gulzar Saab got associated with the film. He has written so much about this issue, that there is nothing that you and I can explain to him, someone who is senior to us and has more importantly, lived this emotion.
Is the commercial viability of the film a concern for you in any way?
No it is not a concern for me. I have never paid attention to it even as an actor. Whether the film works or not, it is something that I cannot control. There have been several instances when good films have not worked. Everything has its own life and individuals are free to express what they feel. But as a director and a creative person, it is my duty and responsibility to tell them to watch the film. Hence we also go to promote films. But you cannot force anyone.
Do we get to see more directorial ventures from you? Will acting take a backseat?
Acting has not taken a backseat. There are no directorial ventures in the pipeline but if a good story does come my way and I connect with it, then why not. Currently I am in a very beautiful place and am happy here. I like acting and will continue to do so. I had never set any specific goal for myself, even when I started. So I did not design myself in a particular manner and hence have done all kinds of films.