Serious subjects evoke interest but there aren’t many takers for it
After having spent 15 years in the field of advertising, Director Aijaz Khan is all set to make his directorial debut with the situational comedy, Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat. This would be his first film but not really his first attempt. His previous effort was in the form of The White Elephant, which despite winning international acclaim failed to make a mark in his own land. In a chat with Pandolin, Aijaz opens up about how comedy films easily find producers as well as audience.
You have been into the advertising field for a long time. How did films happen?
Every ad filmmaker has a dream to make a feature film. From ad films you graduate to short films leading to features; that’s exactly what happened with me. I have done more than 400 ads films in a career of roughly around 15 years. I’m born and brought up in Mumbai. I did a short lighting course from New Zealand, which has nothing to do with direction but helped me with my work. I always wanted to make films because my entire maternal family is into films. My grandmother is a famous Urdu writer. From my grandfather to father and uncles; everyone was involved in films. As a child I have grown up wanting to make films. I directed my first ad film in 1994 and made my first feature called The White Elephant in 2009. Though I always wanted to get into feature films but somehow it kept getting pushed.
What is the best part of both advertising and the film industry? As a director, what difference do you see in both the fields?
As far as advertising is concerned, the best part is the money. Though I don’t know if it that is the case now as well but when I started working, cable network had just come into India and different channels had started. But there is lot of difference between the two and it’s wrong to compare them. Ads are more or less a format to sell a product whereas features are a storytelling process.
Your film Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat is a main stream situational comedy based on the concept of proxy weddings. How did the genesis of this concept happen?
The Writer, Anita Mani, who is also the Producer, brought the idea and I found it very exciting. I figured that this (proxy weddings) still exists in India. There were cases when people who can’t get married hire a proxy groom and later the bride is told that the man who married her is not her original groom but someone else. It is a scary thought. It was a serious topic for me. But coming from an art house background, I knew from experience that getting funds for such subjects is quite difficult. My writer changed the whole thing and told it in a lighter way. Also when you say the same things in a lighter way it works out much better. It is a situational comedy but at the same time there is no slapstick double meaning content. It is a family entertainer – a nice clean comedy which is lacking today.
Does the film have references from any real life stories?
Proxy weddings happen in UP and Bihar. Anita has picked that up and molded it into a story. Such things happen there when the groom is not good looking. So they hire a good looking groom, send his photograph and get him married to the girl. Instead of that we have shown that there is some problem in the groom’s kundli (horoscope) and he can’t get married which leads to a proxy wedding.
When you’re making a comedy film, what are the kind of challenges that a director goes through?
Comedy is even more difficult to showcase than emotions. You can get your character emotional quite easily as compared to comedy. Sometimes when you write comic scenes, it’s not necessary that they’ll come out in the same manner when they are performed. In comedy, you have to get complete inputs from your actors. Where or how the comedy happens depends on the timing of the actor. No matter how well you have thought the scene to be, it will not happen unless the actor’s contribution is not full.
What kind of interaction did you have with the cast since it features well-known comedians?
I was completely thrilled when I got this cast. They all agreed to work in the film on the first narration itself, despite the fact that I was just one film old. They liked the subject. When they came on board, my intention was to let them be on their own. There are some scenes that one doesn’t think would create laughter but eventually they do. Comedy is unpredictable. You might find something funny whereas I may not. You never know what will make people laugh.
When a comedy film has a diversified cast including the likes of Rajpal Yadav, Sanjay Mishra, Vijay Raaz & Rakesh Bedi, do you think half the battle is already won?
Completely! If you have a cast like that it is more than half the battle won. We used to sit together and let things happen. It just started happening when all these people got together. The timing of these actors is impeccable. Believe me these guys were just amazing. It all depends on how you get things out or how you let them flow into their character.
Was it difficult to get producers for it?
I’d written three scripts post The White Elephant but it was difficult to get producers. But when I approached my producers with Baankey… as a comedy script, they were game for it. Comedy is something that interests everyone.
What expectations do you have from Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat?
Obviously one expects it to be viewed and liked by a lot of people. I just wish it reaches the people. It is a nice family entertainer and I want viewers to leave the theaters with a smile on their face.
Your first feature film The White Elephant was produced by NFDC, NDTV Imagine & Walkwater. How did you get these producers on board?
When we completed the script, we applied at Bingers Lab in Amsterdam. The writer of the film, Ayeesha Menon, got the scholarship and she went to Amsterdam with the script of The White Elephant. The Lab encourages new writers. When the script is completed, they send it to festivals all over the world to get funds. That’s how after it travelled everywhere and came to India, NFDC jumped to produce it. Then I got NDTV Imagine and Walkwater on board. It was selected in the Indian Panorama (section) at IFFI and travelled all over the world representing India.
Despite traveling to various festivals, why didn’t it manage a release?
I pursued NFDC for a very long time, spent one and a half year after completing the film so that it gets a release. I even got some distributors involved but nothing worked out. NFDC says that they develop projects and not release them. They have so many films with them which are not released. That is really sad because one puts in so much effort in making a film. The White Elephant, being my first film, is very close to my heart but what can you do? Now I don’t see any future for it. Perhaps one day when I make enough money, I can distribute it myself. As a first time filmmaker, I wasn’t aware what all it takes to release a film. NFDC being such an old organization and run by the government, should also focus on releases. I’ve even mentioned that an online release is a fantastic platform. But there are already many films lying with them.
Your short film NAFS was about the world’s most pervasive human right violation, which is the sustained degradation and subjugation of girls and women. Are you planning to make more short films like this?
When NAFS’s script came to me I was kicked by the idea. It was about this trend mostly witnessed in Japan where they get girls married to dead boys for selfish reasons like making the girls work in the (boy’s) house for free. A feature film wasn’t possible then hence it was made into a short film. I would want to make more feature films which have strong subjects like these. There is an interesting subject that I’ll be soon making a film on. It is called Twice Born that Meena Menon is in the process of writing. It is about a woman in the early 20th century who almost changed the caste system of Kerala by sleeping with 65 men. It is a true and shocking story. While we were scouting locations for The White Elephant, we discovered this subject. Before Baankey… I had found an international producer who was interested in Twice Born. When we were about to start, he backed out which depressed me completely. Today audiences don’t want to see serious subjects that depress them. They want comedy. They want to sit and forget all their tensions. Serious subjects do evoke a lot of interest but there are not many takers for that.
What are you future plans?
I’m starting my next film soon which is again a comedy.