There was a conscious effort not to glorify Haseena Parkar or her family – Suresh Nair
Journalist turned Screenplay Writer Suresh Nair is one writer who has helped build the foundation of many a great movies. He continues to do this with his upcoming films Haseena Parkar and Chef. Where Apoorva Lakhia’s movie traces the infamous journey of Dawood Ibrahim’s equally notorious sister Haseena Parkar, Raja Krishna Menon’s Chef is based on Jon Favreau’s 2014 Hollywood movie of the same.
Both the films are drastically diverse, but intriguing nonetheless. As both movies are set to hit the silver screen within a few weeks of each other, we catch up with the writer to understand what is in store for the audiences.
From the early 2000s till date, you have written some interesting movies, how do you think has the industry evolved for writers?
I really don’t know. I guess it has evolved to the extent that producers and actors are more receptive than ever to new stories and different forms of storytelling. But I guess none of us are in the position of Salim-Javed of the 70s. They were the real stars of the films they wrote even in terms of power, visibility and brand value. Obviously, none of us today can boast of their kind of awesome talent or body of work. But I guess, compared to maybe the 80s and 90s, writers are being noticed, given their due in some cases and their point of view is being respected. But it’s a matter of perception and a lot depends on your last film.
As for me, I’m a lazy and laid-back guy who’s an average writer and content with working with the same handful of people over the years, with whom it doesn’t feel like work at all. So personally, I don’t feel like I’ve evolved at all!
What is it to be the sister of the most wanted man in India? That seemed like a story worth exploring
Let’s talk about Haseena Parkar, is it difficult to write a movie based on a real person? Is there a sense of responsibility that you owe to the person?
Actually, I was not keen about writing another film about the underworld. But Apoorva Lakhia (Director) has been a friend ever since we collaborated on Shootout At Lokhandwala. So, he’s the reason I agreed to do the film – as I find it hard to say no to people I genuinely like as friends or colleagues. I came on board with the understanding that I’ll be provided with all the research material to write the screenplay. I never met Haseena or any member of her family.
But coming back to your question, it’s not difficult to write about a real person. On the contrary, as far as storytelling goes, it becomes easier because there is so much material. But on the flip side, it’s also a challenge if you’re trying to tell a story without taking sides and presenting it with a detached perspective. Of course, you do owe a responsibility to the person to not deliberately twist facts.
In this case, I think the effort was to base it on a real person and also tell a ripping yarn about the underworld from a perspective that was new or different from what we’ve seen so far. This is seeing a very familiar yet controversial part of our underworld history through the eyes of a woman. It’s her perspective through her life journey.
What is it about Haseena’s life that makes it worthy of a film story?
What is it to be the sister of the most wanted man in India? That seemed like a story worth exploring. The fact that her life was impacted at every step by his actions. The aim was to see it all through her eyes – the gang wars, the riots, the blasts. The aim was also to ensure that we don’t glorify anyone or any wrongdoing in the process. But we also wanted it to be a really entertaining and engaging film – accessible to everyone in the audience. Her only appearance in court became the peg on which we hung the whole narrative, allowing us to also make it a courtroom drama.
There was definitely a conscious effort not to glorify at all – neither her nor her family
In such a case, what are the aspects that you try and cover in your research?
The credit for all the research goes to Apoorva and our dialogue writer Chintan Gandhi. They met Haseena and did all the homework required. I had no role to play in it. My job was only to craft it all into a screenplay that would suit Apoorva’s style of filmmaking.
How does one ensure that they are presenting a non-biased perspective without glorifying the character?
Like I mentioned, there was definitely a conscious effort not to glorify at all – neither her nor her family. There are scenes where you’ll see a sister’s response and arguments since it’s also a courtroom drama – and for which there are apt counter arguments. But this is also a mainstream commercial film and it works only when we see her varied emotions, vulnerability, moments of romance and growth from a young girl to a widow to a mother. Otherwise it would be a documentary.
This is seeing a very familiar yet controversial part of our underworld history through the eyes of a woman
You’re also working on the adaptation of Chef. Does an adaption come with the responsibility of living up to the original film?
I’d collaborated with Raja Menon and Ritesh Shah on Airlift. When we teamed up for Chef, I think none of us were sure how to approach it. Chef was a sweet little film – a very personal kind of cinema from director Jon Favreau. I think we watched it a couple of times to figure out our approach towards it. There were definitely two things that we knew our Chef would be about – the father-son relationship and food. Of course, for all of us, there was the responsibility of not wanting to screw it up.
Collaborating with Raja has been amazing. He has no hang ups and knows exactly what he wants. To his credit, the fact that this was going to be his next film after Airlift, and that the expectations would be huge, didn’t bother him. He was game to take up a film that was more internal and personal in contrast to Airlift.
Would you say it is easier to work on an already existing story?
It’s easy if your intention is to copy-paste the original. But if you want to use the essence of the existing story and reinterpret it through your vision or point of view, then it becomes as tricky and challenging as an Italian or Mexican Chef trying to set up a restaurant in Ahmedabad or Amritsar, which will appeal to the locals.
While the food and the travel will keep you entertained, what will tug your heartstrings is the relationship between the father and the son
As we are culturally different from the West, what aspects did you particularly tweak while working on the Bollywood version?
We may be culturally different but our emotions are the same. Human relationships are universal. In fact, even our relationship with food is no different from that of an American, Mexican or Italian – we’re all passionate about food. Of course, we did tweak a few technical aspects of the original, where Michelin stars or restaurant critics are integral to the food scene unlike in India.
Chef is about food, travel and father-son relationship, how easy or difficult is to intertwine each aspect while writing so that nothing is missed?
Funnily enough, initially we thought Chef would be a relatively small film – compared to say an Airlift. But then as we started writing, we realized that our story about a father and son was being told through two things that in itself were vast and varied – food and travel. And slowly our film started getting bigger. Our country is so fascinating that it’s landscape and food changes every 100 kilometres. And we’d try and encapsulate it as much as our narrative allowed us.
We travel from Kerala to Goa as well as Amritsar and Chandni Chowk, exploring some of the food in these places. While the food and the travel will keep you entertained, what will tug your heartstrings is the relationship between the father and the son. While Saif (Ali Khan) is fabulous in the film, we got lucky in casting Svar Kamble as his son – he’s such a natural. Their onscreen chemistry is such a delight.
If you want to use the essence of the existing story and reinterpret it through your vision or point of view, then it becomes tricky and challenging
Songs being integral to our films, how did you weave them in the script of Chef?
I think our song’s picturisations have evolved over the past few years. We no longer have the hero lip-sync to chartbusters by a playback singer. The songs these days are used to advance the story forward. It’s been absorbed into the storytelling rather than being standout set pieces – unless in the case of item numbers. Personally, I feel songs are what make our movies unique from the rest of the world. And let’s face it, what would our weddings and festivals be without Hindi film songs – in a way they bind the entire country!
You’ll hear Kishore Kumar or Arijit Singh in the smallest of towns in the farthest corners of India. So, obviously Chef has songs. Raja roped in Raghu Dixit for them, which was a great move. His “Shugal Laga Le” is infectious. But you’re not going to see Saif lip-sync to a song while cutting onions in the kitchen!