Just like his movies, Neeraj Pandey is someone who is not verbose. He lets his work do the talking and holds himself from going ballistic as far as talking about it all by himself is concerned. Despite the fact that he has made a massive transition from a humble A Wednesday to a much more flamboyant Special 26, Neeraj isn’t making noise around the box office returns or an entry into the 100 crore club. Well, as yet!
With Special 26, looks like you always had in mind to make a thriller which was narrated in a very realistic manner.
Exactly. Also, though the film is set in the 1980s, we didn’t want to go over the top in bringing period era on screen. We wanted to be very, very real.
From you it is anyways expected that the storyline would be out and out original. However from the story telling perspective, were there any reference points, either from Bollywood or Hollywood?
There is learning that you take home from movies that you watch from across the globe. But no, there was no straight reference point.
By the look of things, it is apparent that between A Wednesday and Special 26, you haven’t corrupted yourself despite going bigger in cast and scale. The movie is looking like more of a director’s medium than being a cast driven affair. Was it again a conscious call?
Here I would like to mention about Akshay. He had reading sessions with the team and that’s the kind of commitment level that he brought to the film. He brought with him some amazing discipline. That helped me in achieving what I intended to do with the script. Add to that the fact that I was working with a terrific ensemble cast including Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee and Jimmy Sheirgill. All of them are fantastic actors.
Did you ever carry a thought process though that your next film after A Wednesday had to be star driven?
Not at all. Stars come with a subject. This one is an expensive production and it necessitated the requirement of someone like Akshay. At the same time it was never like mujhe apni agli film mein star hi lena hai.
However when you actually do have a superstar like Akshay, the temptation would be to exploit his presence to the fullest and bring on some elements of his set image as well, isn’t it?
Arrey, this is my second film but then we are talking about people who have done so many films over the decades. Kher saab has done over 350 films, Akshay has 100 films to his credit; these are people who have seen a lot of movie making. They are a great judge of movie making. They understood the point of view of a director that this movie would have to be made in a certain way. They had a complete faith in the material.
How about Manoj and Jimmy?
Manoj is someone that I was looking forward to working with for a very long time. He is a terrific actor and I am glad that he was excited about the role. Jimmy is someone with whom I had worked with in A Wednesday and he has complete faith and trust in me. It is always a pleasure to work with these guys again.
What made you rope in Kajal Aggarwal though? Really, in a film with a genre like this, was it really required to have a leading lady as well? Does the presence of this character indeed add some weight to the film?
The love story does carry significance to the film’s narrative. The reason why that has not been highlighted so far is because we wanted an effective communication to be made at one level. We wanted an orthodox, traditional looking person to play that character and Kajal fitted the bill. She has done a fabulous job.
When A Wednesday released, it was a surprise success. Now in case of Special 26, it is coming with a bundle of expectations. Is this disparity turning out to be scary for you?
I would rather be in this position than not (laughs). I am glad that this expectation is there and keeps me on my toes. It doesn’t scare me at all.
Not even the pressure to deliver ‘100 crore’ hit?
Arrey yaar, number-wumber ka mujhe pata nahi. I don’t even want to get into that kind pf pressure.
Well, the only non-masala film that has done 100 crores so far is Barfi!. Guess Special 26 could well join this elite group?
We will come to that when that happens (smiles). I am glad that there is an anticipation of a good film being brought to screen and that’s nice. Whether I would be able to meet these expectations or not would be known in 24 hours from now.