A man with a conviction and a story to tell can hardly be ignored. Having worked on the screenplays of films like Omkara and Kaminey, Abhishek Chaubey is one of those rare talents of our industry who do things not only differently but with a sense of aesthetics. Now when he captains the ship of Ishqiya, his directorial debut, a lot is expected out of him. With a bit of anxiety and yet oodles of humility, Abhishek Chaubey spoke to Bollywood Hungama about his first film as a director being a dream come true.
Can we call Ishqiya essentially a love story?
Yes! It is a story of love. It’s a romantic tale…A love story of criminals so it does have crime in it.
Your first film as a director, did you have a game plan in mind?
Yeah! All filmmakers when they get into film production have a plan in mind. I had a story that I wanted to say and I had my conviction behind me that I believed in. I felt it was an interesting film to make and I knew it would catch people’s attention. It’s something where I can show my ability, if I have any, as a director.
What was the most challenging sequence in the film for you?
The climax of my film! It involved many characters and many locations and various events happening in various places. It was quite a challenge for me because we were also battling the weather which was rough. We had very little shooting time because we had to shoot day sequences and we were surrounded by hills and the sun wouldn’t rise before 9:30am and would set by 4:30pm. So there was limited time and the entire cast was there on set, so managing all that was tough logistically.
Shooting the climax of the film was most challenging since it involved many characters and many locations and various events happening in various places
What was the chemistry like with your producer Vishal Bhardwaj?
A new relationship formed between us because earlier it was he who was the director and I used to work as an assistant or a co-writer. This time however things were different with him taking on the role of a producer and me handling the direction. This new relationship was challenging for both of us, but the good thing was that Vishalji and I share a personal rapport which goes beyond our professional commitment. That really helped in the making of the film. There were times when we were on different boats, but this new relationship helped us understand each other even better.
Would you say though that this film is similar to Tashan? Two guys loving the same girl who has her own agenda and the rustic setting?
Funny that you say that! Because by the time Tashan released, I had already written Ishqiya. I heard that Tashan was similar to Ishqiya so I went and saw the film and realised thankfully that it wasn’t. Tashan was a much bigger and a commercial kind of an affair whereas my film, which is very engaging and a busy film, is much more rooted in reality and much more rooted in the atmosphere that it was set in. Even the characters are very different from those in Tashan. Definitely the plot is very different but also the pitching of both the films is completely different so even on the surface though you might say that it’s about two men and one girl loving each other, there is no similarity between these two films.
How was it working with Naseeruddin Shah again?
It was an incredible experience for me and a great honour. I have known Naseer bhai for a few years now and I have worked with him in Maqbool and Omkara. So it wasn’t a difficult task to get in touch with him and give him the script. I was happy that he liked his role and the story and then he was an asset on the sets. He is the kind of actor who makes a director’s job very easy. He is an intelligent and evolved actor and you don’t have to talk about the basics with him, you have to talk about the details and the nuances with him and that’s really wonderful.
Naseer bhai is the kind of actor who makes a director’s job very easy. He is an intelligent and evolved actor and you don’t have to talk about the basics with him
How would you describe Vidya’s role in the film?
She plays one of the most interesting female roles ever in our industry. She plays an ordinary village woman whose husband has passed away and there is a very sweet and innocent musical side to her and on the other hand, there is also an edgier, darker, rougher side to her. So it was a very complex role for Vidya but she pulled it off amazingly.
She was expected to be a brazen woman… how has she managed that?
What made matters easy for me was that when Vidya heard the script, she was very happy and excited about doing it. So it helps when the actor is enthusiastic about the role he/she is playing. In addition to that, Vidya is one of the most hard-working actors I have come across; she puts in a lot of effort. For almost a month and half before we went into the shoot, she came to office everyday and would work with me on the script and the details of the character and the costumes. When the set was getting ready, she came to the location, went to the kitchen and all the other rooms of the house and sat there, spent sometime, just getting to know the place and that is quite incredible for a director when he sees an actor giving so much for the character. Apart from being a beautiful girl and a very talented person, Vidya is also a very deeply committed actor.
Apart from being a beautiful girl and a very talented person, Vidya is also a very deeply committed actor. She has pulled off a very complex role amazingly
We believe, Arshad has a very exciting role, how has it been working with him?
The thing about Arshad is that he is an absolute natural. It was such a revelation for me. I was expecting a lot from Vidya, but with Arshad I didn’t know what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised when I realised that he a fantastic actor. He has been known mostly for his comic roles till now but he is a fantastic dramatic actor as well. He has all the virtues to have a great name as a phenomenal actor. I have realised his spontaneity and his intuitiveness because he got the vibe and the mood of the film in the first ten minutes of our meeting and from then on there was no looking back because he knew exactly what kind of film we were making and he was totally in his character.
I have realised Arshad’s spontaneity and his intuitiveness because he got the vibe and the mood of the film in the first ten minutes of our meeting and from then on there was no looking back
Interesting cast no doubt, but did you pin it down to these three from the word go?
To be honest with you, when I finished my script I was completely blank on whom to cast because I took a year to write it. So when the question of casting came up apart from Naseer bhai I was not very sure who to sign. Vidya was suggested by Vishal. It just took one meeting to realise that she is the right one. Earlier I had thought that Arshad’s character Babban, should be played by someone who is very young, maybe twenty something but I wasn’t happy with the choices in front of me. I always had Arshad at the back of my mind because I always wanted to work with him so he was the last one to be cast.
There seems to be Vishal’s signature rawness in the film, how do you differentiate your work?
The thing is that I have worked with Vishal for almost six years of my life so obviously I have Vishal Bhardwaj’s quality in my filmmaking. I can’t deny that and it’s good because it has helped me grow as a technician and as an artist. Having said that, the similarity between Omkara and Ishqiya is purely cosmetic. When you sit and watch it you would realise that besides the fact that they both are set in U.P. and is about criminals there is no other similarity. Infact Ishqiya is the kind of story that Vishal himself has never attempted in the past, so it’s a fresh point of view, and the way it is treated is very different. So undeniably I have Vishal Bhardwaj’s influence in my filmmaking but I do have an identity of my own and Ishqiya will prove that.
Ishqiya is the kind of story that Vishal himself has never attempted in the past, so it’s a fresh point of view, and the way it is treated is very different
Songs of your film have become a rage. Did you plan to play them in a certain way in the film?
We had written the songs into the script so they tell a story rather than depict one particular emotion; of course the songs have the underlying emotions. But I didn’t want the songs to take place of the story, like let’s stop the story and play the song for five minutes and then get back to the story. I didn’t want to do that. So I deliberately did that and incorporated the songs in the storytelling. There is a lip sync song in Ishqiya but when you watch it you will realise that it is part of the story. The story moves non stop as the song take place.
As a director which is your favourite song in the film?
I would say ‘Dil To Bachha Hai‘.
Overall how would you rate your first film?
I am just happy that I made a film. I had come to Mumbai many years ago to become a director. That desire of mine is fulfilled with Ishqiya. Now its up to the audience and critics to rate the film as good bad or ugly and I would take whatever comments come my way in all humility.