R Balki’s films have always had strong and unique scripts. The credit for it goes not just to this expert filmmaker but also to his writing partner, screenwriter Rishi Virmani. The talented writer has written Ki & Ka (2016), Chup (2022), Lust Stories 2 (2023) and the recently released sports film Ghoomer (2023), for R Balki. He has also written films for others as well like Shimla Mirchi (2020) and Nazar Andaaz (2022). Rishi is now dabbling in period films like Chhava, starring Vicky Kaushal and based on Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, Main Atal Hoon, the biopic on Atal Bihari Vajpayee starring Pankaj Tripathi and a biopic on Saharashri Subrata Roy.EXCLUSIVE: “There’s nobody other than Vicky Kaushal whom you could think of playing Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj; Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan can act like a drunk person better than a real drunkard” – Rishi Virmani
Bollywood Hungama exclusively spoke to Rishi Virmani about Ghoomer, working with Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan and a lot more.
How has been the feedback for Ghoomer?
The feedback has been quite good. For the first time, I have been flooded with a lot of phone calls and messages. My friends have been sharing screenshots of posts put up by people in their circle, appreciating the film. The point of the film was to tell an inspiring story. The message that one can fulfil their dreams despite shortcomings has reached people. A lot of mothers told me that they are taking their children to watch the film. Nowadays, fewer children pursue sports than before. We never had phones when we were growing up. Kids nowadays love to play football but on their phones, as the screen addiction is quite high. So many parents feel Ghoomer is apt to teach them the importance of outdoor sports.
The protagonists in R Balki’s films usually are a bit arrogant and have a dark sense of humour, from Amitabh Bachchan in R Balki’s first film Cheeni Kum (2007) or Abhishek Bachchan in R Balki’s latest release, Ghoomer. Where does it come from – you or R Balki?
I don’t know where it’s coming from. In my point of view, every filmmaker comes with his own style. If it has an impression on the viewers, then they expect you to continue providing them with that kind of stuff. Like, after watching a refreshing film like Dil Chahta Hai (2001), you expect that newness from Farhan Akhtar every time. The tagline of Cheeni Kum (2007) was ‘a sugar free romance’. It made it clear that is film mein mithaas kam hogi! So, it was deliberately written in a certain manner. The character had lost the sweetness of life because he was 64, single, living with his mother who was forcing him to go to the gym! So, sarcasm was his mainstay. And it worked so well aur shayad uski jhalak har R Balki ki film mein dikh rahi hai.
Ultimately, when Bachchan says a dialogue, the impact he creates is very different from any other actor. We have always written for Amitabh Bachchan initially. In fact, we wouldn’t have made Cheeni Kum and other films had he refused. R Balki doesn’t settle for compromises.
Is R Balki also like the characters in his real life?
(Laughs) He’s not like that at all. We have written characters who insult others in the film but he’s the opposite of that. He’s one of the nicest people in the industry. Certain people in the industry fly high as they see themselves as star makers or stars themselves. But R Balki is a very simple human being. He works, goes home and watches a film. You’ll never find him at a party. He just wants to make good films, which have not been made before. That’s his mantra. It inspires me to do original stuff.
Also, on his sets, there’s a nice professional set-up. It’s a no-nonsense environment. You don’t feel like tailing around stars to be in their good books as nobody is doing it. Everybody is focusing on giving their best, be it the DOP, the director etc.
Another USP of R Balki’s films is that one can explain its storyline in just one line…
When he cracks an idea, he calls me. I would like to believe I am the first one to hear his story! Within 5 minutes, he will narrate the entire plot. He’ll never take 6 minutes! He’ll only take 5 minutes and I’ll clearly get an idea of the beginning, middle and end. And then we start writing. We don’t believe in saying ‘Aur sochte hai thoda’. We just attack! The more we write, the more the film gets clear.
How is it to work with Amitabh Bachchan?
I was clear that I have so much respect for him that I would not like to hang around him and try to be friends with him forcefully. I felt it was the worst you can do to him! All my interactions with Amit ji happened during rehearsals before the shot. And he’s one of a kind. If he’s shooting outside in broad daylight, and clouds cover the sun, the unit has to wait until the sun shines again. The unit members estimate that it might take a couple of minutes for the shot to be filmed. Amit ji knows for the next 2-3 minutes, he’s not required. He won’t sit around with his phone or go to his van. Instead, he would call me and ask me to rehearse with him. We have already rehearsed 10 times before and yet, we’d do it again. This is how I have interacted with him, through dialogue readings! I cherish these moments. I feel ki isse accha aur kya ho sakta hai that I am helping him with his take.
How different is Abhishek Bachchan from Amitabh Bachchan?
They are similar in many ways. Both are funny, humble and interact with everyone on the sets equally. And both are blessed with the best drunk performances. They can act like a drunk person better than a real drunkard! Be it Ghoomer or Shamitabh (2015), if you hear their lines carefully, you’ll find slurring at selective places. It’s not there throughout the line. There’ll be words that are difficult to pronounce once you are drunk. And they’ll nail this aspect beautifully, as if they have done a Ph.D. in such sequences!
Abhishek is amazing and one of the deepest actors we have today. The way he played in Paddy in Ghoomer, you can’t imagine anybody else. I remember we were shooting the three-page-long monologue scene late in the night at Panchgani in the winter. It was difficult to perform. He had to keep it very natural without making the scene melodramatic. We did some rehearsals. I even did the narration with him as we incorporated some improvisations. It was a three-camera setup. As soon as the camera rolled, we all had goosebumps as he got it right in just one take without any goof-ups or mispronunciation. To witness this kind of act in a challenging situation was magical. It is this magic that drives us in the field of cinema.
How did you enter the world of films?
I was born in Meerut but I was brought up in Mumbai, in Andheri. I had access to the film industry through my school and college friends. I was lucky to know people who had some connection. As a kid, it used to be like ‘bachchon ko shooting dikhane le jao’. Through some uncle or aunty, I and my building friends had gone for film shoots and even trials in places like Natraj Studio, Sumit Theatre etc. When I was in college, I realized I had to work hard as Mumbai is an expensive place. My friends, meanwhile, were very wealthy. While some stayed in bungalows, a few of them had buildings of their own. One guy had a bowling alley in his house! Our lifestyle and income were drastically different. I was decent in studies and decided to get better academically, so that I have a bright future. I explored many options related to my stream, Commerce, like business management, chartered accountancy etc. But I would get bored with these courses and would quit in a few months. I guess it was God’s way of telling me that I was not meant for it. At that age, I didn’t realize.
Next to my college, Mithibai, there was an institution called Workstation which used to teach animation. I was eating wada pav one day when I happened to look at Workstation’s hoarding. I walked in. This was a time when animation was very new. I enrolled in a course. I started learning animation and this course bored me as well! I feared that I was going to land up nowhere.
Then I met a childhood friend. He was the first assistant director in Salaam-E-Ishq (2007). He suggested that I should also assist since I had already entered the creative world by doing the animation course. I didn’t know anything about this field but I felt safe as I knew that he would be there to guide me. By the time I tried to enrol in the film after a month, the direction team was full. He, however, told me that MAD Entertainment, which was producing Salaam-E-Ishq, was also making another film. That film turned out to be Cheeni Kum. This is how I met Balki and since then, there has been no looking back.
One of your most exciting upcoming projects is Chhava, based on Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj…
The film is backed by Dinesh Vijan of Maddock Films. He’s one of the most enterprising producers that we have. Producers usually provide you with whatever you want. Dinoo is a producer who will go a step ahead. Jo cheez nahin bhi hogi, woh bhi kahin se la ke de denge. If I tell him that I wish to meet some historian based in Pune for research purposes, within no time, an itinerary will be sent to me and all arrangements will be made. Director Laxman Utekar sir, on the other hand, knows the Maratha history inside out. Ask him any question related to that period and he’ll promptly answer. So yes, the research is quite extensive but these two gentlemen have made my work easier.
A lot of research is going on in all departments. Even the sets and artwork will amaze you. Everyone is putting their 100% to the project.
Are you happy with Vicky Kaushal’s casting in the lead role?
Absolutely. I don’t think there’s anybody other than Vicky Kaushal whom you could think of playing Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. He was always in our minds when we were writing the film. I am sure once the trailers and posters of the film are out, everyone will realize that he’s just apt for the part. He’s a fabulous actor. His earlier films like Masaan (2015) and Love Per Square Foot (2018) were so different from each other. This shows his range effortlessly. In Sanju (2018), he was not even the main lead and yet, you can’t take your eyes off him.
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