Celebrity hair stylist Ayesha De Vitre gave director Shakun Batra his lunch and his scenes
When constructing the script of the poignant family drama Kapoor & Sons, Ayesha De Vitre, one half of the film’s writing duo, came up with an interesting strategy to lay claim on the scenes she came up with. The hit film by Dharma Productions wasn’t high on plot, but it packed in several wonderful moments that stay with you.
Even characters that appeared only for a single scene will all be remembered. The poor plumber caught in the middle of a raucous family row is just one example. “Whenever I gave a good idea, I’d quickly sign next to it. I was thinking of bringing my book today and showing you which plot points were mine,” says De Vitre, sipping on a cup of coffee at the Film Companion office. She complains that the film’s director and her writing partner Shakun Batra conveniently takes the credit himself or worse still, gives it to a third person.
Batra, seated right beside De Vitre, vociferously shakes his head in denial as such accusations are hurled at him. One wonders if their writing sessions are this volatile. He confirms that those arguments are far worse. But what eventually comes out of them is a great film that was worth fighting for. “We just spoke about this last night. I think the day you have that one big fight is when you realise you’re invested enough in the film,” says Batra.
The duo first met on the sets of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008), where Batra was an assistant director and De Vitre was actor Imran Khan’s hairstylist – a profession she calls her ‘money career’. By 2012 they had written their first film Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu – an unlikely Dharma romance starring Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan. “Sometimes I send him something I’ve written and he makes this expression that makes me want to take a bat and beat him with it. This very pained ‘What crap have you written’ expression. But if we’ve managed to still be friends after two films, it means we’ve worked it out,” says De Vitre.
Indeed, they have. You’d think that writing partners must at least have the same taste in movies, but not De Vitre and Batra. He is obsessed with Woody Allen’s cinema and she has seen Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai 17 times. “I can watch a Manhattan once, but I can’t be told every day that it is a masterpiece. For example, I love Dirty Dancing. Shakun couldn’t get through it. It is an epic film. The whole world loves it,” exclaims De Vitre.
Differences notwithstanding, Batra says he’d kill himself if he had to write a script all on his own. “It comes from a place of extreme self doubt. It’s a place where you don’t know where to head. Once in a while you need another person to throw ideas at you, even if it is a bad idea, just to know that there is one more person there who can tell you there is hope,” he says.
De Vitre felt like the perfect shoulder to lean on. Though when they met, she had never written anything and wasn’t even aware that she could. “I had no money when I was an assistant director on Jaane Tu. I barely had money to sit at home and write. I could sit at Ayesha’s home and save on my lunch money. Her mum fed me some great Parsi food,” says Batra. It worked well for her too. “My mother thought, ‘Wow, he’ll change Ayesha from a hajaam to a writer. Let’s take him in,” she laughs. Today De Vitre has written a film of her own. “But it’s not the space Shakun wants to direct and I don’t want to give it to anyone else,” she says.
“He keeps me involved in the film. With others, I’ve seen once the film is written, it is given to the director, and then they are kept out. Shakun cares about my opinion,” she adds. On both their films, De Vitre was also the hairstylist, which meant she could coif the actor’s hair and discuss dialogues at the same time. “I remember Rishi Kapoor once saying, ‘Why do you need headphones to fix my hair!’”
It’s been over a month since Kapoor & Sons was certified a success. Batra is now working on a few commercials and De Vitre is back to her “money career”. Since much of what they write is personal and identifiable, it takes a while for them to refuel on life experiences.
“The scene in Kapoor & Sons where Alia (Bhatt) kisses a bald guy’s head actually happened to a friend of mine who had to do it at a bachelorette. It was a dare. Those experiences from life are what we put in and sometimes you run out of those. So I feel that as you write every film, it becomes tougher,” says De Vitre.
This takes Batra to the first film he wrote and directed in film school. “It was so terrible. It confirmed my belief that I should never write or direct. Nobody has seen it and I have the only copy of it that I’ve kept locked somewhere.” After some prodding, he reveals a little more. “It was a comedy about this guy who inherits a million dollars for saving someone’s cat,” he says sheepishly.
“Great! Now that’s our next film,” exclaims De Vitre.
(Written by Mohini Chaudhuri)