Director Amit Sharma’s Badhaai Ho was one of the most celebrated films of 2018. The ensemble comedy, about a 25-year old man who discovers his parents are soon to be expecting, was lauded for its middle-class-based, small-town humour amidst a tender love story between the parents Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao.
One of the film’s pivotal scenes sees Neena Gupta being berated by her sister in law. That is until her thus far morose mother-in-law (Surekha Sikri), comes to her aid, for the first time speaking of how truly selfless her daughter-in-law is. Director Sharma tells us about why it’s his favourite scene as well as the turbulent casting process in locking Neena Gupta and Surekha Sikri for two of the film’s most significant roles.
On The Significance Of The Scene
This is my favourite scene. When I read this scene, when Akshat (Ghildial) wrote the scene, it just affected me because I have experienced this whole thing in front of my eyes a few years back. I lived in a joint family with my grandmother. We had four houses together and the whole family used to live upar neeche and the Dadi you see in Badhaai Ho is my own. I have portrayed my grandmother, she was exactly like this. She was a righteous woman. She knew what is right and wrong. At the same time woh aag lagati thi beech ke logo mein.
On Casting Surekha Sikri
When I heard this scene for the first time, I knew we needed an actor who can perform it to the extent that that person will make you cry. And I was not convinced with Surekha Sikri. I was not convinced with her casting initially because maine Surkeha ji ke kuch serials dekhe like Balika Vadhu toh main bolta tha ki yeh itna loud sab cheez chal raha hai yaha pe. So when her name came up I was like no yaar, we need to find someone else. So we went in every direction of India from Bangalore to Delhi to Haryana to Lucknow to even Chennai to find this character. Finally, when I didn’t get anyone, I said let’s call Surekha Ma’am and I told her all this also. I narrated the script to her and she said that she hadn’t done a feature film in a long time but this film she wanted to do. I said ‘Ma’am, I’m very happy but I want to test you’ and she said ‘cool aap test lelije, main kal aa jata hoon.’
So she came the next day and I started testing her and I said Ma’am we should do it once again, she said ‘kab karna hai?’ She came after two days, and this is a senior actor. The third time I said ‘Ma’am lets do one reading of this scene’. She started reading this scene and she went for that pitch which you see in the film. Just from that reading I had tears in my eyes. Akshat had tears in his eyes. And that’s when I found Dadi. So that’s how the casting happened. I think casting made this film, it’s the most important part of filmmaking.
On Casting Neena Gupta
We had seen Neena ji in all the glamorous roles. Nobody expected to see her in a film like this. When her name came up, I said ‘no not Neena Gupta.’ Then I saw a short film called Khujli and I said ‘wow she’s very good as a middle-class mother’. So I called Ayushmann (Khurrana) and said ‘I’ve found the mother’. He asked who and I said Neena Gupta. He said ‘woh bahut hot nahin hai?’ Maine bola ‘hot to hai, lekin ek link bhej raha hoon dekhlo.’
He called me after watching that and said ‘absolutely right.’ I called Neena Ma’am and I said ki woh aaye toh ekdum simple se kapde pehen kar aaye, Masaba ke kapde pehen kar na aajaye. She came wearing simple clothes and said ‘Amit main simple lag rahi hoon na?’ I said ‘yes Ma’am’. She said ‘Mere paas is kurthi ki salwar nahin thi toh maine apne maid ko bola mujhe apne salwar dedho toh main woh pehenke aagaye2.