There is a sense in the media that I’m busy making a superhero film. It’s not that I find this perception problematic. The trouble is that it is limiting and false. The truth is that one random evening a magical seed was somehow sown in my writing. The possibility of making a film with magical elements in the Hindi film industry hadn’t quite sunk in. We hadn’t done something like that quite yet. You could put it down to youth or vigour, but I was excited by the idea of telling a story with certain magical colours. They can make such films in the West since they have managed to figure out the visual effects technology that enables such movies. I wanted to figure this for us here.
Ra.One, Krrish and Baahubali are films that have employed visual effects technology to tell their stories
There are of course a few Hindi films that have moved vaguely in that direction – Ra.One, Krrish and more recently, Baahubali. They have all employed visual effects technology to tell their stories. Economically speaking, it is very expensive to make a visual effects film. The technology required to make such films belongs to another universe and that isn’t a universe many of us here in India are schooled in. I realised I had embarked on a journey without entirely knowing how I was going to put it all together. I knew I had a story and that I wanted to tell it. I wanted to stretch my resources and my understanding. If I wanted it all to happen, I needed to again look at myself as a student of film.
The journey so far has had two aspects. One is that this film feels very familiar to the films I have made before. Some key elements remain the same. There might be magic and fantasy, yes, but at their core, all films are essentially stories. They are about characters. You have to factor them in and see what they might be going through. Whether it is Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or Wake Up Sid, these are stories about characters who either fall in love or come to terms with life. This aspect doesn’t change. Some of the things you think about remain universal, irrespective of the film you’re making. So, I don’t see my film as just another superhero film or fantasy epic. I see it also as a romance. It’s got its Hindi songs and naach-gaana in it. It is a Bollywood musical and it is also a coming-of-age tale.
The second aspect of the journey has involved the understanding of logistics, techniques and processes that we are perhaps not too familiar with in our industry. These processes that are now being put into force make me feel like I am sharing a global spirit with Marvel and Game of Thrones, with the makers of superhero and fantasy films that are being produced by the Hollywood factory. The visual effects route I have not taken before, and we manage to successfully navigate that path, I feel that more people in India will start thinking along those lines and will adopt such magical visuals.
I have always had an inherent love for fantasy. I use the word ‘fantasy’ carefully because a lot of our cinema, which we are already watching, falls within that realm. The Harry Potter books have been a big influence. I love what Harry stands for. He is a simple boy who is brave and is up against extraordinary circumstances, but he essentially comes from a very ordinary place. I read Tolkien when I was a very young boy and the books have been a massive influence. The Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other such stories of gods and goddesses have impacted me ever since I was a child. Since we haven’t represented any of these mythologies in our contemporary films yet, I don’t have a visual reference point for them but some of that energy has definitely penetrated my writing.
‘Salman Khan’s and Rajinikanth’s movies, it can be argued, are essentially superhero films,’ says Ayan Mukerji
There’s a reason why I resist the superhero tag. It puts several ideas into one box. I don’t think it’s meaningful in any way to talk about films like that. There are those who look at a film like Dabangg and say that they have seen a film that was completely fantastical. Salman Khan’s and Rajinikanth’s movies, it can be argued, are essentially superhero films. They might not fly, but I think that notion of fantasy, which is very close to the notion of escapist fare, has been the hallmark of Indian cinema right from the start. With that having been said, however, we must not use a blanket voice when talking about our films. The way Kabir Khan has pitched Salman Khan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan is different from how Abhinav Kashyap has pitched him in Dabangg, and that is still more different from how Prabhu Deva has used him in Wanted. All three characters are superheroes, but each is unique. Our films belong to a very particular cultural space, but they each speak a diverse language.
I don’t have a big love for superheroes. There was no big moment in my life when I fell in love with Superman or Batman. By saying that I’m making a superhero film, I feel I am being made to stand on a mantle, and that I am somehow expected to now be the torchbearer for a whole new and different kind of cinema. This is not a burden I want to bear because, in truth, that’s just not a film I’m making.
(As told to Shreevatsa Nevatia)