Days after the release of Band Baaja Baaraat in 2010, first-time director Maneesh Sharma had reflected that it served him well to be an underdog – to make a film with fresh faces than no one expected much from. He's not entirely sure that would still hold true for a budding filmmaker of today.
Sharma is now on the throes of rolling out Meri Pyaari Bindu, his second film as producer under the Yash Raj banner, with another first-time filmmaker Akshay Roy. We get the two directors to analyse their biggest takeaways from creating their first film.
Maneesh Sharma: Just a few hours ago, Akshay was asking me what I went through just a few days before the release of Band Baaja Baaraat. I don't have a very exciting reaction to that. After a while you can have only excitement or anxiety, because the film is really done – it's gone and dispatched. Band Baaja released on December 10 and by then I was told by everyone, including family, friends and people who care for me, that 'what have you done. You are making your first film with Yash Raj Films and there is no star. Who is this boy (Ranveer Singh)?'
But I thought this was a big asset for the film – no one is coming with any expectation. Actually Band Baaja has the lowest Friday collections YRF has ever seen. But it was a simpler time for me. I think between 2010 and now, social media is the biggest difference.
Akshay Roy: I think it's a different time. When Maneesh made his first film, I don't think social media was so big. This instant feedback and dissing is very scary. Within five minutes of Meri Pyaari Bindu coming out I'll have hundreds of people either trashing it or liking it. So I'm nervous. I have the biggest expectations from my film and it will really bother me if I fail. I'm anxious. I'm nervous. I'm happy with the film and proud of what I've made, but I'd lie if I say if I was chilled out.
Maneesh: I believe there is a constant struggle even after your first film – there are many logistics that have to fall into place to get something made. First and foremost you have to be excited about a story you want to tell and then you have to find a producer who is equally excited. Then the basic logistics of finding a cast, their dates, etc. So let's say you've made your first film and it has gone right, it doesn't mean that the second one is going to happen easily. It may get relatively easier, but there are too many factors and that cycle doesn't change.
Akshay: I had to wait a couple of years to make my first film. But I guess so does everyone. Like Maneesh said, so many things have to come together and sometimes one or two of those don't click and then the film doesn't end up happening at all. It has happened to me a couple of times. But it's what I've always wanted to do and somewhere I've believed that it will happen. I was making my short films till then. I think trying takes as much time than it does to actually make a film, so I was busy trying.
Akshay: I was an assistant director on The Namesake, Water and Vanity Fair. The first time you enter these sets, you notice the trucks, the number of people, the equipment – it can be completely disorienting. I remember on my first day on the sets of Lakshya, I felt so lost. I think just to get comfortable with the nuts and bolts of the machine that goes into an everyday shoot is a big thing that you can sort of tick off your list.
You can learn the practical side of filmmaking – how things are planned, how a shot is staged. These things become second nature to you. So you can put it out of the way and say, 'okay this part I now understand and then focus on the creative side of things.'
Maneesh: We both come from film school backgrounds and got exposed to filmmaking in a very resource-less manner. So you try to figure your way out by making short films, learning about film grammar, scene construction, etc. There is always this community energy because one of your classmates may be doing the sound and another may be the cameraman.
Then from there the first set I was at was Fanaa – Aamir Khan and Kajol coming together and Kunal Kohli after Hum Tum. It was a very well cushioned project in that sense. So you figure out the machinery first more than the creative side of things. And you feel very privileged when you ask for something and actually get it!
Maneesh: When I was told Fan can't be my first film I felt it was a rejection, although it was just postponement. I thought my first film has to be Fan, it has to say produced by Aditya Chopra and it has to star Shah Rukh Khan. But Aditya Chopra told me to try something that is more mid-sized. I pondered about something unique and fresh and that's how Bittoo and Shruti came to me first. Then on the flight I read a story about youngsters trying to do something with entrepreneurship and self-sufficient businesses. I thought there's a story here about young India that hasn't been told as yet.
Akshay: Unlike Maneesh, I had no set ideas about who should be in my first film and who should produce it. I think he had a very strong idea of Fan. I didn't have that at all. When I was making short films I was trying to discover what my voice is. I made this short called Last Chance about an old Parsi couple. It was very sweet – the kind that will make you laugh, make you cry. I liked how that worked out and I realised that that's the space I like working in – the space Raju Hirani and Hrishikesh Mukherjee work in. So Meri Pyaari Bindu totally spoke to me when I read it. I felt this is something I can add to. I know it's the kind of film I'd like to watch as an audience.