Bejoy Nambiar’s Conviction Was Why I Did Shaitan: Rajeev Khandelwal
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In this interview with Rohini Ramnathan, director Bejoy Nambiar’s and the cast of Shaitan, Rajeev Khandelwal, Kalki Koechlin, Kirti Kulhari, Gulshan Devaiah, Neil Bhoopalam, Shiv Panditt, come together along with composer Prashanth Pillai and producer Anurag Kashyap to speak about the origins of the film, the film’s cult status, and its soundtrack. Edited Excerpts…

Congratulations! Shaitan still holds up after ten years. How does this passage of time feel?

Rajeev Khandelwal: The appreciation for Shaitan has still not died down after ten years. There are cult followers of the film, my wife is one. She tells me that it still works for her. I’m really happy that it’s still a cult after all these years. 

When it was released, the Shaitan soundtrack was my constant companion. Prashanth Pillai, could you talk about why you made the soundtrack collaboratively?

Anurag Kashyap: My first question to Bejoy was: who is this Prashanth Pillai? That’s the man I want to meet. He was like a hidden gem. 

Prashanth Pillai: This is all me squashing my ego and judgement about someone randomly emailing me in 2004, saying that he was a small filmmaker from Bombay running a production house called Getaway Productions. He told me in the email that he wanted to work with me. I ignored that email. 

Exactly four years later, he emailed me, again, saying he was doing a short film and would love to have me on board. Somehow, something clicked. I went to meet him. And just meeting him, as a person… where I am today in life as a composer is purely because of the humility and simplicity that Bejoy demonstrated that day. I didn’t want to be a film composer because I wasn’t attached to all the hype and hoopla around it. I couldn’t relate to any of it. I had struggled a lot in Bombay trying to figure out work. Bejoy gave me the opportunity to be myself and not fit in; and that’s why I’m here. 

Bejoy would be able to tell you better why the film had so many composers. In short, I was new. I didn’t know most of the genres he was trying to attempt. He’s a crazy guy and would want to blend ideas from around the world. He’s very clear about what he wants and lets his intuition drive. 

In the very first meeting Bejoy was referencing Ilaiyaraaja’s string sections. He also spoke about a legendary Malayalam composer called Johnson Master. I  was someone who hated that sound. But somehow, something about his way of dealing with people made me very comfortable. When I couldn’t do something beyond a point, I suggested that we bring in a few other people. 

Bejoy Nambiar: For me, Prashanth was the composer of the film. He gave me a bank of ideas. When I kept pushing him, he was the one who asked — even though it’s his first film — why we couldn’t work with other composers. The whole idea came from Prashanth. I haven’t looked back after that. It’s because of him that I keep working with so many different musicians. He was there with me every step of the way. He was a part of the entire process of putting the music of the film together. 

Kalki, why was Shaitan important for you when you did it ten years back?

Kalki Koechlin: I needed the work. I was just grateful to get work (laughs). I am still grateful to get work but it was at the beginning of my career back then. You don’t know when the next thing is coming. I was also spoiled; I got to work with Anurag in my first film. So, where do you go from there?

So, there was this film called Shaitan with a new director and he was crazier than Anurag and he made a brilliant film. I think I’m very lucky.

What about you, Rajeev? You were receiving accolades for Aamir around that time, and you chose to do Shaitan. What were your reasons?

Rajeev Khandelwal: Bejoy Nambiar! When I look back, I always tell people this: at first, it was Bejoy’s conviction that made me do Shaitan. He was very passionate. And I knew that if Bejoy and Anurag came together, it would be the right project. So, I got into it, after a bit of convincing from Bejoy. You feel lucky you’re a part of such a cult film.

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