On the face of it, there wasn’t much going for Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha in 2015. It wasn’t massively promoted, it didn’t really look like a regular Yash Raj film, lead actor Ayushmann Khurana wasn’t having a great run and Bhumi Pednekar (who looked dramatically different at the time) was a debutante. We all know how things turned out for Katariya. But he later explained, “When the risks are smaller, you are freer”.
This time around he’s back with Sui Dhaaga whose trailer evokes the same warmth and simplicity of his previous film. But the risks seems to be more – especially with the presence of A-list actors like Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan. Katariya says there’s a natural fear that arises before release but he doesn’t feel the added stress. “Very few times as a writer do you have this level of clarity while making a film, more than I had before my earlier film… Also as soon as I see something and feel this is really going to work, my instant reaction is to not do it. The whole struggle is to not fall into the trap of predictability and cliches.”
Here Katariya talks about creating the world of Sui Dhaaga in a way that looks authentic and then drafting his stars into that world.
In September there are films like Batti Gul Meter Chalu and Pataakha also releasing which tell stories of small town India. The real challenge here is to make it feel real and rooted, which you managed in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. How do you bring in that authenticity when you’re sitting in Mumbai and writing?
I don’t see it as small town genre films. Even Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH) is perceived as a film about small town India but neither in its sensibility or in its making were we trying to show the real side of India. We just shoot in real locations and pick actors from those areas. We spent a lot of time in Chanderi before the shoot because we didn’t want to create any sets. Usually you go to a location and then find the best spot there to shoot the film, but we actually found a house the characters would live in and shot there even if it looked uncinematic. Then we borrowed things from other people’s houses and used it, so there’s nothing that is bought fresh. Even the bedsheets are borrowed from someone.
So that’s what makes it look authentic. Also it’s basically based on people you know. I never step out to meet people. All of that happens when we actually step out to make the film. I changed some characters because of the people I met. About Bhopal, someone told me a story about this man who nobody has seen. He sells paan and he sits with his back facing the people. So when we were coming back from the recce I thought this a funny character we should have him in the film, so I wrote it in.
We don’t do touristy stuff in these places, we actually engage. Chanderi is a beautiful place and it’s a village of craftsmen, and weavers. After visiting them the one thing I know is that I’m never going to bargain with a craftsman again. They work really hard.
Usually you go to a location and then find the best spot there to shoot the film, but we actually found a house the characters would live in and shot there even if it looked uncinematic. Then we borrowed things from other people’s houses and used it, so there’s nothing that is bought fresh. Even the bedsheets are borrowed from someone.
What direction did you give your lead actors Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan to ensure that they blend into this environment you had created?
Both of them visited the place before the shoot. Both Anushka and Varun are very smart. They know what kind of film they are doing and that’s what we kept discussing, that nothing should ring untrue because everything is going to be so real that it will stand out. Even if we are doing a really melodramatic scene we need to do it in a real way so that it never sticks out. Varun was coming from October so that was good prep for us. He had done some meditation and had calmed down! The one good thing is that they both loved DLKH so they were very conscious that we shouldn’t fall short.
They are evolved actors and they both have their own process. They both like to interact with other actors and they spend a lot of time on the set. Not even once did they go back to the vanity or make up room. I have not experienced it myself but I have heard that this isn’t how normally actors behave. Also the house was so small and cramped and it was hot, but they sat there. There was was no space for entourage also!
You once said something really funny in an interview – that you have long imaginary conversations with Billy Wilder and Martin Scorsese. How’s that going?
Oh god, did I say this? I went to Los Angeles once and my friend took me to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But I thought why should I go here, let’s go to the real place where they really are – let’s find their graves. I wanted to go to Billy Wilder’s grave. It was really far, some 2 hours from LA. When we got there I realised it’s a big cemetery and not very easy to find his grave. My friend said ‘tu dekh le, main baahar hoon. If you find him, give my love to him’. But I found it quickly. There was Marilyn Monroe’s also, and right next to Wilder’s was Jack Lemon’s grave. So I was just talking to them and saying I hope I’m doing everything right!
Since you write your own movies, do you find yourself watching a lot of movies or travelling between films? How do you stay inspired?
I just write, there’s no other way. I haven’t seen a film for the last year and my daughter has taken over the TV so I have only seen Peppa Pig. I’m tempted to watch some TV series but I don’t know where to start. Sometimes I watch one kind of film to get into a zone. Strangely a lot of funny things come to me when I’m watching thrillers. I remember when I was writing DLKH I kept watching Korean thrillers and I used to find it very funny.
What’s been the single-most challenge of creating Sui Dhaaga?
That I wrote it really fast – it took just 20 days. I was working on another script. It was not falling in place and I spent over a year on it. I had some 10 drafts of that and every month I wrote a new one. I felt like I was in JNU, your just not graduating! Then I was in Delhi when I saw this tailor under a tree and I thought why am I looking for ideas, I should just make a film on him only. So I spoke to him he said he comes in the morning from Ghaziabad on a cycle with his big box which has threads. Maneesh (Sharma) also has a friend in Delhi in the garment business and we used to talk a lot about him and the condition of our weavers. So the two thoughts just came together. It’s quite scary because you wonder when the next thought will come.