Neeraj Pandey is one director who never goes overboard in celebrating the success of any of his films. Be it A WEDNESDAY, SPECIAL 26 or BABY, Pandey is content in knowing that he is on the right path and is humble enough to acknowledge praises that have followed, not only from the industry but also from the audience at large.
Until now, he has dealt with only hits and he has never gone over-the-top with bombastic quotes before a release or after its success. He believes that his work should do the talking. And so far, his vision translated on celluloid has spoken louder than words! That in itself is enough fodder to satiate the hunger of any creative person.
But one can't bask in past success and Pandey is always on the move. Up next is a biopic on cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Trying to get anything out of the director on the film is like trying to hit former West Indian speedster Courtney Walsh out of the park! All he is willing to say when asked if it is not too early to have a biopic on Dhoni (considering the cricketer is still young) is a mysterious ''We will know that soon, won't we?''
Coming from a director of his calibre, that statement does carry weight. And speaking of weight, Pandey is not over-burdened by the weight of expectations that now rests heavy on him. ''Expectation is not a burden. It's welcome and keeps me on my toes,'' says the director about the bar he has raised for himself and what the audience expect from him.
What's also commendable about Pandey is that he is open to criticism and takes full blame if a scene has not worked out well. The love angle in SPECIAL 26 comes up for special debate because it has been an issue with me. Pandey is graceful to admit that ''It wasn't executed well. If you find anything wrong, I am to be blamed. Sometimes things do get lost in translation.''
That's humility and that is what takes one far in life.
Presenting Neeraj Pandey, whose films are laced with suspense and whose end always leaves you panting for more.
Excerpts from an interview with Martin D'Souza
||'According to me, a hit film is one that recovers more than the
money invested for its investor.'
You shot to fame with A WEDNESDAY, a cracker of a way to get into the heart of the audience. Did you every have an inkling what this movie might do?
I knew that we had a great script. As we shared the script with the cast and crew, we got similar feedback and obviously our faith in the material only grew. We just had to execute what was on paper. I wasn't interested in thinking or speculating beyond making the film. Getting it right in terms of execution was the most important thing. I never thought how the movie was going to do.
Right from word go, you had the screen buzzing with suspense so taut, that you could feel the strain. How did you come about this theme and treatment?
Being the writer helped immensely. There is a certain amount of direction happening right there when you are writing if you happen to be a writer/director. The pacing, the energy, the attitude, the treatment, everything is sorted to a certain degree. The rest comes together with the cast and crew following a common vision.
That year in 2008, the week A WEDNESDAY released was special because the preceding weeks had ROCK ON and MUMBAI MERI JAAN. For three weeks, we had class movies... how did it feel to fit into that zone?
I still don't know the 'Zone'. I was happy that our film was getting released finally. What did baffle me was UTV releasing two films on a similar topic inside of three weeks. I was out of town the very next day after the release and was back after two weeks. I also saw the other two films after quite some time.
You cemented your class with SPECIAL 26 and BABY recently. It is now beyond doubt that a Neeraj Pandey film is something to be looked forward to. Does that scare you?
Not at all: expectation is not a burden. It's welcome and keeps me on my toes. I feel blessed that people look forward to what I have to say next.
How did the interest in film-making come about? Or did you want to be an actor?
For a large part of my life I didn't know what to do or be. When I finally decided upon writing and film-making then it was Direction all the way. I loved the responsibility and the nature of the job.
Rs 100 crore is the new 'Hit Limit' now, do you plan your films on those lines? What according to you is a hit film?
I don't think I can plan on those lines. It won't be right. What number a film makes depends on so many factors. According to me, a hit film is one that recovers more than the money invested for its investor and also leaves the collaborators with a sense of unquantifiable satisfaction.
Casting is a very important aspect in your films. It was seen in all the three films. Do you look into that aspect, or do you leave it to your casting director?
We hire casting directors on a project-to-project basis. The Casting Director auditions and then I take the final call with the help of my core team.
One hears about a lot of pressures from production houses, on how, at the last moment they interfere in the creativity aspect. Do you allow your creative zone to be breached upon?
No. I listen to every single point of view and objection and then decide whatever is in the interest of the project. It's easy when you have sort of proven your point with some odd decisions that have worked.
Have you ever had to compromise on your vision for a film, in the three films you have done so far?
Yes. Sometimes the sunlight could have been mellow!
How important is 'creative privacy' for you as a film-maker?
Film-making is a collaborative process so I am not delusional or adamant about it. I can control my privacy and I enjoy working with people who team well.
||'Somebody made way for our generation. We will make way for next. The talent will keep pouring in.'
I mentioned this in my Open Letter hence this question. Looking back, do you feel the plot between Kajaal Agarwal and Akshay Kumar was 'out of sync' in SPECIAL 26? Similarly, in BABY, the Akshay Kumar family angle did not really gel into the plot. Was it an afterthought, or was it in the bound script?
No. But it wasn't executed well. Ajju's personal life was pivotal to the story and if it looked 'out of sync' then you have me to blame and not the idea. May I also mention that contrary to your deduction, the track wasn't inserted! It was in the bound script. Nothing in the all the scripted films by me has been incorporated to please anyone. If you find anything wrong, I am to be blamed. Sometimes things do get lost in translation.
The family angle in BABY is very important. It's an unconventional one. I remember at some screenings for defence and armed forces we heard women gasp when the wife asks Ajay not to die on her.
I will also add that I am also learning on the job. A thing here or there may work or not. What's important is the intention.
A biopic on Mahendra Singh Dhoni is next. Is this the right time for a film on Dhoni; I mean, is it not too early... he is still young...
[Smiles] We will know that soon won't we?
What would your advice be to talented directors out there who are struggling to get a break?
Nobody knows everything here so it's best that you follow your heart. Tenacity could be your best ally.
Do you feel that talent in Bollywood is tapped to its potential... be it in acting, direction or music?
If it was so then it would have been the end of story. Somebody made way for our generation. We will make way for next. The talent will keep pouring in.
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