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NEERJA: Smelling the 'real' cinema with Ram Madhvani

February 18, 2016 7:17:26 PM IST
By Vishal Verma, Glamsham Editorial
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Noted award winning ad filmmaker Ram Madhvani feels NEERJA is blessed. Shouting light camera and action after 14 years, Ram was fascinated by the smell of the burning film at the age of 16.

Ram's commercial for Happydent (a Silver and Bronze Lion winner at Cannes) was voted among the top 20 commercials of the millennium. A documentary on Amitabh Bachchan for the Lincoln Center in America titled ‘Everlasting Light' a song for Aamir Khan's TAARE ZAMEEN PAR and inspiration from works of Ray, Hrishida, Tarkoskey and Fellini has motivated Ram to make a biopic on brave heart Neerja Bhanot, the Pan Am flight stewardess, who died in terrorist crossfire shielding children on a hijacked plane.

The director opens his heart out and shares his dreams, love and passion



A reality based subject like NEERJA. What made you cast an actress like Sonam Kapoor who is labeled as a fashionista?
I have a different picture of Sonam Kapoor. People brand people. I find Sonam to be someone who loves to read books and is very open about her opinion on what is happening around the world outside. She was our first choice. I am sad sometimes to find her being labeled as just a fashionista.

It is observed that a reality based story on screen is prone to controversies, either objection from the family members of the personality on which the film is made, or a sect or someone else. Here you are lucky. NEERJA family has supported you. Your comment?
Yes, during bravery awards event in Chandigarh, the family members were also there, it was an overwhelming experience. The only regret is that I won't be able to show the movie to Neerja's mother Rama Bhanot, she passed away on 5th December last year.

Everyone has not been lucky as you, it is said that in show business, any publicity is good publicity, the idea is to attract eyeballs in whatever way.. Let the controversies get created.. what you have to say?
I personally don't believe in negative publicity. Creating controversies to attract eyeballs. This may have a negative effect on my family life and won't do me any good.

How much is your family involved in your creative business?
They have an honest, objective opinion. My wife is a co –producer and she has given me honest opinion on NEERJA. As a creative person I look for feedbacks, opinions. In the business of communication, feelings it is necessary. Especially for a story like NEERJA that needs to be told, an honest opinion is a must. It's not about how the message has been sent.. It is about how the message gets delivered.

"I loved the philosophy of Andrei Tarkovsky to his work"

Bollywood has seen ad filmmakers excel in their silver screen endeavors. R Balki, Rakesh Mehra, Raj Kumar Hirani, the list is long. Does an ad filmmaker have an edge in delivering a better film on screen?
Not really. I am a filmmaker, like you are a journalist/writer. You may write a short snippet, or a feature, or a column, a book or poetry. Similarly, I have made short films, documentary on Mr. Bachchan, music videos etc. so it's a creative process. A creative process when excels becomes an art and for that you don't necessary need the quality of an ad filmmaker to be a good filmmaker. This is my first full length feature. Of course it feels wonderful in the company of Rajkumar Hirani, R. Balki, Rakesh Mehra. Now it's up to the audience to decide.

Tell us about your first experience with cinema?
I was in St Peter's School in Panchgani and I remember they would put up a speaker at the Assembly hall and show films from a 16mm projector. Sometimes, the 16mm film would burn and the projector would stop. And I use to love the smell of the burning film. This is the reason why movies are such an integral part of me. At the age of 16, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.

So how the journey of Ram the filmmaker happened?
My two elder brothers played a big role. I lost my father while I was still in college, and I had to earn a living. My middle brother was into photography. My elder brother was in the diamond business. He invited me to stay with him in New York, and while I assisted him during the day, in the evening I went to New York University and learnt filmmaking. There I saw the works of Satyajit Ray, Federico Fellini, Andrei Tarkovsky, Hrishikesh Mukerjee and other masters. I had the opportunity to stay back in New York, but I wanted to come back and tell stories to our people in our way.

Interesting. Ray, Fellini, Hrishida are most common.. greatness of Andrei Tarkovsky is less talked about in this part of the world. Tarkovskian cinema always demanded re-visit. Special attention. Your comment?
Yes absolutely. I loved the philosophy of Andrei Tarkovsky to his work. I have watched almost all his films MIRROR, STALKER, SOLARIS. I have had an altogether different experience, felt it. The images are striking. The approach is psychological. An altogether different language of cinema. I have felt it though not being able to understand completely and that's the beauty of his art. Something unseen, unspoken remains and when you re visit again to experience that, it comes with a different layers, meanings.

What has been your approach for NEERJA as a filmmaker?
Simple, real without being manipulative. I want the people to feel the story. They should cry. Stories like NEERJA should be told.

Are you eyeing for a tax free status for such stories on courage and bravery like NEERJA?
I don't know how the audience will take it. We have tried our best. But if you ask me personally, I would like such stories to reach maximum. If tax free status helps then it should be. This will help in more and more youngsters going to watch the movie.

The industry is giving favorable reactions, Aamir, Hrithik getting emotional. What you have to say?.
The movie is blessed. Neerja and her mother are blessing the film. Atul Kasbekar came to me with this story, I said yes. We went to Sonam Kapoor, she said yes, Fox Star agreed immediately.

What next
Things are there on pipeline. Interesting ones. Right now waiting for audience feedback on NEERJA.

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