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Always thoughtful and insightful: Dia Mirza

By Armin Sethi Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018 10:06: AM

The last time we interviewed Dia Mirza, it was for Love Breakups Zindagi. With the mega success of Sanju, we knew we had to catch up with her again. There have been such significant changes to the way we are fed films as audience members, that I wanted to pick Dia Mirza’s brain on what she thought of the changes, but moreso, why a film like Sanju could work. In the midst of our conversation, Dia, per the norm, shared invaluable insight and a thought process that can be admired by all. Here’s my conversation with Dia Mirza:


First of all, congratulations! The reviews for Sanju have been so flattering for all of the cast members.

That’s wonderful to hear. Thank you – it’s incredible to hear.


But a lot has changed over the course of your film journey. Of course, with your first film, it was heavily promoted, but now it’s all social media, and the promotions are amplified. As a producer yourself, when you think about Hindi cinema generally, do you take a step back and think, “what do I need to collect to put into my kitty of knowledge”?

I think what has changed drastically, Armin, is the distribution effort. The big difference is the sphere of distribution has changed and the model/the studio model is coming. There are more people from international markets coming and introducing films. They are marketing them. There is a lot more strategy and method in the madness. And I think, what I really learnt from Sanju, the latest film I was a part of, and the latest release for me as a producer was Bobby Jasoos – what I learnt was that there are multiple factors that determine how and when the audience receives the film. But the primary goal as a filmmaker is to make the film accessible to as many people as you can. So, how many screens are you getting and what are the show timings you can manage to get.

There are many things that determine that – the cast of the film, the filmmaker, and then who is releasing the film. I find that smaller films suffer, despite being good, especially in the early stages because they don’t get the right show timings or they do not get enough screens for exhibit. If they are good films, they manage to survive through word of mouth and they gather momentum despite the fact that there are bigger films that have more show timings and more screens.


But can you determine all of that?

My gosh, it is a Science. But it is a Science that does not have any definitive indicators of what works. At the end of the day, it is an institution that is built on passion. Most of the people that are involved in cinema do it despite the enormity of the obstacles one needs to overcome to get a film to the exhibition point. And they do it because they care so much for the medium – or anyone in the right mind would never be a filmmaker. It takes a great and insane amount of passion and love in this line of work.

I think with Sanju we were secure in the fact that this is a film that is being made by a filmmaker who has had four tremendously successful films. Just the merit of seeing his film – has given it access to the audience, the subject matter has gained curiosity, and there is Ranbir Kapoor in the film. Interestingly, I note that we did not pursue many things that we have started to do as traditional marketing strategies in the Indian film industry – like the star cast appearing on live shows and entertainment shows on television; or visiting colleges or universities. We did none of that. Ranbir has done exclusive interviews with certain publications and some others of us have but otherwise nothing. The trailer was tracking really well and people knew the film was coming. There was a general curiosity in the audience to watch the film – it was considered one of the most anticipated films of the year. When all of these moving parts fall into place so beautifully together, it just works for the film. At the end of the day, it is the content that works.


You also share a rapport with Rajkumar Hirani – there is something about him that is magical. When I first heard that there would be this movie based on Sanjay Dutt – I wasn’t sure how it could be pulled off – Sanjay Dutt still does movies, he is not retired, he is not old. Then, I thought to myself, if there is one man who would be able to do it, it would have to be Rajkumar Hirani. What were your first thoughts…any apprehensions?

See, because I share a great equation with Raju I knew the film was being written for a very long time. I knew he was spending time with Sanju sir and his family and his closest friends, exploring his journey. He also shared some personal anecdotes with me. I was very curious about what he would make of the story.

Now, I am someone who, I’ve worked with Sanju sir. I’ve done six films with him. I’ve always believed that he has led a remarkable life. He is the one person who has been through a variety of happenings that many have never gone through in their lifespans. From the day he was born to now, the variety of his experiences is truly incredible. Then, the extremities of those experiences – the cases, the drugs, the trauma and loss of his first wife, losing his mother the way he did – there is just so much there. It is so intriguing. I read about him here and there. But I did not have any real insight so I was really curious to see what and how Raju and Abhijat would construct the film.

It is difficult to contain a life so varied within two and a half hours. And I was curious to see what choices he would make – what he would choose to keep and what he would choose to eliminate. How would he craft the screenplay to recreate the moments from Sanju sir’s life. When I heard the script, I was laughing and I was crying. I couldn’t believe what he had done with it. It is quintessential Raju Hirani.


What is it about Raju Hirani thought – isn’t there something about him?

The unique quality of Raju Hirani is the lens with which he views life, he sees humour in the darkest places. His emotional intelligence is very heightened. There is a sensitivity and empathy to Raju Hirani that is so innate to his nature and Abhijat’s nature – that they view stories and circumstances so differently than everyone else. So that influences the way they write, that is what the audiences connect with. That’s what makes him magical and sets him apart.


Essaying the role of Manyata (Sanju sir’s wife) – I’m sure the kind of research you’ve done, that question has been asked of you. One of the questions that I always have, as someone who is a movie fan, when you are playing someone who is alive and well and someone you see every day, how do you ensure you maintain your own creativity as an artist?

I don’t see a difference between the two. When you are an artist, you have to achieve the most honest emotion in any situation, right? And I think that the responsibility of finding that moment is heightened when you are playing a real person. I really have the single-minded focus when looking over a script to find the most honest emotion and feel it. To understand it as a woman, as a wife, as a mother – because I think that there is no other way to make an audience care for what you are doing other than to feel it. That is what we strive to do as actors.


But when you are doing a heavy situation, because Manyata entered Sanjay Dutt’s life during very challenging times…

At a very tumultuous time, yes.


Right, how do you feel at the end of the shoot?

I think I felt more connected to them, closer than ever before. I may not have seen Manyata at all but I have been able to care for her through playing this part. I’ve always loved Sanju sir – I have always shared a very warm connection with him. He has always been so kind, so affectionate over the years. I always say, there is some karmic connection there because our bond is so special. And then to go on and play his wife in his biopic was like completing the circle beautifully.

I have always felt a very deep connection with Sanju sir. I don’t know what it is. I just think it has become stronger after the film. An invaluable trait of his is that he has never, ever tried to shy away from his demons. Sanju sir has never lied about his darkest reality. I think that is so commendable and there is so much to learn from that.


Does that impact you on a personal level?

I think we are so critical and so judgmental about each other in every day life. The extraordinary quality in the relationship between Sanju sir and Manyata is that the relationship is free of judgment. They know each other’s darkest truths and they love each other. It is a phenomenal way to be in a relationship. It is rare to find that kind of unconditional love – I think mothers can have it for their children. But I think it is seldom that a man and woman can have it for each other.

The other thing is that, in a human being, we are so determined to define ourselves, that we do not allow ourselves to make mistakes. When we do, we are very harsh on ourselves when we do make mistakes. I think there is so much grace, dignity, and beauty in acknowledging our shortcomings and working on them – even if it takes a lifetime to do so, it’s okay.


The kind of insight you have, it goes to show why your production house is named “Born Free”. It seems you tend to have the same insight as Rajkumar Hirani sir. With that awareness that you have, you have always been a frontrunner in terms of making sure we put the environment first. Do you foresee yourself creating a large project that is directly linked to that cause?

Absolutely. Absolutely. I set out to make films that would entertain, inform, and educate. And, oh definitely, we’ll make content for all platforms that will heighten people’s environmental consciousness. It doesn’t have to be a subject matter that deals with the environment singlehandedly. It can be a film that treats our characters in a way that the choices they make are reflective of the need to protect the environment; perhaps, the values they espouse, the professions they pursue. I can foresee a simple scene in which a character refuses a plastic straw. It could be something as simple as that. There is so much that can be conveyed through cinema to the people.


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