Manmarziyaan is Anurag Kashyap’s foray into romance, and my, was I nervous. I love Anurag’s films, and yet something about the colourful, vibrant nature of the film was completely throwing me off – but when I watched the film, I was at complete ease. This was a sure-shot winner. At the red carpet, I had the chance to catch up with Anurag Kashyap, along with his star cast, Taapsee Pannu, Abhishek Bachchan, and Vicky Kaushal. The next day, I sat down and had a chat with his cast together – and man, were they a riot! At one point, Abhishek had started interviewing me – and well, out when the questions and in came a true, blue conversation.
Anurag Kashyap on the red carpet:
Anurag, Rumi, another strong female character…
You’ll be very proud of Rumi. She is vulnerable, she does what she wants to, she is unapologetic…
And Rumi in Amritsar. You left Punjab as is.
I just wanted to get Amritsar right. The first time I went to Amritsar, I did not want to alter the place to shoot my film, I would alter my script to suit the space instead. The film is totally Amritsar. You will see and feel Amritsar in the film. It was discovery. Every day I would discover something new and put it in the film.
I went to Punjab and I saw Punjabi people the way they are and I did not want to alter that. I went in there as an outsider and I wanted to capture them exactly the way they are. We shot in the actual locations. While people were living in their houses, we shot like that – we did not want them leaving the house. We used their clothes, their utensils; our actors kind of put themselves in their place. I think the film is very honest Punjab; it is a very honest space, and it shows the people exactly how they are.
Abhishek said in an interview that you gave him a gift – you gave him close-ups. What do you think he meant?
Abhishek’s character: His character mostly doesn’t express himself but he goes through a lot so I wanted to capture what he is going through. For that, I needed to get closer to his eyes. For that, I would take the camera person right to Abhishek’s eyes to see exactly what is going through him – to see and peep into his soul.
Why a romantic film, finally? An Anurag Kashyap romance, almost sounds like an oxymoron?
A lot of people think my films are me. Like, if I make a psychopath film, like a Raman Raghav, they think I’m a psychopath, which I’m not. This film is probably more me than most of my films.
I love watching these kinds of films but I have just never been able to make these kind of films. Even when I was making Manmarziyaan, which is my first love story, I just wanted to make sure it was very real, that I wanted to make a love story that is very relateable. I wanted to make them imperfect; and I wanted to show those imperfections in the film. I was constantly dealing dealing with that.
2017 – Mukkabaaz, 2018 – Manmarziyaan – is TIFF almost like a second home to you?
Yeah, yeah, I’ve been here with four movies as a director because it is one of the best places to watch films at. When I get free time, I really like to watch the films here. I’ve watched more films in Toronto, while I’ve been here with my own film, than at any other festival.
And, finally, what do you want viewers to take away from the film?
I want viewers to take away the honesty of the film.
Abhishek Bachchan on the red carpet:
Abhishek, you spoke about Anurag Kashyap and how he gave you a gift – the gift of close-ups. What did you mean by that?
(Deep breath) It’s difficult because the camera doesn’t lie so if you aren’t feeling it, it’s going to know. So, I said it is a gift because he kind of tied my hands, figuratively speaking because he didn’t give me any crutches to be able to emote with – so with the camera, you just have your eyes to emote with. You want to make sure you are being truthful in the moment.
What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
Hopefully, the audience’s money’s worth at the end of it all.
Taapsee Pannu on the red carpet:
Taapsee, you’ve done some amazing work lately. How are you choosing films?
If you ask me about choosing scripts, at the end of the day, I’m the audience too. I choose my scripts based on that. In terms of my characters, I’m very proud of the fact that I’m a very average Indian girl. I want to depict that on-screen because a lot of us, in the rush to become perfect or become the best-behaving person, we are losing the ability to be real and being true to our individuality is somewhere getting lost. I want to embrace the imperfections and I want to play an average Indian woman – I’m okay with not being a diva, with not being the most aspirational actor. I just want to portray all of us and be their voice on screen.
Is this the love story you had been waiting for?
I never knew that I would get this love story. This film had a history of starting with another actor and then getting stopped, and then re-started with a new director and a new actress. But it has fallen perfectly in my lap, I must say. You know, I’ve waited right years for a love story because I never got a chance to have a love story in my filmography before this…and you know, Manmarziyaan has compensated for those eight years of my life, not doing a love story, because this love story is from the point of view of a woman. Usually, we have a love story which is from a point of view of the two men, and the woman ends up being the tennis ball between the two men, and the family pressure and the society pressure…but this time, it’s going to be the women deciding, her point of view in the entire story. And nobody is going to be judging her and that’s why it is perfect and it is fallen in my lap.
Vicky Kaushal on the red carpet:
Vicky, you always knew Anurag but your foray into acting happened much later. Tell us about that.
I was an assistant director to Anurag Kashyap on Gangs of Wasseypur, and my reason to be that was that I wanted to be an actor, but I also wanted to see how a film is made from behind-the-camera, just to see how people come together to make a film. That was a very – that was my film school; when your foundation is right, when our roots are right, that is what is important for your trade to be better and better. I’m really glad that it was that guy – Anurag – who was my first teacher in cinema. Eight years later, working with him again, now as an actor, I just feel blessed.
What was the experience like, working with Abhishek?
I have been his fan – Guru, Bunty Aur Babli, Bluffmaster – they have had a huge impact on my life. They were probably the reasons why I wanted to be an actor. I was in college when I saw those films. He’s got the experience of eighteen years, and over fifty films. He is a senior actor to us. Today, working with him, it is a huge honour for me and he is such a brilliant human being. It was wonderful working with him.
And you got a special letter from Amitabh Bachchan? How did that feel?
It feels like, I don’t know, It feels…I can’t describe it in words. I held onto that letter exactly like this (holding his hands to his chest) for hours, knowing that he spent at least five minutes, thinking about me, writing that letter. It was just the most beautiful feeling ever – I think every actor is waiting for that letter from Amitabh Bachchan, at some point in their career, and that letter, getting that, is the most beautiful feeling ever.
The crazy chat with the awesome threesome:
Welcome to Toronto – yes, you are in Toronto, Abhishek, there is the CN Tower.
Now, Anurag is a the type of director who gives you generic direction for a shot, but often, he just lets you play. How does that make you feel?
Taapsee: Yeah, all the time. He will have a blueprint of sorts for the scene and he’ll just then have – you just go ahead and this is what I want to convey with the scene and just go ahead, and do it. Sometimes, it’s just like, okay, that whole responsibility and control can sometimes freak you out. But he has bestowed so much trust in you that you just, you’re just making sure that you can just sort of fly away with it. At least, the character that I got, I had no limits. Like, for Abhishek, Robbie (his character) could not do certain things. But for Vicky and me, especially, there could not not do anything – they could do anything and everything under the sun. So the sky was the limit for us – we just go crazy. That’s what we would do.
He would start thriving on our mistakes in the scenes. He never used to say “cut”. He would just tell us to continue to see how we would deal with the mistake as a character so he would never direct in a very hard and fast way. That’s the beauty of Anurag Kashyap.
But does that sometimes blur the lines for you as an actor – are you becoming the character or is the character becoming you?
Taapsee: I think I’m becoming a psycho woman with every film (laughs).
Taapsee: I knew he was going to say that! (Laughs)
Abhishek: Vicky, can you back me up here please, brother?
Vicky: Ehh, false.
Taapsee: It’s because of the role I’m playing and I’m becoming a psycho. Because it is taking a part of my brain away, which I’m never going to get back. I don’t know what I’ll be left with after Rumi.
So, if you’re the psychopath of the three, I mean this is what they’ve termed you, what are they?
Taapsee: Abhishek! (Laughter). They bully me so much, as you can see.
Abhishek: I’m petrified to have a shower nowadays (does a stabbing motion).
Taapsee: They both bully me a lot; I have visual proof of this now. Do you agree with me?
I kind of do. But that’s why I said you can do some name-calling too.
Taapsee: But see, I’m a nice girl. I don’t reply back like that.
Abhishek: Yeah, we don’t believe in patting ourselves on the back right. But what did you think of the film?
When I watched the film, I felt a certain draw to your character, Rumi, but I was a bit apprehensive at first.
Abhishek: You could relate to her. That’s what we wanted. That was going to be my next question to you.
Oh, okay, you’re interviewing me now.
Tell me a little bit about the characters that you play. What did you take away from each of your characters?
Abhishek: Oh, I love that about Canadians. About. About. I used to have a Science teacher who was Canadian.
Abhishek: Taapsee took most of her wardrobe. All three costumes that we got to wear in the film (laughs).
Taapsee: No, I just ate most of the food that was there on set.
Abhishek: You did not eat anything, Taapsee. Stop trying to be like Vicky. Everyone used to think I was a foodie, but today, there is proof of who the foodie is (points at Vicky).
But how do you shoot in Punjab and not be a foodie?
Abhishek: But that is the sacrifice we have to make – the mental and physical torture of working in Amritsar for forty days and not eating Aloo Porantey and having lassi! (Dramatic)
Taapsee: Abhishek, you need to cut the crap, because he’s the man who changed the locations of three scenes in the film. Suddenly, it’s not in the script and we are sitting at “Kesar da Dhaba”.
Abhishek: Okay, pause. But who was in the scene?
Taapsee: Exactly – he was not even in the scene and he was on set!
Abhishek: It’s because I love y’all and I want y’all to be healthy, fed, and nourished so y’all can work hard.
Taapsee: I was working really hard to get a Barcelona bikini body, and suddenly, because of Abhishek, the locations have changed and you have to stuff yourself with dhaba food.
Abhishek: Okay, did you go to Barcelona after the shoot?
Taapsee: Yes, I did.
Abhishek: Did you wear a bikini?
Taapsee: No, because it was raining.
Abhishek: Yes, you did. Yes, you did.
Abhishek: So, there you go. Don’t blame me.
You guys were on set sometimes, even when it was not your scene. Is that where this craziness comes from?
Abhishek: No, that’s how unemployed we are. We had that kind of time on hand, yeah.
Abhishek: See, when you are shooting away from home, on location, in India – we call it an outdoor – you are away from your family so the unit becomes your family. So when you have the odd day off, which in an Anurag Kashyap film is very rare because he is possibly the fastest director I have worked with. He shoots an average of three to four scenes a day where sometimes you shoot one scene every two days;, so he is lightning fast. So, you get an odd day off and you are in Amritsar and you want to go see the sights. When you are making a film, you bond, and you become an extended family. Even after wrap, we would hang together. She (Taapsee) used to take Anurag to the gym. Vicky and I used to be eating together. That’s the one thing I miss the most finishing a film because you know that this group that has become so tightly knit, is just have to go on their own separate ways and do another film, so you try to cherish that time together.
What was the most challenging scene for you?
Vicky: I’m just thinking because there were many.
Taapsee: (Laughs) Yeah, right.
Vicky: I think the very last scene that I had – I think that was very challenging because to get that ‘sur’ right. That scene was really tricky because firstly, it was written very last minute. Because Taapsee and I were already in costumes, cameras were ready, and Anurag was finishing up the scene with the exact words. It was a scene that had to be felt in the moment. It wasn’t a scene you could have prepared for. It had to be in the moment – we had to react to each other in the most honest way possible.
Abhishek: Can I give you my review of the two of them? Yeah? For the first time, we saw the actual thing. With her (Taapsee), you can’t even say this for one scene, and I mean this only in a complimentary way, I don’t think she has performed for even one scene. It baffled me last night, like how has she gone through this whole film and not made it look like a performance. I’m saying this with a lot of love. Taapsee Pannu was born to be Rumi. There is not one note where you think no, Rumi wouldn’t do that. It is every actor’s dream to live a character. For actors, we tend to look for that one scene when we have an outburst, where you get to show your acting chops. Vicky has several of them but my favourite moment of Vicky’s, from an actor’s perspective – he has great scenes where he breaks down, even the last scene. But the one scene, which I think is genius acting – the two are driving in a jeep and the two have a confrontation, and she is just taking off on him, and at one point, Anurag cuts to his face, and he is just listening to her. And the most difficult thing for an actor is to listen to the other actor, and when the shot is on you, you actually show that you are genuinely listening. Because usually you’re thinking, what is my line, where is the lighting? Like, all of that is going on. And he’s just there – and he is genuinely just listening to her, and he is getting hurt by what she is saying. It is one of the most challenging things for an actor to do, when the other actor has all the lines and all of the emotions backing them in the scene. For him to stand there and just be there, it was fantastic. Brilliant – that’s what these two are in the film.
(Directed to Abhishek) But, you also have those moments.
Abhishek: I’ll tell you – I was just flawless in the film.
Taapsee: Abhishek was the perfect Robbie! Who gave you a compliment? You are India’s answer to Darcy. It’s so cool.
What are you going to miss about each other the most?
Taapsee: I’m going to miss Abhishek’s sense of humour a lot. But I think I can go chill out at their place – father and son together – and just jam out at their place. And with Vicky, I’ll just miss his Punjabi yaar. That is one thing – I keep teling him – being from a Sikh family, I’ve grown up hearing Punjabi but in Delhi, my generation, we don’t converse in Punjabi, but we know how to read and write though. We talk in the Punjabi slang of Hindi. So when I heard Vicky talking in Punjabi for the first time, I was floored. Like, how cool does that sound? That was the first impression.
Well, you’ll fit right into Toronto. We speak Punjabi twenty-four-seven.
Vicky: I cannot tell you how badly I want to go to Brampton.
We’re going to Brampton. You wanna hop in?
Abhishek: Dude, you don’t have to go to Brampton. This happened to me last night. When I was driving back from the after-party, I was stopped at the light. I heard this booming base and a car pulls up. The windows are rolled down, there are four Mundey (boys), blasting some Bhangra and they are just gangstering all the way.
Vicky: I wanna hang with them! Next time, when I have good time in hand.
This awesome threesome was high on energy, high on drama, high on emotions, but man, were they fun! Be sure to catch Manmarziyaan.