Why the gap of four years after Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year?
I write when the subject grabs me. I’ve written just seven-odd films in 13 years. I was working on an idea for Shimit (Amin) but Shuddh Desi Romance finished earlier. I see a movie as a conversation with my community. I cannot be bothered about release dates and peer pressure while writing. The starting point is always an interesting subject that makes you curious enough to want to dig into it, and then to share it with others.
How do you interpret the title, Shuddh Desi Romance?
There’s a bit of a mischief in it. The syllabus of relationships in our society is such that we are told that first this happens and then that happens; there is a shuddh or an approved way of being in love; there is a right kind of love and a wrong kind. In reality, our hearts are completely out of syllabus. Like the lyrics, Pyaar ko pyaar hi rehne do, koi naam naa do, from a song in Khamoshi. Somehow, this out-of-syllabus part does not find a place in our films. Most relationship films that we make are not about relationships. In the last 10-15 years, when nobody was looking, the rules of love changed.
What observations about love and youth prompted you to write your first romantic film?
Before this film, my engagement with romance was limited only to three verses while writing songs like Maaeri (for the band Euphoria) or O re piya (for Aaja Nachle). I was involved only for days, sometimes hours, but I realised that a lot of what we show in films wasn’t real. The people that we see on the roads are rarely seen in our films. I’ve often wondered why people don’t eat in films, or why don’t they even go to the toilet. So I wanted to write about these people and their relationships. It’s always the characters and their world that attracts the writer in me. Iss mein anthropology waali baat nahin hai, bas writer’s curiosity waali baat hai.
So what has been your big takeaway about love? Is today’s generation about hooking up or falling in love?
I think for the previous generations, the concept of love was pretty monochromatic — everything was included in a common thing called love. There were fewer choices and means to express, but now this so-called egg of love has split. For this generation, attraction is different from love; dating is different from love; commitment is different from love; marriage is different from love. Now people hook up, and spend a lot of time just talking about attraction. In our time, if you said that you were attracted to a girl but were not sure if it was love, you would be deemed shallow. Today’s boys and girls spend a lot of time thinking about what being in a relationship entails — Am I in love? Am I ‘really’ in love? Am I ready to take it to the next level? Now that I’m with him/her, am I done for life? Can I do better? When we have these kind of youngsters in our society which is fairly hypocritical, it is quite funny. In today’s India, where tradition and modernity co-exist, the youth and society are constantly rubbing against each other. So how free is our youth? This dynamic is very interesting.
For a love story to connect, it has to offer a new definition of love. In Band Baaja Baaraat, the hero says, ‘Tere bina kissi cheez mein mauj nahin hai’; in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, he says, ‘Tum sahi nahin ho, mujhse alag ho’.
What new definition of love have you offered in Shuddh Desi Romance?
In this film, I’m trying to say, ‘Let people say what they want, but if you feel you are right in your heart, then you are right.’ It’s very simple — in your heart, you always know whether this relationship is right or wrong; whether this person is right or wrong; whether the people who judge you are right or wrong.
It is believed that the bigger the obstacle/conflict in love, the greater the love story. In our films, we’ve had obstacles in the form of parents, rich-poor divide, religion, etc. For today’s generation, what is the big obstacle in love?
I don’t know. When I was writing Chak De! India, I was writing about sportspersons and they had to play, so it became a sports film. Similarly, when I was writing about organised crime in Company, it was about gangsters, so it came to be regarded as a gangster film. But I was just following the characters and their worlds. I’m not motivated to write if you tell me to write a horror or an action film. It leaves me untouched when you tell me that in a story, somebody is a hero and somebody a villain.
In Shuddh Desi Romance, I’m just following three people — Raghu, Gayatri and Tara, who are trying to find for themselves the meaning of love, attraction and commitment. They are not about obstacles, they are about the journey. I don’t even know if it’s a romantic film, I’ve treated it as a film about relationships. As a writer, you always try to search for what is the truth for your characters.
Tell me about your writing process — are you a fast writer, or are you a slow, research geek?
I’m a fast writer but I write infrequently. Sometimes, I don’t write for months. Unlike a lot of my writer friends, I don’t have withdrawal if I don’t write. I send SMSes to myself in the middle of the night. The writing depends on the subject, like I wrote Chak De! India in two to three quick bursts but I travelled a lot for the film. Khosla Ka Ghosla came from my personal experience, so it needed very little research.
As a writer, what is that one thing you always try to get right in your films?
I like to get out of what I call the ‘language jail.’ As a Hindi film writer, I wish I could write in Tamil, Oriya or Naga, but I can’t, so I try and dabble with different dialects to get out of the language jail. For Company, I experimented with Bambaiya Hindi; in Chak De! India, we made Lal sir speak in incorrect Hindi. Mujhe language ke slang mein maza aata hai. I like to travel to the place where my characters belong to. Thodi hawa khao, thodi mitti khao, ganne ka juice peeo, kissi ki moped pe baith jao — all these are perks of being a screenwriter, I don’t see this as research.
Since you also write songs, are there any favourite words or expressions that you always end up using?
I’m not aware of this, but there are certain words that I vowed I would never use which I’ve started using. For example, I never wanted to use words like mohabbat, gaal, zulfein. They were overused, so I started with Ganda hai par dhanda hai yeh. Over time, I’ve come to realise that it was not the fault of the words but the fault of the people who used them in such a banal fashion. These days, my agenda is to preserve words that are going out of circulation. I want to get them back. Give an example of such a word. The word, gaflat. In the song Show me your jalwa (Aaja Nachle), I used an expression, teri chhaukein, teri daalein. Sometimes I get scared that some words will just get lost, so I want to use them.
Which songs are you the most happy with?
Maaeri re, Ganda hai par dhanda hai yeh, O re piya, Johnny Gaddar’s title track, Haule haule (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) and Pankhon Ko (Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year).