Among the many new promos on-air, the one that really stands out due to its rather unconventional and quirky casting is that of Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (SFKTNP). Starring Farah Khan and Boman Irani, the film marks the directorial debut of Bela Bhansali Sehgal, sister of well-known filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Bela has been part of the industry for a long time now having directed many popular music videos and having been a successful editor. In this free-wheeling chat with Bollywood Hungama's Nikhil Ramsubramaniam, Bela talks about how she decided on turning director, her unconventional lead pair and her love for the Parsi community. Read on…
How and why did you come up with the idea of directing a Parsi rom-com for your first film?
I have lived and grown-up with Parsis. My aunt is a Parsi, some of my really close friends are Parsis and I even had Parsi teachers in school. So I love the Parsi community as they are very cool, fun-loving, warm and kind people. I have tried to show the Parsi community in a very fun-loving way- just the way they are in real life. So in a way this film is a tribute of sorts to all the Parsis I have come in contact with.
You were initially supposed to make a film called Hadippa for T-Series. What happened to that project?
Yes it's true, I was to do a film for T-Series called Hadippa. Bhushan Kumar is like my younger brother. In fact the core subject matter and essence of Hadippa is the same as SFKTNP– it was just set in a Punjabi setting. I began working on this project many years back. Howeve,r we felt that the whole Punjabi setting has been done to death in so many of our films and hence both Sanjay and I felt that if we modify it a bit and set it in a Parsi environment, it would be a different feeling. And that's how we dropped the idea of Hadippa and modified the story and setting etc. and thus SFKTNP was born.
Give us a brief character sketch of Shirin and Farhad.
Farhad is a very lovely, golden-hearted, simple and straight-forward guy. He is playing a salesman in a bra and panty shop. He never hesitates in listening to other's problems and helping them out yet nobody seems to be interested in listening to his problems. People tend to take him for granted. Shirin is a very aggressive, boisterous, strong-headed and straight-forward kind of a lady. She is someone who won't think twice before yelling at somebody if she is angry. At the same time, if she loves somebody, she would do anything for him / her. She believes in love, loyalty, honesty and integrity.
The film has quite an unconventional lead pair…how did you decide on this casting coup of sorts?
From the moment we decided on setting the film in a Parsi environment, Boman and Farah were my first and only choices. Boman is a dream to work with. He has done a wonderful job of playing Farhad and when you see him on screen it is sheer magic. I don't think anybody could have brought about the little nuances to this character like the way he has. I was a bit nervous about directing Farah because she is also a director and is bound to have her own opinion and point of view. But once we started shooting I realized that she is a complete natural and moreover the character she plays is quite close to how she is in real life so I just asked her to be her self. She really gave me that faith as a director so it became really easy for me. Farah is the surprise package. She will surprise everybody with her performance. Despite this being her first film as an actor, she has done a wonderful job.
Farah and your brother Sanjay Leela Bhansali weren't really on talking terms due to the clash between Om Shanti Om and Saawariya few years back. So weren't you awkward of approaching Farah for your film?
Not at all. You know what clashes happen, fights happen but at the end of the day we are still friends. Life is so unpredictable that one shouldn't hold on to such kind of animosity or grudge forever. You should never have a regret, "I wish I had corrected that mistake before". So it's best to move on in life
How was it working with veterans like Shammiji and Daisy Iraniji?
Fabulous. I think to direct legends like Daisy aunty and Shammi aunty was my most challenging moment. Initially I was apprehensive about how I would be able to direct them to perform in a way I had envisioned a particular scene in my mind but once I got over that initial bit of hesitation it was very smooth and easy to work with them.
Right from the time I was directing music videos for T-Series (about 14 songs for them), I had thought of turning director. I told you we were to make Hadippa few years back which didn't happen but Bhushan has always been encouraging towards me to direct a film just like my brother Sanjay. In fact long back, I'd applied to FTII to undergo the direction course but due to lack of enough seats, I was asked to take up editing course. Editing has been a wonderful experience; it's like a cryptic jigsaw puzzle where you move your characters from one scene to another. My knowledge in editing helped me in direction as well. I feel blessed and lucky that even though things did take some time for me to happen, at least it happened. It's because of my brother that things have moved on in my life.
Parsis have been projected in a very stereotypical way in our films, what have you ensured to avoid that?
I have not shown them as dark people. I have shown them as very normal, fun-loving people. Even though the film is set in a Parsi setting, the subject is very universal. It's about people who are 40 and are finding it difficult to find a suitable life partner.
Apparently, there is a kissing scene in the film between Farah and Boman which has create a lot of furore. Is it yet another publicity strategy to draw in more eyeballs?
I know the kissing scene has really been talked about. Honestly speaking I wouldn't like to comment on it and let the audience see and decide for themselves. Farah obviously had reservations considering she is married and has kids etc but I personally don't want any actor in my film to be uncomfortable with anything.
Do you feel that your film caters more to the urban multiplex crowd rather than the single screen audience?
I think it caters to all kinds of audience- single screen or multiplex. In fact I think even people in smaller towns and interiors of India will be able to relate to the film and characters. While I was in Allahabad recently, I happened to meet a watchman of a sound studio who told me that he had seen the promo of my film and loved it. It was quite a pleasant surprise for me as well. At the end of the day, it's a Hindi film with just few words of Parsi and English thrown in between so it can be understood by everybody across the country.
You actually shot in the famous Parsi colony- Cusrow Baug in Colaba. How was that experience?
You know Cusrow Baug didn't allow people to shoot for a long time. After nearly 15 years ours is the film which got permission to shoot there. The whole of Cusrow Baug helped us and we also co-operated with them. We didn't make any noise or create any nuisance. We didn't litter the area after pack-up, used to completely clear the area just as it was.
Finally what are you planning to do next?
I have worked for so many years and I am tired now. I really need a break. There are some subjects at the back of my mind. I'll first release this film and gauge the audience response then take a call on what I want to make next.