Director Habib Faisal and actor Amol Parashar talk about breaking stereotypes and giving up on preconceived notions about people and acting for their new web series Home. By Asmita Sarkar
Does the internet give you more freedom to explore?
Habib: The kind of story we’re doing now, there won’t be any need of high-handed censorship required to curtail what we want to say. The internet allows us navigate the economics of making a feaure film in two hours, which restricts how much can you unravel any complex issue or story. Internet allows you to savour and reflect like the last piece of gulaab jamun and not gulp it down.
The flipside is that it has to be relentlessly engaging or people turn off. In the first five minutes, you will move on to another show or platform. If someone goes to watch a movie, they will finish it because of the amount of money they spend in going inside the cinema hall. For the internet, that investment is not there, so you have to work harder and sharper. The performances and the way you direct have to be really sharp.
You have been a video journalist, writer and director. How do you juggle between so many hats?
Habib: We need variety, na. Without variety, it won’t be interesting.
Is it conscious or in the flow of things that you do this?
It’s in the flow. In this case, I am directing something that I have not written. I’m lucky that a great idea came my way which has been written by someone else. Before that, nothing exciting was coming to me throuh other writers. So, what I was excited about making I was writing myself. If I have to do it, then I do it. There’s no difficulty in either. I do all of them with excitement.
How was it working with each other?
Habib: This show is dark but not about gangsters. It’s dark because of what poeple are fighting for. It’s a do or die situation. I was looking for actors who express being cornered and then fighting back without the melodrama of what TV or feature films offer. If you’re watching this show, you should feel that you are in their living room sitting in some corner and watching it unfold. And almost as if they are your own set of people.
We stereotype writers, actors or directors. For example, people think I can only do middle class but that’s not the case. I can do gangster, upper upper upper rich class and science fiction, anything. It boils down to storytelling. I was confused if this was Amol’s zone, then we met and did some workshops for him to let go and give up all hangups. Later, I found out that I should not go with any preconceived notions. I learnt that it was wrong of me to stereotype.
Our profession allows us to interact with people much younger or older than us. If I’m talking to him about to him about a certain moment, I can’t quote films like Ijazat. I don’t like giving references but I had to be able to excite him without being a fuddy duddy or a wannabe young person. We have to constantly learn and reinvent. It’s interesting to see how they see the world.
Amol: I will steal one of the thoughts from what he said. Every actor or person is lazy because you find the easiest way to do something falling back on what you know. Mostly, speed is given merit. What I enjoyed was that there’s a certain pattern and short-term solutions for certain scenes. I came with those set of tricks. I learnt that during the workshop with Habib, what I was getting into and he did not want my bag of tricks. He asked ‘What can we do more and break these moulds and reinvent?’ There are quite a few scenes where if I was left to myself I would do them a certain way. But I started broke structures here.
At that workshop, we were supposed to meet briefly but we spent three hours. I also got slapped. I didn’t think it was a big deal but I calls later from the production. It was theatrical. He was playing my father. We were improvising and looking for different ways to do the scene. It was a calculated theatrical slap because that’s what we do on stage. It’s emotional, has the sound but doesn’t hurt. I cried in the scene. Then we moved on.
Habib: The production was wondering which director have to brought. Our webstar will say no. They were like whom do we fire, the actor or the director.
You have veterans and an actor who works for the web primarily. How was the casting decision done?
Habib: With most of the directors and writers, you write characters. You’re not looking for veterans or newcomers, you want good actors who will create an entertaining character. Writing is just a blueprint. What is the physicality and energy of the person matters. When I wrote Do dooni chaar, I created my own growing up space and I was looking for an actor who would be perfect on the roly poly Priya scooter with a roly poly helmet. And the only roly poly actor around — Anupam Kher is not roly poly, Naseeruddin Shah has done 10,000 roles of that variety, Kher also did in Khosla ka ghosla — was Rishi Kapoor. If I had found a newcomer who was equally good great. Of course, moneybags will approach it a different way.
Amol’s work was there on the webspace, Chetna, we found through casting director. Just because his work was there doesn’t mean he would get the part. He did have to be slapped. In Annu Kapoor’s case, it’s great to have an actor with the energy opposite to that of the character. He is described as a scared middle class man with droopy shoulders but Annu Kapoor has a crazy energy. If I took an actor with the same energy of the character it would have been disaster, nobody would be entertained. I thought that if Vicky Donor’s doctor goes home and has a tragic story of his own, he’ll still be the same. With Supriya, I saw her short film Jai Mata Di, where she plays a wicked woman. Contemporary, modern and urban women. I see wicked in a positive way. I like wicked. That gave me the idea that what’s she’s capable of. In mainstream, she plays less energetic roles. Her own energy is also great.
Veterans forget their past work when they come to work. I don’t think that I have a National Award at home.
Is there a difference between art and commercial movies?
Habib: We, the creators, don’t do it. Everything being made is commercial. If someone is putting their money they want it back at least if not more. Difference is in formulae grammar and experiment. In the avant garde days in Europe, nobody was calling it commerical and New Wave. There was avant garde and mainstream. There was no NFDC funding there. Pathe and Hollywood studios were both putting in money and wanted it back. Both the grammars require huge amount of talent and apptitude. You can’t just make a Chennai Express without thought. There were Tamil characters who will not speak in Hindi for a huge Hindi speaking audience. In their own formulaic manner, they did say something about women’s rights by putting Deepika Padukone’s name before Shah Rukh’s.
The music in your films has played a very central part. Is that organic?
Habib: I am a Vivid Bharti kid. At 7.30 am in the morning there used to be a show where they would play a raag then they would play a film song based on that raag. That show will get over at 7.45 am, then followed a show about new releases. It would be over by 8 am. If I didn’t get ready by the time that show was over I would definitely get late for school. That is how our lives were timed. By the time, one comes back home by 2.30, there used to be sponsored programmes on radio.
It started with 1983 World Cup. Before that, it was not allowed. So those were about new movie releases. They would play “Mere naseeb mein” and then Kabban Mirza would be there and there were bytes from Amitabh Bacchan. He was a superstar in Mumbai and I’m a kid here.
I have an ingrained understanding of music. Earlier, the story would stop with the songs but now again the trend of the narrative continuing with the music has come back. Like Kaanton se kheech ke aanchal is when you get to know what Waheeda Rahman is all about and Raju, the guide is following her.
We work in the song in the screenplay and the thought. This Muslim girl who met this guy who the family is supposed to hate and she’s confused how her hate has become love was all written down. When Quasar Munir and I started discussing the song, she’s repeating Bulle Shah’s pareshan as a chant and pareshan the song of Ishaqzaade happened.
You have done comedy and romance before. How did you choose to do Home?
Amol: If something new comes to me and is exciting I take it up. Web shows, the majority of them have followed a certain genre. Maybe, it’s believed that only a certain section watches shows online but there’s proof that everyone is watching. My parents watch stuff online. They won’t watch what I’m watching. This show is different from what the majority believes what should go in a web show. It does not assume that only comedy or light-hearted would work. This is purely telling a story and being honest with it and the setting without calculating the target audience. I believed in the story when I heard it. As an actor, when you get an opportunity like that, you should jump into it.