Film-maker Shashank Khaitan knew there would be no pleasing everyone when he decided to remake “Sairat”, the biggest hit in Marathi cinema. The 36-year-old director said he was braced for criticism and it didn’t deter him from making the film he wanted.
“Dhadak” (Heartbeat) opens in cinemas this week. The Bollywood film’s trailer has divided fans, some of whom say “Sairat” should not have been remade.
Khaitan spoke to Reuters on how “Dhadak” came about, what he liked about “Sairat”, and whether he treated actors Janhvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter like movie stars on the set.
Q: The story of “Sairat” and of “Dhadak” is not new. We’ve seen films on star-crossed lovers for many years now. What was it about “Sairat” that it stood out?
A: As you said, a Romeo-Juliet or a Laila-Majnu story has been told for years on end, and the reason it continues to be told is that these things continue to happen. In real life, people are still facing opposition, people are still not free to choose the love they want. Statistics say four people in India die of honour killing or are forced to commit suicide because of honour killing every day.
What I loved about “Sairat” when I saw it, was that there was a certain drama about everything in that movie in the first half - it almost seemed larger-than-life. And then it had a second half which was so real and stark, that it felt like two different films, and yet you knew it was the same journey. That was a beautiful feeling as a director to learn from. When I started writing “Dhadak”, I also wanted to capture that grandness of emotion and the starkness of real life, but give my spin to it. Hopefully, people will recognize the difference and yet celebrate that we have kept the essence of “Sairat” and acknowledge that.
Q: One of the main themes in “Sairat” was caste. Is that also a theme in “Dhadak”?
A: Definitely. You cannot make a film like that if you do not acknowledge it. In fact, whether it is caste or class and social economic differences, they are inter-related in society. Those are entanglements of which you cannot cut off just one branch. You have to deal with it as a whole perspective. There are a lot of things I have done in “Dhadak” which directly target it, and some of the things are done on a subtext level. If you look at it carefully, you’ll realise that the layer runs through the film, but it is not necessarily in your face.
Q: The other noticeable difference between “Dhadak” and “Sairat” is the look. Your film looks more airbrushed, more polished. Was that conscious?
A: Not at all. I wanted to set the film in Udaipur because of the people there. The germ of Udaipur is very royal. You will see that people have pride in their city and that is what I wanted to capture. I have heard of terms like ‘airbrushed’ but all I have done is put a camera on Udaipur. That is how the city looks. I didn’t want to unnecessarily desanitise it just to be fake. My effort was not to make a sanitised version of “Sairat”, it just came from where I wanted to set it.
Q: Can you speak about the writing process of the film?
A: It started with me loving “Sairat” and wanting to make it. After being sure that I was making it, I started to disconnect from the original - otherwise I would have ended up making a pure replica. The film released in April 2016. By July I had seen it thrice, and then forgotten about it. I moved on to finishing “Badrinath ki Dulhania”, which I was making then. Once I finished that film, I started writing “Dhadak” and I didn’t want “Sairat”. I just kept writing my film. A lot of the sequences in the original film came back to me instinctively, which I retained. The ones which didn’t come to me immediately are the ones I have eliminated. The process was one where a film inspired me, but I have to give it my voice.
Q: At the “Dhadak” trailer launch, producer Karan Johar said you are the most economical director Dharma Productions has. What does economy in film-making mean to you?
A: When you write a script, it comes with a budget. When you increase it, you become indulgent, and if you go below it, you are cheating your producer. Your executive producer breaks down the script and tells you how much everything will cost. Your producer tells you what the budget is, and says ‘if you don’t cross this budget, we are safe’. Then we are not looking at the box office to save us. You have made an economically viable film on paper, and that is what I try to stick to.
Q: Give that this a big ‘star kid’ launch, were you indulgent when it came to filming “Dhadak”?
A: Not at all. Because I was not launching anybody. I was just making the film I wanted to make. Honestly, if my idea was to make a very big blockbuster, I could have approached some of the bigger stars of this country, with two hit films behind me, and they would have given me an audience. Karan Johar told me when I wanted to make “Dhadak” that this could be the biggest decision in your life, or the biggest mistake in your life, depending on what kind of a film you make. Quality, not box-office. If you make a good film, you will be known as the director who worked with two newcomers and made a good film, but if you make a bad film, they will say ‘he can only work with stars, otherwise he makes bad films.’ I was very aware of that, and therefore I didn’t treat Janhvi (Kapoor) or Ishaan (Khatter) as stars. Karan (Johar) hadn’t seen anything of the film till it was over, and then he told me ‘you’ve made a good film’. So there was no indulgence, neither for the actors or me.
Q: Have you been in touch with anyone in the original “Sairat” team after the trailer of your film launched?
A: Unfortunately, I have not met them, then or now. But I have requested the Zee team that I would like them to see the film and share their views.
Q: Is it important to you how they feel about “Dhadak”?
A: As a film-maker, I would want to know … I don’t want to wait for the film to release to show it to them. It would be honourable if they saw it earlier. Because his (Nagraj Manjule) film inspired me so much - it inspired me to write something and dedicate a year-and-a-half of my life to it. Just out of respect and gratitude for that, I’d like to show it to him.