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Honey Irani wants to return to filmmaking after a long break

The former child artiste-turned-screenwriter spoke exclusively with Cinestaan.com about working with the greats of Hindi cinema, the state of films today and a possible return to writing and directing.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Sonal Pandya

At one point, Honey Irani was one of the most sought after screenwriters to collaborate with. Irani won the Filmfare award for Best Story for her first film, Yash Chopra’s Lamhe (1991). Films like Aaina (1993) and Darr (1993) followed. The new millennium brought in two hits with Kya Kehna (2000) starring Preity Zinta and Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000) for Hrithik Roshan’s debut and more Filmfare awards. Since Krrish 3 (2013), Honey hasn’t worked on a new film in a while but that will change soon if she has her way.  

Cinestaan.com visited Irani at her spacious yet cosy bungalow in Bandra where the former child artiste talked about her journey to actor to screenwriter. She spoke about the draw of writing for films, “I wasn’t keen on acting. The first opportunity I got, I got married and then I had the children and then I had time in my hands, hence I started assisting slowly. I used to write short stories. Javed saab had read many of mine and he had said, ‘Listen, you have the talent and you should go on writing. You can do a good job of it. You can form a book of your short stories.’ And then I became an assistant because I always wanted to be a director. I was assisting Ramesh Talwar for quite some time. We did 3-4 films together. In between that, I was looking for a break to become a director. So I started writing stories so I thought maybe if I get a chance I’d like to direct this movie.”

Irani told her friend Pam Chopra [wife of Yash Chopra] about an idea for a TV series and she passed it to Yash who was keen to make a film out of the subject. That film was Aaina (1993). But before that she said, “He narrated the idea of Lamhe to me in five minutes and said, ‘Honey, can you do something about this film? Because I had this idea for many years and none of the writers I had asked to write about it could develop it.’ So in 15 days I wrote the screenplay for it. I was so excited and charged about the idea. So that’s how it started.”

Lamhe (1991) completed 25 years this past November. The romantic drama did not do well when it released, but the ensuing years have turned the film into a cult classic. Irani feels the film’s subject did not sit well with audience, “Initially, it was a jhatka for people. When it was released again, it did very well. After that it just took off.”

The project that Honey Irani would still like to make

Twenty-five years after her first story in Lamhe, Irani is eager to get back in the game and in the process of making another film. “Things are happening. I’ve taken a long break and I want to get back in it. My health wasn’t very good and I’m feeling much better [now],” she says.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Back when Irani was acting with her older sister Daisy in films like Qaidi No. 911 (1959) and Zameen Ke Taare (1960), she never thought of eventually writing for films. “I couldn’t think of becoming a writer because I wasn’t educated. At that time, [the writers] were very highly educated people. Sawaal hi nahin paida hota hai ke main badi hoke writer banoo. School toh jao pehle. [There was no question that I would become a writer. I had to go to school first.] So that I understood only later. I started writing just to be a good writer, you don’t have to be very educated, of course, education is very important. But the knowing, the feelings, understanding characters, understanding life, those things also can make you a good writer. If you’re very observant, you get onto [the] news and you understand, ‘Arre iski achchi film baan sakti hain [This will make a good film].’ So those skills, I guess, those must be in me, ever since childhood because I was working so hard, I was observing, I was seeing movies. I was working with good actors, I was in between good conversations so maybe those things have somewhere subconsciously been there.”

With Moti Sagar, Ashok Kumar and Sheikh Mukhtar

The environment in which she grew up in allowed Irani to observe the creative people around her. She considers herself lucky to be around the giants of the Hindi film industry during the 1950s and 1960s. “I feel I wish I had the sensibility when I was a kid. That 'oh my God, I’m sitting on the same table as Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahni, with Motilal, Nargis, Meena Kumari'. It didn’t strike you then. I used to be in and out of the makeup rooms, sitting with this [star] and sitting with that [star]. Yeh outdoor shoot main kisi ke hi makeup room main so gayi [On outdoor shoots, I used to fall asleep in anybody’s makeup rooms], it didn’t matter. So when you look back you feel, ‘Oh, my God, how privileged!’ Rajendra Kumar, Nimmi, Nutan, I’ve worked with all of them,” she reminisced.

Most of her films were with co-stars Rajendra Kumar and Meena Kumari and Irani recalls the close relationship she shared with the two stars. “I remember even when I grew up and I had met Rajendraji, Meenaji had passed away, and we were at a party and I was all dressed up in a sari and all. Rajendraji used to always call me ‘ghonchu’ [stupid yet lovable] because [director] Mahesh Kaul used to call all of us ‘ghonchu’, every actor is a ‘ghonchu’. I was 14 or 15 years old, so I really didn’t realise that where I am or what kind of people are around me, there were guys who were drinking, so he saw from far and said, ‘Ae, ghonchu, idhar aa! [Come here]’ So I went up to him. He says, ‘Udhar nahin kadha rehna [Don’t stand there], come and stand next to me.’ He was so protective.”

With Meena Kumari and Rajendra Kumar

Meena Kumari, she remembered, was always “like a mother to me”. Irani has wonderful memories of holding Vyjayanthimala’s hands as she felt the actress had beautiful hands, of working in Nutan’s film, and of her sister and herself flying kites on set with actor Dilip Kumar and Sunil Dutt. “Those kind of things, where do you do it now?” Irani rued.

Ek studio mein char, char set hote the. Toh har set pe koi na koi bada actor hota tha, sabka khaana saath lagta tha bahar. [Every studio had about four movie sets up and each one had some big actor on it. Everyone’s food was laid out together.] And everybody used to sit there and everybody used to criticise everybody’s work or praise [them]. It was so open. ‘Ke yaar, teri woh picture mein [In your film], I didn’t like that character you played.’ ‘Yeah, I made a mistake.’ ‘But what about that, that was fabulous.’ So those kindof things. And Rajji  [Kapoor] saying, ‘Uss tara ke baal mat banaya karo, tumko suit nahin karte [Don’t style your hair that way, it doesn’t suit you.’ Toh iss tara ki baatein hoti thi, itni [These kinds of things were talked about so] openly. [Today], everybody is waiting for the other person’s film to flop or worse.”

Times have changed now and that makes all the difference now. Irani feels with lesser press presence, “Kafi cheezein chhup jaati thi [Many things were under wraps]. (laughs) [Now] it’s become like an open book, everybody gets into everybody’s house and you know who’s doing what. It’s just sad. That magic has gone of the actor and you wanting to see that actor, dying to see that actor. Woh kya karta hoga, kya khata hoga, woh chali gayi [What he used to do, what he used to eat, it’s all gone]. Just sad. The fun of 15 weeks, silver jubilee, golden jubilee, that’s gone away. Dressing up and going for that function, it used to be a big thing. Now everything has come into your house. Ab toh aap mobile pe picture dekh lo [Now you can watch a film on your mobile], how sad!”

Irani also spoke candidly about the current state of Hindi films. “There are a lot of films being made but very few are the ones that you really like. You might say that I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t like to go watch a movie which has nothing to offer me, [which is] trying to shock me, more than giving me something. A female screaming bad words, is not something, it has to have so meaning. [In] Bandit Queen (1994), it has a background, a story, it’s her true story and when she’s speaking those lines, I am with her. But just for the sake of it, like Masti (2004) and these kinds of movies, these double meaning dialogues going on and on. I mean, it’s not my cup of tea.”

She added that she was shocked that people went to watch these films. Amongst the current crop of 2016 features, Irani named Rustom, Airlift, Neerja, Pink and Dear Zindgai as the films she liked at the theatres.

She also counts Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) as a commercially successful, as well as sensible film. Irani is also very proud of the films her children, Zoya and Farhan Akhtar, are making, counting them under the category of sensible films.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

They all discuss each other’s work. “We mail to each other though we are in the same house, but we keep mailing it so it’s easier. Whoever has time to read it, then we sit together — what is your opinion? ‘I feel like this.’ ‘Okay, I want to cut this, I want to make it shorter.’  ‘It’s too long Mom, do this.’ So all that goes on, which is really good, which is really healthy. They are younger so they react in a different way. When I read their scripts, I react in a different way. We have our fights also but it’s fun. ‘Main toh yeh nahin cut karungi [I will not cut this], I’m so personal.’ ‘Don’t be personal! ‘(laughs) It’s like that.”

The proud mother loves both their first films — Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and Luck By Chance (2009). And of course, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011). But both their first films were very good,” she says.

Surprisingly when asked if she would work on a film with them she replies, “I’ve honestly never given it a thought. Javed keeps writing dialogues and lyrics for them. But I just feel that they are such good writers themselves, beech mein maa apni taang ada rahi hain [In between, Mom is poking her nose in their work] (laughs), odd lagta hai [it seems odd]. I think alag departments hi better hain [different departments are better], otherwise we’d be pulling each other’s hair. So let’s see, maybe someday.”