Interview Hindi

Stayed true to Sairat's essence, but Dhadak has its own language: Shashank Khaitan

Director Khaitan takes a volley of questions on whether Dharma Productions and Karan Johar influenced the Sairat remake, going with the original music composers, and more.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Suparna Thombare

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017) maker Shashank Khaitan, known as the director who brought Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions back to its Indian roots, has taken on perhaps his biggest challenge this time round — remaking the Marathi blockbuster Sairat (2016) in Hindi.

Khaitan has taken his lead characters, played by Janhvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter, out of a village in Maharashtra's Solapur district and placed them in the royal city of Udaipur, Rajasthan. Still a little removed from urban centres like Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai, Udaipur has its own charm, and that is visible in the trailers.

There are several complaints against Khaitan, especially from those who have watched Nagraj Popatrao Manjule's original, for the ‘unrealistic portrayal and glamorization of small-town India’, based on the promotional material that has been released so far.

When we met the director, it was quite obvious that we would investigate if Dharma Productions or Karan Johar had made a glamorized version of Sairat, which has the caste system and honour killing at its core, or it was just a matter of audience perception.

We threw a bunch of questions that may be troubling your mind about Dhadak at Khaitan, and he took them all sportingly, replying to each question, justifying his choices, and offering some insights into the film in the process. Here are edited excerpts of the interview:

On glamorizing Udaipur in Dhadak

My local roots are not glamorized. Udaipur itself is glamorous. I didn’t have to make any special effort to glamorize it and that was never the intent. If you have been to Udaipur... even if you click a picture it looks beautiful.

There has been a certain discussion that have you strayed away from reality and made it a glamorous Dharma film. I think when people see the film, they will realize that Udaipur is a character. That’s how the city is. It has a certain kind of royalty there. It's a city I am very fond of. I have travelled a lot there.

When I decided to make Sairat into Dhadak, I was very sure that’s where I wanted to set the film. I understand that city. I wanted to present it the way it is. There was no idea to glamorize it, or, for that matter, to pull it down and say ‘isko aur gareeb dikhane ki zaroorat hai’. I have tried to be as authentic as I can. Lake Pichola is what it revolves around. If you stand on any terrace, it looks like one of the most beautiful places on earth. And that was the effort, to be honest.

On the film being only Dharma-gareeb or realistic

It rewards me by giving me another film so... When I finished writing a draft of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014), a lot of my friends told me don’t go to Dharma, they are never going to make that movie. [But] that’s the only company I approached. I went there first because I thought if I have to hear a no, I should hear it from them. I came, narrated the script to the creative team. Three weeks later, I am sitting in front of Karan Johar and he said, 'Let's make this movie.'

There was never a discussion ki ye gareeb lag raha hai ya yeh kaunsi duniya hai. We don’t give as much credit to Karan Johar’s intelligence as we should because he has been a producer for so many years. There is something that he is doing right, that he understands.

There was never a discussion after that when I said I want to set my film in Jharkhand, Jhansi or Kota. He has never asked me why. He has read the script and said, ‘It’s a lovely story’.

Only when the films work do the cities work. If the story fails, you can set the film anywhere, ‘yeh kyun wahaan gaye, yeh toh Bombay mein bhi ban jaati.’

So I think the effort really is to pick up characters from these respective cities and then say that ‘what do they add to the film?’ What is the journey of these characters through the movie. If that journey feels authentic, then the place also feels authentic.

On glamorizing the look of the lead characters (or not)

Actually they [his lead artistes] are more gareeb [poor] than if you actually go to Udaipur and see... if you walk the streets of Udaipur. Today, people everywhere are shopping online. The biggest consumers of online are not us, sitting in the metros. It’s these tier II cities who are logging in every day. And there is a brand and then there is a cheap rip-off of the brand available everywhere.

So we are kind of stuck in our own time and we have preconceived notions about how people are dressing in towns. What we need to do is, unfortunately, when we make movies, is ‘arre nahi yaar, thoda gareeb dikhate hain taki lage aisa’.

So we have not made any effort [to glamorize]. Madhukar Bagla, who is Ishaan, he looks like any other guy who lives in Udaipur. The character is of Parthvi and she is a rich girl in the film. So she is going to dress up how those girls [dress] over there. Just because I am making a Dharma film, to prove that ‘no no, they should look authentic’, I can’t suddenly make her gareeb. She is going to wear what she is wearing... when I was travelling I saw people wearing those clothes and that was the brief given to our designers.

A lot of this comes from the fact that we say 'oh Dharma is making this film, so we will do this with it'. But all these things get shattered when they see the movie.

Even when I was making Badrinath..., a lot of people said, ‘Arre yeh to bahut glamorous lag raha hai’. But when they saw the film, they realized it is authentic. Even when people see Dhadak, they will realize we have just been true to the city in which it is based. When people walk out, I hope they would have loved the story.

On comparisons with Sairat and the criticism 

When you make any creative work, you put it out there. Some are going to appreciate it, some are going to dislike it. The biggest gratitude in my life is that I am getting to make movies. I think that is the most envious position to be in. I am blessed I am getting to make it.

I am sure when I make my next film, which will be an original film, there will be a lot of people who will like that and there will be some people who dislike it as well. That cannot stop me or bog me down. I genuinely don’t react to it. I am not even reading so much of it because I am doing my job. My job is to make a film, put it out there, and promote it. Based on that, hopefully, people will come and see it. If they like it, very good, if they criticize it, I will go back and reflect on what I did wrong. 

On staying true to the original

That film [Sairat] inspired me so much that the day I saw it I told Karan I want to adapt it. That’s what the impact of the film was.

I have tried to be true to the essence of the movie. Yet, it's important that I give it my own voice. It cannot be the identical same film because otherwise we would have just dubbed it and released it.

I wanted to tell a story from my experience. The topic of the film is very relevant. It’s a topic which plagues our country. I wanted to say it in my own language.

We have been true to the essence of Sairat, but I feel Dhadak is our film. It has got its own unique language and I am hoping that when people see the film they will appreciate it. 

On the 'Dharma-ization' of the lead characters

You need to be true to the region. When I decide to set a particular film in a land, in this case Udaipur, I decide to give them a certain economic background. Then I delve deeper to say what brings about those characteristics in that character. There is this girl who is rich and lives in Udaipur. She comes from a certain royal background. What is her demeanour and behaviour like?

Similarly, Madhu, who is this small-town boy from Udaipur hustling every day to make something of his life. He would have a different aura or energy about him, which is going to be different from Parshya in Sairat. Udaipur is a big tourist destination and because of that you will see that there is a certain language the film has or that region has that is different. You will meet young boys there who know functional English to sell a product, but they cannot answer anything else in English.

These are interesting things I have learnt along the way knowing Udaipur and these are the things I have brought into the film. So yes, definite differences in characters. And you will see new shades of the characters. It would have been very easy for me to cheat and show characters in the same way [as the original]. Then there would have been no effort on my part. I wanted it to be true to the region I have set it in, then say here come my two characters and now experience their journey. 

On swapping caste conflict for class conflict. A safer option?

When it comes to class and caste — socio-economic structure, that’s the tangle you find society in. And you can’t cut off either one. All of them are related. People can be from two different castes, but if they are rich, somehow they will find synergy among themselves. We need to be understanding and respect the fact that we are making a Hindi film. It's for a broader audience. It cannot get so state-specific that the other states get disconnected.

We have definitely touched upon all these issues in our way. On a subtext level it [the socio-economic divide] is present in every scene of the film. On a text level, where we wanted it to be in your face, it is definitely present because you cannot make a movie like this and not talk about it.

We can choose to not show everything in the trailer because people should watch the film also. Trailer mein sab bata diya... aur ending bhi bata diya toh film dekhne aao hi mat [If we show everything, including the ending, in the trailer, why would anybody come to watch the film?].

On bringing Sairat music composers Ajay-Atul and the song 'Zingaat' to Dhadak

When we decided to remake Sairat and because it is an official adaptation, we thought that whatever we find right in the film we will take and whatever we feel we don't want we won't take. That was the advantage of officially approaching Zee.

I felt more than the lyrics, more than the music, the energy of 'Zingaat' is the energy of what half of my movie is. I have two kids who have such amazing energy. I think the energy just matched.

And when it came to 'Pehli Baar', the original of which was 'Yad Lagala', that song has such a languid flavour to it. It's got a theme. I felt like if I lose that song, I'll lose that theme, and I didn't want to lose it. For me, that theme is the theme of the film.

Just to keep those two was essential for me. And then I was like we need a title track which is unique. And so we came up with the Dhadak title song, which is an original. It became the most loved song of the album. So I feel we got a nice balance of some things from the original and some new.

On the Maharashtrian-style composition of 'Zingaat'

The word 'Zingaat' sounds Marathi, but that is also almost gibberish. It's not a real word. The song has electronics, it's got the dhol, which is quite universal. We feel like it's Marathi because it is in a Marathi film. We dance to Tamil songs at Punjabi weddings also. Everyone's playing everything. So we just said 'lets go with it'.