Interview Hindi

You can't teach comic timing: Raaj Shaandilyaa on writing and now directing Dream Girl

The writer is set to make his directorial debut with the quirky Dream Girl starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Nushrat Bharucha.

Shriram Iyengar

As a writer who has worked on the television show Comedy Circus and the movies Welcome Back (2015), Freaky Ali (2016) and Jabariya Jodi (2019), among others, Raaj Shaandilyaa needs no introduction to the comic arts. His directorial debut, Dream Girl, has already created a buzz among audiences by transforming the serious Ayushmann Khurrana of Article 15 (2019) into a man masquerading as a woman on the telephone.

At a media interaction ahead of the film's release, writer-director Shaandilyaa spoke about the art of comedy, working with Ayushmann Khurrana, and the genesis of the plot of his first film.

Arriving a bit flustered at the venue, Shaandilyaa confessed he was a little nervous and excited about the project. "Much like being the father of the bride," he quipped. "You have a lot of responsibilities as well as a lot of joy. You have to keep your eye on the little things, make sure no relative gets angry."

With Khurrana having struck a purple patch in 2018, the director was pleased with the opportunity to work with the actor. Praising his comic timing, Shaandilyaa said, "You can play around the emotions in a drama, but comic timing cannot be taught. Like they say in music, you can be besura [out of tune], but not be-taala [out of rhythm]. You can autotune the sur but not the taal." 

Dream Girl, produced by Balaji Motion Pictures, is set to be released on 13 September. Following are excerpts from the interview: 

How is it being the captain of the ship?

It is an amazing feeling. Much like being the father of the bride! You have a lot of responsibilities as well as a lot of joy. You have to keep your eye on the little things, make sure no relative gets angry at the wedding, take care of everything. I am enjoying it, but the pressure is always there.

After the script, it is the director of the project who matters for the cast. How did you manage to convince your cast through the narration?

I have always believed, since my television days, that narration is the key to comedy. The type of film you plan to make, from what you have written on paper, is reflected in your narration. Perhaps that habit of narrating worked in my favour. I told them the film will exactly be as I am narrating to you. It won't be an inch more or an inch less. I suppose that confidence worked for me. 

There is nothing such as a known director or an unknown. It is all about how well you can direct and control your content.

You have worked on Comedy Circus, Welcome Back, Freaky Ali. Is comedy your preferred zone? Or do you plan to work on something different in the future?

Don't fix it until it's broken. Jab tak radio baj raha hai, cell nikalna nahi chahiye [As long as the radio is playing, don't remove the cell]. You may find that the cell is fine, but now the radio stops working. 

How was it working with Ayushmann Khurrana?

Fantastic. We signed him on before Badhaai Ho (2018) and Andhadhun (2018). Now, he has hit a purple patch. It is a different experience to work with him. We knew each other from our television days. But we had never had the opportunity to interact closely. Our bonding was very good. He is a director's actor. 

Was he your first choice?

He was my first choice, of course. I never approached anyone else. When I was writing, I realized that there is a certain body language needed, a voice modulation, that he will be able to do better. 

How different is writing comedy from directing, and how tough was the experience?

When a chef cooks, the cooking and the serving processes are different. Writing is similar. Once the writing is done, the energy of the script needs to be transferred. When I write, I think from my viewpoint. When four different people combine on the project, the energy and timing might be different. To maintain the balance in such cases is very important. 

How important is it to find actors with the right comic timing?

You can play around the emotions in a drama, but comic timing cannot be taught. Like they say in music, you can be besura [out of tune] but not be-taala [out of rhythm]. You can autotune the sur but not the taal

Both of them [Ayushmann Khurrana and Nushrat Bharucha] have comedy timing. Ayushmann has such fantastic timing, which is obvious in the trailer. 

Background music is a very important part of comedy. How are you working on it, and what are you looking for in the score?

Abhishek Arora is working on the background score for the film. Even when I did Comedy Circus, we had Surender. The reason for his being chosen was not that we wanted music, it was the little nuances. His cues added the timing for the laughter for audiences. They underlined the punchline. 

Today, the BGM does the job of the judge in the movies. It prompts the audience to laugh at the right moments in the scene. I have seen some masters who laugh randomly, even in dramatic scenes in the film. Simply because it is a comedy film! The BGM also works to raise the energy level of the scene. 

How did the concept of Dream Girl come about?

Well, the thought had been there for a while. We had heard stories of men and boys pretending to be girls on Orkut. That continues today actually (laughs). I was not really planning to make a film on this. My co-writer, Nirmaan, had come up with the idea in 2013. I told him, 'Unless we come up with a unique story, the concept is pretty much old.' When the story formed, we sat down and wrote it in a flow. 

Is this a good platform to launch from?

Of course. With Ayushmann Khurrana, there is Ekta Kapoor producing the film. There are actors like Annu Kapoor, Vijay Raaz. I couldn't ask for anything better.

What are the next projects in the pipeline?

I am writing a couple of films. A couple of them are for Salman Khan's production house. I am also working on dialogues for a couple of Dharma Productions films. There is also Balaji Motion Pictures. Maybe I might work on my next film as well.