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Interview Hindi

Have always been in love with rom-coms and wanted to explore the genre in my first film, says Taranveer Singh

Taranveer Singh, who is making his directorial debut with Tuesdays & Fridays, opens up about his journey, flipping genre conventions and casting new faces.

Suyog Zore

Taranveer Singh's debut film Tuesdays & Fridays was released in theatres on 19 February. Starring newcomers Anmol Thakeria Dhillon, son of yesteryear star Poonam Dhillon, and former Miss India Jhataleka Malhotra, the film is a breezy love story that explores the concept of dating and presents a fresh take on new-age romance.

Hailing from a non-film background, Taranveer Singh's journey to the director's chair has not been a walk in the park. Forget understanding the grammar of cinema, he had not even held a Handycam before getting admission to Whistling Woods International, the film school set up by filmmaker Subhash Ghai in Mumbai.

The director opened up on a host of subjects such as his first job as assistant director on Karthik Calling Karthik (2010) and his love for the rom-com genre in an e-mail interview with Cinestaan. Excerpts:

The film gives a unique twist to the girl-meets-boy trope. How did you come up with this idea?

When the shoot for my first film as assistant director (Karthik Calling Karthik) got over and the post-production for the film started, I requested the associate producer of the film, Amit Chandrra, to give me a proper official meeting as I wanted to pitch myself as a director to him. Naive, right? A fresh film school graduate, having worked on just one film as an assistant, here I was asking an industry person to give me a film to direct. And that too without a script. He was really sweet and told me that while I was a great assistant, no one would just give me a film to direct. For me, the ticket to getting my own directorial feature would be a good script that people want enough to let a first-time director make it. And that’s how I started actively looking for a story to tell.

I’ve always been in love with the rom-com genre. And I was pretty clear about exploring that as my first film. I just wanted to do it with my take on it. And that’s where I realized that most Hindi romances are pretty much ‘Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back by fighting society/parents/whatever may be the external conflict’. And that’s where I thought, why not flip that? How about girl fights for boy? And instead of an external villain, what if the conflict were the two people themselves? And that’s where the germ of Tuesdays & Fridays came from.

From the trailer, it looks like the film also explores the topic of open relationships. Weren't you apprehensive about exploring such a risque topic?

Honestly, while the film seems like it explores open relationships, it’s just a passing reference. It's more like an interesting peg to get the viewer’s attention. Yes, technically the characters are in an open relationship, but when you watch the film, you will realize it’s really not. It’s a lot more traditional and ‘Bollywood-friendly’ at its heart. Having said that, I really wish I can someday in the near future actually make a film about open relationships, as they fascinate me and are a reality today. Films usually need some time to catch up to reality. Hopefully, I’ll get to explore that in the OTT space. Fingers crossed.

Both leading artistes are making their Hindi cinema debut in this film. How did you cast them?

Both were among the many new actors I met in the process of casting a fresh lead pair. When Anmol walked into the office for the first time — or I should say limped in, as he had recently broken his foot playing football and needed a walker to move — he was so visibly upset about his condition and kept apologizing for it. Here was this six-foot-tall good-looking boy who had such a gentle demeanour and vulnerability oozing out of his eyes. He looked like the character I had imagined Varun to be. Plus, I loved his deep voice and soulful eyes.

As for Jhataleka, I had seen a phenomenal audition tape of hers where she enacted Alia Bhatt’s outburst scene from Imtiaz Ali's Highway (2015). While most audition tapes I had seen of girls were one or the other sweet romantic scene where they were obviously trying to present themselves as a ‘heroine’, here was a girl who just acted her heart out without worrying about all that. I met her and got to know that she is a trained Kathak dancer, which I guess explains the grace with which she presents herself. What clinched the deal was a dance tape she sent me where she was dancing up a storm to Madhuri Dixit’s song 'Aaja Nachle'. There was this old-school Hindi film heroine vibe to her that is just so rare to come by.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being a director?

First and foremost, it’s clearly communicating your vision to each and every cast and crew member of the film so that the movie in your head is exactly the movie everyone is making and working towards. Other than that, it’s primarily managing people. Egos, insecurities and relationships, on and off the shoot. If someone thinks they want to just concentrate on their art and the story they want to tell without having to worry about anything else, it’ll be almost impossible for them to direct a film, I feel.

You are being launched by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. This is a dream debut for any newcomer. How did he get on board?

I was pitching the script in the industry when I got a call from Shobha Sant [ex-CEO, Bhansali Productions] as she had heard about it. She told me she would like to take the script to Mr Bhansali as a potential project to be produced under his banner. While I was sceptical, as my script was not what I thought he would be interested in, she had faith in the film and in me. In fact, she was single-handedly responsible for making the film happen at Bhansali Productions. I think she pitched it as a film that would be an interesting small-budget rom-com that would add a different flavour to the Bhansali Productions library. And I’ll be eternally thankful to her.

You are not from a film background. Can you tell us about your journey from an outsider to finally making your first movie?

I think the journey officially started when I signed up for film school [Whistling Woods International]. I was always in love with films but had no idea how they were made. I hadn’t as much as held a Handycam and shot a home video. Whistling Woods helped me understand the grammar of filmmaking.

After that, I was lucky enough to land my first job as a director’s assistant to Vijay Lalwani despite the industry having just hit a recession in 2008 while a lot of films were getting shelved. It’s tough to land your first job despite a film school education.

I assisted on three films, the last being Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) at Dharma Productions. After which I took a conscious decision to stop working as an AD and pitch myself as a director. It needs a lot of fake confidence to go tell someone to give you crores of rupees just because you have written 100 pages of a script. But you have to be patient and keep trying. That’s the only way.

What advice would you like to give youngsters who wish to make films, especially in current times when there has been a lot of negativity surrounding the Hindi film industry.

It’s tough. It’s very tough. Do not believe anyone who says they had it easy. And it’s not glamorous. In fact, it’s the opposite. All the glamour you see is on the screen or on magazine covers. It’s a lot of hard work, sweat and tears, and just because you love films doesn’t necessarily mean you will love making them. You must really have the absolute and insane desire to tell a story to have to put yourself through what is needed to get a film made. Having said that, it’s the best job one can ask for. Sounds like a contradiction? Welcome to the world of movies.