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Interview Marathi

June is a representation of life, says director duo Suhrud Godbole and Vaibhav Khisti

The first-time helmers' maiden venture was premiered at the 51st International Film Festival of India (IFFI) today.

Image: Courtesy IFFI on Twitter

Suyog Zore

Suhrud Godbole and Vaibhav Khisti's maiden directorial venture, June, has been in the news ever since the makers released two teasers which showed Neha Pendse and Siddharth Menon's characters taking solace in each other's company. The film had its premiere at the 51st International Film Festival of India (IFFI) on 19 January. Before the premiere, Godbole, who has worked as a creative producer on several films, and Khisti, who has been an associate director for the past seven to eight years, spoke to Cinestaan before the premiere on a variety of subjects such as the nature of their collaboration, the film's theme and the challenges they faced. 

June, your first film as directors, is about to be premiered at IFFI. What's going through your heads right now?

Honestly, we are very excited but at the same time there is a huge amount of pressure. We are very happy and satisfied that our film has been selected for IFFI, India's most prestigious film festival. 

Why did you pick this particular story for your directorial debut?

We wanted to tell a realistic story that would explore all emotions and June had all that.

Godbole: When you read a script like June, which is so strong, it's really difficult not to get enticed by it. We had been discussing the film on an idea level for a few years, but when I read the script for the first time, I was completely sold. The strength of the script was such that, at the reading session we immediately knew that it was going to be a special film. It was written in such a way that in today's situation it was even more relatable. We felt that this was a story that we needed to tell. So in a way, the script chose us more than the other way around. The strength of the script helped us to want to tell this story in the best possible way and give our best. We wanted to do justice to the superb script. Once you see the film, you will realize how relevant it is. In today's times when people have become like islands, they don't talk to each other. We felt that this story could help people realize the importance of having a conversation with loved ones or sharing their feelings and just going beyond chatting on social media.

It has been more than a year since you have finished filming. You must have worked on post-production during the lockdown. How did the two of you co-ordinate?

We spent the whole lockdown working on post-production. Vaibhav and I were always on Zoom and Google Meet with our music composer during the lockdown. We did the entire music remotely. That was a very different and unique experience for us. We also realized that most of the things could be done from home, and we managed to pull it off.

How did the two of you come together and why did you guys decide to co-direct?

Godbole: Actually, we have been working together in different capacities. Vaibhav has been associated with us for a long time when I was producing. [Producer] Nikhil Mahajan and our AD Rohit Satpute are also very good friends. So It was like a group of friends who were making a film. It was a very difficult and high-pressure film. We had very few days to shoot the entire film. Frankly speaking, It needed two people, extra brainpower and manpower to pull this off, so that was the thought behind both of us coming together and making this film. 

Khisti: I would also say we were always in sync with regards to the story. We both looked at it in the same way, so it was only natural to work together.

Wasn't there any differences of opinion or creative differences during the shoot?

Khisti: We have very different personalities. We are poles apart when it comes to being a basic human being but when it comes to the language of cinema, we have very similar tastes. We come from a similar school of thought. What we like and what we don't like is very similar so it is quite easy to work together when you have the same thinking process.

Nikhil Mahajan, who has written the script of the film,  has directed two films and two web-series. Did he give you any directing tips or inputs while making the film?

Khisti: We had complete support from him as a producer and writer.  Not particularly as a director but having the writer and producer, who has also directed films, on the sets has its advantages. I have worked on almost a dozen films, and very rarely I have seen a producer knowing exactly what the director or writer wants to say with his films. So in that regard, we were fortunate that we had a Nikhil as our producer because, having directed films and series, he knew exactly what we wanted and he was quite receptive if we wanted something different. So, having him as a producer made things easier for us as first-time directors.

Godbole: Nikhil was a creative producer, a job that I have been doing for the past few years. Normally production and direction are two separate fields. The producer never gets into the creative side and on a set, of course, directors do their job. In this case, the producer was also the writer of the film, so he was involved at every stage. Yes, he did suggest a few things. We would be utter fools if we don't take advantage of the fact that such a talented director was around. Even though he suggested a few things, we were free to do what we thought was right for the film. He never encroached upon our creative freedom. He never put pressure on us about any creative aspect of the film. The pressure only came from him as a producer, such as pushing us to finish a film on a tight schedule. It was to our advantage that our producer was a creative person because if we wanted something specific, he would understand our reasons. We didn't have to explain things to him, which was really encouraging for first-time directors.

Suhrud you have been a creative producer and Vaibhav you have been working as associate director for many years. Did your experience help you during the making of this film?

Godbole: In fact, it was a disadvantage for me. I had to very consciously remind myself that I should not think like a producer and only focus on the creative output. Initially, it took me a lot of time to unlearn and change my behaviour and approach, I think going forward I will be able to do it much more easily. Because it was my first film, it took me some time to switch over from thinking as a producer to thinking like a director.
The one slight advantage of being a creative producer was I was not overwhelmed when I reached the set, which could happen if you are directing your first film. I was quite used to the chaotic atmosphere. 

Khisti: Initially it took me some time to change my approach too. I have spent the last 7-8 years working on others' films, but now I was working on my own film, so there was a huge perspective change. Suhrud was more into producing, I was more into executing so we both had to change our perspective and our approach.

The two teasers you shared give off a very melancholic vibe. Can we expect the same kind of tone in the film?

Godbole: It's too early to reveal anything. One thing is sure: we have approached it in a very real and honest manner. You can say that June is a representation of life. Life is like a roller-coaster ride full of ups and downs. There is a lot of happiness, a lot of sadness, there is a lot of hope, there is a lot of devastation, so you can say that this film is a slice of life. It gives you the entire emotional journey of what it means to come of age, but it is not a coming-of-age film. It gives you an idea about what love is but it is not a romantic film. I know it sounds very ambiguous, but let it be.

Khisti: It is an emotional and tender story. I can assure you once you watch it you will realize that there lot more shades to it than just melancholy.

How do you plan to release the film?

We would first like to finish a few amazing festivals we have in hand. We are eager to know their response to the film. We are in a very weird time right now. This year has been very different and weird. So now we have decided to take it one step at a time and see what is the best way for this film to reach as many people as possible. One thing is sure: we have made this film for the people. We want people to watch this film so we are still figuring it out. For a change, I don't know anything about it yet because I'm not the producer this time. But our producers have charted a plan keeping in mind that we want this film to reach as many people as possible, not just in Maharashtra but all over India. Because we believe that it is an Indian film in the Marathi language. From day one, we have been saying that we are not making a Marathi film. It is an Indian film, it's just that the characters happen to speak in Marathi.

What was the idea behind the unusual casting of Neha Pendse and Siddharth Menon?

Khisti: The first thing you want to consider [when casting] is who can actually pull off the character. In our first film, we wanted to be sure that we cast actors who could actually pull off their roles. We knew that both Neha and Siddharth could actually pull off their roles.

Godbole: Specifically, we have not seen Neha like this in any previous film and show. And I can assure you that Neha is going to surprise everyone. People assume that she only looks good and can only play simple roles, but she is a fantastic actor. I know I'm singling her out but that is because of people's expectations. We know Siddharth is an amazing actor and the kind of work he has done is there for everyone to see.

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