Two years ago, former model and actor, Samir Soni met Karan Johar to bounce off a plot he had in mind. Johar asked him to sum it up in a line. “I decided to give him a 10-minute narration and if he didn’t like it, I wouldn’t go ahead,” says Soni revealing that Johar ended up listening intently for 45 minutes and went on to suggest that Soni direct it. The actor, till then, hadn’t given “going behind the camera” a serious thought. “I have been in the industry for 20 years so I am aware of the technicalities but I hadn’t actually assisted anyone till then,” says the actor who decided to seek his friend Sanjay Suri’s opinion. “Sanjay was intrigued and liked the idea. When I asked him to act in it, without missing a beat, he agreed.”
Playing mind games
Soni’s directorial debut My Birthday Song deals with a series of twisted events that blurs the fine line between past, present and future. The film is a psychological thriller, a genre Bollywood still grapples with. “The audience is smarter now and when they watch a film, half their brain is watching it intently while the other half is guessing next scene. In nine out of 10 times, the first half an hour of such films give away the suspense,” says Soni citing examples of Sixth Sense, Memento and The prestige as thrillers that keep the audience hooked. “I like films that task the intellect and don’t spoon-feed its audience,” he says admitting that the challenge is to stay a step ahead of the audience and create a riddle that will keep the viewers involved till the end.
The film is co-produced by him and Sanjay Suri under their banner Kahwa Entertainment. Soni’s decision to financially invest in the film owes to his confidence about his film. “If I go to an investor, he will turn around and ask me why don’t I invest, if I think it is a good film?” he states. Teaming up with his long-time friend was a natural progression where each settled into their respective roles. “I am in charge of the creative side of things while Sanjay handles the administrative and the business aspect because of his experience in independent cinema which I don’t have. But we have always trusted each other’s judgement. Creatively, I would ask him for his opinion but in the end, I had my say. Likewise, for business decision, he would check with me but in the end, I would trust his judgement,” he reveals.
The film also stars Canadian model Nora Fatehi who Soni claims is the film’s “surprise package”. The makers wanted someone who would be able to fit into the complicated, complex character and yet be vulnerable and sensual at the same time. “Like the character she plays, Fatehi is from Canada and is a strong, independent individual. That’s how she portrays herself in the screen as well,” says the director as he explains why he didn’t make Fatehi speak in Hindi. “If I show a girl who lived abroad speaking in pure Hindi, it will look ridiculous. Though Nora speaks decent Hindi, she ends up focusing too much on her diction as that is a foreign language to her”
While the advent of digital space has made it easier for films to reach a bigger audience, marketing and releasing a film still remains a challenge says the newbie director,“With every indie film that does well, there are 10 that don’t and few more that don’t see the light of the day.” Soni believes that the problem is not of getting the audience to see the film but of getting right exhibition space. “For us, locking it for January 19th was a very difficult process. The upcoming big films will take most shows and our film will be the second choice. We are still competing for space with the big guys. Making a film has become cheaper but marketing and releasing it still remains the challenge,” shares Soni.
Suri’s last film as the lead actor Chauranga won Golden Gateway of India for Best Film (India Gold) at 16th Mumbai Film Festival in 2014 but the makers have no intention of doing the festival circuit. “Chauranga, did well because it is about a small village. Ours is a commercial film and is very urban,” he says, adding that international festivals expect a specific kind of films from a certain region. “They want to see films on poverty, caste and religion from India. They aren’t keen to see urban India.”
Soni who has been a part of popular shows such as Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin, Parichay among others is not in a hurry to take up projects for the small screen. “I get a lot of offers for shows I don’t see myself fitting into. I have been a natural actor and to suddenly wear a mukut on my head and say Parth and yatharth — I will die laughing,” says Soni.