Their Birthday Song
It took us less than five minutes to decide that we are doing this together. We (he and director Samir Soni) have been old friends, colleagues and co-actors. He narrated it to me and it was very visual… I was completely engaged. Knowing that it was a thriller, I was very alert about loopholes.
Once he ended the narration, the first thing that I asked was, ‘Buddy, I hope you are directing it because you know it so well.’ He asked me, ‘Will you act in it?’ and I said I would love to. And then we looked at each other and said, ‘Who’s going to produce?’ So he said, ‘Let’s do it together.’ We are independent producers, so we knew that it may take time. But we wanted to make it unapologetically and not kind of fit into the job.
Was it a given that you would play the lead, or did you and Samir look at other options first?
If I wasn’t acting, then I would have wanted him to act in it, honestly… because he knew it so well. Also, I think the vision was very similar.
If Samir would have said that he wanted to act in it, then I would have asked him to act and direct and I would have produced it. And if that would have been difficult, then I would have directed it because I loved it so much. It was something that I had never heard or seen.
Was there any kind of prep that went into playing Rajiv, a character who seems more grey than black or white?
Personally, I don’t like to give tags. We all have all shades. Rajiv is a regular and successful guy — self-made, confident, go-getter. He is happily married and has two kids but he is also naughty at 40, which a lot of men are.
So do you identify with him in any way?
Now where he meets Sanjay Suri is very different. Some parts maybe… that he is self-made, but otherwise, no. Rajiv is dealing with a lot more than Sanjay Suri is.
Over the years, you’ve not only acted in meaningful films but also produced many of them. Do you think this is the best time to be making the films you’ve always wanted to make?
While it’s easier, there’s also an ocean out there. At one level it has become easier and at another level, you can get lost in that ocean because that’s a big black hole. You can keep hoping to get discovered but you may not. So everyone wants to go viral, but it’s not something that happens.
Though it’s considered an iconic film today and was talked about even then, do you think My Brother… Nikhil would have got a wider and more discerning audience if it had released today?
I am glad that it released when it did. It was slightly ahead of its time. It’s on digital platforms now and it will reach out. With Netflix and Amazon, straightaway in 180 countries you can be available. Whether you will be able to monetise it the way you want to, that’s a question mark. Everyone wants numbers. But yes, the reach would be much wider now.
Is there a filmmaker in you somewhere?
I don’t think so far. But I think I will definitely direct. I don’t know when, but I need to find that window and go on a solo trip to figure out what I want to do. So no plans right now, but maybe in 2019.
Why the title My Birthday Song?
The whole story starts with Sanjay’s (Suri, who plays Rajiv) 40th birthday. And certain things transpire… some dark things that happen. There’s this one film I had seen… Requiem for a Dream. I loved the word ‘requiem’ and I looked it up to see what it meant. I thought it would be interesting to have ‘A Birthday Requiem’, but then people would have to look up the dictionary to understand what it means. So the closest thing that I got to that was ‘song’. Hence, My Birthday Song.
Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan have tweeted the link to the trailer. That must have been special…
Also, Karan Johar, Manoj Bajpayee…. It’s a compliment and I am really moved. They say the film industry is a family and it isn’t very often that you experience that but in this case at a personal level, Sanjay and I are both extremely touched by the gestures.
Is a psychological thriller something you found yourself as a writer naturally gravitating to?
Yes, pretty much. I like psychological thrillers. I like films that people discuss even after they are over. I am more of a ‘mental’ guy than an emotional guy. So it was only logical that I would do such a story. This story was stuck in my mind for a couple of years and I had to make it happen.
What are your favourite films in the genre?
My god is Christopher Nolan. I think of him as my mentor. Alfred Hitchcock… I think film and storytelling is all about the screenplay…how you tell the story.
Was directing a process you enjoyed more than acting?
I took to direction like a duck takes to water because I knew the script inside out. Having been an actor for 20 years, I know how an actor thinks. A critical part about a director is dealing with actors. I read up about things… the technicalities. There were two things that I practised — one, to have a clear vision of what you want, and two, what kind of experience you want your audience to have. Getting the right people for the right job is important. Here the pressure was off me because I wasn’t acting. I didn’t have to tell the actors too much. If they weren’t right for the role, they wouldn’t have been there. I had a blast, though.
Most actors who turn directors tend to cast themselves in their films. What made you just stick to directing this film?
Yes, it was a conscious decision because when I wrote the script I didn’t write it to direct it. But I thought that if I ever want to direct, then this is the script because I have written it. I think anyone who acts and directs isn’t doing justice to either. I couldn’t have done it.
Is direction something that we will see you doing more of now?|
The experience was nice. I have been involved in the editing, the background score, everything… and that’s the greatest thing. I am a creative person and I get to express myself. So it’s extremely tempting; not that I am ever going to give up acting. Having said that, I have already written the next script. I will definitely be directing one more film, for sure. Beyond that, I don’t know.
How’s your wife Neelam reacted to the film?
Neelam and I don’t share the same taste, to begin with. So when I wrote the script she said, ‘Why are you making such a dark film, can’t you make something happy?’ Every step there was a question mark, but when she saw the final product she was really happy.
What made you sign up for My Birthday Song?
The chance to work with respected filmmakers and actors like Sanjay Suri and Samir Soni. I thought it would be a good chance for someone like me who’s not really perceived as an actor in the industry yet.
What was the toughest bit about playing your character?
My character is very intelligent, confident and mysterious. It wasn’t really difficult to play her. I think I was more intimidated because I was hoping that I was on the same acting level as Sanjay Suri while being in the same frame. He is a natural. So I always kept it in mind to keep it natural. That was what was playing at the back of my head.
Do you think this film will help spiral your career as an actor?
I think what it will do is bring to everyone’s attention that I am acting in it. It will be good in the long run. It won’t change anything drastically, it will be a slow process because naturally people who last longer in the industry have a nice and steady process. Nothing happens overnight. If something happens overnight then great, but I am quite happy with whatever project I have been a part of and the success that has come out of that.
What would you count as your highs so far and do you have any regrets?
It’s great. I am not really that picky about the kind of work I do. I started doing films and they didn’t do too well. Then I started doing films in the south and they have been amazing for me. From there I went to Bigg Boss (Season 9), which was a great platform for me. I think that kick-started my career here.
People started noticing me. Then I did some item numbers, music videos, and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa (Season 9). I think Jhalak was a turning point where the audience could connect with me properly and enjoy and respect my talent at the same time. And because of that, I have a strong social media following. I take my social media platforms and use them to my benefit and continue to entertain my fans and followers, through my comedy skits or dance videos or just my craziness… people get to see it all. And it’s through those videos that a lot of people in the industry get interested in me work-wise.
I shot this film three years ago. So for me I just look at my journey as a really good journey and I am very grateful. For me, it’s most important to create a brand, people should know who you are. I feel like I am going towards that direction. My music video with Harrdy Sandhu, Naah, has just released and is reaching 100 million views on YouTube. Everywhere I go, people are talking about it. So that’s a big high for me.
Fashion for you is…
It always changes. Sometimes I say it should be comfortable, but sometimes I like bling. Sometimes I like being extra!
A celebrity whose closet you want to sneak into…
Would definitely like to see Sonam Kapoor’s closet.
A travel destination on your bucket list…
I want to go to Mauritius.
A film you love rewatching…
Credit : The Telegraph India