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Decemeber 7, 2001
She is the latest to join the Generation X bandwagon of directors.
Success eluded the likes of Goldie Behl, Rakesh Mehra, Farhan Akhtar (Dil Chahta Hai did well only in the cities) and others of their ilk, but Meghna Gulzar is looking to break new ground with her debut film Filhaal.
Directing her first film has not been easy, but the only daughter of filmmaker and poet Gulzar and actress Rakhee admits to having been lucky.
"Sometimes, I wonder what made Jhamu Sugandh finance a rank newcomer like me. It's not everyday that one gets to work with greats like Manmohan Singh, Anu Malik, Nitin Desai. They all heard my viewpoint, despite the fact that I am a complete novice and executed it as if it was their dream. I had my actors come up to me with alternatives for costumes, hairstyles, make-up, etc. They gave my film a lot."
Turning to direction did not come about by chance. After directing music videos and documentaries, Meghna assisted her father, Gulzar for Hu Tu Tu and Saaed Mirza for Naseem.
A film production course at New York University helped her realise that she was purely a hands-on person.
"But, filmmaking is very instinctive. It's your sensibility that cannot be taught or tutored, it can only be honed. It might have made me a bit more technically sound, but did not really help. I learnt a lot about shot breakdown and weaving the narrative from Saaed."
The choice to wield the director's baton was simple despite offers from the likes of Kamal Hassan, Abbas Mastan and more.
"I am very private person. Giving interviews does not come easy to me. I hate being scrutinised. My work being subjected to a few million eyes and opinion is fine. But I could never withstand that kind of curiosity about what I wear, the size of my hips, or what I do in my spare time," Meghna admits.
Filhaal was not her first script. Meghna had been working on another story for a few months. But having reached the climax of the film, she found that she had reached a block.
"I had grown out of the script and was back to the drawing board: my computer. While I was tinkering with it, I found a synopsis of something I had written earlier and thought would make a great subject for a first film."
The story fascinated her for eight months as she worked on the screenplay. "I was uncertain if it would work as a film. But when I showed it to my father, he was all game for it. He, however, warned me when I decided to direct it myself. He cautioned me about the unpunctuality, the attitude, the uncertain madness to the method that the industry functions in."
But Meghna has taken it in her stride and changed herself to fit in.
Once the story was thought over, writing the script was merely an enjoyable exercise.
"It is a very simple story. Written in the language that I speak. Coloured by my emotions, and I am a very emotional person. It has responses to a situation just like any other individual would react to it. The story worked on different dimensions. There was love, friendship and marriage. What drew me to it was the different layers and the subtexts in it."
The first few steps were hesitant. Meghna bounced ideas off her father. "He helped me through the basics of script-writing, since I had never written a full-length feature film on my own. Post-interval, I started work on my own, because the story had taken two different routes for us. I didn't want to convince my father about something I strongly believed in."
Throughout those eight months, Meghna found a patient ear in her husband, Govind, whom she would read out portions of her script or a scene.
Stepping back to observe the last year-and-a-half, Meghna feels scripting and filmmaking are creatively draining processes.
"I have been breathing, living and eating Filhaal. It's sheer passion for movie-making and this subject that has driven me."
There were times, when she wanted to just give up, especially when she found her self on outdoors where everything seemed to go wrong.
"On an outdoor, most crews shoot a straight eight hours. In Cape Town, the weather spoilt it all -- we were shooting a mere three hours. It was frustrating. When I now see the final product, it was worth every bit of the pain and the effort."
After the draining process of scripting, the making of Filhaal was more a 'people-management exercise'. 'A huge learning experience, which even assisting my dad and Saaed Mirza could not have prepared me for. It called for lots of patience, while dealing with crew and actors, motivating or soothing them continuously."
Somewhere the director and the friend had merged. "When they poured their day's story to me, I could not be unaffected. Even while I was playing 'director', there was someone's 'bad mood' to keep in mind, or even just his or her chirpy disposition to think about while working on a sad scene. My crew would not necessarily agree, they have nicknamed me 'Tyrant.'"
Meghna does not find herself fitting in any genre as a director.
"I have not been influenced by any kind of films or anyone. There would be a lot of my dad's touch in my work - the subtlety, the silence, the speech...are all inherited from him. Besides, comparisons are inevitable. However, while we think alike on paper, we are poles apart in a visual medium. My dad is more serious. His sets are more real, more downplayed; his films are stark. Filhaal, in comparison, reflects a certain gloss; it is younger in its sensibilities even while bordering on the serious and emotional."
Looking back at her mentors, she says, "My dad is a loner on the sets. Nobody, except him, will know what is going to happen next. It's all in his head. Saaed, on the other hand, is a very democratic filmmaker. There is a lot of discussion and debate about everything. It's a very thought-provoking set-up. I walk the middle path. I explain my scenes to my actors, but I will do what I have in mind till I am convinced otherwise."
She has her mood swings, too. "I am easy on some and a task-master to others." She ponders over scenes where her technique could have been improvised. She is fussy about how she wants her film to look, obsessed with details.
"Right now, I am like Monica from Friends. Maybe, the second time round, it will be easier."
She is objective about her effort. "I have my editor going at it ruthlessly and I don't get upset."
Tightlipped about her film and its story, Meghna spews monosyllabic answers.
Quiz her whether the film borders on surrogate motherhood or is it about female bonding and she defensively says, "They are all different tracks in the film. Yes, friendship is an important part of the film, but it is not a female version of Dil Chahta Hai."
Her casting created a fair amount of ripples and the director sighs as she explains, "In our film industry, it is always the male actors that are cast first. In my case, the story was written with Tabu in mind and she said that she had agreed to do so unconditionally. As a result, a lot of the mainstream commercial actors were uncomfortable doing the film. I wanted actors who were convinced about doing my film and their characters, not just work on it because it was another project. In fact, Tabu was the last person to be officially signed in the film."
Most women directors are known to make women-centric films. And that probably is what worked against her, she feels. "Men are not incidental, they are pivotal to the plot. The film talks about marriage and love. It's about four individuals whose lives change because of one decision. Thereafter, they are left with no choice but to wait and watch as the knots unravel."
The casting was easy for the director. "Tabu was just what Rewa needed to bring her to life: intense, deep, emotional and yet soft. Sushmita was true to her character with her fly-off-the-handle attitude, her effervescence and her sheer joie de vivre. Sanjay, like his persona on screen, is sweet, sensitive and kind. In fact, I loved the way the Tabu-Sanjay pair has shaped up on screen, looking so much in love with each other."
"The lovelorn image of Palash in his video Mai Re stayed on with me ever since I had seen it. He is the only person, who is unlike the soft, passive and patient character he was supposed to essay. I had to keep calming him down because he is very energetic and high-strung."
Despite the seemingly unbalanced equations of talent and exposure, the actors have brought amazing chemistry to the screen. "The promos on air prove that. We put a sofa on the sets, with the music of the film playing for eight hours in the background. And just let the four of them do their own thing. The result is obvious for anyone to see. And when Ashutosh Gowarikar called me to say how much he loved the promos, I was thrilled!"
While the buzz about the film has reached a pitch, Meghna is not pondering over the outcome. "There are no great expectations. Sure, I want the film to do well and the audience to walk with a positive, warm feeling after having seen it... I hope the effort that has gone into the making of the film is appreciated."
Even as she readies for a release at the end of this year, there is a certain calm about her. The restlessness and anxiety has settled down. For now, Meghna is waiting for her mother to see the film at the premiere. "My dad is more biased considering he dotes on me, while my mother is more critical. All my friends and my husband have seen it and liked it. But I want my mother to like it. I want her approval."
Nonetheless, the biggest compliment has come from her father. "I am proud of the director- was his verdict after he saw the film. My acid test was when Jhamu Sugandh, my producer, saw the film and loved every frame of it. That felt great."
There is a germ of an idea for a second film sitting on her computer, but that will have to wait till Filhaal is delivered. "It would be unfair and unfaithful to my first film, otherwise."
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