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December 07, 2007 - Source: Screen India

For the first time ever, six Indian directors come together to make a film with ten short stories. As Dus Kahaniyaan hits the screens this week, Screen meets up with four of the visionaries at the White Feather Films office

Why is your gang of six two less today?
Sanjay Gupta: Apoorva Lakhia is busy filming in Turkey and Rohit Roy is away shooting.
How did you hit upon the idea of working on a film with ten different tales incorporated in one film?
Jasmeet Dhodi: I have been associated with Sanjay’s films since a long time and when he decided to make Dus Kahaniyaan, he gave me one film to direct. So, I make my directorial debut with this film.
Hansal Mehta: When I had come to meet him after Zinda, Sanjay told me about his idea of making a film with ten stories and that he was looking for subjects. Meghna had one story.
SG: We began inviting writers and soon we had about 20-30 stories. After that it was a matter of selecting them. Each one of us was given a batch of stories for selection.
Meghna Gulzar: I was to do a horror story first. But then we came across this far more powerful tale and we decided to stick with this subject. It is called Pooranmashi and is based on a Punjabi short story. A very powerful tale, it is about a mother-daughter relationship, based in the rural Punjab of the ‘seventies.

Going by the trend, you too have a story set in the ‘70s.
MG: No. It is not set in the disco period or the angry young man era.
SG: Neither has it anything to do with being retro.
MG: Actually it could have even been the present day rural Punjab but we thought it could add a better sense of curiosity given the time period.
HM: That’s right. Anyway nothing much has changed in Punjab.
MG: There is no electricity in some villages even today. So we chose to go without bijli and have used lanterns most of the time.

Tell us briefly about your films
JD: My film is called Lovedale. There is a hill station by the same name and the film was shot mostly there. It is a very simple story of the journey of a young girl and how it changes her life.
HM: My story is called High On The Highway. It is about alcoholics. (All break into laughter) It is about what shouldn’t happen when you are high. The film stars Jimmy Sheirgill and Masumeh.
SG: Especially when someone is an anonymous alcoholic.
JD: And Hansal was so inspired by his own film that he quit alcohol after that. (Everyone laughs)
SG: No actually he quit after watching the film. (Laughter again) Okay now ask us about our experience while doing these films?

Go ahead.
SG: While Meghna, Jasmeet, Rohit and Apoorva have directed a film each, Hansal has made one and a half films and I have made four and a half films. Actually, Rise and Fall has two narratives, two stories unfolding at the same time. We broke it up and I shot one portion and Hansal shot the other. I edited one and he edited one. I mixed one and he mixed one. That was my rise and his fall. (A roar of laughter)
Of my films, the first one I did was Matrimony with Arbaaz Khan, Mandira Bedi and Sudhanshu Pandey. That is the first film in the series and since it worked we moved on to the second film Zahir with Manoj Bajpai and Dia Mirza. Both films deal with urban stories of life and relationships. The third film was Gubbare.

So which of these is your favourite?

SG: Gubbare, of course. For two reasons. Firstly, I got to work with Gulzarsaab, my God and secondly I got to work with Nana Patekar. And also the fact being that it is a simple story told very simply. Before going on the sets, I never give a thought about my scenes, things would just fall into place but here I was actually thinking where I was going to place the camera, where I was going to shoot the scenes and so on. Most of the film takes place on a bus journey and to hold a scene for seven minutes was very difficult. After that I did a film called Strangers In The Night with Mahesh Manjrekar and Neha Dhupia.

What about the other stories?
SG: Let me tell you about the film that Apoorva Lakhia has done. Jasmeet brought a writer Shibani Tibrewala who gave us a couple of concepts for short stories. One of them was very interesting. It is the only film in the series dealing with thrills and a supernatural element. Appu liked the story and this was just when we had started work on Shootout At Lokhandwala. After finishing the first major schedule for Shootout…, he left for Goa to start work with Dino Morea and new girl Tareena Patel. They had a blast and partied hard. In fact they had the best time there when we were struggling. The film is called Sex On The Beach.
JD: The name says it all. (Laughs)
SG: Yes. There was another story that I had come across on the Internet and thought it was good. I developed the idea along with another friend of mine Sudipto Chattopadhyay and that was Rice Plate, which Rohit Roy opted to direct. Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi are the actors in this film.

Rohit (over the phone) how did a first-time director like you manage to convince Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi to come together on screen after twenty years?
Rohit Roy: Once I got the basic germ of the story from Sanjay, I had it written by Sudipto Chattopadyay. The format of Dus Kahaniyaan was such that only ten minutes were assigned to one story. I needed actors with tremendous capability to convey all the emotions, even through silences. Only Naseerbhai and Shabanaji could do it. When Sanjay and I narrated the script, Naseerbhai was indulgent towards me. He wasn’t averse to giving a first-timer a chance and that increased my confidence.

How did you convince Shabana?
RR: Once Shabanaji realised the extent of my involvement she was bang-on. She plays a Tamil Brahmin in the film and she even went shopping in the by-lanes of Matunga to get traditional South sarees, for the film.

How did you overcome your nervousness of calling, “cut!” or “retake”, to these seasoned artistes?
RR: I had done my homework thoroughly. Once when I asked for a retake, Naseerbhai looked at Shabanaji with an Iss ko kya chahiye expression? But since I had logical answers to all their queries, the shooting was a breeze.

Having seen Ram Gopal Varma’s attempts with episodic films fail at the box-office, why did you choose to go ahead with a film on multiple stories?
MG: One thing that has to be made clear is that ours is not an episodic film but ten independent stories.
HM: Actually the whole idea of making Darna Zaroori Hain was because people dar nahin paye after watching Darna Mana Hai. (Laughter)
MG: Also with Dus ..., one is not forced to remember the previous story by the time you reach the second film. It’s different from what people have seen before. Its ten individual stories told to the audience one after the other. So, when you are watching the final story, you can afford not to remember what happened in the earlier stories. It’s like a ten fold cinematic experience.

Unlike watching a regular feature length film, do you think watching Dus Kahaniyaan would be like reading a short story instead of a novel?
SG: The RO at the Censor Board screening came out with this big grin on his face, and mind you, by that time he must have already seen a dozen odd crap movies in the day. So after his supposed everyday distress he watched Dus Kahaniyaan and actually liked it. He came up to me and said “Wah! Sanjay kya film hai, ekdum twenty-twenty cricket jaisi…” So, we have got ten ten-minute films, which makes Dus Kahaniyaan a mid-size variant of the hugely entertaining twenty-twenty cricket format. (Laughs)
HM: Yeah, our ten 10 will be more rocking than the twenty20!
SG: We did not set out with an agenda behind making this film. It was this one - off concept which I had to do. I got together with the team of directors at White Feather Films, we shot our first film Matrimony and things kept moving forward.
I know there is a lot of focus on these numbers associated with the film. Six directors, ten stories, and twenty-six stars, it all sounds very intimidating, but the point is this is a marketing fact. These numbers will help the film get noticed, but these numbers are a mere by-product of our creative venture. Had we set out to make a film with such extravagant numbers we would have fallen flat. It would have been too intimidating, even for us to take it through.

Why do you think people should go to watch your film?
HM: One of the strongest points of Dus Kahaniyaan is that each one of the ten stories being told in the film has a universal appeal to it. Regardless of their demographic classification, every human being will connect to either some or all stories at some level.
SG: Absolutely, be it Meghna’s Pooranmashi set in the orthodox Punjab of the ‘Seventies or be it Jasmeet’s contemporary film Lovedale, Hansal’s High On Highway or Rohit’s Rice Plate, they all speak about human relationships and emotions. So, at the root level they all have a universally viable theme.
There is a striking contrast between each film, the way they have been treated and where they have been shot. We have shot in Chandigarh, Bhagwa, Alibaug, Mumbai, Karjat, Pune and so many other places.
HM: Also, most of the short films made worldwide are quite bizarre and hard to comprehend.
MG: Yes, most of them end up being so arty and far away from common sensibility.
HM: And when you are watching these films you actually have to decipher hidden messages from their various arty levels. You have to deal with complex and obscure characters amongst other things. But in Dus Kahaniyaan what you see are simple stories, told in a simple way. They are made to common and contemporary sensibility. That’s what sets the film apart.
SG: Dus Kahaniyaan is literally like ten mini feature films. They might be of a shorter duration but they have the same amount of entertainment and moral value as a regular 2 to 3 hour film. And making them has been no less of a task. It’s taken an enormous amount of planning, co-ordination and execution to bring these ten works on screen. The task of making each one of them has been as tedious and gruelling as a normal film.

How do you justify this?
MG: Every film had a complete crew working on it. So apart from the main person in-charge every film had an individual coordinator who kept tabs on the films requirements at all times.

We heard you were planning a book on the film?
SG: Yes, I had his great idea for creating a book, but the publishers scared me. They said it would take at least a year to come out with a book. They said they would have to rewrite the stories, formulate layout, select pictures and a whole lot of other things and to do all that it would take a year or so. I don’t understand what’s so hard; I’ve got hardbound scripts, original stories, and great behind the scenes pictures. All that great stuff, just needs to be printed and bound. I really don’t know what is going to happen with the Dus Kahaniyaan book.

Who would you give credit to for this magnanimous film of yours?
SG: Since the project was an interesting concept we always had plenty of actors interested in it. Some had their doubts and others just kept us in a quandary with their yes, no… yes, no. But, those who ended up working with us showed tremendous faith in the film’s vision and they are now as important as family members. Each member of the team has been our pillar of support.
MG: Working with so many good actors has truly been a great pleasure. So many stars in a single film have not happened before and as exciting as it sounds, making Dus Kahaniyaan was an equally fantastic experience.