Ishaan, Janhvi and Shashank Khaitan
Chaya Unnikrishnan (DNA; July 12, 2018)

After helming two superhits, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), Shashank Khaitan is ready with his next directorial, Dhadak. The film, which is based on the Marathi blockbuster Sairat, will mark the debut of late Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter Janhvi. It also stars Ishaan who won acclaim for his debut movie, Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds. Here, the director talks about working with the newbies, comparisons with Sairat and why he wanted to tell a new story set in a different region.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Badrinath Ki Dulhania were based on original scripts. What prompted you to make an adaptation of Sairat?
I saw Sairat for the first time with my mother in Nashik. I remember I got out of the theatre shocked, excited and completely dazed. Immediately, the thought occurred to me that I should adapt it. I called Karan (Johar) and requested him to see Sairat. Within two days, I watched the film with him, again. Karan asked me why I wanted to adapt it, when it was already such a big hit. ‘What is it you want to tell that is different?’ he questioned. I took him through the changes that I wanted to make in terms of the set up, where I wanted to take the movie, how I wanted the characters to be slightly varied and the conflict that would be similar yet different at the same time. I wanted to take the essence of Sairat and make a film that would have my voice, which is Dhadak and give it its own identity.

What were the challenges while making Dhadak?
The challenges were the same as they were with my earlier films — to make an honest movie. Here, the responsibility was more because we were adapting not only a cult film of Maharashtra but also of India. I had to ensure that I made it with the same honesty, not try to justify anything but take the responsibility of making a good film. Also, Janhvi and Ishaan, who were entering the movie business, were completely depending on my guidance. I had to ensure that I got the best performances out from them. That’s been the approach — to keep it simple and not complicate it. While adapting the film, I had to make sure that I retained everything that I felt good about the movie and didn’t do anything different just for the sake of it.

Ever since the trailer is out, there has been talk about how you have given this story a better and glamorous spin...
(Cuts in) It’s not better. People are assuming that after watching the trailer. Udaipur looks exactly the way it is. I am not trying to make it glamorous. I am staying authentic to how the city is. That is the way people there dress or look. There is a little bit of royalty, which comes from a different class and that’s where I wanted to set the film. I understand that region better than if I had tried to go more rural or in the interiors. Sairat starts with a cricket match and I have played the sport as a youngster in places like Lasalgaon and Kolhapur. That is one of the reasons I connected to Sairat on a much deeper level. I know Marathi, I have studied it while living in Nashik. I understood the victory of language that was there. Having understood it, I wanted to tell a new story. If I set Dhadak in Maharashtra or in the interiors, then why am I making this film? I can just dub or subtitle the original. But I wanted to give it a different voice and approach in a different region. Udaipur is actually a nice conflict. It has amazing palaces, small gullies and places that look completely distinct. It’s an honest adaptation and not something done for the heck of it.

Are you prepared for the comparisons? How do you plan to cope with it?
I don’t need to cope with it as I am completely prepared for comparisons with Sairat. I know the pros and cons of what we have done. I am aware that people, who have seen the original, especially in Maharashtra, wouldn’t readily be accepting it. Even as far as the song Zingaat is concerned, there is a mixed reaction. People, who didn’t understand the original version, love the song. I am aware of the criticism as well. While making creative material, I am open to both praise and criticism. Even when Dhadak’s title track released, I knew what impact it would have. I knew how Pehli Baar, which is Yad Lagla in the original, would be received. The reason for retaining these songs is not commercial. It was done because they added something to the movie. Sairat’s music is world class, the melody is rich and universal. It ignites emotion. I am open to whatever people have to say, I have extreme faith in Dhadak and I’m proud of the film.

After working with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt, how was it working with Janhvi, who was a debutante and Ishaan, who was just one film old?
This was to be Ishaan’s debut film, too, but he got a unique opportunity to collaborate with Majid Majidi and we were more than happy to let him do so. Working with Janhvi and him has been a lovely experience. Yes, this is the first time I am directing debutantes. When I worked with Varun and Alia, they were one film old and had learnt a lot from Karan Johar, but they were still new and young. Now, I am much older than when I first met Varun and have a fatherly instinct towards Janhvi and Ishaan. I have a certain process with which I direct my actors, so I took them over that journey as well.

Midway through the shoot, there was a tragedy when Sridevi passed away. It must have been difficult for Janhvi to resume after that. How did you handle it?
Janhvi resumed 13-14 days after her mother’s demise. It was difficult, but half the job was done by her family, who were extremely strong. They really took care of her. Janhvi herself is a brave girl. Her first day on the set was normal. We didn’t make any conscious effort to sympathise with her or try to be stricter or more disciplined. We just let the day go as it progressed. We wanted to get back to work as we had our commitment to our producer. Even Janhvi didn’t want to take a longer break because an empty mind is something which will trouble you more. It worked out well for her as she had a film to go and work on it.

Did you make any changes in the schedule or the scenes for her?
No, I stuck to the schedule. It was not one scene, we had a 12-hour shift. We kept shooting like maniacs. If you change a scene, it shows an effort to say that listen ‘I am feeling bad for you’. We didn’t want to take that approach. We didn’t want to sympathise, we can’t with a loss that great. There’s nothing I can say or do that will make her feel better. We didn’t try and change anything to suit her. There was one emotional scene and a couple of fun sequences. Some of them were tough scenes, but she approached it professionally.

Janhvi and Ishaan share a cute chemistry as is evident from the trailer. How did you achieve that?
I didn’t actually work on their chemistry. We just kept working on the script and in the process we were spending a lot of time together, especially Ishaan and Jahnvi, because they were reading and constantly performing. I had taken them with me on two recces and everywhere I went in Rajasthan. By the time we were ready for the shoot, they were not only comfortable with me but also with the entire unit. They automatically connected to the fact that Udaipur is home. They felt they knew their characters very well, they had trust in each other and that trust led to chemistry. You can look at that person with love and if the scene demands, you can fight with that person too because you trust each other. We spent 10 months together before shooting and that really helped because we got to know each other.

Did you tell them to see Sairat before shooting for Dhadak?
Ishaan saw it with me for the first time. Janhvi said she had already seen it. But once we decided we are making a film based on it, none of us saw it. I didn’t want to see it because when I was adapting and rewriting it, I wanted it to come from my own instinct rather than watching and writing the same scene. I wanted to flow with what I know naturally. I requested Ishaan and Janhvi also to not see it because the setting of the film is different. Since Dhadak is not set in Maharashtra, but Rajasthan, inherently they are different characters. I didn’t want those (Sairat) characters to influence them because they (Janhvi-Ishaan) might perform it well but it might be wrong for the region. I told them to just trust the script, flow with it and my direction.

Now that the film is a week away from release, what are your thoughts?
I am extremely excited for the world to see the film, and proud of both the kids. I am waiting for Nagraj Manjule (director of Sairat) and his team to see it. I am sure we will show it to them soon. As I said earlier, I would like to know people’s opinion. I would love it if they like the film, and if they ask ‘why did you do it’, I would respect that opinion, too.