Debutante Bollywood director Ranjit Tiwari whose Lucknow Central will hit screens on Friday, talks to THE WEEK about the plot, casting and his experience working on a film with a big cast.
We don’t really hear a lot about reformation inside prisons. How did the idea come up?
I had no idea about prisons as much. When I read an article about a music band in a jail and the kind of support the government was providing for such reformations, it fascinated me a lot. When I met these people and the jail authorities as part of my research, I was even more surprised. The authorities told me that almost 80 per cent of the prisoners had committed crimes in a spur of the moment of spur—out of desperation or not being in the right frame of mind. These are people who wouldn’t go back to crime again, and they feel burdened. They want to reform.
The film has an ensemble cast. How was your journey as debut director?
It is my first film so I wouldn’t know what is easy or even difficult. I went through the journey for the first time. But it was not difficult to have so many actors. In fact, it was very enjoyable. All actors were well aware about what they are expected to do when they come on the sets, there were enough script discussions and meetings and creative script session with all the actors together. We were in a good space and became good friends over the course of the film. I get along with people very easily and that helped me a lot. There was a great camaraderie on the sets.
Whether it was Farhan, Gippy (Grewal), Deepak (Dobriyal) or anyone else, discussions happened with everyone on whether improvisation was needed or not. The fact that I knew the entire unit working on the film as I have worked with them while assisting Nikhil, was also very helpful. Amit da (Ray, art director) and Subroto da (Chakraborty, design) went into a lot of detail while creating the jail setup (at Film City, Goregaon). And Tushar da (Kanti Ray, cinematographer) has shot the film beautifully. Equally big was the contribution of Sheetal Sharma, the costume designer whom I have known since D-Day. When you know people and they understand and respect your vision, the energy goes into one direction. That works well.
Etching out each of the characters mustn’t have been easy?
The whole writing process between Aseem (Arora) and me took two years. We wanted to create characters that are very basic and realistic. We wanted to blend entertainment with realism. And we made sure to do that at the script level. We are fortunate that all the actors understood the graph and the emotions really well. We ended up with almost 58 drafts of the script. I actually gave a lot of narrations to technicians, writers and editors to get an honest feedback before going to the actors and the studio (Viacom 18 Motion Pictures). Sometimes you are so involved with a story that you don’t see the loopholes. It is important to get perspective from people who are not involved with it.
Farhan Akhtar told us that Nikhil had given him an option to say no to the script, but insisted he sit for a narration
Absolutely. It is my first film and for your first film to get an actor to trust you is being in a very difficult space. When I met him I realised he is a person who will work for the story and doesn’t mind giving a newcomer a break. It was great to direct him as well as the other cast members.
How did the narration go?
Farhan never wanted a narration. He just wanted the script to be given to him. But we told Nikhil to insist that we want to do a narration, mostly because of the dialect in the film. It is a very Moradabad heartland Hindi. Aseem narrated the script to him and Farhan didn’t move an inch during the narration, though he laughed at the comic scenes and almost cried at the end. It is a little overwhelming during the climax. There’s a sense of joy, too, that the character witnesses. Farhan said that he has never heard a narration like this and that he felt deeply for the characters and the story. It was the first victory. I waited, looking at him with expectation, while he discussed some of the scenes. He turned back and said, “I am doing your film.”
Were there directorial inputs coming in from Farhan and Nikhil who are directors too?
Not just them, inputs were coming in from everyone—the DOP, art director and other technicians. Actors would come and say that they want to improvise the character in a particular scene in a particular way and we would have a discussion. Nikhil, too, would take a lot of interest. Discussions are very important. And I feel a film is a team effort, especially when it is such a big canvas. However, the ultimate decision relies with the director. You have to think twice before working on a suggestion because you are the only person who knows the graph of the film.
There was this entire issue that Yash Raj Films was doing a film on a band in a prison (Qaidi Band). Now that Qaidi Band has released, was it disheartening that someone else was making a similar film?
Not at all. We came to know about it much later. And that’s not a problem. It might look similar from outside but if you watch the film, you will know the difference. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I know my film is different. My film is all about hope, dreams, and aspirations. It is about the circumstances and how you deal with it. No matter what, you can keep chasing your dreams. And I believe that dreams do come true. I came to Mumbai (from Kolkata) with a dream to make a film. It took me almost eight to nine years and many disheartening situations. A lot of people told me that it is not going to work out but it’s coming true. There is a lot of ‘me’ in the film, the hopes and dreams. I am a person who believes in keeping life as simple as possible and not bother about much that is happening around.