Irrfan Khan was like ‘Zen’ while shooting for Angrezi Medium: Homi Adajania’s interview with Rajeev Masand

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Renowned film critic and CNN-News18’s Entertainment Editor, Rajeev Masand sat down with Angrezi Medium director, Homi Adajania and producer, Dinesh Vijan to talk about the new film which stars Irrfan KhanRadhika MadanKareena Kapoor and Deepak Dobriyal among others. The filmmakers explained the circumstances under which the film was made, given Irrfan’s delicate health, and revealed how the mood contributed to a fruitful and generous filming experience.

Catch full transcript of the show here:

Rajeev Masand – I want to start by using you that when did you know that Hindi Medium was going to be a franchise? It doesn’t on the surface of it seem like a kind of a film that would trigger multiple instalments

Dinesh Vijan – I think it’s all in the writing, I don’t think any franchise is warranted until you get it correctly on script and generally there is so much expectation, you have that so this is a, in a way it’s like a franchise of the emotion that Hindi Medium rides. It’s got admissions but the stakes are a little high because she wants to go abroad and study, it’s got a language barrier but it’s not now in your face like last time because we have already dealt with that, but on an international level Indians do have a problem conversing and it has a new erisam, it was two parents a young baby of sorts This time it’s a father daughter and a single father. So it kind of gives you a lot of new things but the basic core emotion is the same. Bhavesh and Gaurav wrote a very interesting script. They came and actually pitched it to us and they were very influenced by the film and then Homi and I heard it and then we thought we are ready to go and then we waited for a year

Homi Adajania – Yes.

Rajeev Masand – You know Homi, you, I am going to say it, you have made only 4 films in 15-16 years. But what I am going to say is that’s the only time that they got you to direct a film that you hadn’t written was a film that in your filmography was least loved. How did you make sure that this was not going to be …and for Dinesh as well. How was it for you (Dinesh) to give him something that he had not written? How were you (Dinesh) going to make sure that this will not be that experience because I think you’ve (Homi) spoken about how cocktail was not yours and wasn’t organic to the kind of films that you make. And here it was very successful. It hit the beads, it turned Deepika into the, gave her the acting credential. When you’ve had that experience of not necessarily relating that material that you’ve not written. How do you make sure that you (Homi) own it and you put your stamp on it and still enjoy it?

Homi Adajania – Because this was extremely different. I think this, I wouldn’t say at all that this was a film that I have influenced to do or I did it for the wrong reasons. This film we’ve been in alignment with right from the beginning. I was the one who went to Dinesh and said – have you got a director attached, as soon as I heard the narration. I was sitting in my room, I was working on a pretty dark narration with a writer about a schizophrenic serial killer. He just said that Bhavesh and Gaurav, the writers have come and they want to narrate Angrezi medium. So we’ve got a lot of directors in the office and we give feedback to each other and we chuck ideas with each other. I went in, heard the narration and he just said I need your feedback. It wasn’t with any other agenda and I was pretty much rolling on the floor laughing. Then I went through spurts of undignified crying and I just looked at him and said do you have a director attached to it. He (Dinesh) said no, then I said please I am directing it and he said yes sure. It was literally that, as simple as that and there was no way I would give this up. Dinesh’s angle was that you’re a father. This film is about a father and a daughter. I have seen you with your kids and I know you’ll understand the sur of the film and for me I had a bigger agenda in mind which encouraged me to do it. I wanted to work with Irrfan without doubt. There was no way I would let this go and we have been wanting to collaborate since names sake and it has not come through for whatever reason, maybe because I make 4 films in 16 years. But that was exactly why I wanted to do this one and this is a lovely story. It’s a bizarre story, it’s got the comedy and the madness that I like to pursue.  So, it’s got that, it’s got a beautiful soul in it and I said that to be able to do a comedy, which is as crazy as I am  and still ground it and anchor it with a heart, there is no way I am not doing that.

Rajeev Masand – We have to talk about the elephant in the room. This film almost got de-railed at one point of time when Irrfan made to kill. It is the only film that he has made since. Going into it, what were the, I know it was story that you loved and wanted to tell, something that he felt as strongly about even after he fell unwell. Going into it what were the fears and apprehensions and I don’t mean just for the films, even towards him, what it was like even going into it. I know you have all spoken about how this was all a positive experience.

Dinesh Vijan – Very strange, Rajeev. You analyze things and should be scared of something because there was no iota of fear, at least in my mind. I am also very impulsive but there was not fear. I knew this film will get made with Irrfan and that’s what we fed of each other like we were pretending, there was something X bout them and like I was telling you before we started, the journey has changed all of us. So there were a lot of emotions, none.

Homi Adajania – When you are apprehensive or scared, that was more Dinesh’s call. In fact I remember, after we finished the last day of the shoot. We had gone for a drink to the bar and I said, dude you are a bit crazy. I don’t think anyone would have done this, and that’s what I loved about him. At no point did he waiver off that conviction that his films will get made. We had ups and downs and sometimes good days and bad days. He was like our agony aunt throughout the shoot, but he always assured that however it will get made, it will get made the best way possible.

Dinesh Vijan – I actually buy personalities sometimes, not a pessimistic, but I look at what can go wrong constantly. Then someone once I was sitting with told me, sometimes when you really think positively, things actually manifest. Honestly, I’ve not measured or was positive just to keep them positive. It was an energy, it believed that the movie will be made.

Homi Adajania – I believed that if he had been saying it for the sake of us, we wouldn’t have believed it. It was never about that. It was always about genuinely saying that it’s going to happen.

Rajeev Masand – Did his conviction change the way that you had to make the movie?

Dinesh Vijan – Let me actually say it differently. Sometimes you work with actors and anyways get limited hours. So in this case, we had to limit the hours, genuinely. And the good part is that when you have an actor of that caliber, you can put a lot more in a day in lesser hours than you could do otherwise. I felt that it just happened.

Homi Adajania – We did work shorter shifts. We definitely were extremely sensitive towards Irfan’s predicament. And on good days we had a blast and even on bad days energy levels were high. But Irrfan will never tell you, you have to always be in tune with what’s going on.

Rajeev Masand – Did you have a very different Irrfan on the set?

Dinesh Vijan – He felt so much of the character in a strange way. Now that you are talking to me I am thinking about it. He almost was like Zen. Maybe the earlier Irrfan still had a little erratic nature.

Homi Adajania – I think this was a different person from the earlier Irfan, and he came and I joked with me …that you (Irfan) haven’t acted for a while, I hope you haven’t forgotten how to act. Irrfan said that I might have, because anyways I am not going to try any of the processes that I tried before. I am not coming with any of that, so let’s see.  And that’s exactly what he did. I think an actor draws from what they are going through in their life and somewhere his drawing brought out a very sensitive side which was so incredible for the character because he plays the child’s father, but more importantly the child’s mother and the child’s friend. And to be able to balance those layers effortlessly, with no false notes, it has to come from somewhere.

Dinesh Vijan – I’ll tell you another thing that someone who was so close to him, right by his side to the film was Deepak and they have an amazing equation. They sit and they can almost go all over the place and do everything except the scene.  Deepak said that he saw the film two days ago and we were talking and he never left felt that the man was ever unwell. If you have any sympathy, it will be out of the window because you’re watching Champak Bansal on the screen.

Rajeev Masand – Homi since you’re from South Bombay, did this film ever seem alien to you. The films that you’ve made that the people have loved are the films that are very much in your wheel house, which is mainly of largely English speaking characters, they are a little sadistic. What was your entry into this?

Dinesh Vijan – You know what when you saw movies like Parasite, so I believe that he is one of the most disciplined directors, where he respects writing. So if you out 100 pages in front of him, he will respect those. What was also interesting is that we is also a very emotional director. He is very well researched, we goes and he takes the world in, so it’s not that he directs by instinct. So the fact that he has become open to other writings is a step in the right direction.

Homi Adajania – I feel that, as a story teller, as a film maker, it’s your responsibility to research. First I read the script, then I let the script get under my skin, I bounce off a lot of stuff with Dinesh.  Then I got and spend time in the place, I try and meet real people because it has to be believable for me. That’s how I work, I’ve got a dialogue coach and a guy who sees how authentic the whole dialect is. So I have got my back covered in that sense.

Rajeev Masand – You know what? This is a father daughter story and imagine the search for the daughter is crucial. How did you chance upon her?

Homi Adajania – We forced her because Dinesh showed me the audition of “Pataakha” and I was blown. I was I can’t believe, whose this girl? I said I have to work with this girl. Then she came to the office for this other film we are working on and I saw this girl and I introduced myself. She was like, “Hi, I am Radhika Madan” and I was like are you the girl from that film? I said “By god, you’re incredible as an actor. You haven’t even scratched the surface yet, and I promise you that we are going to work together”. She said what are you doing, and I said Angrezi Medium and she asked if she could audition for that. I said you were the wrong age and I remember, the fact that she pursued the fact that she just wanted to send an audition and then she sends this audition and I remember seeing it and WhatsApping it to Dinesh and said this is the girl. Dinesh was like take it easy, don’t have a knee jerk reaction, audition more. I again auditioned 17 year old girls, but they looked different. After 3 days I sent more auditions and he was like what are you sending these for, we’ve already found the girl. I said fantastic and then I realized, all I did was I surrounded her with kids who looked like their age, in school uniforms.

Dinesh Vijan – She is a phenomenal actor and the best part Ii that she is not trying to control it. There is no method and she listens to her director and I think Irrfan was pleasantly surprised

Rajeev Masand – You both started your carriers together. How has that relationship changes over the years.

Dinesh Vijan – Homi called me and said this is one film where we are completely in sink whether its marketing, whether it’s making, we have tried not to corrupt the film in any sort of way.

Homi Adajania – And our friendship has become stronger and stronger and this film has really defined it at a level where we both trust each other completely, we know what our weakness are. I think once you realize that, you realize there is no agenda. We have a very similar way thinking about life.

Rajeev Masand – Finally you have spoken about the fact that you have an idea for a Chinese medium and there can be other stories. Do you believe that will happen?

Dinesh Vijan – Depends on my friend Irfan, if he wants to do it. Idea is Chinese Medium because I went to China for my first film, Hindi Medium, and was surprised to see how it was doing so well in China.

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