Thursday, November 22, 2012

Filmi Girl talks to... Reema Kagti

[Reema, center, with Rani Mukerji and Javed Akhtar]

Upcoming suspense film Talaash has been on my radar since at least January 2011 and I have been eagerly following its progress by tracking the media reports. Talaash caught my interest not only for Aamir Khan (who has a reliable barometer of future trends in Bollywood since he gave us Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai in 2001) and not only for the casting coup of Rani Mukerji and Kareena Kapoor but for the woman behind it all – Reema Kagti. Reema has been kicking around in the Hindi film industry for some time, working as an assistant director and writing scripts (well, a script - last year’s surprise hit Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.) Reema has certainly paid her dues and I am intensely curious to see what this formidable woman can accomplish in the notorious boys club of Bollywood.

I was lucky enough to get a few minutes of her time over the phone while she was doing press for Talaash.
Reema has the gruff tone of a woman tired of answering questions about Kareena Kapoor’s wedding and my first attempts at questions get only the briefest of responses. Did she find it difficult to work with all the speculation from— “No.” She cuts me off. “I just ignore it and focus on what I need to. So it doesn’t bother me.”

After a few other misfires, I find something Reema is interested in talking about. The creative process. Talaash will be the second film she’s written together with director Zoya Akhtar. “Zoya and I, we prefer to write together – writing being a pretty lonely process. When you’re writing alone it’s a bit like being in a vacuum, so I personally find it easier and more fun with another person.”

“We have a very instinctive sort of spontaneous appraoch. We start with the idea and more than us leading the idea, we let the idea lead us. We wait to write out the screenplay until we have the story and we can flesh out exactly what we want to say. We don’t consciously try and you know…” Reema pauses. “Though there’s a wealth of films that we both love to watch but consciously we don’t try and ape anything.”

Plagiarism is a sensitive topic for scriptwriters in the Hindi film industry and one that recently got a lot of press with Anurag Basu’s Barfi.

“I’ll tell you honestly,” Reema says matter-of-factly. “[The media] didn’t do it with Barfi. None of the critics, none of the media really pointed it out. It was an online thing that first put the scenes side-by-side. I feel like the media, especially the film media in India is very skewed. They have no real understanding of the process of filmmaking and they make a big hue and cry about things that they shouldn’t be and they completely ignore things that they should be.”

“It’s a bit of a slap on the face of our critics because initially when the film came out – and please let me clarify, I’m not saying anything against Anurag Basu. The Hindi film industry is an extremely plagiarist industry. A lot of films are blatently plagiarized and it seems to be okay to do it. It’s somehow even considered better than an original script! People have lifted films - there was this film that didn’t even bother to change the title - so when Anurag Basu says that it was his idea of an homage, I believe him. And I wouldn’t say that he can’t say that, but I think that it is up to film journalists and film critics to point this out when they saw the film, you know?”

I do know. And what does Reema think of the current crop of small, critically lauded films?

“It’s a sign of a healthy industry, that it has a wide spectrum of concepts, stories, different kinds of films. But I think the focus shouldn’t be on which kind of film, the focus should be on good films – whether it’s a small off-beat film or a formula masala film. I think the focus should be on quality cinema.”

That’s an attitude I wish we saw more of but perhaps it’s to be expected from the writing partner of Javed Akhtar’s daughter Zoya. Speaking of Zoya, she seems like a real pistol…

“Yeah, she is.” Reema laughs. “She also happens to be my best friend, so I can vouch for that. We met we were both ADs on this film called Bombay Boys (1998) and we instantly became friends. Actually one of the bonding factors was that we were both writers and at that point we were both kind of closet writers. We were like writing short stories or poems or some kind of creative writing but not really putting it out there. I don’t think either of us really took ourselves seriously as a writer but we wrote. That was a huge bonding factor and we just started bouncing ideas off each other and we… it started organically.”

“Yeah, it was what we used to do back then in our free time. And I guess I’m feeling fortunate now these many years later that we’re actually getting paid to do what we were doing for fun back then.”

That’s very lucky; not everybody gets to do that.

“And that, too, with your best friend!” I can almost hear Reema smiling over the phone.

As for Reema’s other two leading ladies? We’ve heard some of the stories but did she feel pressure to hire younger actresses?

“On day one I had options for these characters but I felt that for both the character that Rani is playing and the character that Kareena is playing there is a certain gravitas required. And with Kareena and Rani, because of their experience, they have that. Initially when we were throwing names about, younger names were suggested but I just felt that they didn’t have the gravitas to pull the role off.”

“Rani and Kareena, they both have very individual processes but I think they both end up in the same place at the end – they’ve trancended their personas and when you see them in the film, they’ve completely taken on the skin of the characters. In fact I think they’ve given my characters a life of their own, far beyond what I had imagined on paper.”

“It’s a bit difficult to get them both out of the van but once they are out of the van, they are like two birds.”

And with that my time was up. I want to thank Reema for taking the time to talk to me and I hope we can get another chance for a more in-depth interview. I bet she has a lot to say - if only I ask her the right questions.

I wish her (and the rest of the cast and crew) all the best for opening day!

More more information on the film, check out The Official Facebook Page.

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