Director Milan Luthria has been one of the most prolific filmmakers in the past couple of decades. Having had worked with seasoned actors like Emraan Hashmi, Ajay Devgn and others, he decided to move ahead with a newcomer actor Ahan Shetty for his latest film, ‘Tadap’. The film has got decent reviews from all over corners, and Shetty has been earning the lion’s share of the praise for the performance. However, the film didn’t happen easily. The film had been commissioned back in 2019 and had been constantly getting delayed because of the pandemic.
“I am glad that Ahan Shetty had to learn it the hard way because of the pandemic that this (film) is a very tough business and it needs solid guts to see yourself through and believe in your product and stick by it,” says Luthria talking about the pandemic causing the delay in ‘Tadap’.
In a straightforward chat with Outlook, Luthria speaks up about picking up the task of remaking a Telugu blockbuster, the pandemic becoming a nightmare, the burdens of launching a star kid, and lots more. Excerpts from the chat:
You’ve been a seasoned director for so many years. But do you still feel nervous before any new release?
Yes, it is definitely there. It is there all the time. Every day of the shoot you are wondering if you are going to get it right or you are going to make a fool of yourself. I think it is good anxiety and I think it keeps us on our toes and doesn’t let us become complacent or overconfident. The medium is a very strong medium and you have to be always on your toes. That is the energy that you carry on to the set but, of course, you shouldn’t let that be sensed by your cast and crew because then they start getting nervous.
‘Tadap’ is a remake of RX 100. How did you manage to bring in freshness to the plot?
There are many of the pillars of the story which have been retained because there is no point in buying something and then changing it drastically. So, the story and the graphs of the characters were more or less the same, especially in the dramatic part. In the romantic parts and in the humorous parts we have kept the pan-Indian audience in mind and we have made it a more universal approach so that families may also enjoy the film. The music of course is different and one more big difference is that they were at 2 hours 40 minutes and we were at 2 hours. But that is just the style of storytelling. We kept our respect for the original intact because I think they have made a very fine film and that is why we bought it and it made my job a little easy.
Were you the one who approached the idea of the remake to Sajid Nadiadwala or were you brought in at a later stage once the remake rights and all were done?
Actually, he called me to meet Ahan (Shetty). He asked me if I would be interested in doing a debut film and I agreed. Especially with someone like Sajid and me coming together; it is a great combination. We then thought of finding a film that suits Ahan’s personality rather than just making a boy-meets-girl kind of a story. We thought of making a film that suits his personality and of mine at the same time. We talked about our favourite films which have intense roles. We talked about films like ‘Tere Naam’ and ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’. All of us like that kind of stuff, especially me. Then we looked at a few films and we heard a few scripts and then my writer Rajat Arora suggested that we have a look at ‘RX 100’ and there it was. The penny just dropped as it was a very unique, intense and heartfelt story. It has got a rainbow of emotions. So, we all clicked and the next day we bought the rights, literally within 24 hours, and then we started adapting it. With all due respect to the original, we made the changes that we wanted to make. I think it was a very unusual film for viewers to watch.
Was Ahan Shetty the obvious choice because it is an action movie and he is the son of Suniel Shetty?
He definitely suited the character a lot. He adapted himself to the character really well and that is what was unusual. It was almost like a double role. Even in the trailer, you can see two shades of a person with different personalities. That was not easy to do in your very first film. It was a heavy burden to put on his shoulders but as I already said I tested him pretty hard before I gave him this film and the test had gone very well. Even then there was a little bit of apprehension but as we went along he surprised me with his professionalism, his dedication and his desire to learn and come closer to the medium. He also surprised me with his quiet inner confidence because, he was a young actor on sets who never came to watch the monitor, never saw his takes and just said if it is okay for me, it was okay for him. Otherwise, some young actors are obsessed with how they look, how their hair looks. But he was never bothered about those things.
Is there pressure on you as a director when you are launching a star kid?
I think there is pressure on you be it any actor you work with. The actor has put his faith in the director and it is more so when a young man or woman is trying to make a mark in the industry. Leave aside them being star kids - they want to do well, they want recognition, praise, success and be appreciated for their work and they are both (Ahan Shetty and Tara Sutaria) very talented people. So you become the way for them to reach the audiences and you have to guide them when they go wrong. You have got to keep your eyes open to see if there is any mistake, like if the light is not good or if the makeup is not correct, because it is their first time. You have to pay attention to every small detail and that is what we did. It is the responsibility that one takes. I took it in a positive way and tried to give them the best possible platform to show their talent as the audience is very unforgiving. If they don’t like the performance, they just don’t like it. No matter who the person is and if they like the performance, they forget who is a star kid and who is not and they just go for it. So, that is the atmosphere and I think everything else is conjecture. It is important to see that how often is it that a newcomer has had such a big impact on the audience because established stars have their fans because they have been around for so long. People are waiting for their products, but here to get such good feedback so quickly (for Ahan Shetty) it was very unexpected and very encouraging.
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How much spoilsport does the pandemic play for you given the movie was shot during the lockdown?
It was not a spoilsport, it was a nightmare. We had completed about 70-80% of the production before the pandemic hit and then we had to wait for the first wave to recede and then we did some more shooting just before the second wave and then we had to do the rest during the second wave. We had to be very careful about our health and that of the crew and the technicians. I think more than anything else it was a question of the uncertainty of when things would open up. We did not know even till three months ago what was going to happen. (It was important) having the patience to see it through and having the backing of people like Sajid to say that we will wait for theatres because we had made a lavish film, one that is meant for the big screen. It had all the commercial experience, music and action and we did not want it to release on OTT. His pressure must have been much harder than mine. Ahan and Tara have done so well.
Were there times when you had to cut out locations because of the pandemic?
No, not at all. In fact, all the credit goes to Sajid and his team. We had to go back to Mussoorie between the two waves and we had to shoot a very elaborate song which had dancers from Goa, Delhi, Dehradun, Bombay, and all. We had nearly about 450-500 people on sets and the way they managed to test all of them, to create a bubble, give them their food, keep everyone healthy was great. We didn’t have a single positive case. It was a massive manpower management challenge, very expensive but still, then he (Sajid Nadiadwala) did not ask me to compromise. I got full support all throughout the shooting days.
As the film was in the making for such a long time, was it difficult to keep Ahan Shetty away from picking up any other projects in the middle?
I haven’t told him this but maybe he will read your article and get the message. I think this has seasoned him for life. The challenge of this performance and then the wait because of the pandemic has toughened him a lot. I am glad that he had to learn it the hard way because of the pandemic that this is a very tough business and it needs solid guts to see yourself through and believe in your product and stick by it. All of us did that - be it Ahan or me. Even I didn’t pick up anything else. We all believed in the product and we kept telling each other that it is all right and that this too shall pass. But it is easier said today than during those times because I know what we have gone through.
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How much of a difference do you feel on sets when you are working with a newcomer and when you are working with an experienced big star like Ajay Devgn or Emraan Hashmi?
In this case, I didn’t find much of a difference. I found that he was very well prepared and very easy to work with. Both of them are very talented actors. I think the difference is that the older actors tend to relax a bit more on sets. They have so much experience that in between the takes, you will see a few jokes being cracked or a couple of pranks being played but for new actors; they are a little aware that the director has worked with bigger actors and they just want to do well. So there is a lot of focused work happening. Whereas, with the older guys there is a lot of fun, jokes and stuff like that taking place on the sets. But we eventually got around to lightening them up also (on ‘Tadap’ sets) and we all had a lot of fun.
What makes you go back to Pritam for music every time?
Melody. I feel no one is as melodious as him. For me, he is the king of melody as his music is from the heart. Every time he finds a place in his heart to which he reaches out and surprises you with how emotional and soul-stirring his music is. It is not plastic. It is not trying to be commercial. It is just from the heart.
What after this can we see coming from you?
A little bit of a holiday I think (Laughs). There are a couple of things in the pipeline. I will let you know soon.