If people don’t catch on to the reference scenes it will be my failure ~ Vasan Bala
Director Vasan Bala on Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota , his love for Action Films & B Movies, Casting, Music and all that in between
Vasan Bala is a fan of Golden Harvest produced movies, all of them. Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Samo, all those guys. Project A, Armour of God, Fearless Hayena even John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, all those things we all grew up on as kids. Also the big bulk of B movies (Hindi, Hollywood). His first few movies on VHS were the old Django and Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Jackie Chan’s Young Master coupled with South Indian sword fighting films. He loves Q.Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Michael Gondry, PTA, Scorsese, Mani Ratnam, Roger Corman.
And after peddlers (unreleased with Eros) Vasan is finally ready to show the world his debut release Mard Ko Dard Nahi hota!
We met him right after the India premier of the film in 2018 at MAMI and in between the overwhelming response of fans and friends took some time with him to discuss his film and the journey to it. Read the part 1 of excerpts of the conversation with the film lover, writer and director Vasan Bala.
Let’ s started with talking about the film references. I know that you have lived in Matunga, come from South India, Love Action films, Indian Masala genre from Hindi and South Indian films and are a die-hard fan of Action Genre from QT to PTA have you love all of it. So when you are making a film like this, Karate (Action) – Drama – Comedy – Parody a real Genre film that pays homage to the best of Genre films when do you start writing all those gags and references that this film is made of, the first thing I would believe is the one line concept that this is a story of ‘ A man who feels no pain’ and then what happens?
Yes exactly. That (gag writing) I think comes a little bit later in the writing stage. The first thing before everything is the world building. That has to be even beyond the plot, even the plot doesn’t matter, the world has to be beyond the plot. You know how this is the world, It’s set in Matunga, so there is Sion, Dharavi & Wadala which makes the geography of the film, once you have the geography you know where the people are living, next is building who the characters are these people , who is Ajoba, who is baba, Aai, Supri, who is Surya, who is Karate Man, who is Jimmy, who was the father of Karate Man, who then is Supri’s Mother.
So all this happens first, once you have built the world then you start work on screenplay and dialogues, then you see what kind of language all this lends you.
Then you know that Surya is this person growing up on all these films being inculcated into this films lends the entire story to it’s world.
So how do you go from the first draft to the final draft?
First Draft is the world, Second draft is the journey and then you add the Masala (Spice).
What is the writing process?
I write alone, my wife (Prerna Sehgal) bears the brunt.
I wake up grumpy everyday and start cribbing how my life sucks, I am unable to finish my draft, I can’t finish the story, nothing is happening, what will I do now?
I end up writing first 30 pages some 100-200 times.It is extremely frustrating that you have to write everything once again from page 1.
Why does that happen? Why do you have to write everything again? Start over?
I don’t know, I always felt that oh everything was fine so far but now there is a problem. Now if I have added this new gag or something else that I have added, I start feeling that it needs to be consistence so I end up restarting the writing.
Do you see a lot of changes from the first draft?
In terms of Gags? big time. But the story doesn’t change at any point. Characters don’t change. They are like heirloom and gags are jewelry.
And what stage is the casting?
It is sporadic, for Asoba, I actually didn’t have any options. And I was hoping that if I go to Mahesh Manjrekar he will say yes, and he did fortunately. So he was it, Imagine what kind of bhasad (mess) this man would have created in his 20s and 30s. And to this day he would be doing something. And on top of everything MM is a film maker and we have loved his films, very sharp guy, we have been watching him from childhood, I haven’t told him this that when Vaastav was being shot I was one of the crowds in the film, he doesn’t know that and there was this connection where I wanted to have him in my film.
So for instance, Mahesh Manjrekar’s character seems like, it’s written for comic relief, it’s pure comedy, jokes while moving the story forward of course but still, it’s all gags and quirky one liners almost how Mehmood’s characters were written in films.
Yes, but if you look at them closely, for instance, Pyar Kiye Ja (film) has Mehmood and Om Prakash too, both for comedy but Mehmood’s character is so right that you get those jokes more. You laugh at them more, for me that make Mehmood as important in Pyar Kiye Ja as much he is in Kunwara baap, for me they both become equally important.
So when your character is grounded, your jokes land automatically. They have more impact. Right?
Right. Yes so all the credit to you, I don’t remember anyone who has used Mahesh Manjrekar in anything as you have.
He is amazing, I am a fan of his and Its also very important to me because his role is based on my relationship with my Asoba. So I always wanted a rogueish kind of a mentor, who you can’t trust 100% but he is still very warm. So when you have that kind of a character set, established and grounded, then whatever you make them say people can relate whether or not it makes sense.
And what about the rest of the cast?
So Radhika and Abhimanyu, I found through extensive auditions. And then Gulu (Gulshan Devaiyah) is someone I have to go to when ever I write a film at-least once because I really-really believe in him as an actor and I know he will fucking give everything to it.
Loveleen I am a big fan of right from buniyaad, so Loveleen Mam I was very clear, I like her a lot. Most of them were people I really love and admire. I auditioned them based on the characters they would fit in.
So based this I can say that how you are fan of films, you made your film like that and cast also like that.
So how is peddlers’ your first film different from Mard Ko Dard Nahi hota, because this is such a fun, feel good film, which Ronnie Screwvala tells me he plans to release in March 2019 (Now announced for 21 March) and your first film still hasn’t released which I believe people would want to watch after they see this one.
Yes, I really hope so too.
But you know I was someone else during peddlers, it was a different version of me back then. I mean it is still a look at the same city and all but it’s very different in the sense that it was very Angsty, if you could understand that film-makers Angst? It was that. It was out of my system.
The change was also maybe because you had a daughter?
Yes, I don’t think I can make peddlers now, you become very hopeful and you notice the brightness in the world. Now I want to be optimistic.
Like a rainbow?
Even if not the rainbow but you still see at-least 4 colors now if not 7. I don’t know. I am saying this right now and then I go back and make something mad!
I want to now go back to that 80s and 90s era now, I want to bring that back.
Spielberg kind of films maybe.
Which is evident in this film, right from the film’s title or the ‘Geraftaar’ reference among everything else.
Yes, we have all grown up on those.
It’s so lovely, that time was amazing, maybe also because we look at our childhood like that but that era regardless was truly amazing and I feel that time has come for that to come back too.
You want to drive audiences back to the films, specially when there are so many distractions for them to come to theatres. Like you were talking about Badhai ho and Andhadun, people want to have fun. You have to shock them a little, give them laughs, the feeling of blenders, or the smoothies that we now make in the morning before getting out, I want to give that exact feeling when watching films. I want the audience to keep experiencing that with films.
So the bottom-line is that you are a film buff, a fan-boy who is also a filmmaker. Which is very evident in your writing; take for instance Bombay Velvet too. There is reference of all cinemas. Now that can be tricky too. There’s a thin line between reference and rip-off like in case of Barfi. You know evidently that it is a copy-paste scenario.
How do you pay homage without being so cocky and evident while also making people think back and look back to the reference to not be thought of a total Rip-off!
I believe when you do it with a lot of love, people take it like that.
Also, when the fabric of your film can accommodate all that then it immediately works like that. It is an obvious homage because if you see Surya’s life, it has been about these films too. Maybe when I write other things it may not be able to accommodate it as much, this one could, so I didn’t stop myself.
This could and I poured all I could. I didn’t stop at all.
And the music. It’s almost the belly of this film.
Yes, there is always a playlist, there’s always a zone, even on the edit, we were cutting the film entirely on the music.
Yes, full reference. Then I take it to Karan (Kulkarni) and then he hears the references and comes up with his ideas and suggestions, then we sit on it and that is my favorite process of filmmaking. BGM (Background music) and the OST.
I find it interesting that you are at no point sticking to a genre or type of music either. There’s jazz and blues and rock and Bollywood, such a drift.
Yes because in this film I didn’t have any pressure as such. Maybe if it were some other producer I’d have to succumb to adding a kind of song or something.
Also, on the nature of references, be it the original Rajmouli’s version of Rowdy Rathore, or Bruce Lee, or Geraftaar and the numerous others that you could watch the film a few times to figure.
As audience, you know where the references are coming from but at the same time while you figure it out you seem to think it’s not that scene and it’s very differently made but you have actually in all seriousness made it part of this very film.
So, here’s the thing, if people don’t catch on to the reference scenes it will be my failure, I have made it so that people have to catch on to the scene I am paying homage to but also the idea is try to twist it as soon as they get the reference and sometimes you don’t even twist it.
Like what you did with the body shot and gave a very Dabangg like body shot and added a Bruce Lee reference to make it part of the narrative that you are tying this all in!
Exactly. My thought was, Body shot behenchod karte kyun hongey har film mein (Why the fuck would they do these body shots in all the films?) So you add that Bruce Lee reference that it’s a distraction!!