Joined: 21 June 2005
It's not every day that Saif Ali Khan says yes to a new director. And Homi Adajania knows he's lucky.
But he also knows he has an unusual script, the kind that would make actors want to do the film. It's how the 34-year-old also managed to convince Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia and Boman Irani. Yes, Being Cyrus has a stellar cast, and an interesting story.
It had to be different. After all, Homi's not your regular Bollywood director. He has had no training in the field, doesn't see the need to network in film circles, and is a professional scuba diver!
He chats with Ronjita Kulkarni about his new film, due for release on March 24.
After I graduated from St Xavier's College, Mumbai, I wanted to become a commercial diver. But I couldn't afford it, so I worked with ad filmmaker Mahesh Mathai. I then started freelancing as a writer, and later became a scuba diving instructor. I've been one for eight years now, diving in Lakshadweep. I then joined an American adventure sports company.
At around this time, Kersi Khambhatta had written a short story, which was rejected by a magazine because the language was too strong. I knew it would be my first film. I wrote the screenplay with Kersi before approaching Boman Irani. I had a cast in mind, and was lucky to get everyone I wanted.
The fact that I was a first-time director was not a problem. Every actor wants to do something different. I needed each actor for eight days, and Saif for 12 days. We shot the film in 32 days, in one schedule.
The film is about Cyrus (Saif) who tells us about a very bizarre chapter in his life, spanning two years. Cyrus lands up at the Sethna home in Panchgani, and lives with them for a year. He's a drifter, and stays with them because he wants to learn how to sculpt. Naseer plays a retired sculptor.
While this is happening, you realise that everyone in the family has a bizarre agenda. You then realise that maybe Cyrus has one too. He has grown up under different circumstances from you and me, and has his own sense of morality -- which, in a larger picture, is considered wrong. But he also has a very humane side and is struggling to figure himself out. When he narrates his story, he finds himself to a certain degree.
What I wanted to explore was this: if I present negativity -- or what we consider wrong -- in a very casual way, you will accept it while you watch the film. People tend to identify with Cyrus. But when the film is over, they do a double take. They can't believe what just happened.
I have seen this with audiences who have watched the film abroad. It creates a sense of contradiction. You laugh at the old man being badgered or at his senility -- you laugh at things that are not really funny. But when the credits start rolling, you're shocked.
Saif was deeply involved. His character is so understated that there was not much for him to do. To then pull out such a powerful performance is sheer talent.
Dimple and I worked on her character a month before shooting began. Katy Sethna is hysterical, walks flat-footed, uses inappropriate cliches, and talks very fast. But not with a typical Parsi accent because I didn't want the characters to become caricatures. She's sloppy but thinks she's very hot. She wears dresses that are too tight and she's always nagging. She really annoys the audience. By the time Dimple arrived on the sets, she was Katy and you wouldn't want to mess with her!
Naseer used to come to the sets in his costume, and leave in it. He is a usually a one-take actor. But there was a scene where he has to eat patrani macchi, and I think he loved the fish. So he did that shot in seven or eight takes, with the continuity person giving him another fish every time!
There were lots of funny incidents on the sets.
Boman was shooting a sequence where he was required to kick someone. He's not athletic, but as an actor giving 300 per cent, he gave a full-bodied kick. I saw his leg fly up, followed by the other. He was out cold, but I couldn't stop laughing! His back was badly injured. We took him back to the trailer, and cleaned up. We finished the sequence, but he was injured for a month!
There was another funny moment. Manoj Pawa plays a cop, who tries to impress Boman's wife, Tina Sethna. He's having tea with her, and knocks down the last gulp with a flourish. He needed to gag on that because the tea had not been strained. But what we didn't tell him was that we had put in two tablespoons of tea leaves. So he actually started choking, while trying to act suave. That was really funny! We didn't need a retake.
Being Cyrus was first titled Akuri. It is a Parsi dish of scrambled eggs, and every house has a different way of making it. I called the film Akuri because all my characters' minds were scrambled. Joined together, they made a brilliant recipe. But the producers said people outside Mumbai would not understand the meaning.
I have two scripts lined up. One is a period film set in 1908, based on a true story. The second is set in pre-1960s Goa.
I don't watch too many Hindi films, but I have gone through an Amitabh Bachchan phase when I was young. The last film I saw was Iqbal, an original story I loved. Why should we take stories from the West? I love Karan and Farhan's movies, and wish I had the ability to make films on such a grand scale! But I'd rather read than watch a film.
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