Habib Faisal is keeping count, not so much of the generous number of stars critics have given his debut feature Do Dooni Char, but of its collections. Filmmaking is a business after all, and critical acclaim is not enough. “You need figures,” says Faisal, who is delighted that audiences have connected with the Duggal family that aspires to upgrade its life from a two-wheeler to four-wheeler.
After his past experience as the scriptwriter of some unsuccessful films, Faisal acknowledges the importance of reviews. “The script of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was very dear to me, but it flopped and I was devastated,” says Faisal, who has also written Salaam Namaste and Ta Ra Rum Pum. A graduate of Delhi’s Kirori Mal College and a post graduate student of Jamia Mass Communications and Research, who then studied filmmaking in the US Faisal has worked his way into the director’s seat from five years as a cameraman with NDTV to series director for a couple of TV shows, then scriptwriting and finally making his own film.The heartfelt and poignant Do Dooni Char finds its roots in Faisal’s own life. While Duggal is a maths teacher, Faisal’s father taught history. Kusum Duggal is like his own mother and the dissatisfaction of the children comes from his own frustrations of being the son of a teacher. "I have seen ex-students come up to my father who would beam as they reminisced. Money was never enough, so there were frustrations. Only much later did one sense the importance of all that. The name comes from my English teacher, Mrs Duggal, who excited us to seek knowledge," says Faisal, who rues the state of the Indian education system and a teacher’s position in society.
But the story of Do Dooni Char did not begin with the Faisals. It began with the launch of the Nano. “There was a lot of excitement among middle and lower middle class families about a car now being within their reach. As I thought about the importance of a car, I recalled when my parents bought their first car – a secondhand Fiat. Surveys have shown that a car tops the list of people’s priorities above a house and education, even though a car is not a necessity,” explains Faisal.
The image in the poster – Rishi Kapoor as Duggal on a scooter – is also inspired by Faisal’s father. “He wore a similar muffler, same brown coat, same helmet, only the model of the scooter is different and he didn’t wear sports shoes, but regular shoes,” says the director. It was while trying to fit that image with an actor that Rishi Kapoor’s name came up. “And then I thought, why not Neetu Kapoor?” says Faisal.
The director believes that this casting against type has worked in the film’s favour. “Everybody casts Rishi Kapoor in suave, affluent roles and I did wonder if he would relate to this milieu, the character, the simple dream of buying a car and the position of teachers in society. Amazingly, he found his own reference points in the film. In that sense the story is universal, even if you already have a fleet of cars,” smiles Faisal.
As for his heroine, he says that although Rishi Kapoor warned him that his wife might prefer to make a comeback with a more glamorous part, her husband’s enthusiasm was so infectious that it interested Neetu Kapoor in a narration. Faisal was surprised that even after hearing the description of Kusum’s look, she was willing to do the film. “The script persuaded her,” he says.
True to life
What seems to have lured the couple was the challenge every actor seeks: of becoming the character. While this film has been slotted in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee space, Faisal says he did not consciously aim for that. “All the stories I want to tell are not in the same space. One has grown up watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee, so I guess that is in one’s subconscious,” he explains, adding, “Someone said that what they liked most was that the making of the film was true to the fabric of the story. If I am showing a lower middle class house then you should feel the claustrophobia. However, I did not want to make it hopeless. And I wanted to do it without a villain. Rajkumar Hirani does not compromise on the fabric of the story. It stays as simple as it has to be and the numbers are there to prove it.”
The response has not been unilaterally positive, but Faisal says he is appreciative of the critiques as well. “This film is the journey of these simple folk fulfilling their dreams in a ‘do dooni char’ way as opposed to a ‘do aur do paanch’ way. Whatever the criticism, at the end, everyone says go watch it. I am happy with that,” he says.