My mom keeps telling me to make a saaf-sutra film: Maneesh Sharma | brunch$feature | Hindustan Times
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My mom keeps telling me to make a saaf-sutra film: Maneesh Sharma

Meet Maneesh Sharma, the filmmaker who showed India that living-in and pre-marital sex were okay, as were skinny heroes and curvy heroines.

brunch Updated: Oct 03, 2015 19:32 IST
Aparna Pednekar
Maneesh Sharma

Filmmaker Maneesh Sharma showed India that living-in and pre-marital sex were okay, as were skinny heroes and curvy heroines.(Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times)

Under a gentle spell of rain, Yash Raj studios acquires a romantic air. But that’s outside. Inside, the posters of the studio’s recent and forthcoming releases aren’t exactly the stuff of romance. Of the lot, the closest one gets to love is 2015’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

The rom-com’s creative producer Maneesh Sharma suspects that this is the one film in his career that his mother loves. His trio of breezy outings as a director, Band Baaja Baraat, Ladies v/s Ricky Bahl and Shuddh Desi Romance may have redefined rom-coms, but they also feature pre-marital sex and live-in relationships.

“My father loves anything I do. But Mom keeps telling me to make a film like Bajrangi Bhaijaan; a sweet, saaf-sutra film.”

The munda next door

Nothing remotely connects Sharma to the roguish/goofy boys he creates for celluloid. The 35-year-old Delhi Public School and Hansraj alumnus has a reputation for being reserved. Like many of his peers, Imtiaz Ali for example, he appears sorted. Unlike Ali, he’s not a sufi-type.

Sharma was proactive in his college dramatic society and jumped wholeheartedly into the world of Delhi theatre and Barry John. But even though he says he borrowed from his DU life for Band Baaja Baraat, it’s obvious that lounging on the lawns wasn’t his priority. In his first year of college, he decided that he wanted to direct films.

“I don’t want to sound like a good boy,” he says, aware that he does, “But I utilised my time wisely and planned my extra-curricular activities.” After a gap year, he went to the California Institute of Arts on a scholarship.

Meteoric rise

Sharma has a thing for dates. “I graduated in May 2004, came back to Delhi on June 14 and landed in Mumbai in January 2005 to assist on Fanaa,” he recalls. He remembers the exact dates that Aditya Chopra called to rope him in as assistant director on Aaja Nachle and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.

By the time he got around to directing Band Bajaa Baraat, he had “developed a soundboard with Adi”. They fuelled unconventional choices, not the least of which was to cast a skinny Ranveer Singh as a hero and get a Delhi-bred crew for the “incredibly hormonal” 2010 blockbuster. “I would tell Adi that we wouldn’t shoot a wedding song like a typical wedding song, which was hilarious because this was the family that pioneered in wedding songs.”

Sharma formed a tight unit with people who would set the new creative direction at YRF, including writer-director Habib Faisal and screenwriter-lyricist Jaideep Sahni. Sahni’s first impression of Sharma was his interest in every aspect of filmmaking. “He was as interested in a scene, song, actor, costume or set drawing that didn’t make it to the film, as he was in one which did. It struck me as a remarkable quality,” he says.

Costume designer Niharika Khan, who worked on Band Bajaa Baraat, admits to being intimidated by Sharma at first. “He is really difficult to read,” she recalls. “However, when we started working together, I realised he’s willing to put faith in everyone he works with.”

Romantic? Who, Me?

Sharma has given young cinemagoers a new definition of the big-screen love story. But enough of romance already! “Main toh yahan thriller banane aaya tha!” Sharma mock-wails, taking us back almost a decade ago with the first story he ever pitched to Aditya Chopra. It’s a saga he loves recounting. “My first instinct was to make a thriller. Adi said that Fan [a tale of a fan trading places with a superstar] was an exciting idea, but that it shouldn’t be my first film. I was like, ‘Yaar ye kya ho gaya?’ In a strange way, the rejection of that idea gave birth to Bittu and Shruti of Band Bajaa Baraat.”

Nine years later, just before Fan, starring Shah Rukh Khan, wraps up, Sharma isn’t worried about his creative vision being eclipsed by a big star. “SRK is the biggest star, but once he’s on set, his stardom flies out of the window. Before shooting, he assured me I could take any amount of retakes and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid. He said, ‘50 takes tak toh main bhi kuch nahi kahoonga. At 70, I’ll probably look at you and ask, am I that bad?’ He did workshops with me for Fan, which I’ve heard is not a very common practice for him.”

Sharma is not showing any nerves. Yet. “I’m very detached from all my films after they’re made; I change channels as soon as any of them appear on TV. And I’m going to be detached from this expensive, star-driven project too.”

From HT Brunch, October 4

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