Shoojit Sircar, a Bengali who’d rather be a Jat, credits Delhi for his success

  • Saudamini Jain, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2015 15:42 IST

Piku could have been based on people you know: a crotchety young woman and her irritating, hypochondriac, constipated old father. In its fourth week running, the film has made over 100 crores.

For its filmmaker Shoojit Sircar, the incredible part was getting Deepika Padukone – “the top Bollywood actress” – to utter the word “constipation”. Funnier still was how Amitabh Bachchan feared that reporters would henceforth begin interviews asking him about the state of his colon: “Sir, aapka ho gaya na?”

Sircar was a teenager when his family moved to Delhi from Kolkata. As a 20-something, he discovered films – “festival films”. But he couldn’t afford to watch them. “So my friends and I would climb the Siri Fort gate, bribe the gatekeeper and watch foreign films every night during film festivals.”

Ironically, we met Sircar when he was invited for the annual Habitat Film Festival in Delhi.

Where do you find your characters?
I collect them, in my head, when I meet people. Even Juhi [Chaturvedi, the screenwriter he always works with] collects characters. Before the script starts, we talk about these quirky characters, how Delhi is behaving, bizarre things like that. Films set in Delhi like Piku and Vicky Donor [2012] are easier because in Delhi, everyone is a character.

The grandma in Vicky Donor loved her drink. In Piku, a father talks about his daughter’s sex life… it’s very progressive.

This is consciously done. We want people to understand certain things about parenting, family relationships, and how openly you should talk to your daughter.

You were nearly not going to be a filmmaker.
I wanted to play football professionally! I still think of myself as a footballer. Filmmaking is just a hobby. After college [Bhagat Singh, Delhi University], I left a job in computer application in a month. Then another in the accounts department of a hotel.

And, inspired by a play, I decided to join theatre. I would do lighting for some play, they’d give me Rs 500, I’d udao it on drinks, hang around in Mandi House. I began watching films, reading screenplays in the British Council and the American Library. But mostly, I did nothing but loiter.

Your father was in the Air Force. That couldn’t have gone down well.
There was lots of friction. Even the TV industry hadn’t yet boomed – there was only Doordarshan – my dreams were bhagwaan bharose.

Then I started getting some work. I’ve even made documentaries on how to create toilet facilities for villages! I kept reading about the technique of cinema. Then one day, I met Siddhartha Basu. I still don’t know what he saw in me. But he asked me to assist him – I worked with him on Quiz Time. My parents were finally happy, because Siddhartha Basu was a big name.Then I worked with Pradeep Sarkar – and learnt the cinematic language.

It’s unfortunate that my parents couldn’t see my films though. They passed away in 2004 – they would’ve been very proud.

Your first impression of Delhi...
It was a cultural shock! The language, the rude behaviour... And I had never seen so many sardars in my life! Delhi sucks you in. When I started exploring, I became wild. We used to go for all the 10 o’clock adult films at Archana. All of us boys went to watch Summer of ’69 – it had a woman in a bikini. We were luchhaas absolutely.

You’re more Dilliwallah than Bengali.
While shooting for Piku, Irrfan would say, there are only two species in the world: Bengalis and non-Bengalis.

My friends call me a Jat. Some say, there is a sardar inside you. I love sardars. That’s why I was so comfortable making Vicky Donor.

Delhi changed my life. It’s such a cultured city. Believe me, in Mumbai, I’ve never been to a classical concert. I miss that. During my theatre days, I learnt about politics. That’s why my first film [Yahaan, 2005] was about Kashmir.

There’s a seven-year gap between your first film and the second.
It was a depressing and frustrating time. I made Shoebite with Mr Bachchan in 2008 – they say it will release now, let’s see.

But for years, when the film didn’t release, it was so heart-breaking – I didn’t do anything. Then my wife said, ‘You know how to make a film. For how long will you sit and mourn ?’ And so I made another film.

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