Film director Zoya Akhtar knew from the start that Zindagi Na Milege Dobara — life rarely offered one a second chance. The maker of last year’s hit film made up her mind to do what her environment echoed (she’s the daughter of child artiste of yesteryears Honey Irani and script and lyrics writer Javed Akhtar) at an impressionable age of 15. “Films were always a passion for me but it was when I saw Salaam Bombay that I decided that it was film direction that I was interested in. That is when I decided I wanted to direct films,” says Akhtar, who was conferred the director of the year award by the All India Management Association (AIMA) last week.
By-product of liberal education
Many youngsters may envy the freedom she had as a child when it came to studies and those all-important grades but that did not mean that education was not taken seriously. “There was no pressure at home regarding grades. We were expected to study and pass but luckily our parents gave us a broader education,” she says.
Akhtar studied at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and graduated in literature and sociology. But her mind had been made up. “I chose to do what I wanted. The experience was great because you were exposed to so much in college. It totally opened up my mind,” she says.
Akhtar started working while she was studying and after she graduated, she went to New York to pursue a diploma in film production at New York University.
Filmmaking — her first love
Ask her what would she be had she not become a filmmaker and pats comes the reply — a lawyer or a journalist. But the fact remains that making films is what the director of Luck By Chance and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara always wanted to do. Interestingly, she started off as a casting director for films such as Dil Chahta Hai, Kamasutra and Split Wide Open.
Today, she spends about six solid hours a day to write and is “very disciplined.” When prepping, it takes about 10 to 12 hours and if one is shooting a film, “I spend 15 hours a day at work.”
Filmmaking, according to her, is no longer a ‘circus’ it used to be years ago, but involves management skills. Films are all about planning. The logistics are hectic and producers don’t just raise money; they actually execute the film. This means budgeting, scheduling, contracts, dates, locations etc. The list is endless. “As a director the first level of management is people. You have to deal with about 100 creative egos and make sure they subscribe to your vision and give you their best,” she says.
And are there any challenges out there that she faces as a woman filmmaker? “None actually but I just wish this country and the studios had better toilets.”
Success at the end
Success is being able to do exactly what you want when you want. That does not mean taking everyone else for granted or behaving badly on the sets. “It means being able to make the films I want to make and take holidays when I need to. The ultimate for me will be to work five-day weeks and have the world’s best catering for my crew,” says Akhtar, who relaxes by taking a break and going on holidays.
“Of course, I have just begun and I am full of plans and yes I hope my films continue to speak to the youth.”
And her advice to young readers of HT Education is — there are no short cuts. You have to toil “and don’t be afraid to put yourself in there. You are the only original thing in the mix, so open your heart. Don’t try to be anyone else because that’s been done before. Find yourself and what makes you tick.”
You are the only original thing in the mix, so open your heart. Don’t try to be anyone else because that’s been done before — Zoya Akhtar, filmmaker