In a way, director Veena Bakshi lifted the ace actor, Naseeruddin Shah, from the dumps he had sunk into. After years of sheer brilliant performance, Shah was so disappointing in The Dirty Picture, 7 Khoon Maaf and The Girl in Yellow Boots. Bakshi pulled him out and extracted a magnificent portrayal of a coffin-maker, who after years of battling it out with the bottle and warring alone on the chess board, begins to live - when death (in the form of Randeep Hooda) comes visiting him. It gives him one month of life and tells him, go have a ball. The film, The Coffin Maker, was Bakshi's first and was part of the competition section in the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) last year. Later, it went on to win the National Award for the Best English Language Picture.
Shah's Anton Gomes takes this as a challenge, perks up and even takes his wife of long years, Isabella (played to perfection by Shah's real wife, Ratna Shah Pathak) on a dinner date. There is this little scene enacted on a street in Goa - where The Coffin Maker was shot in its entirety - where the long-quarrelling couple even waltzes. This is the only time she is in a bright red dress, the colour probably an indication of the impending death.
Bakshi infused a new meaning into the existence of her tragic protagonist. She managed to keep afloat her hero - who could have in some other movie sunk into despair, dragging viewers into an emotional whirlpool.
During a chat at Panaji at the just concluded IFFI, Bakshi regretted that although her film travelled to several festivals, it did not go to many others (Washington, Seattle and so on), because the producer just could not care less. "He is not a movie man. So he did not understand the importance of pushing it further into the festival circuit. I think one should not make a film just because one has the money."
Anyway, Bakshi has decided to put that behind, and now she is all set to make Shanti Tower. It is based in Mumbai and it is a lighter look at the rental problem of the city. "The stories I have heard from friends who have had to rent a living space are traumatic. There is this friend of mine, a 40-year-old bachelor, who was told by the flat owner's association to get a letter from his parents stating that their son could stay alone! Otherwise, the association said he could not rent a flat there. He was in a state of shock. He could not believe it. "Imagine asking me to get permission from my parents whether I could live alone. He was devastated," Bakshi contended.
"There was another guy who was told by another owners' association to change his Honda car, because it was 18 inches longer than the parking slot allotted to him," Bakshi broke out laughing. "Is this not amusing?"
Bakshi will incorporate all these little incidents into Shanti Tower and probably create a fascinating movie - which is both caustic and witty. She is yet to begin casting. The principal photography will begin between April and June next year. "We will be shooting in Delhi and Mumbai, because my protagonist is a young man whose work takes him from India's political capital to financial hub," Bakshi averred.
The story is about this young man, whose father is a very rich entrepreneur running a chain of upmarket dhabas in Delhi. And when the son decides to become a chef in one of Mumbai's five star hotels, the old man is appalled. "How can you be a bawarchi in someone else's kitchen," he demands to know.
The young man likes a flat in Mumbai's Shanti Tower, and meets the president of that housing society. But little does he know that Shanti Tower is a misnomer, for there is a lot of 'ashanti' there.