Nitesh and I’ve made separate films and have our own identities: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
The husband-wife duo, Nitesh Tiwari and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, open up about their inspirations, creative processes and more.Updated: Aug 07, 2017, 15:15 IST
At a time when the entire Bollywood universe is fitted between Bandra-Juhu-Andheri belt, the husband-wife duo – Nitesh Tiwari and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari – are happily ensconced, far away from all the razzmatazz and limelight, in Chembur. Maybe, that’s why their stories and films – be it Chillar Party, Dangal or Nil Battey Sannata – are so rooted, real and connected. As Ashwiny gears up for the release of her next directorial, Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB), she admits to be a nervous wreck. “Every morning, I wake up at 3.30 or 4, check subtitles of the film and go back to sleep,” she says with a laugh. On the other hand, Nitesh –who has also written the script for BKB – clearly looks calmer than her.
Who is more nervous about BKB?
Nitesh: I am not so nervous because the kind of reaction the film has generated is nice, which comes as a reassurance. So, I am in quite a chilled space (smiles). But Ashwiny will rightfully be nervous because it’s the janta janardhan (people) that will finally decide the fate of the film.
Ashwiny: I think that’s true for any form of creative work. The actual gratification happens only once it is out because when you’re so immersed in your work, you lose perspective. But even Virat Kohli (Indian cricket captain) must be nervous before every match.
How is life when two creative minds live under the same roof?
Nitesh: I think we switch roles. When my film is up for release, she becomes the pacifier, and vice versa.
Ashwiny: Nitesh knows that if I am nervous, I eat a lot, especially paani puri (laughs). It’s my comfort food.
Nitesh: So, on those days when I realise that she is extra fidgety, I get paani puri on my way back home. Ghar aake 50 baatein sunne se acha hai ki paani puri khila do (laughs).
Ashwiny: Everyone has their respective outlets. So, Nitesh watches reruns of very old cricket matches (smiles).
Nitesh: Yes, so, I would either be on the phone playing a game or watch TV. It’s about [doing] anything that takes your attention away [from your film’s release].
Since both of you know each other inside out, does it bring a lot of comfort?
Ashwiny: We have been working with each for really long so, comfort factor does come in. I feel any writer and director’s relationship is almost like a husband and wife, and in our case, it has been very literal (laughs). A writer writes a story with a vision and has a belief that a director will either take it to the next level or at least will do full justice. So, that trust is very important. That ‘trust’ also gives a lot of freedom to the directors but directors also must know how much they can ‘improvise’.
Nitesh: I don’t think either of us is fussy. She isn’t like, ‘Nitesh has to write all my scripts’ and even I don’t feel that I will write all my films.
Ashwiny: Exactly. The thinking has to match.
Nitesh: I don’t think we are rigid in that sense. I did that [working on someone else’s scripts] when I did ad films. So I am not new or I am not alien to that form of storytelling. We are very open.
Do you both have fights over creative differences?
Nitesh: There have been no fights as such.
Ashwiny: But yes, we have had arguments, for sure. We would lie if we say they don’t happen.
Nitesh: But arguments are extremely healthy. In fact, I always like to write in a team because I very strongly believe that one needs to explore all the possible options before choosing which option to go ahead with. So the more fertile minds you are working with, the more options you will have, and then whoever is the director – Ashwiny or I -- will take the final call.
Nitesh, how much do you involve yourself in a film that has been written by you?
Firstly, I don’t go for the shoots because I completely believe in my directors. Also, since I myself am a director, I make a conscious call not to go for the shoots because it’s natural for you to start behaving like a director on the location and that’s dangerous. If I’m a director, even I’d not like anyone else to do that with me. So, I didn’t go for the shoots of Nil Battey Sannata and made a conscious call to not go for the Bareilly Ki Barfi shoot too.
Ashwiny: You know, when Nitesh was shooting Dangal, I used to take kids [on the sets] for them to meet but I was never like, ‘how has this (in the film) happened or why it’s not that way?’
Can it be a dangerous proposition too when two creative minds live under the same roof?
Nitesh: I think what works for us is that we don’t cross our boundaries when it comes to each other’s jobs. If you have absolute clarity on that front, the chances of clash are almost non-existent. I am always there to support her but she is entitled to whether she takes an advice from me or not. Differences of opinions are bound to happen but you need to have maturity to handle it.
Ashwiny: For example, I can have a point of view vis-à-vis art direction [of a film] but then it’s up to the art director to take the suggestion or not. But I feel that one shouldn’t say things when it’s too late. You should say it on the spot.
Both of you worked at the same ad agency, Leo Burnett?
Nitesh: Yes, I was her boss – at least in office (laughs). We knew each other way before either of us became directors and I don’t think either of us even saw each other becoming directors. We met in 2003; six years before I started work on my first film.
So, what brought you two together?
Nitesh: We got together because we are similar thinking creative people who kind of got along very well. At the agency, we were extremely professional and didn’t give anybody a chance to talk about me being unfair or biased towards her just because she is my wife and I do the same with her movies also. The reason why I don’t go for her shoots is so that nobody gets a chance to say, ‘oh, yeh tha shoot pe (he was at the shoot).’ I always dealt with her in a very professional way and I think everybody understood and respected us for doing so. But when she became a director, I was pleasantly surprised.
Ashwiny: I didn’t even ask him. I had to do it, so I went ahead with it (laughs).
Nitesh: I am not the kind who ever imposes my opinion on her. I have always been very supportive of whatever she wants to do. So, when she said that she wants to try her hand in direction, my only question was, ‘are you sure?’ And that before jumping into it full time, she should test herself, which is extremely important because there is a lot of money and someone else’s money involved. So, she started off with a short film.
Ashwiny: Direction is all about whether you have it in you or not.
Nitesh: It’s all about what kind of a storyteller you are. When she made her short film (What’s For Breakfast), I told her that she was good. After that I never questioned her. It’s always about being honest with each other. So, tomorrow, if you ask me to make Baahubali, I won’t because it’s not me. I have to play to my strengths and not somebody else’s.
Do you two think that there might be comparisons between your works?
Ashwiny: We are grateful that comparisons aren’t there as everyone knows that we both have made two separate films on our own and have our individual identities. But at times, people are like, ‘how much has Nitesh helped you?’ No one asks Nitesh how much I have helped him. Maybe, that’s how people think in our country.
Nitesh: Comparisons aren’t there and I am very happy about that. She has carved her own niche, and comparisons would be unfair because we are two different individuals and have our own styles.
Between the two of you, who is more critical?
Nitesh: I think both of us are equally critical of each other’s works.
Ashwiny: I am a little critical when it comes to art direction.
Nitesh: Criticism is a wrong word; it’s constructive feedback, which I personally believe in a lot.
Ashwiny: Yes, it’s more to do with open conversations.
Nitesh: We aren’t God’s gift to mankind, so if somebody’s suggestion can make things better, I am open to that. I am not a stuck-up person. At the end of the day, the project is important and not my ego or personal belief. So, we are not scared to give constructive feedback to each other.
Ashwiny: Maybe, it’s because both of us come from the advertising background wherein we used to get lots of constructive feedback. Regardless of whether they got accommodated [in the final idea] or not, we would listen to everyone. There are things, which might come from the most unexpected place but can make a lot of difference. Also, neither of us are very strong headed people. We don’t have egos.
Nitesh: I think living with each other has also helped us achieve that because otherwise we would not have survived as a couple (smiles). That balance also reflects in the way we behave with other people.
How did Bareilly Ki Barfi started off?
Nitesh: She had read a book, Ingredients of Love.
Ashwiny: I am very impulsive, so if I like something, I immediately think about it and do it too (laughs).
Nitesh: Ashwiny thought the book was worth giving a shot. Then I also read the book. It had something very interesting about it and had the potential of becoming a commercial film. But I am one of those writers, who takes a lot of time to write and I usually don’t get completely convinced with 4-5 lines because they are very difficult to hold on for two hours. So I had told her, ‘the basic premise seems interesting but let’s see how it pans out and what we can do with it.’ A great idea with a great execution is a fantastic product but you can’t always achieve that but the biggest acid test is to have a fantastic execution.
Be it Nil Battey Sannata, Chillar Party or Dangal, one can’t miss the sanity and simplicity. But is it difficult to be ‘simple’?
Ashwiny: I think it is very important to understand people and know more about them because, as story tellers, if we do not get involved and know our audience then somewhere we are cheating by creating an unknown world which they may or may not resonate with. If you are creating a fantasy land, then it’s a different thing. I strongly believe that as a director when you are telling stories, you do need to know who you are talking to, who your audience is and why they are coming to watch your movies. I love going to the roots, else you will never know the real life, and it especially holds true for our kind of storytelling.
Nitesh: I will differ with her a bit and will not say that the kind of films we make is ‘the way’ of making films. There are enough people willing to consume all kinds of cinema. We are happy that enough number of people consumes the kind of work we do. All kinds of cinema should be made and loved by the audience.
Ashwiny: Making films, just storytelling or anything associated with this profession (film-making) involves a lot of hard work. The other day, I was telling Nitesh that doctors should be glorified more as they are saving lives. This profession can suck you in and can make you feel like you are the most important person in the world, which you are not since it’s very unpredictable.
But is it difficult to achieve the sense of simplicity and realism in films?
Nitesh: Whether it’s writing a 30 second advertisement or a two hour long commercial film, nothing is easy. The more the audience can relate to the characters, the more it will benefit the end product. That is why I prefer to write more about characters that are borrowed from real life, and I do borrow from real life, including names.
Ashwiny: So, a lot of people will associate with the character of Chirag Dubey (from BKB). My distribution team saw the trailer and told me, ‘he is such a cool character.’ If we write or direct a film and think, ‘oh, audience wants only this’ then, as storytellers, we aren’t breaking any barrier, so how will audience watch new cinema? I am very excited about the kind of stories being picked up now and the fact that producers backing it. Film-makers as well as audiences are becoming fearless now.
Nitesh, Ashwiny, what’s the good and not-so-good thing about each other?
Ashwiny: He is very patient with everyone and I don’t think he wishes ill for anyone. It’s very important to be a good human being. But he takes too long to decide anything.
Nitesh: She is extremely loving and caring and extremely compassionate in general. And her inquisitiveness still remains intact. But she is more impulsive than me. A lot of times I have to hold her back (laughs).
What are your expectations from Bareilly Ki Barfi?
Ashwiny: I don’t have big expectations as such but I want audiences to accept the film with a lot of love. Gratification is very important for any creative person, including me.
Nitesh: I want people to come out smiling from the theatres after watching the film. People should like what you have done.
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