Vidya Balan, director Anu Menon on Neeyat and comparisons with Knives Out: ‘That’s a good starting point'
Vidya Balan plays detective Maya Rao in Anu Menon's Neeyat. She shares her first reaction to the script and her take on those Daniel Craig comparisons.
Neeyat marks the second collaboration between director Anu Menon and actor Vidya Balan after Shakuntala Devi (2020). But, Neeyat sees them in a completely different world, where Vidya plays CBI officer Maya Rao, an unlikely detective, who has to uncover a murder mystery in an isolated castle in Scotland. In an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times, Vidya Balan and Anu Menon spoke candidly about the whodunit, the fascinating power of creating stories, their reaction to those Knives Out comparisons, and more. (Also read: Neeyat song Farebi: Vidya Balan's song will make you question who the real culprit is. Watch)
My first question is for you, Anu. Tell us a little about how you decided Neeyat was going to be your next film. And then Vidya, how did you get attached to this project?
Anu: When we did Shakuntala Devi, which was a very intense film, that was like 500 costumes, 60 locations, I used to joke that my next film will be one location, one costume. (laughs) It started off as a joke but then I also wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and to try something that I've never done. So, then I was like I really want to try this genre. Then I started working around what the story could be and started throwing ideas at the writers room. We took a while and I hope you like it! Eventually when it was ready I sent the script to her and bit my nails!
Vidya: I read it, and it took me a couple of days to read it. I so badly wanted to work with her again because it was a truly collaborative experience in the true sense of the word. When I read it finally it was like a snappy decision because I loved the script. I loved how it is your classic murder mystery yet its so unpredictable and original. So I said yes immediately.
Vidya, you've played a detective before in Bobby Jasoos. Also in Kahaani, you were playing a detective of sorts, where you are not a detective but you were also looking for the truth. And now Mira Rao in Neeyat. What has been the most enjoyable part of playing these characters?
I think every character to me is intriguing and if it's not then I don't end up doing it. I have to find… its not just being internal. It has to be organic to the person and it has to be part of the person's personality, the person's nature. That you have to arrive at. That I did with Anu. So there may be characters who have spoken less, that I have played in the past. But every character has been different.
Anu, for you Neeyat feels like a jump from your last film, and it is in a completely different genre. Now, you are also working with such a huge ensemble cast. Its interesting that you are looking at different kinds of scripts. Were you specifically inspired by certain detective stories and what were your influences?
I love the genre. That's one of my favourite genre, my go-to genre you can say. People watch action films, I will watch a murder mystery. I live in London and it's part of the culture, the English village etc. Every Christmas, there is a BBC adaptation of an Agatha Christie which is really massive. Boxing day, when it's cold outside and you watch a murder mystery. I love that and those aesthetics are there with me. That's why to find those in this story, for these characters in Scotland, felt like bringing all these elements together in my head that have been there for so many years. I go from genre to genre but eventually they are stories and they are about people. I am fascinated by my own choices as well. Its a little thought in your head that you start with. Then people come and help you. Then actors take it forward.
Ever since the trailer dropped, audience have picked one constant thread of how similar it looks like Knives Out. What do you have to say to these reactions?
A: I mean, it will remind them of Knives Out because it belongs to the same genre. If there was a spy film released, they might say that it looks like James Bond. So, it is the same genre but this is an original story. So what I would say that if you liked Knives Out and if you enjoyed watching it in the theatre, which a lot of people did, you will enjoy this too. Knives Out was a fun film, but I think Neeyat has, you can say, the same swaad (taste) but it is a different dish!
Vidya, how do you take these comparisons? With Daniel Craig's Benoit Blanc?
Vidya: Were there any comparisons? (Laughs) Wow I wasn't aware of that honestly because I don't read comments. There were a lot of comparisons to Knives Out and it was a successful film, so that's a good comparison. Since they have only seen our trailer so far, so that's a good starting point. I am enjoying it because I am not scared of any of these comparisons because I know the film we made and when people walk in to the theatres to watch Neeyat they will also know! That it is an original which Anu Menon and the other writers have spent precious lockdown time writing Night Out, sorry Neeyat! (laughs) I said Night Out! (laughs)
Anu: Call it Neeyat Out from now! (both laugh)
Vidya, Neeyat also marks a theatrical release for you after 4 years. What does that mean for you? Do you think the audience have become extra choosy these days when it comes to theatrical releases in the rise of OTT ?
Vidya: I think people have become cautious about the money they spend, so when there's good word of mouth in this age, people do go to the theaters and I am hoping that they enjoy Neeyat and that the word of mouth is strong. I feel we have done our best really and that's all one can hope for. I think every film has an audience and if audiences like it they will watch it in a theatre and again watch it on OTT later. We welcome that!
Neeyat released in theatres on July 7.