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A candid chat with 'Gulaab Gang' director Soumik Sen

Debutante director Soumik Sen has managed to achieve a feat by casting arch rivals Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla in his directorial debut Gulaab Gang. The young filmmaker talks about  working with the two divas and why he chose a women-oriented subject for his directorial venture

Despite being a male director, you have chosen to debut with a women-oriented project like Gulaab Gang. Do you find it remarkable?
In most action films, the most powerful roles are essayed by men while the women play the girlfriend or the wife. Here it is the reverse — here it is Madhuri Dixit versus Juhi Chawla. And the men play brother and father! Somebody said that I am the male Zoya Akhtar because she made the male-oriented Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which is a huge compliment.


Director Soumik Sen on the sets of Gulaab Gang with Madhuri Dixit

So is Gulaab Gang about women empowerment?
This film is a page beyond that because the women are already empowered. It is a story about two successful women: one (played by Juhi Chawla) is a politician and the other (played by Madhuri Dixit) runs a self-help ashram of weavers. This is not Mrityudand or an uprising against men. It is not an art film; it is a clutter-breaking project.


Director Soumik Sen

Do Madhuri and Juhi have a physical combat in the movie?
No, they don’t have a hand-to-hand combat. There is no Uma Thurman v/s Daryl Hannah sword-fight (a la Kill Bill). It is a battle of power. Action to me is just an extension of dance. I didn’t want body doubles for any action sequence. I had met other actresses who didn’t want to do action sequences but fortunately my choices proved right.

But why did you choose Madhuri and Juhi considering their roles sound totally different from their respective images? Was it difficult to convince them?
Convincing Madhuri was not difficult but reaching out to her was. I met Madhuri in 2012 and she heard the detailed narration of the script. In two meetings she said she would do the film. This movie wouldn’t have happened if Madhuri had said no. I am a debutante director, but things became easier when Madhuri Dixit decided to back my project.
Juhi was tougher to convince. She couldn’t believe that she had been offered this role. Her role is black; there’s not an iota of goodness in her character. Her character completely destroys the image she has. And that’s why there’s buzz about the film.

Juhi has refused films with Madhuri earlier.
Juhi said that she wouldn’t do films with Madhuri, because then she wouldn’t have anything lucrative to do in the project. But she is playing the villain in Gulaab Gang and she had a lot of fun playing mean.

Twenty years ago, which diva were you a bigger fan of?
That’s an unfair question. I have always loved Juhi’s comic timing, and Madhuri is a legend. I have grown up watching them.

Was either actress insecure about the other?
No. Their roles were well established, neither did Madhuri want to do Juhi’s role and vice versa. In their era, both were vying for the same roles. I wasn’t around then but both maintain that this entire rivalry was created by the press. There’s huge conjecture that they didn’t get along but they didn’t know each other at all; they had met only socially. The ice was broken during the course of this film.

Did you have to do a balancing act to keep both happy?
No. I wasn’t trying to give them equal number of scenes.

Is this film the same as Gulaab which Raveena Tandon and Tabu were supposed to do?
It doesn’t matter now. I wouldn’t want to comment on that.

Juhi is mouthing some masaledaar dialogue in the trailer.
She is not using foul language. It is just a play of words.

Did Madhuri and Juhi’s kids ever drop in on the sets?
Juhi’s kids never came in. Madhuri’s two kids, sister and father came into the studio when she was singing. And her kids once came to the sets too but left almost immediately as they were bored to death.

Madhuri’s recent release Dedh Ishqiya won critical reviews but didn’t get a great opening at the box office. Has that made you reconsider your release strategy?
There are two kinds of films — some have a good opening while some niche films start on a low note but pick up later. Dedh Ishqiya will gain over time. It is a successful cult film with great reviews. There have been no changes in my strategy.

You have written the Kishore Kumar biopic which Anurag Basu is directing. Did you ever consider making your directorial debut with this film?
It is a massive film. I didn’t want to debut with it because there would have been skepticism. Anurag is more experienced than I am. I work only for friends.

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