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'I am Sridevi's greatest fan ever'

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In an ideal world, film reviewers won’t dare to make a film. But then, we don’t live in an ideal world and Sandeep Malani loves to challenge stereotypes. This reviewer-turned-filmmaker with a Sindhi surname prefers to call himself a Mangalorean as he was born and brought up down in Karnataka. He is currently looking forward to the release of his debut Hindi Janleva 555.

Sandeep Malani

The film has Kalpana Pandit in the leading role and features several newcomers. Sandeep is also a huge Sridevi fan and the interesting part is that the actress knows it too. In a freewheeling chat, the 40-year-old director talks about his upcoming film, his favourite actress and much more.

First of all, tell me something about your early days as a filmmaker?
My dad was a film distributor and he was the one who introduced me to cinema. As a journalist, I used to review South Indian and Hindi films. I’ve even acted in a couple of Konkani, Kannada and Tulu movies. Writing about movies and acting in a few of them gave me the chance to pen a script for a Kannada film. That’s how I got into filmmaking.

When exactly did Bollywood happen?
After moving to Mumbai, I made a Pahaadi film called Woh 5 Din. Then I directed some short films including Jojo Laali - revolving around HIV AIDS - which won me and Kalpana Pandit several awards. Then I made another short film titled Shaayad. It was about a friendly relationship between a gay and a girl living together. These two films gave me a lot of recognition. I’ve also worked with Onir as an assistant director on two of his films Abhimanyu and Omar. Working with Onir encouraged me to pursue my kind of cinema.

Sandeep Malani with Sridevi and Boney Kapoor
Sandeep Malani with Sridevi and Boney Kapoor

Tell me something about Janleva 555.
I’ve written and directed this film. It’s about today’s generation with a little bit of past generation. It basically revolves about a group of documentary filmmakers who go into a deep dense forest and face mysterious incidents. Nobody is getting killed or anything, just that the main actress has a past connected to the number 555 and the location they are in. That’s what the story is all about.

How is this film different from others?
To begin with, it can’t be slotted in one genre. It has a little bit of everything-fun, romance, comedy and drama. It’s a musical too with 15 songs. I don’t remember the last Hindi film that had this many songs! I’m projecting this film as a musical-mystical-romantic thriller for all seasons. It has nine music directors and singers. Among them are Deepa Narayan (Udit Narayan’s wife) who’s singing in a Hindi film for the first time and then we also have singers from reality show: Raja Hasan, Aditi Paul and Ravi Shukla. The songs are choreographed by Longinus Fernandes of Slumdog Millionaire fame. Besides, I’m introducing 10 newcomers in this film.

Kalpana Pandit
Kalpana Pandit

Why do you prefer working with newcomers?
If I don’t give them a chance, then who else will? Going by the trends, only producers and directors’ kids are getting a break. What about the rest of those coming from a non-filmi background? And believe me, these kids have potential to make it big because they’ve worked harder to get where they are today. My first Kannada film had 13 newcomers and most of them are doing good in their career. One of them, Diganth is the heartthrob of Kannada cinema. With Janleva 555, I am introducing 10 new faces Akash, Mann, Anant, Ranjeet, Rajeev, Vaseem, Willy, Shona, Babli and an American Cliff Janke.

What’s the story behind your affection for Sridevi?
I’m simply mad about her. I’d call myself her greatest fan alive! I have been her fan since I was seven when I first saw her on big screen in the Tamil film Kalyan Raman. Since then, I have been only following Sridevi. I have the entire collection of all her songs, all her pictures and all her songs. I’ve met her five times now. She was kind enough to even watch Janleva 555 too. Right from my early days, I’ve followed her in all her films be it of any language. In fact I’ve dedicated my debut Bollywood directorial venture to her. I’m glad English Vinglish is releasing two weeks before my film does because I’d be more concerned about her film than my own!

Janleva 555 features Kalpana Pandit...
Yes, in fact, the film is being produced by her and it’s my honour to reintroduce her as an actress. People might remember her the song Jaan Leva that she performed with Arjun Rampal in Moksha. But this film will showcase her talent as a full fledged and a very talented actress. Interestingly, our film’s title is reminscent of the song she’s known for!

What next?
Once I’m done with this film, I’ll get busy with Filmalani 100 which is my tribute to 100 hundreds of Indian cinema. It will release on 21st April 2013 to coincide with the release of India’s first full-length feature film Raja Harishchandra which premiered on 21 April 1913. And then there is a documentary to be made on Sridevi’s entire acting career from her childhood to motherhood (Kandan Karunai to English Vinglish) that I’ll be presenting to her on her 50th birthday.

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