'Prateik did three auditions for me in Benaras'

Manish Tiwari, the director of Dil Dosti Etc, tells us why he can't cast Kareena Kapoor  in Issaq, his adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and how Prateik makes the perfect modern-day Romeo

Issaq is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Is a story about opposition to love relevant today?
Absolutely. Romeo and Juliet was written 400 years ago, but it  still remains relevant. Shakespeare offers all the high emotions and dramatic tension; and we have adapted the story to ensure that it provides a lot for today's audience too. There have been at least two adaptations of Romeo and Juliet in the West, and we have had films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, so I thought of lending the story my take and treatment. Issaq is a hard-hitting, realistic treatment of Romeo and Juliet. Some characters have been added. I am updating a very popular subject.

Prateik plays a modern-day Romeo in Issaq

Why is your Romeo and Juliet adaptation set in Benaras?
Romeo and Juliet came from a feudal background, which may not be applicable in Europe now, but it is in India. And it is nowhere more visible than in the heartland. The second reason is that I know Benaras well, so I could add many more shades. The background allows the basic material to flower well.

You have added a Naxalite angle, we hear.
Not just Naxalism, there are other contemporary political and class discussions in the film too. It makes the film more interesting for me. Prashant Narayan is playing a Naxal leader; he is an actor I love.

Prateik has not yet been seen as a romantic hero, and was liked in non-flamboyant roles like in Jaane Tu ... and Dhobi Ghat.

This is not a typical love story. Our Romeo has a dark past before he turns the corner and opts for love. Prateik is a good choice. I met him a year-and-a-half ago. He did a thorough audition for me: he came to Benaras and shot at least three different scenes -- an action scene, a romantic one and a scene which captured his bonding with Shakespearean characters Mercutio and Benvolio. I was convinced that he was capable of a spectrum of feelings. I was convinced about his potential.

Why did you not repeat your Dil Dosti Etc. actor, Imaad Shah?
In Dil Dosti Etc., Imaad offered angst, anxiety and intellectualism. For Romeo, I needed someone who could externalise, and Prateik is good at that. Also, in Imaad, I was attracted to (his father) Naseeruddin Shah, and now it is (Prateik's mother) Smita Patil.

Since Prateik is a known face, wouldn't it have been better to cast a well-known actress opposite him?
Yes, it would have been better but I couldn't find anyone. Even if Kareena Kapoor agrees to play Juliet, I can't cast her because I need an 18 year-old. I could have kept waiting for a star daughter to turn 18, or gone with the girl who is the right choice for Bachchi.

Why have you kept the name and identity of the girl a secret?
It is not my decision. It comes from the producers. It is a PR exercise because they want to reveal her identity at the right time. I agree with them. Right now, we are shooting in Benaras and I want to go on with my work without media distractions for the girl.

Imtiaz Ali too is revealing little about Rockstar female lead Nargis Fakhri.
Imtiaz is good at PR, and I think we should follow the trend. If it is working for Imtiaz, it should work for us too.

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