How did Sixteen happen?
I made two television shows School Days and School School for Doordarshan. While working on these two shows, I got to interact a lot with this younger generation and realised how their lifestyle, their way of thinking is very different from ours when we were growing up 15 years back. They are far more exposed, far more practical.
Along with my co-writer Pawan Sony, I did a lot of research, met a lot of teenagers, parents, teachers, even counsellors. That led to Sixteen. But it wasn’t easy to make this film since it doesn’t have any stars and teen film genre is not very prevalent here unlike Hollywood. Thankfully, I found a producer in my friend Shailesh. We have known each other for a long time and we share the same passion to make good cinema.
Many filmmakers are catering to this younger generation now.
A majority of our population, especially film-goers comprises the youth, so that will obviously happen. But we did not make the film out of market compulsions. It is a fun film but it also shows the pains of growing up. Also, the film does not take sides or pass any moral judgments.
You started as a production assistant to Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
(Laughs) I came to Mumbai in 1993. I was really young and not as smart as today’s teenagers (laughs), had just completed my schooling in Delhi and had no clue how the Mumbai film industry functions. So I went to the offices of all the big directors like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Subhash Ghai and Shekhar Kapur. Finally I got a job as a production assistant for 1942, A Love Story. Though I never considered acting but I remember finishing one or two shots of Anil Kapoor as his body double wearing his costumes where his face is not shown. It makes me laugh when I look back but it was a huge learning experience.
Virat Kohli’s girl friend Izabelle Leite is making her debut with your film.
I do not know about her personal life and would not wish to get into it. She is a Brazilian model and an excellent actress. I chose her for the character of Anu because she suited the character of this ambitious girl who wants to be a big model and is more mature than the other girls. I had my reservations since she could not speak Hindi but she worked really hard and surprised me on the sets. When you see her in film, you will not realise that she is not Indian.
Rest of the cast we hear is actually around that age except VJ Keith.
Yes, Wamiqa, Mahak and Highphill were the right age and suited their roles to a T. They are all very talented, hardworking and gave everything to their roles. Keith plays a 32-year-old writer, which is again his actual age. The moment I met him, I knew he could do justice to his character. He had the intelligence and the vulnerability that I needed for the character.