Zoya Akhtar is treading new ground
Award-winning director Zoya Akhtar on helming a short film shot on a shoe-string budget
What does the Indian films’ centenary mean to you?
Cinema is the most defining form of entertainment in India. This country has been making films for 100 years! And somewhere it feels very good to be present and slightly relevant in its centenary year.
So how did you decide to be part of a film, Bombay Talkies, that commemorates the centenary?
I was having dinner with Anurag (Kashyap) and Dibakar (Banerjee) at the former’s house and they were discussing this project which would have four short films helmed by four different directors. I had just finished Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and I had nothing to do. I promptly said that I wanted to be part of this project too. Ashi Dua (who is the producer) told me that I could make what I wanted as long as the film was 25 minutes long and made within a budget of a crore and a half.
Having helmed star-studded ventures like Luck By Chance and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, were you comfortable working in a limited budget of R 1.5 crore?
It was exciting and challenging. Immediately, I thought of a ready script that I had for a short film, Zoom Zoom Yaara, about a little boy who dances to Hindi songs.
Usually it’s tough to work with children as one needs to understand their needs and temperament. How was your experience?
The two children in my film, Naman and Khushi, are possibly the best professional actors I have ever worked with. I had seen Naman in Chillar Party, I screen-tested him and he was fantastic; a great dancer. I sat with him and his parents and explained the script. I asked Naman: ‘Will you have any problem if your friends tease you in school because in the film you are going to dress up like a girl and dance?’ He just said: ‘I have no problem doing this. I don’t care. I am an actor.’ It was great to have a confident kid on board.
And why did you cast Katrina Kaif?
Katrina works perfectly because I needed someone to inspire the kid. I can’t imagine anyone else in this film. This movie is about the magic of dreams and I think Katrina is exactly that — nobody realised that she would achieve what she has today. It’s
that belief in yourself which takes you this far.
Your film is going to be instantly compared with the ones made by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap. Does that make you competitive?
It’s not a competition; nobody is getting a prize. We have all come together for this project, it’s our film. But yes, people will compare our movies, it is scary and at the same time exciting.
I believe it was you who coaxed Karan to come on board?
I didn’t force Karan, he is quite eccentric once you get to know him. He is capable of doing anything and he is very driven. He asked me whether I was doing the film, I said yes and asked him to join in. He complained that the budget is very small, but I told him to do it — it would be a great exercise. I just told him not to cheat. He jumped into it and he has made an amazing film.
Since it’s the centenary and you come from a famous film family, let me ask you how aware you are of the work of your paternal grandfather, lyricist Jaan Nisar Akhtar, and your mom and maternal aunt, the child stars Honey and Daisy Irani?
I am very well aware of their work. I have grown up watching their films. My grandfather had penned some great hits including Aaja re ... Noorie. My aunt and mother did a movie together as kids called Zameen Ke Taare. My mom also acted in films such as Pyar ki Pyaas and Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan.