After making us fall in love with a sperm donor, Shoojit Sircar goes on a spy trail.Anuj Kumar speaks to the director known for his curious casting
Espionage is the beat for Bollywood this monsoon. After Nikhil Advani’s D-Day, Shoojit Sircar is ready with his Madras Café. It is a film that brought him and John Abraham together but as luck would have it the two decided to make Vicky Donor first. “A political spy thriller is a new territory not just for me but also Bollywood. I had no reference point. I didn’t want to make glitzy thriller like Ek That Tiger or Agent Vinod, which seem inspired by the Bond template. I want to show that intelligence officers are ordinary people who live amongst us. It is only that they have to solve issues where national security is at stake,” says Sircar.
The film is set against the Sri Lankan Civil War of the 90s and shows how a special officer of Army is sent by RAW to conduct a covert operation in the country. “During the course of the operation he realises that there is a bigger conspiracy. It is a fictional film but has its roots in the geo-political reality of the region.” It is his biggest film in terms of scale but Sircar clarifies that he has not shot in Sri Lanka. “Also it is not your usual Bollywood biggie. I know how to make a film look big without overspending,” he shoots point blank.
In terms of storytelling, Sircar says the challenge was to remain neutral. “I don’t think I am going to face any backlash from either of the two countries. The idea is to show how a covert operation works and what all an agent really goes through. It is a human story at the end of the day and is not biased against anybody.” The CBFC has passed the film with U/A certificate.
When it comes to espionage stories, we generally get an impression that Pakistan will be in the picture. So in terms of box office Sri Lanka seems a little far for a Hindi film. Sircar disagrees. “In terms of content Vicky Donor seemed even more distant to me but it worked. I believe audience are more open to fresh ideas these days. Also, I had already explored the Kashmir angle in Yahaan and was looking for a fresh challenge.”
Casting his net
The film’s casting is curious. John Abraham with Nargis Fakhri look more suited for a ramp walk than a reccee in the jungles of Jaffna. Sircar says he needed an actor who can easily get lost in the crowd but with John it seems next to impossible. “The role also requires a certain level of physicality and John has worked for the role. I agree this is a new territory for him but I think he has pitched it right. Let’s see how the audiences take him.”
As for Nargis, Sircar says her voice hasn’t been dubbed. “Cinema is a director’s medium and most of the storytelling depends on who he picks to tell it. Sometimes looking the part becomes more crucial than the acting prowess. Nargis is playing foreign war correspondent. I needed a girl who looks Indian journalist but has an accent so there is no chance that audience will remember her Rockstar performance while watching Madras Café. She will converse in English and she is familiar with the language,” says Sircar, adding he has used Hindi, English and Tamil in the film.
When it comes to casting it seems Sircar has put also all his risks in the same basket. The film will see his contemporaries from advertising circuit – Piyush Pandey and Agnello Dias playing crucial roles. “These are my friends and I asked them to have blind faith in me.” If that is not enough there is quizmaster Siddharth Basu making his big screen debut and then there is seasoned journalist Dibang. “Casting is crucial in such films. For a role of bureaucrat you need somebody, who not only understands politics but also converses like one. Siddharth fits the bill. He has done theatre at the beginning of his career and is familiar with camera. Dibang has an unusual face and it fits in a film on espionage,” Sircar chuckles. D-Day is right here!