Director Shashant Shah on filmmaking and giving women their due in his latest Bajatey Raho

He hates running away from situations. And he never has. Except for just once. And Shashant Shah says that his wife loves him for it! “I have marked time as a choreographer too, and once, for a prestigious Bollywood tour, my group and I were made to wait for hours till the ‘star’ came on, and I was then pushed to the sidelines while the just-arrived star took centre stage. For a guy like me, who’s extremely fond of being the centre of attraction, that was one big blow. I didn’t take up that big assignment, and eventually gave up choreography to find my way into direction. My wife says that’s good, because marrying a director is better than marrying a choreographer!” laughs Shashant, who has been at the helm of the deliciously languid Dasvidaniya (2008) and the slice-of-life Chalo Dilli (2011), and is now back with a revenge-based comedy titled Bajatey Raho (set for release on July 26).

Shashant says that making that shift was essential for him, as he is consumed by the process of direction. “Content matters a lot to me. If I know that a group of 500-odd people are sitting, all together, to watch my film in a cinema hall, I’d better take my role seriously. Our work influences people, so we need to communicate the right things. Of course, it needs to be packaged right. I strongly think that if I can lure you with my entertainment, I can con you with my story,” he says, with a wink.

The story of Bajatey Raho (colloquial for ‘keep hitting back’) revolves around four people from different walks of life, who are conned by a man. They join forces and seek revenge, resulting in a series of cons to con him back. The star cast led by Dolly Ahluwalia (of Vicky Donor fame) also boasts of Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Tusshar Kapoor, Vishakha Singh and Ravi Kishan. “I was very inspired by that one line in Agneepath which goes, ‘Sawaal jis jubaan mein kiyaa jaaye…Jawaab usi jubaan mein dena chahiye…’ (Roughly translated it means ‘The answer should be given in the same language in which the question has been asked’). So when a conman is ruining people’s lives, my characters respond in a similar manner. It is a telling tale of India today, focusing on its various scandals and the mess that needs to be cleared up. But, as I said, with a liberal amount of entertainment.”

Having a senior actor as the mainstay of your film is quite a risky proposition, but the director’s first poster itself showed Dolly Ahluwalia in the thick of things, posing as a modern-day avatar of ‘Maa Kali’. “My earlier idea for the film was quite different, but when I saw Dolly performing in Vicky Donor, I gave my script a rethink and proposed the idea of making her character central to my star cast. The only question each of them asked me was, ‘We are still there in your film, aren’t we?’ The reason I did it was because I wanted to break the uni-dimensional image in which we see our mothers, wives and sisters. Since childhood, we are made to believe that women should behave in a certain way. But not in my realm. My granny was a working woman, so was my mother and now my wife. They have a life of their own. I want to shape the views of the people who watch my film, in a certain way. One that tells them what a woman can be,” says Shashant.

With a long-spanning career in television content production and direction, including various shows on Channel [V] and the long-running The Great Indian Comedy Show, Shashant says that film direction happened almost like an overnight decision. “I was shooting with Ranvir Shorey for The Great Indian Comedy Show and fussing regarding certain camera angles, when he told me that nobody would even notice it, and that films are the right place for me. It was two in the morning and I thought, why not! I ganged up with my Channel [V]-but-not-Channel [V] writer Arshad Sayed and another Channel [V]-but-not-Channel [V] (which, we gather, translates into creative but still not lazy) buddy Vinay Pathak and made Dasvidaniya.”

When personal congratulatory calls came in from various quarters, including David Dhawan, Rajkumar Hirani and writer Jaideep Sahni, Shashant, who is most influenced by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and Frank Darabont, was mighty pleased. “I always like to make films where the family can sit and get entertained together and take something away from the experience. Until recently, I was working on two scripts, but I am not excited about them anymore,” he says with a smile.