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All that nautanki

SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO
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Conversation As his forthcoming film Nautanki Saala gets ready for release, Rohan Sippy recaps his rendezvous with theatre and connects the dots

tryst with stageDirector Rohan SippyPhoto: Nagara Gopal
tryst with stageDirector Rohan SippyPhoto: Nagara Gopal

Some time last summer, Rohan Sippy met Ayushmann Khurrana and Kunaal Roy Kapur with the idea of Nautanki Saala . Each of them had a theatre connection. Kunaal has worked in theatre for more than a decade, Ayushmann is no stranger to plays and Rohan directed the musical Love and All That Jazz in 2011. “I told the Chivas group we could do a musical and then I was flummoxed how to go about it. I had made films but never a play. Things fell into place when Ranjit Barot wrote brilliant songs and we got together a good set of actors and musicians,” says Rohan.

Nautanki Saala, scheduled to release on April 12, is a comedy where two stage actors — Ram Parmar (Ayushmann) who plays Raavan and Mandar Lele (Kunaal) as Ram — vie for the same girl. Rohan’s own experience of directing a musical came in handy. “I found theatre intoxicating. Unlike a film, you have no control over your actors or the scenes once the play begins,” he says. That was also the first time Rohan did workshops with his actors. “I liked the end result. Similarly, I did a two-three week workshop for Nautanki Saala with all the key actors; that formed the foundation for the film that explores the bonding between these two stage actors,” he says.

Rohan insists Nautanki Saala is not one of those mind-numbing laughathons Bollywood churns out these days. “There’s no slapstick here. For instance, Kunaal is serious about acting on stage but ends up giving the worst ever audition. Such situations give us plenty of laughs,” he says, immensely pleased with his lead actors. “You can write the funniest lines but they will fall flat if you don’t have good actors. Both Kunaal and Ayushmann are terrific.”

We remind Rohan of the drama elements in Bluffmaster . And much later, Rohan produced the film adaptation of the successful play The President is Coming , directed by Kunaal. Rohan’s own exposure to theatre happened after his college days. “I was an observer than a participant at Prithvi theatre. I liked how some productions re-invented Shakespeare’s plays. They played to the gallery and resembled masala Hindi films but they were vibrant and entertaining. To paraphrase Steve Jobs and ‘connect the dots’, I think all that exposure to theatre somehow reflects in my films,” he exclaims.

A Rohan Sippy directorial, so far, has never been complete without his childhood buddy Abhishek Bachchan. He makes his presence in Nautanki Saala too, through a cameo.

“Abhishek was the first person I discussed the film with. He liked it and wanted a small part in it. Abhishek plays himself and we shot this portion at Mumbai’s Liberty Cinema. Incidentally, this is where his first film Refugee had its premiere in 2000,” says Rohan.

Next, Rohan will be producing Sonali Cable directed by screen writer Charudutt Acharya. “Hopefully I shall direct something soon to improve my average,” he laughs. Dum Maaro Dum (2011) came six years after Bluffmaster (2005) but Nautanki Saala comes barely two years later.

“When my wife got pregnant I thought I should get serious about my work and made a quick film,” he guffaws and adds, “Sometimes films happen earlier than expected. Take the case of Bluffmaster . One fine day Abhishek called and said let’s begin next month. Karan (Johar) had postponed Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna by four months and Abhishek’s calendar was free. After Sonali Cable , I should start my next directorial.”

SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO

You can write the funniest lines but they will fall flat if you don’t have good actors. Both Kunaal and Ayushmann are terrific

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