The men behind films like Vicky Donor and Madras Café — producer Ronnie Lahiri and director Shoojit Sircar — are relieved with the positive reactions to the trailer of their forthcoming father-daughter film, Piku . But the journey so far has been tough for the two Delhi boys. Their Shoebite — which Amitabh Bachchan has repeatedly called a film precious to him — has been stuck in litigation for six years.
Shoebite was originally produced by UTV Motion Pictures (then headed by Ronnie Screwvala). In 2008, Percept Pictures (now defunct) sued UTV Motion Pictures for copyright infringement. The case was dismissed. A year later, Twentieth Century Fox International sued UTV Motion Pictures for copyright infringement, claiming that the original story of Shoebite belonged to them and was to be made with Denzel Washington. Reports suggest that Fox had fallen out with UTV Motion Pictures during the production of Manoj Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (a co-production). Since then, the ownership of UTV Motion Pictures has changed hands. It is currently owned by Walt Disney Company India. While the second litigation too has been withdrawn by Fox, both international film studios need to come to mutually agreeable terms of the film’s release.
While its original producers show little interest, Shoojit and Ronnie keep trying to ensure their film sees the light of day. Here, they talk about Shoebite and Piku .
In Piku, you have focussed on a slice of life of C. R. Park, a locality that still feels like old-world Bengal. WithVicky Donortoo, you captured the texture and feel of Lajpat Nagar in New Delhiaccurately. Are your stories personal? Are cityscapes integral to your films?
Yes, it is a very personal story. We have seen these things at a very personal level. My writer Juhi Chaturvedi and I have seen such characters in our lives. There is a lot of us that translates into the film. I believe everyone in the audience will be able to relate to at least one character in Piku .
Milieu and context are important to me. I work towards that consciously. When people watched Madras Café , quite a few who had been to Sri Lanka during that phase said that everything felt real. With Piku , you get a feel of a type of Delhi culture. But even if audiences are not familiar with that aspect of Delhi, family life as shown in Piku will be relatable, as families behave similarly everywhere.
How did you manage to sign up three stars forPiku?
Shoojit Sircar: We wrote the film keeping these three actors in mind. Irrfan Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone were my first choices. Luckily, all three agreed to do the film! I had a great time watching them act together.
Ronnie Lahiri: When we approached Deepika for Piku , we assumed she would take time to read the script and consider the role. But she agreed to do the film the very next day.
To bring up an unfortunate issue, what went wrong withShoebite?
Ronnie Lahiri : The litigation over certain rights, which began between UTV Motion Pictures and Fox Star India years ago, is now over. Walt Disney Company India, which owns UTV Films and Fox Star Studios, has withdrawn the case. Both studios need to mutually agree to certain terms and conditions for its release. That still hasn’t happened and the international studios are working that out.
( Sighs ) It has been absolutely frustrating. This has set us back by 4-5 years. We have managed to overcome it now, and have learnt a lot from this episode. We still hope to release it. The film is not about a particular trend so it has good shelf life.
It has been a lot easier to work with MSM Pictures for Piku . It’s important that the studio is right for a particular film. We spend time, effort and money in building a product. But if we approach a studio that does not believe in our product, then there’s no point.
How do you deal with the frustrations aroundShoebite?
Shoojit Sircar: I have said this before. For a filmmaker, it feels like delivering a stillborn child. It is that disheartening for Ronnie and me. Thankfully, now I have overcome this. For us, it’s not the money that matters. It’s the piece of art that we created. But Shoebite is based on a beautiful philosophical thought. My films are always based on a central thought.
How did you get Ayushmann Khurrana to deliver a convincing performance in his first film?
As a filmmaker, my job is to create a comfortable environment. I have a background in theatre, so I know that actors need an atmosphere where they can open up. On the set, therefore, I build a family-like atmosphere. So whatever the situation, the real person emerges onscreen.