Saurabh Shukla Interview

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When I think Saurabh Shukla, I think writer of Satya and Mithya rather than a character actor. And I was surprised to find that Saurabh is not a man of many words. His answers are short and to the point.

The Writer

A glance at the movies Saurabh Shukla has been involved with in the writing department and his fascination for the humor in darker side of life comes through. The dark genre is often fambiguous. One would think it’d frustrate, if not infuriate, as a writer when people don’t get it and ask for explanation on what happened in the movie. Saurabh thinks otherwise.

I don’t think that people don’t get it. I think if people don’t understand it the movie has failed in communication.

Writing is not a democratic process

A story is a point of view of one person, any happening can be questioned from either direction. “If Sonam dies in Mithya, why did she die? If she didn’t why was there a happy ending?” It doesn’t work that way, it’s not a democratic process. The communication either worked or didn’t.

Despite having a decent repertoire credited to his writing, Saurabh doesn’t write as much as he could or should because

writing is a lonely process and thus tiring. Acting is more short-term. And like in the west, script writers are not paid as well.

Speaking of the west, Saurabh doesn’t think remaking a movie made earlier is a crime. It has to have newness to it. Just copying it frame-by-frame is not fun.

The Actor

And yet we have seen him acting in movies which are blatant copies of other movies, like the recent Hari Puttar.

About Hari Puttar - I had a good trip to London!

To which he says,

Well, I enjoyed the trip to London. It was my first trip to England. We had lots of beer.

Also the tilt towards dark subjects doesn’t come across in the movies he chooses to act in. His role choices seem to be liberal. The script choosing process has three criteria -

If I like the director - no questions asked.
If I like the cast - again no questions asked.
Third, which is a rare thing, but it has also happened. That the money is so great, then no questions asked.
Whenever I ask a question, then I don’t do the film.

But, then we see him roles like De Taali, where we might have enjoyed his roles, but the script could have very well done without the role he did. There are more than one things that go into play in such cases -

One has to understand that films are not made in ideal situations. E. Niwas is a friend, he said, “you have to do it” and I agreed to do it. The role was much bigger.

Then the film got delayed a lot. And you have your prior commitments. They called me to Bangkok. There was a track which they wanted to shoot, but they didn’t take my dates. The dates were already promised to someone else. Finally, I had to tell them that I couldn’t make it and they could if they wanted to cut the scene out or shoot it in India. And they couldn’t shoot it in India and those scenes were gone, finally.

Slowly, what happens is that the script keeps changing and film-maker manages the film And so, at times these roles become redundant.

Fortunately, he does get a variety of films to choose from.

In fact, I’ve reduced my acting a lot in the past couple of years. This year I have acted in 6 films. I have done a film called “Oh My God” in which I play God and Vinay Pathak is the protagonist. Then I did a film called Coffee Shop where I’m an art collector who has a tiff with an artist. Then I did Slumdog Millionaire which is getting rave reviews right now.

So, I’ve been very happy this year.

A self-taught actor, Saurabh has played the heartless goon and the soft goon. He doesn’t worry too much about the commercial success of his films. While he doesn’t have a formal research process for doing his roles, he believes in learning about his roles from observing life around him.

And the grayest character and his favorite from the ones he’s played is from Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, which he has written too.

I play a videographer who runs a video shop. He’s absolutely gray. He’s not bad but he’s greedy. He has deep rooted moral problems and he wants to break free from them. It was quite a complex character.

Saurabh must be one of the few actors who have not only acted with children but has been directed by one too. Born In India is directed by Kishan when he was nine years old.

I accepted that film on the phone. This gentleman Mr. Shrikant called me when I was shooting in Hyderabad. In a very cordial way he said there’s a new filmmaker, and they had a very low budget.

I felt I should do this film. Money was not the point in this film, it’s a new director. I agreed , I felt the film needed me - I didn’t ask the role, didn’t ask anything. There are so many young, new directors. When I landed in Bangalore and I saw this 9 year old kid, I was completely thrown off. I realized that Mr. Shrikant is that child’s father.

I’ll be very honest, I was very troubled. Daddy wants son to make a film because daddy can put a project together. So, I called Kishan and told him, I’ll act in your film. But if anyone else comes to me and tries to tell me the shot, I’ll not give the shot. You have to tell me what you want. And the boy seemed very confident.

Next day onwards I started shooting with him. We shot for 10 days and I was very pleasantly surprised. That boy agreed and disagreed with me. As an actor I gave my suggestions and when he didn’t agree he would say, “No uncle, we’ll do it this way.” That was very hard for me, but that was how it was.

A director’s actor he is.

The Director

Making a film has been a childhood fascination for Saurabh.

The films I made were not up to the mark.

In my family we were allowed at least 2 films every week. The whole family would watch an English film every Sunday morning. And I was allowed a Hindi film every week. When I grew up I was allowed 4 films a week. We were all movie lovers. That’s why I wanted to make films, I guess.

Later I did theater because I couldn’t make films. But then I fell in love with theater. I was completely committed to theater for a long time. Movies wiped off from my head. Then I got a chance in Bandit Queen and I came to Bombay.

Now today, the motive behind making a film is very simple. It’s very basic, because one wants to express oneself.

Movies that Saurabh has directed have not done well. But he remains persistent. He doesn’t feel misunderstood or marginalized and doesn’t want to blame it on any single department.

I have 2 films in my kitty and I’ve made 3 films for TV. My TV films were appreciated. The 2 films, if someone else would have made it, I would have said, the script works. The films were not up to the mark. Full Stop.

- meeta, a part of the audience

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@Vikas Hey! Are you talking about The Piano referred to here?

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