Reema Kagti: No one except Aamir was supposed to do Talaash
“Finding me isn’t tough. I think you haven’t been looking around very hard” informs Reema as I make myself comfortable on the sofa with a glass of freshly squeezed ‘nimboo paani’ in front of me. It seems appropriate for me to meet film director, in a sense: an accomplished director who took years to perfect her craft, finally gaining recognition for her expert handling of material traditionally assumed the natural province of men. For all the stories that I’ve heard about Reema Kagti, one would be cautious in asking question or even meeting her in person. But let me tell you, she came across as politely upfront. Kagti may be only two films old but she’s got more appreciation coming her way in the form of a screenwriter tag she shares with her co-writer Zoya Akhtar, and mind you, most of their written material has received critical reception.
Though Reema is known for making ‘guy’ movies and that’s how she comes across when you meet her too, she avoids the question of what it’s like to be a woman directing these kinds of films. She actually seems genuinely confused by the question, as if asked whether or not women made better sales execs. “I just make the kinds of movies I like,” she says. With an unimaginable courage in her eyes and overcoming the sexism of the studio system to forge a successful career spanning almost two decades reflects something curious about Reema Kagti – a feminist pioneer. My search for Reema ends here!
Ang Lee quoted recently that every time he wakes up, he wants to see his movies go somewhere. Where do you want your movies to go?
I don’t know to be honest. But yes, to see the light of the day. To see the writing come alive. I want them to release. From the idea stage to translating it to a 100 to 120 page script to finally translating it to a two and a half hour film, you do see the genesis, the birth of an idea. Normally, when Zoya and I finish a script, we like holding it for a bit. It’s so much more than just hundred pages of written material.
Do you move away from your subject/writing or hate it to make it better?
I don’t think I hate my writing to improve it. Zoya and I write differently and then keep working on it rather than dwell away from it. No! If I hate my subject, I wouldn’t be doing it. I want to be in love with what I am doing. The minute I fell out of love, I’ll abandon it there and then.
There are so many stories that say the same thing – Talaash was unnecessarily delayed because of Aamir Khan.
Let me clarify this, it is totally unfair of me to say that the delay in the release of Talaash was only because of Aamir. There were number of reasons. It was a series of things. We had a problem with the underwater shoot for which we had to go to London to shoot. I had a personal loss for which I wanted to take time out in the middle of the shoot. Finally, when we got the first cut ready, I wasn’t happy with it and so had to sit on the edit table and start from scratch. Fire also broke out on the sets in January on Aamir’s set. All these things aren’t under anyone’s control. When I work for people, I adjust and similarly, everyone else adjusted in my film.
So it’s not wrong in saying that Talaash is releasing at the right time?
I have just finished working on the film 48 hours ago. On the 8th of this month my first print will come out. I have spent all the time working on it and have not been sitting idle. Talaash hasn’t been ready all this while and we haven’t been sitting doing nothing. It’s not like that. So no, Talaash is releasing when it’s time was due and it’s time is now. I am proud of it.
I grew up in Assam. I went to a boarding school. I am a bit of a product of piracy (laughs). That’s the only thing you got there. I grew up on a lot of B-grade movies. But I was a film buff. I was so happy to watch a film back then but as I grew older, my I started to have my opinion of what I liked watching and what I didn’t.
Can you name some films you were going ga-ga about as a kid?
I was obsessed with Mr Natwarlal. The film had a total impact on me. I remember I used to force my mother to take me to watch it. I was obsessed with Sholay too. So to say, I was obsessed with Amitabh Bachchan. And years later, after working with Mr Bachchan in two films, it was a dream come true for me.
Honestly, how did you get Aamir to say ‘Yes’ so easily, or to be precise, so quickly?
The first time I narrated the film to Aamir, he seemed to like the narration. It was a certain ‘yes’ from him. But here’s how it worked. When Zoya and I were writing the script we really had Aamir Khan in mind. When we finished writing, Aamir was very busy and he told us that he will take a lot of time to hear the narration. We wanted to go to some other actors. But honestly, no one was supposed to do this film except Aamir. After a year and a half, Aamir, post Dhobi Ghat heard the narration. He came back rather quickly and asked for a second narration.
Zoya and you seem to be inseparable just like Salim Javed were back in the days.
Zoya is more than just my bouncing board. She is my co-writer. She is a very talented writer and we both have complementary skills as writers. Where I lack, she fills it in and where she lacks, I fill it in. We make a good pair when it comes to writing. We aren’t text book writers. Developing the story and the idea is what we completely believe in. Good ideas always stick around the next day and keep coming up. So we accumulate all the good ones and piece it together. We build on that. We do think in terms of the first half and the second half and not in terms of the three act structure. Writing has no rules. Writing should go beyond text books sometimes. That’s when you know you’ve evolved.
Is there a big leap when it comes to direction? So many things have changed technically too.
When I was directing Honeymoon Travels, I really did not know what I was getting myself into. It was like ignorance is bliss. Probably that’s why the film is even remembered today. I’ve never been to a film school. So inspite of being an assistant director or to see the director directing is never the same thing as doing it on your own. I did cut my teeth on a short film that I funded myself and directed it but in vain. In terms of actual hands on experience, I didn’t have any. Honeymoon Travels was the film I cut my teeth on. I got away with it but it helps me develop my craft. It’s very hard to be objective but there is quite a leap I feel from my first film to the second one.
You seem to have restricted yourself to Excel Entertainment for many years now.
As an assistant director I didn’t restrict myself to Excel. I have worked with lot of directors. But post that I am here. It’s not that I am bound by some contract and that’s why I keep on working with Excel Entertainment. It’s because we trust each other. We think alike and we have a common vision. Life is a compromise. But I do try and balance it out.
In just your second film, you’re working with Aamir Khan Productions & Excel Entertainment. Bow down!
(Laughs) For me, it’s in a fantastic position to be in. To direct for Aamir Khan or Farhan & Ritesh’s production house because they are really progressive producers. They’re really with the script; they support the director and my vision. All their inputs were in to keeping with that. It’s a great vibe. Nobody was trying to get me to make a film that I didn’t want to make. The unusual thing about Talaash is the emotional content that deals with sadness and loss. Conventional Hindi cinema stays away from these words but here were three people who supported me. Loss and sadness can be entertaining and can be engaging and can make for commercial cinema.