Shoojit Sircar: “‘October’ is a story about love & not a love story…”


Shooijt Sircar directed ‘October’ has wowed the audiences ever since the first look was unveiled. The trailer added to this intrigue, especially when seeing lead actor Varun Dhawan in an intense role opposite debutante Banita Sandhu.

Ahead of the film’s release this week, caught up with director Sircar to talk about it.

 The locations seem so stunning. How did you go about finding those locations and the perfect setting for the story?
The story is based in New Delhi. Delhi is a place I have lived the prime time of my life: my college and theatre I’ve done there. Also the location includes a bit of the Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh, but most of the story happens in New Delhi and parts of Himachal Pradesh, because the film is based there. We wrote the film keeping New Delhi in mind. In ‘Pink’ (2016) you’ve seen the darkest of Delhi, in ‘Piku’ (2015) it’s a very fun, a different kind of very light-hearted Delhi. Possibly, I’m trying to grab a little poetic Delhi in ‘October’.

Were you ever worried about casting a commercial actor like Varun Dhawan?
No, because I was not casting Varun Dhawan as ‘Varun Dhawan’. As I’ve said earlier also, he was absolutely not on my radar. His films and my films don’t go together at all. I’ve not seen his films. His world and my world are completely bang opposite, so his casting was absolutely accidental. It was by chance that we met one day, he sat in front of me and I just saw him, not as Varun Dhawan, but as my character. I just felt that what I have known of him, the image that he bears of his Bollywood stardom, dancing around all over the place, that is not what he actually is. Inside there is some kind of innocence and purity I can still see through his eyes. I was looking for that character. That was my character and that’s how this casting happened. I was actually going for a fresh cast so if he was not in it, it would’ve been somebody fresh.

How would you say he has approached the character?
First things first, he surrendered to me completely. I asked him “I hope you’re an honest person.”, and he was staring at me, he said “Yes, I am.”. The process was to unlearn a lot of things, actually. The process was not to learn a lot of things, it was, whatever you’ve learnt for 5-6 years, to unlearn those things, in terms of acting and in terms of whatever processes you do. And I introduced an absolutely new process of calming him down and looking at everyday life as the everyday person you are in a very normal way. You don’t have to be hyper, you don’t have to do over-the-top reactions like in Bollywood, but you can be just very simple and straight. These are the things that went into the process.

You’ve worked with Banita Sandhu before, but how much work did you have to do with her in order to build her character?
I’m really, really happy for Banita. She’s from Wales and we met for a chewing gum commercial. I saw her, clicked her picture and sent it to my writer and our producer Ronnie Lahiri and I said, “I see this girl and she’s just 20. She’s showing potential, she’s talking through her eyes. She’s not doing too much in terms of reactions, her reactions are less, she’s just looking and I can still see what she’s thinking through the camera.” So I thought she was absolutely the perfect cast and also looks very girl-next-door. She’s also very simple, her style of performance is almost like ‘less is more’ and not ‘more is more’, so that helped. I thought she was the right cast. I’m very happy we collaborated. Her diction was a problem because she is from Wales, so we did a lot of classes. But in the film she’s absolutely bang on right. We did a lot of Skype calls and a lot of small exercises in terms of what her character needed. Not much of script reading, but to get the characterization the way we needed. I think she knew me through the chewing gum commercial so she also had complete faith in me in the way I’m trying to transform her character and look at her character the way it was written, so I think that helped a lot.

You are coming together with Juhi Chaturvedi again, with her writing ‘October’. What appeals to you about her writing in particular?
There’s a lot of everyday life and magic in her writing. She likes to write conversations which you normally see in a lot of rare films, European films, or even some of the good Hollywood films. Lovely conversations, and also picking up the nuances of your culture in everyday life. It’s such a simple way of looking at it. I think that’s the quality there in her evolved writing that she writes. It’s very simple, a very simplistic way of looking at things, which I also like. I have grown up in a simple environment and my inspirations are also simple.

The basic backdrop this film I had with me since 2004, which I can talk about when the film releases. I had a personal experience, which gave me a little inspiration that there could be relationships which are beyond boundaries and beyond any social stigma. That was the backdrop, actually. But the way she chiselled out the characters was absolutely beautiful.

When the film’s posters were first being unveiled, there was a tagline that was used: “Not a love story”. I understand it’s marketing, but as an audience member, when you say a Bollywood film is particularly not a love story, is this a conscious decision to make people come to it with a fresh mind?
No it was not a marketing thing at all; it’s absolutely the insight of the story. In terms of marketing, there’s nothing. Apart from the promotional songs, there’s no gimmick at all. It is actually a story about love and not a love story. This relationship could be with anyone. In this film it happens to be a boy and a girl, but it could be with anyone in any relationship. The very small emotions and insights which are required, which we do in everyday life for each other, but sometimes we don’t remember those, we forget those because of our life. So my tagline is absolutely “It’s not a love story it’s a story about love”.

‘October’ releases on 13th April.

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