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Reema Kagti: “Zoya and I enjoy a very organic partnership”

Reema Kagti is not a happy bunny: she sounds tired, harassed even.  

“This is the worst part of the filmmaking process”, she says, referring to the fact that she’s been up since the early hours of the morning doing press, going through the motions of articulating to every new journalist the plot of her latest film, ‘Talaash’.

She’s being a soldier though, for she need not do any press, pose for any pictures or knock on distributor doors.  

Kagti’s second directorial venture, starring Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Rani Mukherjee, has taken an circuitous, five-year long, forced march to the big screen; the last twelve months being particularly infuriating.

The industry has been abuzz about the picture, as most people are these days about any film starring the new, enigmatic version of Aamir Khan.  

Originally slated for release in early summer 2012, Talaash has been dogged by delays, allegedly as a result of the whims and schedule of aforementioned enigmatic star, although Kagti is quick to deny this:

“Honestly speaking, we only put the finishing touches to the film just about two weeks ago”, she says.  “I don’t think it’s strictly accurate to say that the delay has been because of Aamir and his schedule.  It did take longer than we expected but it had more to do with the fact that we wanted as perfect an end product as possible.  It was not like the film was ready and we were sitting on it.”

Inadvertently, the same delay that has frustrated fans has merely been the icing on the juggernaut of a cake that is ‘Talaash’.  

The film’s trailer has received more than 7 million hits on YouTube and despite stiff competition in the form of a slew of high profile year-end releases, domestic and international distributors have already coughed up nearly four times the budget of the film, making the press junkets even more redundant.  

“We are very excited with what we have created.  I feel really excited.  I don’t necessarily get involved with the business side of filmmaking and I didn’t get involved with Talaash but I have heard encouraging things.  We are confident with the end result of all our hard work and we hope that people will enjoy it”, Kagti says

If her first film was anything to go by, Reema Kagti need not worry.  

Despite also being encumbered with a string of conspiracies, including stars walking out and accusations of plagiarism, Kagti’s debut venture ‘Honeymoon Travels Private Ltd’ was a critical and commercial success.  

Her undoubted skill behind the camera – honed as an assistant to the likes of Ashutosh Gowarikar on ‘Lagaan’ and Farhan Akhtar (Dil Chahta Hai) – helped attract an ensemble cast including Abhay Deol, Shabana Azmi, Kay Kay Menon and Boman Irani to the road-trip comedy about the complexities of relationships.

‘Talaash’ however, proved to be a slow-burner from the outset.  “Soon after ‘Honeymoon Travels’ Zoya (co-writer Zoya Akhtar) and I began writing a story based on an urban legend which originated in Mumbai”, Kagti explains.  “The initial draft was seen by Farhan Akhtar who offered to buy the story straight away.  We were so thrilled with his enthusiasm that we decided to go on a trip to southeast Asia!”

The quality of the story, despite the rather flippant attitude of its creators, attracted the attentions of arguably the most respected and bankable Bollywood star of the past decade.  

Explaining why he was attracted to the story, Aamir Khan recently described ‘Talaash’ as a multi-faceted film: “It’s not only a great suspense story but it was like journey where I didn’t know what would happen next. So in that way, it held its suspense for me.”

“I found it fulfilling, the suspense part of it. But at its heart, it’s a story about someone coming to terms with loss.  It’s a very emotional story at its core,” he added.

The actor however, was not the immediate and most convenient choice for the lead role of police inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat.   “While writing the script, we had Aamir in mind”, Kagti says.  

“When we finished the screenplay, he was busy and said he would not look at another script for a-year-and-a-half. So we did take the script around to a couple of people, but it didn’t go anywhere. By that time, Aamir had finished his shoot and he was looking at scripts.”

The director’s choice however, will no doubt be a huge pay off for his carefully selected handful of film projects over the last decade have been widely acclaimed box office successes, be it the Oscar-nominated ‘Lagaan’ to ‘3 Idiots’, the all time Bollywood box office champion.  

Aamir Khan’s standing in the industry nevertheless poses its own set of concerns for directors and producers, not least his storied perfectionism and involvement in all aspects of a production.  

“Aamir has a lot of vision and he is able to see something original”, Kagti says.  “We had a lot of very talented people working on this film, from Aamir to Zoya to Farhan Akhtar who produced it.  They used to come up with ideas but it was always my decision and choice and if I felt that it would fit into my vision then I would take it.  There was a lot of input from Aamir but he never stepped on my toes or forced me to do something.”

In terms of film talent, ‘Talaash’ is resplendent in it; from producer Farhan Akhtar and writer Zoya Akhtar to award-winning composer Ram Sampath, one of the most cutting-edge musicians working in Mumbai today.

And of course there is Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor and the peerless Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the finest actor plying his trade in Bollywood today.  

“Whether it’s Kareena or Rani or Nawaz, I think we got exactly what we needed in terms of the actors.  Nawaz is an amazing actor.  When I first met him there was an honesty and purity to the guy and I immediately connected with him.  Although his is a negative role he’s not a bad guy and that really comes through.”

Above all else however, ‘Talaash’ is the latest writing collaboration between Kagti and Zoya Akhtar: a partnership, despite being just two films old, that has already been compared to the famous scripting duo of Salim Khan and Zoya’s father Javed Akhtar: the men who have dreamt up such iconic films as ‘Sholay’, ‘Zanjeer’ and ‘Deewar’.

Kagti and Akhtar have long been rumoured to be romantically involved and has previously co-written ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’, yet another critical success described on its release in 2011 as “beautifully scripted” and a “game-changer for Hindi cinema”; high praise in an industry where a tightly scripted film is secondary to visual embellishments.  

“I think Zoya and I work incredibly work together.  Part of that is because writing was not a professional decision for us.  It began as a very organic process and has developed very organically as well.”

So while ‘Talaash’ – rumoured to be based on a number of Hollywood films, including ‘Identity’ and ‘Shutter Island’ – may draw on and be influenced by films gone by, it’s an undeniably Indian film, the highlight of a Bollywood year that has been marked by films of originality, imagination and authenticity.  

“I think it’s a great time for Bollywood and a very exciting time to be a filmmaker in Bollywood or anywhere in India.  Whether you want to do a mainstream film or a niche, independent production there’s so much support unlike just 10 years ago.  Personally, I would like to be known as a versatile filmmaker and I think Talaash is a great combination of an original story with a lot of mainstream elements to it, rather than a rehashing of a tried and tested formula.”

“It’s been an amazing journey but I just hope the next one won’t take five years because patience is not one of my virtues!”

‘Talaash’ is released across the UK November 30.

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