Dhadak director Shashank Khaitan on remaking Sairat: Haven't added glamour just because it's a Dharma film
Dhadak director Shashank Khaitan says there was no need to show the characters as poor since he needed to stay true to the setting of Udaipur.
Shashank Khaitan’s third film, Dhadak is the official Hindi remake of Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi blockbuster, a sensational hit, Sairat (2016). Ever since Dhadak’s trailer was released last month, it triggered a wave of comparisons between the two films over their look, setting, theme, music, the choice of actors, and the treatment of caste in the film. But the 36-year-old director of high grossers, Humpty Sharma KiDulhania (2014) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), was braced for criticism. He remained unfazed. “I would have been surprised if I didn’t expect this from day one, but I did,” he says. Dhadak, starring Janhvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter, is slated to release on 20 July.
How true have you stayed to the original film?
Sairat inspired me so much that the day I saw it, I told Karan (Johar, producer) that I want to adapt it. I have stayed true to the essence of the movie. But yet it’s important that I give Dhadak my own voice. It cannot be an identical film otherwise we could have just dubbed it in Hindi. I wanted to tell the story from my experiences. It’s a very potent topic and pretty relevant as well. It plagues our country till today. It will give a new perspective despite the age old story. The difference between Ek Duje Ke Liye, QSQT (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak) and Dhadak is the treatment. It speaks about love in a very contemporary way. It also speaks about all the horrible crimes happening against love.
The moment trailer came out, the first thing people said was that your lead characters look so fancy in contrast to those in Sairat. You must have been prepared for this?
I need to be true to the region I had set my film in. The girl is rich and she comes from a certain royal background in Udaipur. She will have a certain demeanour and behaviour. Similarly, Madhu who is this small town boy from Udaipur hustling every day to make his life, has a different aura and energy about him which will be different from Parshya of Sairat.
But our characters are actually more gareeb (poor). If you walk down the streets of Udaipur, you will notice this. The biggest consumers of online shopping are the two-tier cities and not people living in metros. We have this preconceived notion that people living only in big cities dress well. Now just because I am making a Dharma (Productions) film, to prove that they should look authentic, I can’t suddenly make the girl poor. I wanted to capture the milieu of that city. So there has been no effort to glamourise it or for that matter, to try pull it down and say there is a need to show the film poor.
Did criticism the film receive bother you?
Not really. I am sure when I make my next film which might be my original but again, some will like and some will criticise that as well. That cannot stop or bog me down. I don’t react, I am not even reading so much of it. If the film is not liked then probably I will reflect upon what went wrong.
There is a general suspicion that the caste conflict in Dhadak has been replaced by class conflict which probably is much safer.
When it comes to caste, class and social economic structure, all three are imbibed together. That is the tangle you find society in and you can’t cut off any of them because all of them are related. Of course, we have to be understanding and respectful to the fact that we are making a Hindi film and it is for a broader audience, we can’t be so state-specific that the other states get disconnected from it. On a subtext level it is present in every scene of the film. On text level, where you want it to be in your face, it’s definitely present because you cannot make a movie like this and not talk about it.
How did Ishaan and Janhvi become part of the film?
Karan had already considered Ishaan for another film. I was involved in writing that film. But when I decided to make Dhadak, Ishaan immediately came across as the option because I knew what he can offer. Janhvi was recommended by Manish Malhotra. He told Karan to meet her as she is one big naatak company. Karan spent few days with her over a period of months and he told me that she is a complete Bollywood heroine. I made her do some scenes from Badri... and when I saw that and the way she responds to direction, I was convinced that I found Parthvi. We wanted a certain royal feel to the character which came naturally to Janhvi. We didn’t have that moment that today she will sign Dhadak. It was a gradual process.
What kind of training and prep did the leads put in?
I didn’t want them to come across as two kids being launched or any of that rubbish. I wanted them to be characters of the film I have imagined because when I decided to make Dhadak, it was a big responsibility for my career as well. The kind of love I got for Badri..., I could have chosen to make any other film, gone to bigger actors or maybe gone back to Varun (Dhawan) and Alia (Bhatt) and said, let’s make Dulhania 3, it would have made lot of money and a good film as well.
But when I chose to make Dhadak, it came from the moment of seeing Sairat. And for that, it was very important that Janhvi and Ishaan come across as characters. When you watch the film, you don’t, even for a second, think that arre yeh star ke bachche launch ho rahe hain. Instead you will see two characters. For about a year, I took them for my recces to Udaipur, did a lot of travelling, talking to people and while on the journey, we discovered their screen names.
So far, you have worked only with star kids whereas you are an ‘outsider’. It’s very interesting to have that equation of interacting with people brought up in film families? Did you ever feel out of place?
I never considered them as star kids and I never considered myself an outsider. When I started assisting, there was no such concept of outsider-insider. This is the debate started in last two years. Had the discussion started earlier then I would have left everything and gone back to Nashik. I have worked with lot of film companies, Yash Raj (Films), Red Chillies (Entertainment), Subhash Ghai (Mukta Arts); we never had this discussion. Karan Johar never asked me who was my dad. He read my script and said let’s make some money. The more we are harping on this debate the more people are thinking that they can’t make it in the industry. It almost seems that if you are not from film background, you can’t make it anymore. If I have to scream at Varun or Ishaan for a bad scene, I am not going to think that whose son or brother they are. We are feeding fear; if you are good, ready to work hard, you will make it.
Were they under any pressure because they have a legacy to match?
I don’t think anybody is thinking like this, we are thinking for them. Janhvi has never come and told me, "Please give me a good scene because I have to look like my mother" nor has Ishaan told me that Shahid (Kapoor) is a dancer so give me some dance steps. Instead of worrying where you are from, just work hard and be committed to your craft. We have other success stories like Rajkummar Rao, Nawazuddin (Siddiqui), Vicky Kaushal who are continuing to make a mark with good movies.
From Ambala to Jhansi and now Udaipur, you seem to have made small towns aspirational. Karan (Johar) and Dharma must have never thought of venturing into storytelling from these towns.
When I finished writing the draft for Humpty Sharma… a lot of my friends told me to not go to Dharma as they will never make that movie. But I went to Dharma first because if I had to hear a no, I should hear it from them. I narrated the script to the creative team and within three weeks, I was sitting in front of Karan and he said, "Let’s make this movie". There was never a discussion about yeh bahut gareeb lag rahi hai... or what kind of world is this? We don’t give as much a regard to Karan’s intelligence as we should because he has been a producer for so many years and there is something which he is doing right. There was never a discussion when I said now I am going to set my second film in Jhansi or Kota. Only when the film works do the cities work where they are set up in. If the story fails then you can set up the film anywhere but later, you will wonder why did you go so far to shoot, you could have made it in Mumbai itself.
Has Nagraj Manjule watched any of the rushes from Dhadak?
No, I have never met or spoken to him but I would love to. I have been wanting to meet him from the time Sairat released, not to talk about the adaptation but just to congratulate him. But I got busy with Badri... I want the Sairat team to watch Dhadak.
All images from YouTube.
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