Tigmanshu Dhulia on making Milan Talkies after years of delay, and why he's happy about surge of small town stories
Tigmanshu Dhulia also plays Ali Fazal's father in Milan Talkies. 'But unlike Zero, in this film, I play a nice father,' says the director-actor.
Writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Milan Talkies, which he refers to as his Mughal-E-Azam, has finally seen the light of day (released on Friday). Though conceptualised around 2011, the filmmaker, who has helmed critically acclaimed films like Paan Singh Tomar and the Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster series, had to cross several roadblocks to finally make the film, his first love story. Excerpts from an exclusive chat with the filmmaker below.
Why has Milan Talkies taken so long in the making? Was it Bollywood's star system that caused the delay?
Yes, that’s right but it did not bother me too much because it was not that I was sitting at home and waiting for Milan Talkies to happen. I was doing my other films but this project was very close to my heart. Like I have said that this is my Mughal-E-Azam because it took so long to make (laughs). I started writing the film around the time I was making Paan Singh Tomar. I wanted to make a pure love story. UTV was the producer in the beginning but later on, we had a fallout. There was a gap, and then Ekta Kapoor came in and she pushed really hard to make it happen. Earlier, Shahid Kapoor was supposed to do and then Imran Khan. Priyanka (Chopra), Sonakshi (Sinha) and many others were approached but nothing happened. Producers needed a star. All this was causing delay and I requested Ekta to let me make it with whoever because otherwise it will never get made. In between, I did three to four other films but I was fascinated with this script. Ali (Fazal) met me few years back and he showed interest in doing it. We started shooting last March and this March, we are releasing. Each film has its own destiny.
Imran, Shahid and now Ali, all these actors are very different in their acting skills, style and approach. So did you have to change your script accordingly?
Yes, had it been Imran, I would have moulded him to suit the script. He is the only actor who was probably not correct for the film physically. I would be forced to work with him. But having Ali instead of Shahid didn’t bring any drastic change in the script. Ali is most suitable for the role because he has got the facility with the language as he is from Lucknow. He also understands the character quite well. There is a mix of arrogance and vulnerability in his character. There is a song in the film called 'Bakaiti'. That perfectly fits Ali. There is a lot of similarity with his character in Mirzapur but he is not as dangerous here as in the web series.
The title of the film alludes to a single screen. Tell us something more about that theme.
We have grown up watching films in single screen. It had its own charm and this film is a tribute to that. Love story is also something new to me. I started writing the film in 2010-’11. The film is set between 2010 and 2013, where we had prints in theatres. I wanted to show that whole romantic era of single screens. After 2013, filmmaking underwent a complete change as we went digital and suddenly that romance of cinema went away. Till 2013, that whole movie viewing experience of going to single screen theatres was so romantic. The film is all about that. It’s about love, love for cinema and love for your beloved.
You hero Ali (Fazal) believes that the way you know the Hindi film industry, nobody does. So are you showing your love for cinema through Milan Talkies?
That is true. I am not a Bombay boy. I did not grow up watching film stars, or had Amitabh Bachchan or Jeetendra living in my neighbourhood. I came from Allahabad and only out of that love and respect for cinema I have made this film. Milan Talkies celebrates cinema.
You seem to be enjoying acting. After Zero, you are once again playing the hero’s father.
I didn’t want to do this role and I was searching for some other actor but they were all so busy. I enjoy my stint behind the camera. Acting is just on the side. But unlike Zero, in this film, I play a nice father. I don’t want my son to go to Mumbai and waste his time. I want him to stay in Allahabad and do whatever he is doing.
The failure of Zero must be really disappointing. Did you analyse what must have gone wrong?
I don’t know. Everybody was saying that the first half was very good and second half not so good. Probably there was some lochcha (problem) with the script. Also, there is lot of expectation from Shah Rukh’s films and even if there is a slight problem, people react strongly.
2018 has been a great year for the industry. How do you look at it?
It did show lot of positivity, which is encouraging but similar thing happened in 2012-13 as well. We saw films like Kahaani, Vicky Donor, English Vinglish, Paan Singh Tomar. All these films did very well but later, again we saw some bad cinema. I think there are spurts of such wonderful films time and again. India’s population is so huge where on one hand, good content is working, and even content that is not evolved and is very basic is also working. Kids love such films and they drag their parents along. It has still not become a rule. It is still an exception but good content working is a great thing.
You have often set your films, including Milan Talkies, in small towns. So you must be happy about the fact that small town stories are being accepted.
Small towns bring a lot of conflicts of various kinds. People do relate to them and like I have always said that apart from Mumbai and Bangalore, every city in India is a small town where the value system and the sense of morality is same, like in Delhi, or Allahabad, or Bhopal, Jabalpur, Kanpur, Lucknow. People here have that small town mentality which is not so in Mumbai because Mumbai is not home, it’s an office.
Sanjay Dutt is the biggest star you have worked with so far (in Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 released in 2018) but otherwise, you have never really chased stars. Why is that so?
I will stick to that statement of mine that I have come to this industry to make films, not to make films with stars. Whether it's a hit or a flop, doesn't matter. I have learnt to not approach those producers with the kind of scripts where they will ask me to get a star.
You will also make your foray on the digital platform soon. How excited are you?
Web is a great space and that is our future, and as it is, footfalls in theatres have been less. The reach of digital is far more. We make movies and how much ever we try to make a different story, still it tends to get formulaic, and I don’t think we will be able to break the formula in Hindi cinema. You are saved from all this in web series.
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