Student of the Year 2: Punit Malhotra on working with Tiger Shroff, and directing Will Smith's cameo
Karan Johar has passed the baton to his most ‘accomplished’ student, Punit Malhotra, director of Student Of The Year 2, a sequel to the 2012 hit film. The three-film-old director who has also assisted on some of the biggest Bollywood hits such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kal Ho Na Ho doesn’t want to let down his mentor. The I Hate Luv Storys (2010) and Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (2013) helmer admits that he was in a bad place after his last film flopped, but believes in re-evaluation and correction. He also talks about his experience directing Tiger and the two newbies, Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria. Excerpts from a chat:
There has been some gap between your last release and SOTY 2...
But lot of work has happened in the last four years. We launched Dharma 2.0, we did many ad films, and in between we wrote a couple of scripts, so hopefully next time around it won’t be so long. We would have released SOTY 2 two years ago but we had to redo the script, work out the dates and hence, we pushed the release that much.
You are also launching Ananya and Tara which is like mentoring them…
Yes, there is a lot of pressure, but I don’t know whether I can mentor them because I have treated them as friends. You have to see them when they are around me and how they are on backslapping terms with me (laughs). It is ridiculous. I feel I am the newcomer. There were days when we would be shooting and Tiger would be doing the rehearsals and both these girls were sitting and chilling. Though Tara was a bit trained than Ananya, I had to guide them at every step — when to put forward which foot, when to smile, where to look, how to say the dialogues...I went through a whole spectrum of emotions with them.
But were they worried about getting enough space?
No, strangely that is the only problem they didn’t have. When we were shooting in Mussourie; I was wondering how both the girls are bonding so much. They would sleep in each other’s room and go out for meals together. We have always heard that two actors don’t get along but these two got along like a house on fire.
Did the failure of Gori Tere Pyaar Mein affect you?
Of course! For eight months, I was at home, depressed. I didn’t get out of the house. But you have to understand your mistakes and combat them. In the last three to four years, I have tried to better my craft. So there is an added pressure.
How do you react to so many memes on SOTY 2?
I love the memes. I would have been disheartened had there been no memes because the film is made for a certain audience and that is the age group that makes those memes. I have been sitting and laughing while reading them. Some were outstanding. That shows the buzz around the film.
The trailer met with some criticism with people complaining about the unrealistic depiction of a school...
I agree. There are schools like this in Mumbai, though there are no colleges like that. It is definitely unreal. But there is also a side that is real and identifiable. Our counter argument is that the ‘student of the year’ is not essentially a person who is going to sit with a book open. The student could be in a film school, a karate school, or a music school. We need to promote sports so much more. So if there are students who are great at dance like the girls in the film, or Tiger who is great in kabaddi, that is the student of the year.
In the trailer, Tiger’s character is thrown out of the school. He later fights the baddies and makes a comeback. Is SOTY 2 then a hero-centric film?
It is a story of a boy who realises his dreams but it is not hero-centric. All the four characters, including the antagonist, have their journey in it. But since Tiger is a star, you have to justify his persona. Hence the competition is kabaddi which is with Tiger.
How did you select the star cast?
I didn’t select them, Tiger selected us. Tiger is a star and we took the film to him. Student of the Year is about competition. Who but Tiger could up the level when it comes to sports? Even when we do a sport like kabaddi we rehearse for two months. Tiger did take it to that level, he was the best candidate to push and take it further.
As far as the girls are concerned, there was no nepotism. I have known Bhavana and Chunky forever. But I met their daughter Ananya through the casting director. I personally auditioned both Ananya and Tara. We auditioned about 200 to 300 girls in total and we shortlisted 10 to 15. If we have Ananya, who is a star daughter, we also have Tara who is not. There was absolute fair play.
What was your biggest challenge?
Obviously, that the first one was directed by Karan Johar. To have the audience engaged in those parameters and still do something different within that was the challenging part. Karan had set the benchmark and in addition to that, figuring out what we could do differently was the biggest challenge.
Who was the most brilliant, and who was mischievous in your ‘class’?
Tiger was definitely the most brilliant, whether we shot at 4 or 5 am, he used to be in the gym one hour before that, and because he is at the top of his game, all of us had to wake up early. We shot a couple of action sequences in Thailand, and he would take the choreographer there and rehearse after a whole day of shoot. Now, if he was doing that then the poor girls also had to do it. Both the girls can be called obedient as well as mischievous. Tara does the act of being obedient and Ananya is mischievous, for sure.
Alia’s making a cameo with a song with Tiger. Did you think of bringing the other two ‘ex-students’ Varun and Sidharth as well?
Yes, the idea was to have everybody. But somehow the dates didn’t work around the logistics. Both, Tiger and I were damn excited to have Alia on board. It is a fun situation in the film and we have left it with a question mark. The song on its own is quite exciting because Farah Khan has choreographed it. It took about four days to complete it.
Alia said that she doesn’t have a dancer’s body unlike Tiger and Varun...
Alia is lying. She was extremely busy those days, but still she would rehearse non-stop. She told me from day one that because she has to dance with Tiger, she would rehearse even more. She would rehearse at 2-3am and had bruises on her elbows and knees because of the moves, but she didn’t stop.
How exciting was it to have Will Smith for a song?
We got a random call saying that Will Smith has a show and that he is going to be there. We didn’t know till the last minute whether it was happening or not happening. Suddenly we were told that he is coming and we have to prepare. Remo was the choreographer. Something happened during the shoot and I said, ‘Cut cut, don’t start the music’, and I ran up on stage and gave some instructions to Will Smith. After the shot got over, Tiger asked me: ‘Did you realise what you just did? You directed Will Smith!' I was like 'Wow!'
How was it directing Tiger?
I didn’t know what his energy would be like but I was amazed to see how prepared he is. You associate dance and action with him, but the amount of scenes I have rehearsed with him are quite shocking. He would relentlessly sit on a scene several times with me and the girls.
What are your future plans?
I need to speed up my pace of making films for sure. But in the next couple of years, I want to make an action film. I am really looking forward to it.
Updated Date: May 11, 2019 10:23:49 IST
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