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Suresh Triveni: ‘I like watching the genre where Jalsa lies’



Suresh Triveni

Suresh Triveni’s directorial  acumen  was  first  spotlighted  in Tumhari Sulu  about  a working housewife  who crosses the fence. Jalsa his second directorial effort has made a much stronger  impact. Suresh takes  time   off to  answer Subhash K Jha’s questions.

The world of Jalsa is far removed from the world of Tumhari Sulu? How did you arrive from the grin to grim so fluently?

I enjoyed making Tumhari Sulu. It was just that  sunshine feel all through while making it. After the success of Tumhari Sulu I kind of became  a bit lost in the film. I became  aware of what people will think of me and what they think of my work.

How  did you avoid that ruinous self-awareness?

 I decided to undo myself and I thought to reboot because when you get aware of your craft it’s the worst phase you can get into,  and hence the time I took, 5 years,  to arrive at something else. Apart from that, it was not a much  of  a choice  moving into a grim world. I am more of a viewer than a director, so I like watching happy films like Tumhari Sulu and I like watching the genre where Jalsa lies. I Like watching action, I like watching comedy. So when you like something you want to make it. So, that’s how I arrived at it because this genre was something I was very very keen on. Luckily it fell into place because of a  one-line story that  came into my head ,

Jalsa is about many things including media ethics and class difference. Neither of the issues reaches a satisfying conclusion in your film. Are these issues so tangled that you chose to leave them unresolved?

 I have taken an observer’s perspective on this. And I was very conscious that I  was  not going to pass any judgment, that  I won’t go  into to resolving things. So it was a very conscious decision that I didn’t want to give any conclusive opinion on anything, I wanted it to be open. Because for me my job is to tell a story. My politics or my worldview should not come into my work, it is not important. What is important is my take on it. It’s purely an observer perspective and hence I felt that my characters should come  to a certain closure , that doesn’t mean that the world they live in has to have a certain closing.

Vidya Balan, I suppose, was a given in the cast. Was she your first choice for Maya Menon? How did Shefali Shah happen?

Vidya and I were constantly chatting post Tumhari Sulu and  I took a writing break for some time. But after Tumhari Sulu I, of course, wanted to go back to her   because it was a treat working with her and I wanted more of it because of the kind of stature she has, that she can elevate any script, so Vidya was the given and obvious choice for me .Regarding Shefali Shah, who wouldn’t want to work with her? I mean, of late  the way she was nailing roles after roles. It was basically my  greed that  gravitated me towards her  because I am also an audience and I have seen her work for such a long time. As a filmmaker ,you want to write for her, you want to have the pride of directing her. It’s actually the pride, the fact that after a gap of  five years if I am doing something it should be worth my experience and everyone else’s. So that is how the decision of these two actors came in.

I am also very fascinated by the casting of Rohini Hattangadiji and Vidhatri Bandi? How did you convince the former and where did you find the latter?

After I cast Vidya and Shefali, the project got the green light. The usual process of casting started. So, I have to go back to the same fact that I am more of an audience than a filmmaker .So I imagined   and then I got  greedy about what if I get Rohini Hattangady also in this project… if she comes organically and of course, there was a role that was waiting for her. I loved her in Saaransh. I have grown up on those films. I have grown up on Saaransh and I have grown up on Chaalbaaz, Gandhi of course. As a filmmaker, you are constantly imagining what if these three  actresses  came together, what about a scene like that, how about a confrontation, how about doing something  with  this  terrific trio?  Jalsa  allowed that possibility hence we approached Rohini Hattangady and she was gracious enough  to accept it .And   what an experience I had shooting with her!

 Regarding Vidhatri Bandi?

 I would say we did a lot of auditions. I wanted a journalist who breaks the certain stereotypes of being over-confident, having an opinion. I wanted someone who is low on confidence, someone who is new to this city, who is coming to terms with Bombay and trying to fit in, in this world. So, because I am a Malayali also, the choice came very naturally to me saying what if I get someone from Kerala, what if the Rohini George , the character comes from Kerala?And that’s how the process started.We auditioned a lot of people from the south and it was  all  good.But there was something about Vidhatri Bandi .When I saw her audition I knew that she is brilliant and then she worked on her accent, she is not a Malayali, she has been born and bought up in Bombay and the only South Indian connection that she has is that she is from Andhra Pradesh. But she worked really hard. There is a certain livewire effect about her on-screen and especially she speaks to the camera. So she fitted in beautifully and I think she prepped for it like no one else. I am very happy that we could discover someone like Vidhatri Bandi through Jalsa.

 The dynamics of characterization display a duality, for example, Vidya and Shefali, their respective sons are also pitched against one another, as are Vidya and Vidhatri. Do you see the Indian class structure as a world divided by invisible walls?

 You write stories about the world you live in, Sometimes you are not aware when you are putting these worlds together, these characters together, I think we are constantly ruminating on our experiences and our observations because the day I try to write a film with these agendas in mind then I think I will be a fake. I will be someone who would be writing for the sake of looking intelligent and sounding intelligent. I am glad that people are observing those nuances .But it was not  a conscious effort that I would go thinking so deep. So thank you for your observation and I really appreciate it but for me, it’s about mostly ruminating on my own experiences and observations and putting it out there.

Is Jalsa based on a true incident? What triggered off this cinematic journey ?

 I wouldn’t say one or two incidents but I was being fascinated with the idea that… what if? So it started with a hit-and-run idea and I wanted to understand the psyche of a person who runs away and the fear that looms large.It was another idea initially altogether , then it took its own shape. I think these are the borrowed incidents, be it the cop story, be it the negotiations, the hit and run, I think they are the inspiration you get  from all that you read, all that you listen to and the story is lying out there. I think I would say it was an amalgamation of a lot of real events with a binding force called coincidence.

 How difficult was it directing all these fiery temperamental women? Did they gang up against you on the sets?

I have got no hairs left on my head but that has got nothing to do with Jalsa. I love working with my actors. I feel that you can have the best production design, have the best cameraman, then have the best color pallet, everything, but if your actors are not good then it is of no point, I thrive on them, and I love exploring what I can get out of them. So yes , it’s demanding in a way because people have bigger expectations from them. I think while making a film the actors are the people who are extremely responsible about their time and the time you invest on the film.

Finally what are you planning to make next? Sulu hires Ruksana after Maya fires her?

That’s really a very interesting idea though. Maybe I can bring this whole idea  together   but then I would need a double role . I don’t know how it goes… so we can have Sulu, Maya, Ruksana, that looks like a plan .But no,  nothing like that as of now. I am very keen to do an action film or I would like to do a comedy. I am on some idea that I am working along with Vikram Malhotra and Abundantia hopefully you will hear about it soon and hopefully shouldn’t be a 5-year gap.

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