Delhi boy Dibakar Banerjee knew the story he wanted to tell when he directed Khosla Ka Ghosla: the story of a ‘typical’ middle-class family in Delhi. He did well: The film about a middle-class family family’s fight to get their land back from a greedy and powerful property dealer was a surprise hit. In an interview to CNN-IBN, Banerjee says the characters in his film are inspired by real life.
Rajeev Masand: My guest is a young filmmaker who made a small film with a big heart, in a year that was dominated by some very big-budget, star-studded films.
Peppered with distinct character and a very relatable theme, ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ emerged as a dark horse, thanks to it's layered script and some very intuitive direction. All of it was made possible by the director of the film, Dibakar Banerjee.
Dibakar, 2006 was a year of some very fine films, such as ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ and ‘Omkara’. And also a year of some big budget films like ‘Krrish’, ‘Don’ and ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’. You made a small film about a middle class family and always had a very solid product. But were you always confident that the audience would appreciate ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla?’
Dibakar Banerjee: Frankly, I didn’t care because it was my first film. And I didn’t even know if it was a small film as I made the film with a specific idea, as it was to me. When I was making the film, I was really not aware of what other big films could be there. Also I didn’t know that Khosla Ka Ghosla would be judged as on the films of that year. I was just going ahead and making the film. So in a way ignorance and innocence is bliss.
Rajeev Masand: ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ is one of those films where you can see a very perfect marriage between a detailed script and instinctive direction. Would you say it was a very collaborative process between yourself and your writer Jaideep Sahni.
Where did his job end and where did yours begin?
Dibakar Banerjee: It was a collaborative process, like everything else in a film that I like to do. I like to steep myself into the music, into the photography and possibly into everything to do with the film. I feel above all a film is a learning process for me.
It’s only by doing it one can learn more about it. My friend Jaideep Sahni started the film and we were very fortunate in having a scriptwriter like him to begin with. I feel Jaideep’s understanding of detail of human character and above all his sympathy wit the characters that he writes is tremendous. Both Jaideep and I came from Delhi, so we knew the environment and the characters very intimately which proved to be another strength.
Thirdly, Jaideep and I had been collaborating as advertising professionals for some years before the film started and we knew how each other’s minds worked. So in that way it was a very interesting collaboration because the producer wanted a film on generation gap. Then we went back and thought collectively about our fathers and our problems with them and how we managed.
Our sense of humour to some extent is also similar and it’s from there the story came up. It’s from there the characters and anecdotes came up. There were anecdotes about Jaideep’s own life and about things that happened to his relatives and anecdotes about spats with my father and my life. Anecdotes about characters that we know together and then I came to Delhi and started pre-production fro the film and Jaideep started writing the final screenplay of the film.
He then wrote the dialogues for the film, which today I realise have become parts of contemporary film legends. All those dialogues are continuously quoted back to me and I keep thanking the stars that for our first film we had that kind of collaboration and we had Jaideep as our writer.
Rajeev Masand: Let’s go back a little bit. You were working in advertising and then you made this film. So was it difficult to break into the film industry?
Dibakar Banerjee: I would say I had a honey run. I was actually making a lot of money in advertising. And like most advertising filmmakers I had this airy-fairy dream of making a film someday. I was fooling myself actually till a call came from Jaideep from Mumbai where he was working as a writer.
So he said, there is this producer in Delhi who wants to make a film and his idea of the film he wants to make is similar to the kind of film Jaideep and I always wanted to make. So I asked him “Will you write?” and he asked me “Will you direct?” and that is how we started.
I didn’t have to go through the usual struggle of a filmmaker to come to Mumbai to make a film by first assisting somebody. I didn’t have to work somewhere and go around with your script badgering your head at it. For us the badgering started after we finished making the film. So while we were making the film it was like dream rum.
Rajeev Masand: But did you always know that you could direct and that you would be able to shoot this film?
Dibakar Banerjee: Call it arrogance because I never even thought about it. I have always lived with films as my singular most top priority since I was in class X. I’ve been living, breathing, eating films. I am into all kinds of films, from the most commercial Hindi films to the regional and foreign films, everything. All I do is think and read about films.
Rajeev Masand: And the technical skills you acquired while working in advertising?
Dibakar Banerjee: Yes, it was while I was working I acquired the technical skills, as I never went to film school. I went to a design school from where I was chucked. I came to Delhi and I started working in advertising and then fortunately I changed over to the filmmaking of advertising.
Everything I learnt I did on the job. Basically the shoot, camera, sound and hundreds of things that can distract you from the core of your film, were not new to me.
Rajeev Masand: Were you ever afraid that the situation and the characters would turn out as clichés, or stereotypes?
Dibakar Banerjee: There were two things we kept in mind. Jaideep and I had a very interesting chat in the beginning of the film. I was new and Khosla Ka Ghosla was a film school to me.
Jaideep and I came to one conclusion that make one dramatic, and make the dramatic real. You can have as outlandish a plot as you want, it doesn’t matter. If you can hide the plot through behaviour, characterisation and rooting that scene into some very real milieu, people will stop questioning that. And that is the essence of filmmaking.
Rajeev Masand: What you’re saying is true, because when one thinks of ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ and the way the family goes about the plan, it’s completely impractical.
Dibakar Banerjee: Absolutely. It’s not possible.
Rajeev Masand: But it’s the characters in which you invest you faith.
Dibakar Banerjee: Yes. That is the essence of the suspension of disbelief and the essence of watching a film. The end was unreal, but we consciously went for the unreal end. I had wrote a very real and horrendous end where the entire Khosla family lines up in front of the American consulate for visas to migrate because Khurana has taken over their land. Jaideep almost beat me up.
He said, you are taking the audience’s victory away, let’s give them what they want but through the genre of the film.
Rajeev Masand: Your film captures Delhi in a very real manner, but still in a self-mocking kind of style. Does Delhi in you opinion lend itself more naturally to humour than a city like Mumbai for example?
Dibakar Banerjee: I would say, it’s lesser seen than Mumbai and that is why it’s novelty. If we go on making as many films about Delhi characters for the next 10 years the way we’ve done about Mumbai, then it will lose its charm.
I think in the early ‘50s and ‘60s when the typical Mumbai characters often potrayed by Johnny Walker came out in the scene, it was considered a great novelty. Then slowly the novelty wore off because we’ve seen so many films on Mumbai. Then very real films about the Mumbai gangsters came in the early ‘80s like Ardhsatya, Parinda and later Company and Satya they were new, but today they sound ‘been there, done that’. So Delhi currently is new.
Rajeev Masand: Also for a while I think, Mumbai became every city. For a long time the mainstream Bollywood didn’t quite matter, it was unnamed and never had a character.
Dibakar Banerjee: You have made a great point there. I think when Delhi comes in, it comes in as a character. But when Mumbai comes in, it comes in as a backdrop.
Rajeev Masand: You said that the character of Khurana is everything that you love to hate about Delhi. How did you go about constructing that character?
Dibakar Banerjee: Well, it’s a trauma from my childhood. Most middle-class kids like us have seen our law-abiding, quiet, nice, day-jobber father being humbled or insulted in small little insignificant ways in many places. Places such as the parking lot, or a shop, at a queue in a cinema hall, at a train compartment.
Every once in a while you see your father being nice, being gentle, trying to tell somebody whose got more money and less education and is uncouth and ruthless than your father, to not to do something. And then he insults your father in front of you and your father bare it with a smile because he doesn’t want to get into a fracas with the guy. And you see you father swallow that insult.
With Jaideep and me, the case was always that there was a lot of anger pent up about those kinds of things that we always went through as kids. It’s because both of us were essentially middle-class kids. And I’m an essentially middle class kid from the inner city ghetto of Delhi, Karol Bagh. I went to a thoroughly middle-class school and didn’t know how to speak in English properly till Class VIII because it was a Hindi medium school. So I know all about being outside of the class.
So when you see a guy like Khurana, he’s got money, power. He loves being corrupt and insulting people. He’s absolutely shameless. He loves the fact that he’s the bad guy and that is what I love about him. And all our anger that we have about our fathers who are decent people, our families being insulted and being done over by those guys, it came out in that film. So that is how it is.
Rajeev Masand: The film really found resilience with people all over, even those who had never lived in Delhi. What is the formula to make a film about a certain place, specific to a certain place, but one that is universal?
Dibakar Banerjee: I think the more specific you are the more universal you can get. If you know a topic or an area very clearly, for example: Parinda was very Mumbai specific, but Parinda found a huge audience in Delhi. I watched Parinda I didn’t know anything about Mumbai, I was a Class X or Class XI student, but when I saw it I loved it.
So the more specific you are the more universal you become. The more detailed and inside an environment you are, the more the human relations within that environment become universal. People understand it. Another thing about Khosla Ka Ghosla was, the middle-class obsession with a home for the family and the predator coming and taking that home away found a tremendous resilience with people all over India who are being done over by people like Khurana.
Because everybody has told me that Humari family mein bhi aisa hua tha (This happened in our family too). From Calcutta to
Mumbai, to Cochin, to Assam – everybody. So it’s a common thing in India, everybody wants to make a home, but there is some or the problem, so that found resilience.
The third thing is the father-son relationship. The most core layer of Khosla is the generation gap. The love and tension between
the father and the son — the son who wants to go away and the father who wants to hold him back — found a tremendous emotional resilience among all the people.
Rajeev Masand:Do you have a favourite scene in Khosla ka Ghosla ?
Dibakar Banerjee: Well Khosla means Khurana.. There is a scene where Khurana comes and slaps Kher on his shoulder,
Anupam Kher shakes his head, then Khurana slaps his back etc.
I am proud of one thing; I had a chat with Anupam before the scene. I told Anupam Kher that, “you are going to Khurana, he is a
SOB, the audience knows this, your son knows, everyone knows his nature. Only you think that your decency might convince him
to give you the plot back. You are the most naïve and trusting guy in that room”
I think he acted that part out tremendously well because that kind of underplaying, that kind of control in front of this huge guy with flamboyance is amazing. Anupam Kher is known for projecting his personality in a scene and the way he underplayed it and the way Bomman and him worked together is the most rewarding scene.
Rajeev Masand: Is Khosla ka Ghosla a hard act to follow?
Dibakar Banerjee: Not to me, but for people who have attached expectations and have attached labels to Khosla ka
Ghosla , probably. Khosla ka Ghosla was a product of the circumstances it was in. It can never be repeated; laws of probability and the laws of physics deny it, u can never do it again.
The best thing I can do is to do my best. I will make hit films and I will make flop films, there is no getting away from that. I am not worried about that all I am saying is the expectations are not unfair.
Rajeev Masand: Your next film oye lucky, lucky oye stars Abhay Deol and Paresh Rawal in triple role. Is it in the space as Khosla ka Ghosla , the film.
Dibakar Banerjee: Its set in Delhi, so it is the geographical space. One thing interesting about Khosla ka Ghosla is, not which many people realised is that Khosla ka Ghosla was all about point of view. You were essentially watching crime
from a middle class rooted and in-home point of view. You never really saw Khurana go and enjoy an item number.
It was crime from a point of view of a middle class family. My next film is the world from the point of view of a criminal. It’s about a thief from Delhi. He never says “ I am going to steal, he says I will make it big” the crime here is incidental it becomes a means to get to an end. The point of view of a criminal is essentially is the point of view of you and I.
We all want a car and a big house etc. The thief also wants it but he does something else and we do something else to get it, and
there lies the difference. So the next movie is about the world from the point of view of a thief. It’s opposite to Khosla ka Ghosla it’s the Khurana’s point of view here.
Rajeev Masand: What were the films you grew up watching?
Dibakar Banerjee: I have grown up on Ray’s films, because I am a Bengali. But this is not in an intellectual way. When we used to sit and watch Pather Panchali, I remember my dad saying that the schoolteacher in the film behaves exactly like the one he had. I saw that my parents were connecting to the film, and I realised that all was myth that an art film is far away from reality, dark and dead. It is as alive as any other film in the way people relate to it.
The films that I hold very dear to me in terms of craft etc are the films that were in mid-eighties. Taxi Driver by. Martin Scorsese. I remember watching this film with some excited friends of mine who said let’s watch a ‘blue film’ and then I remember people coming out of the theatre a little shocked and shaken and believe me none of these people were the intellectual movie goer types and they came out saying “what a great movie” .
From that time onwards I have been watching films of Martin Scorsese and ever since then I have watched all his films I could lay my hand on.
I wish I could really do one of such film. A film that goes into the under belly of a city, that goes into the personal obsession, probably crime, probably grit, and that gets into the mind of some seriously disturbed individuals and yet gets out a work of beauty, a work of sympathy, empathy and essentially a very affirmative film about being human.
And then I saw Raging Bull when I was in NID. I was 18 then, I was put off with that movie in the beginning and now 20 years down the line, I have watched the movie some 50 times and my one wish before dying is to make a film that tells you what it Is to be human.
In all its ugliness, in all its pain, in all its anger, in all its stupidity and yet understand that there is tremendous beauty in being human. Raging Bull is all about that.
Rajeev Masand: Well best of luck! Keep making those films that excite us, surprise us and films that are personal but that which people can relate to and enjoy.
Dibakar Banerjee: Sure. Thank you!