You know Parmeet Sethi as the spoilt Punjabi munda for whom Kajol traveled from London to Punjab and was nearly forced to marry in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. After that the actor was seen in a number of films before he married the very popular and funny Archana Puran Singh. More recently, Sethi took a leap in his career when he wrote Badmaash Company for the Yash Raj camp. Aditya Chopra quickly took him on and helped him cast the likes of Shahid Kapoor and Anushka Sharma in his debut directorial film. While he may be new to the directorial world, Sethi is familiar with the world of acting and thus has written a script that is meant to keep the masses laughing for ages. Read on and find out how Sethi adorned the directors cap and some candid moments from the film.
How did Badmaash Company take birth?
Badmaash Company actually happened all of a sudden in my life. Mein ek aur film likh rahaa tha Adi Chopra ke liye (I was writing another film for Adi Chopra). That film was approved but had to be put on the back burner due to some events that happened in Mumbai and we couldn’t shoot that film. Adi told me you will have to wait a minimum of six months to make this film. Now I had stopped acting. I didn’t want to act on TV anymore. I had told all my producers and directors. I didn’t know what to do. So Adi said, look why don’t you write another one. I said it’s easier said than done. I had mentally decided then that I would go back to acting. So I thought ill just wait for 6 months, act and comeback. Then all of a sudden I just thought of one idea and I just told Adi iss type ki pikchur banaoo? A caper kinda film? And he said yeah I love the genre very much and I said great then let me give it a shot. I gave myself 20 days to get a rough structure of the film. I had 5 ideas that I short listed and I liked the caper idea the best and started writing. It came to me so fast that in about a day, in about 1.5 hours actually I had the whole screen play in mind – that was around 80-85 scenes. And the next day I started writing the dialogues. Luckily my wife and kids were all gone on a holiday and I was alone and I worked on the script for nearly 18-19 hours a day. I just kept writing and didn’t stop and realized that in six days time I had my first draft of the film so that’s how suddenly and beautifully it happened.
Is the script close to your real life?
Yes, it is very close to my real life. A lot of it is my real life actually. Some characters are autobiographical and for some I have brought to life my friends. It’s like Karan is half me and half somebody I know, Zing is my darker side, Chandu is based on my friend Chandu – his name is actually Chandu and it’s the combination of him and another friend. There is Bulbul who resembles Archana a bit and another girl I know in Delhi who is similar. So, a lot of it has been brought from real life including the scams. All these scams have happened. They are scams I have read through the years in papers and have been stuck in my head, I got so inspired and I thought this is a good idea. I can make one character do all the scams instead of different scams for different characters. It’s definitely inspired by true life. It’s definitely very close to my heart and it’s very close to my life when I was in my teens.
How was the experience of being a director on a film set vs. being an actor?
For me it felt like I had come home. I had found my true calling. I was completely satisfied everyday that I went home. Of course there are problems, it’s raining or things are not finishing on time but when I went home and looked at myself in the mirror I used to feel I have done some very good work. It was very satisfying.
I never got this satisfaction in acting and that’s why I felt this is my true calling and that’s why I am here. Direction has been on one part very satisfying and on one part a very huge learning experience. I learned a lot. What I thought would be difficult was easy and what I thought was easy turned out to be difficult so it was a lot of learning and with Adi Chopra the producer – and he himself is such a great director and great writer, I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from my actors and technicians. So it has been a very fruitful and enlightening journey for me and when I look back and see a smile, and say it was well worth it.
The film is set in the 90s. Why that time?
There is one scam initially which is based on custom duty and this was prevalent in the 90s. Custom duty was in almost everything that was imported in the 80s and 90s – today it is more relaxed. Now you can get a lot of things without paying any duty or no duty, so given the technical aspects of custom duty I had to choose a time period in which duty was very high so the scam would look bigger and something could happen during that time and was feasible. So 90’s was chosen as that was a time just before liberalization happened. So to make the movie more interesting more real and more believable we stuck to the 90’s time line.
How did you go about the casting? Everybody is finding the pairing of all four actors extremely fresh and interesting.
Adi loved the script and within an hour he gave me an ok. When I met Adi he said okay superb who do you want? I said who do you want? And he said who do you want as your leading actor? So I said I want the best actor since he asked me with so much confidence and according to me the best actor is Shahid Kapoor in the younger category who fit the role perfectly. He’s very versatile, he can look middle class and an unassuming kind of guy and can look extremely dashing and flamboyant when I want him too. And he can look like a boy and can look like a man which is his journey in the film so I said Shahid. I just love him as an actor and he said done so he called Shahid but didn’t tell him who wrote the script as he didn’t want to pre condition his mind. You know somebody you don’t expect a script coming out of you know. Someone who has never directed so Adi told me don’t write your name on the script. He told me to hang out around the office on standby so luckily I was with my parents who stay close by and having some chai (tea) and counting how long it was taking. As Shahid says he came to say no to the film as he was doing his father’s film so he was thinking I’ll read the script and say no not for me and leave so he started reading and then as he kept reading he called for sandwiches and a cold drink and he started reading and reading and eventually after four and a half hours of waiting I got a call from Adi and he told me to come and he told Shahid this is the director and he wrote the script and Shahid said, “Parmeet? Oh man hi yaar!” So that was when we really got formally introduced, we had seen each other only socially. So it was quite awkward and Shahid told me, “So you have written it? How nice! Actually I had come to say no to this movie but there is something is this film so I will push my dad’s film ahead and do this because Adi made it very very clear that he doesn’t want to wait.” So he somehow pushed his dad’s film ahead and gave time for this and gave it preference and thank God he did this because the film is looking so good because of him so that was the first casting. Anushka ki casting dehej mein aayi hai (we had gotten it as a boon). Adi said if you are looking for a girl and she’s fresh I said that’s correct. The trick was to change her image which was very Indian. We had to make her look very hot and I think we’ve managed that in the film. And I agreed she was a good actress, my first preference always goes to good actors rather than how big a star you maybe, so I said yes. I am absolutely fine so he sent the script to her and she loved it and said ill do it and then we did a reading with her and it was wonderful. We immediately clicked. She took instructions very well and for a first timer she was amazingly spontaneous. I said this is super I was very excited. I had written the role for Chang. He doesn’t know it but if he didn’t do this movie I would have to take out the character. I had only seen some of his stuff on Indian Idol and I thought he had a lovely screen presence. His Hindi is very good and he impressed me a lot. He looks good and a lot of girls are after him. He loves the camera and the camera loves him. I called him for a screen test and it went off so well I felt blessed and I told him do you like the script? He said yes. Adi asked me do you think he can act? Then I showed him what I shot with him and he said “this is superb ya” and I said “exactly”. I think Chang is outstanding and that he has a super career ahead of him! I was stuck on two people for Chandu’s character coz it needs a peculiar kind of humor and I needed a peculiar kind of actor who ultimately is Chandu in the film so I went to two-three actors. Sometimes they didn’t want to do it because it was playing the second lead but lead nevertheless but one or two people said no and I was very dejected but retrospectively I feel now thank god they said no because what Vir has got on the table is simply amazing. Some assistant of mine suggested Vir Das and I said okay show me the picture and said no way, he looks older in this and I said no I need a very young boy. Somebody who has just got out of college and after going through a lot of actors he said Sir why don’t you meet Vir? I said who is this Vir? Fine okay call him. So very condescendingly I called for Vir, you know like very casual “Let me go though this guy also,” and when I saw him I felt yeah his look is correct. He looks young.. the photos of his gives an incorrect impression so I went into the room with him and I read and this guy just became Chandu instantly. I was like oh shit! I was so excited I said mujhe mera Chandu mil gaya (I’ve found my Chandu) so i immediately asked him do you have the dates and he said yes, then without jumping or kicking up my heels I quietly shook hands and went out and told Adi I have found my Chandu and he is superb in the film as you can see and there is one more casting – the father’s casting which was very tough for me, so difficult to get someone convincing as a father who can look middle class and is a good actor and does not look clich