I love interviewing directors because they are so excited and passionate about their films and yes, they love to talk about them, which is great for you and me! Recently, I got a chance to interview a director turned producer who provided brilliant, in-depth answers to all my questions. You know him as the director of Ek Ajnabee, Mission Istanbul and Shootout at Lokhandwala, but for Hide & Seek, Apoorva Lakhia got off the director’s chair and moved into the producer’s seat. The reason? He did it for his assistant Shawn Arranha, who is making his debut as a director with the mystery/thriller/scary film. Did he like being a producer? Well, he says it has its charms but not really, yet he is really proud and happy with how the final product turned out. Take a look at my chat with Apoorva as he gives us an inside look at what goes into producing a movie like Hide & Seek.
Tell us about the story of Hide & Seek.
Hide & Seek is about six friends who play a game of Hide and Seek on one Christmas Eve when their parents are having a party. They have this one gift and everyone wants it. They decide that whoever doesn’t get caught, gets first choice for the gift. Something pretty terrible happens that night and they don’t see each other for the next 15 years. Fifteen years later we see them again and you realize they are all damaged souls. At one point between 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock they all get kidnapped and they wake up locked in a deserted mall. They have to play the game of Hide and Seek again and there are the same rules. As the movie progresses you find out what happened that night and who was the guilty party. You still have to figure out who the person holding the strings to all these puppets is. The mall is in the same location as the house used to be where they played Hide and Seek 15 years ago. The whole story is pretty interesting.
You also wrote the script?
I didn’t physically write it, but what happened was I was in South Africa doing recce for another film and there is this Mall of Africa in Cape Town, which is supposed to be the biggest mall in Africa. It has these huge multiplexes. My friend and I had gone to see a movie, which was a late show about 10:45, and the movie finished about one in the morning. We got out into the mall and we totally got lost because we couldn’t figure out the exits. We were actually in the mall until about 3 o’clock in the morning. The mall was so deserted and eerie that I thought it would be pretty interesting to make a story that has to do something with a deserted mall, because you know a mall has everything – you can defend yourself. If you manage to get access to a kitchen store, you can pick up a knife or you can go to a sport store and pick up a baseball bat – you can break into a restaurant and get something to eat; there is a motorbike showroom, so you can ride a bike. The mall basically has everything available to a person if he has to survive. I thought that was really interesting. I got back and saw my assistant Shawn, who has been with me for seven years now and who I was promoting to be a director. We were looking for a script for him. He had this candy-floss kind-of story he wanted to do, so I said listen, this is the idea I have, we can develop it into a script if you want, and he said okay. I developed it with Suresh Nair, who I write all my films with including Shootout and Mission, and a friend of mine Riteish Batra who lives in New York. He writes sitcoms for various television channels. So, we wrote most of the film in New York sitting in my 30th street apartment, then I came back and we finished it.
Did you have people in mind to play the roles while you were developing and writing the script?
Not really. First, we went on a totally eccentric line of thought, which was more, I guess you would say, a total debauchery of a script, where we thought okay, let’s just take your creative genius to wherever it leads you. We came up with this script and it turned out really wild. Then it became kind of pointless and we got stuck with one point, which was a very important point in the film. So, then we rewrote the script, made it a little more human, and a script which could be possible for someone in India to understand. Once the script was written, we could only make the film in 2 ways: one was that we had six big actors, or we had six actors of the same stature, but we could not have one Abhishek Bachchan and have everybody else from my star cast because that would give away the film. We tried to get six big stars together first but that became an impossible task, because you can’t start a movie with six big Indian actors for the next 10 years at least, I think. So, the second way was that we decided to go with up-and-coming stars who had done great work. We decided to get Purab Kohli, Arjan Bajwa, Amruta Patki, who is Miss India 2008, Mrinalini Sharma, Samir Kocchar and Ayaz Khan and it became a really young cast, plus my director is 25. I was producing it, and it would be less of a hassle for me this way. It all just fell into place and I think we have got a pretty good amalgamation of talent.
Why did you decide to produce this film?
The sole reason, Stacey, to produce this film, is because of Shawn. You know, I think it becomes my duty. I mean the poor guy has been hearing abuses from me for seven years and I have been screaming at his a** for doing everything wrong and keeping him late nights. [Laughs] So, I think it is my duty to make him into a director, because from Shootout he actually started shooting a lot of my second unit stuff. His style was very similar to mine, because I am the only director he has worked with for a long period of time. I thought he was technically very sound. The only reason I produced this film was because of him. Otherwise, I don’t like producing.
You know there is a different charm to it, but there are also a lot of drawbacks. Like for example, saving pennies and thinking twice before giving someone an ice-cream, listening to someone complain about a hotel room; I am not used to all that shit! I mean, I have directed films with Sanjay Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan. I ask for one helicopter – they give me two. What it does do is that you understand humans a little better. Though the director of the film is the captain of the ship, I think what you don’t realize as a director, is that you never see the way the other side works. The other side works really hard man, to keep the director and the actors happy. For example, 2 o’clock in the night, you find out one location is not happening and you have got to run and find a location. In the morning, the director or the actors don’t even know there was a problem when they go to the location and shoot. You don’t realize that. It’s pretty exciting in its own way, but I think the most exciting thing about being a producer is what you get to learn: about selling the film, about the censor board, about how you make deals. That was quite exciting. I think I have learned a lot, which is great.
How hands-on were you for the film, and guiding Shawn in how he directed the film?
I think that would have been very unfair of me, because I am an established director and whatever following I have, if I have any, in the films I have done, it is not fair for me to be hanging around set everyday, because I don’t want these young actors to look at me for advice. We made it a point that we spent a lot of time in pre-production. I was with Shawn at every moment and we would discuss the shots, whatever the shots required. The DoP is also new, so we discussed what it would take and then I didn’t go to the shoot as often. I was doing all the stuff that had to be done for the next day. I used to make sure that I would watch the dailies because we had taken our editor there and he was editing on his computer. The only reason I did that is because I didn’t want the poor guy to come back to Bombay and say, shit, I should have taken these shots, because that was an experience I had when I shot my first film. Once I sat at the editing table at the end, I thought, oh man, why didn’t I take a different angle of this or a different angle of that. I think that is the best way you can support a newcomer. You can’t go to the sets every day being a director yourself. First, you might make him uncomfortable because he might think, am I doing something wrong, or is this right? Also, he might not have the freedom to do what he wants. My partner, Laxmi Singh, who also produced the film with me, she was with him during the shoot. We shot every night, so she would come back and sleep during the day. I would go and once the first shot was taken I would leave. Then the next day, I would work during the day on whatever had to be done for the next night’s shoot.
How does a producer go about finding locations?
Firstly, we needed a mall. When we were thinking of getting six big stars, we were thinking of shooting the place either in South Africa or this central mall in Bangkok. When I decided we are not going to get the star cast that was that big, I decided to take the film out of Bombay because the malls in Bombay were charging us, in American terms, $5,000 an hour. That is ridiculous. Unbelievable! I started laughing when they told me the rates but that is the rate everyone pays. So, we decided to take the film to Ahmedabad. I was born in Ahmedabad, people from Ahmedabad know me, and in a way I felt satisfied that I was one of the first people from Ahmedabad to actually shoot 100% of his movie there. The other thing was I spent whatever my budget was, I spent about 2.5 to 3 crores in Ahmedabad, which is a substantial amount, because we hired everyone from Ahmedabad, all the locations were in Ahmedabad. My friends helped me get really good deals and so that was good fun. It was good being back to Ahmedabad and staying there for 45 days was a really long time.
How do you think Shawn has done in his first film?
I’m going to be really honest with you, Stacey and say, I think they have done a fantastic job. You know sometimes when you watch the first cut and you realize, Oh My God, what have I done??? That is how I felt when I made Mission Istanbul.
You know, after I watched the first time I said, Oh f*** I screwed it up in the second half and I got carried away. When I saw Shootout and Ek Ajanbee, I felt really good. You get that energy, and that energy eventually transforms on to the screen, you know, because everything is positive. I think they have done a really good job, and whomever we have shown the film to is extremely positive. For example, we only showed to one distributor and they straight away agreed to distribute the film. Even the parent company MoserBaer, who has produced it in partnership with us, they are going out of their way to do a music launch – we spent a lot of money on the music launch compared to the budget of my film. Plus, a genre like this has not really been done. We are all so confident of our film that we have a contest going that if you guess who the killer is by the interval, you can win a car or 5 motor bikes or 50 televisions. We are pretty happy with the product. The only thing is now let’s see what happens, ya.
What do you think audiences are going to think of it?
To be very honest with you, I don’t think even God can figure out the Indian audience. Let’s leave it to the audience because I can’t speculate. If I could speculate the Indian audience, I would call myself God! That is a question which NO ONE can answer. Even if Nostradamus came down, he would not be able to figure out the Indian audience.
It does seem that they are more open to new types of films lately. Do you think the audience is changing?
See, Stacey, there are a couple of films that have done really well, but if you look at for example – if India makes 990 films a year – 895 are still romantic films. There is a change, but if the change is not more than 2 to 3% in the overall releases of the year, that change itself is a big change because three or four years ago there was 100% romantic films. You know what I am saying? So, that change is good. Hide & Seek is a small film that has a limited running capacity, we all know that. We don’t expect an opening like 3 Idiots or any other film. We are hoping that the word of mouth will be pretty strong and that people by Saturday/Sunday will say, this is a mind-blowing film, please go and watch it. It’s a movie you should watch. Like for example Rock On!! or for example Mumbai Meri Jaan, there were so many smaller films which caught on word of mouth. That is the best we can hope for.
Tell us a little bit about the music and your thoughts about the songs.
The music was written only after the film was edited. It is all background music, like it is done in Hollywood films. We were lucky in that stage because we knew exactly where we wanted to fit a particular kind of music piece. We showed our music directors where and what has to come and what should be the feel of it. Shawn is a rocker and he plays the guitar really well. Music director Gourov Dasgupta has an actual band called Fallen, and Shawn plays with them. We just thought we would go with a rock kind of a thing because Shawn likes rock and it fits into the whole scheme of things. We had one hip-hop song because the lyrics of the hip-hop song are really cool. It’s about what people do today in India – Friday night to the disco and all that. I think everyone’s favorite song is the ‘Kaise Jiyu’ song, the slow song, which again comes in the background. The Hide & Seek title track comes at a point when this guy is doing brown sugar [heroin - ed.] and he is hallucinating. It all worked out accordingly.
Usually in your films you have one of the Bachchans, whether it be Mr. Amitabh Bachchan or Mr. Abhishek Bachchan. Are there any surprise appearances in Hide & Seek?
No, no, we purposely didn’t do that, even in the songs or in the film because we wanted the film to be about Shawn and keep the focus on Shawn, keep the focus on the six young actors. I think that was a very good decision we made. You know for my film it is okay, because I make slightly bigger budget films. So, if you have an item song with one of my friends, that doesn’t really question anything about the movie, because it is anyway surrounded by other big stars. In my film, I would obviously like to work with the Bachchans; I am really close to them, or with Sanjay Dutt, or Suniel Shetty. Like any other director there are always groupings among the industry that you feel comfortable with and you have that zone. You normally work with them and for my films that is okay, but for this film it was a conscious decision. We were thinking of asking Abhishek or Vivek or Zayed or someone to do it, but then we just thought, why don’t we take their support when we are publicizing the film, and when we are doing a music release, where we can make them chief guests and they can all come. I think we will get enough media coverage for that.
Speaking of the music launch it was quite an event and turned out really well.
Yes, I was really surprised there were so many well wishers for us. I think that is the best part about the industry. Any time you get on to a new venture or you do something new there are people there to support you. I think the best part was that I saw a couple of clippings on YouTube and all the actors from Abhishek to Suniel Shetty to Zayed to Vivek have spoken very highly about Shawn, which is a good thing for a young director, because if he has that kind of support from seniors in the industry, then obviously he must be shitting bricks right now, but it gives you a certain amount of confidence. When you are at that age and when you are making your first film I think you have to be nurtured. It is just really important, because I can help him as far as this first film is concerned, but after this he is on his own, ya. He is very much like me, never had a filmi background, came out of nowhere, and directing his first film. So, there is special bonding towards that and a special need to help him a little more and I am really close to him. The only reason I would have NOT produced the film with him is because I have lost the best assistant director in the world.
What are you proud most of about the film?
For everyone being so new, I think it is a wonderful job. I am really happy with the job by my DoP, which is Srikant Naroj. He was the assistant to my DoP on all my films. We decided if we are promoting Shawn from my assistant then we should also promote Srikant. I think one of the most difficult things to light is a mall, not only because there is no natural light and there are no places to really hide the lights because it is such a vast space, but that everywhere you look there is a reflection because everything is glass. On all four sides you are facing glass, on all four sides you are either facing a mirror or a showcase window, the floors are shiny marble and everything is metallic from the escalators, to the lifts, to the elevators. It was just a tremendous task for these guys to finish the film in 21 days! I just think the two of them; man, hats off to them! When you look at the film, it is just so beautifully lit that it gives you that entire eerie space where it is dark. Shawn has made it feel as if it is claustrophobic because you are in the one little space and the camera is moving just the right amount where it doesn’t disturb you, at the same time it makes you feel like, oh f***, something is going to happen now. It is pretty interesting if you look at it from that perspective, which no one ever does in India.
So give me three reasons why audiences are going to love Hide & Seek.
It’s the first Indian date film I think, so if you want to see it, go with two women. They’ll both hold on to you; don’t go with your mother! The second reason I would say is that it is really scary, and the third reason is because it’s fresh and will keep you at the edge of your seat – until the very, very end you will keep guessing.
What are you working on next?
I am doing a film for Shree Ashtavinayak called Mumbai Taxi Service, which is once again on a docu-true story – Shootout at Lokhandwala kind of incident, which took place in 1985. We hope to start around April-May in Bombay. We have confirmed Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor, Suniel Shetty and Amitabh Bachchan so far, and we are just waiting to confirm two younger stars and we are ready to go.
I would like to thank Apoorva for taking the time to talk with me and for his fabulous answers! Talking with him you could literally feel the good energy and positive vibe he has about Hide & Seek. The film is getting ready to get you sitting on the edge of your seat this Friday March 12th! Be sure and check it out! Also be sure and check out or interviews with Mrinalini Sharma and Purab Kohli and coming tomorrow we have director Shawn and newcomer Amruta Patki!