“The biggest highlight…is John’s performance.” – Abbas Tyrewala

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A film that has everyone excited is Jhootha Hi Sahi, directed by Abbas Tyrewala (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na). The rom-com opens on October 22nd and stars John Abraham and Pakhi. Pakhi, who is married to Tyrewala, did double duty because not only is she making her debut in the film, but she is also the writer of the story. Jhoohta Hi Sahi is about a normal guy, his friends, his girlfriend, and his world. It follows what happens when his phone number becomes a desi suicide line and he connects with a heart-broken girl. They talk, he listens, he tells a few small lies…but then they really meet. What happens between them is what makes the story of Jhootha Hi Sahi. It is about lies and laughter. Fun and friendship. Journey to self-discovery. But above all, it is the journey of love. True love. Yesterday, we shared part one of our in-depth interview with the director; now take a look at part two, where Abbas answers the questions about Pakhi, John, Rahman and more!

What made you want to direct this story?

The story was simple enough, I think what it was is that in the telling of the story Pakhi had done such a remarkable job. It was so engaging, it was so warm, funny, sad, and left you feeling so complete at the end that I found it more exciting than any script that I had at the time to direct.

What inspired Pakhi with the idea of the film?

Hmmm, I actually don’t know what inspired the idea. I think it is just one of those things where a mind picks up an interesting idea floating around in the ether. I think it just came to her.

This is also Pakhi’s debut film. Why did you decide to cast her in the lead role?

I think she always wanted to play the part ever since she wrote it. I also think she would have hated to put me in that kind of position. John was always supposed to do it. Ever since he heard the idea that Pakhi was developing he had told me he wanted to do the film. Pakhi was narrating the script to us and as we were listening we realized she is actually enacting all the characters for us. So, when a writer is able to actually act out every single character and she happens to be an attractive young woman, why would we not cast her? It actually started off from there, looking at her enacting the part of Mishka and saying, ‘My God she is bringing that part to life’. Who better to bring it to life onscreen than her? It was not an easy decision though, because we were also aware that it’s not traditional in the Hindi film industry for a woman to really begin her career after marriage, it sort of seen as something you do at the end of your career. But I believe that we have grown as a people; I believe that we have less ego to limit what women can and cannot do. Nobody ever talks about what a man can and cannot do after marriage. I really think we have grown to the point where we do not hold a woman’s personal choices against her professionally. I like to believe that… I hope I am right.

It must have been interesting because you worked together as director and scriptwriter, and now it has turned to director and actress. What was that like?

It worked out great simply because of my obsession with bound scripts, where every single word is written and rewritten and rewritten. As I think Pakhi recently mentioned in an interview I made her do eight drafts of the script. So, every single word that had to be argued over as a writer and director had been argued over. In addition, I carried the credit of additional dialogue writer on the film, which means I worked with her on the last Hindi dialogue. So everything was argued and agreed upon by the time we came to the last draft. Once the shooting began there was nothing left to discuss at the script level. All that remained was an actor and director and over there I expect nothing less than complete faith in my judgment. As an actor, of course, you can come to me with suggestions or your interpretation of how you feel a moment, but on set you do not have the luxury of endlessly arguing with the director because the entire job of the director is to take the call that is going to keep the movie together. So it was a very different relationship from what we shared as a writer-director. As an actress she completely, completely had faith in my judgments and decisions and worked as hard as any of the other actors to give me exactly what I wanted.

Then you have John who is taking on a little bit of a different type, sort of geeky in his look. How did you prepare him to play something a little bit different?

I never really thought of him as a geek, right? I think there is a certain territory and a rather large territory between being a geek and being this demi-god that he typically appears as on screen, which is what is called a normal guy! A normal guy, who is not a stud on bikes or in bikini shorts on a beach with a million girls swooning over him, but it is also not someone who in a room doing things with a computer that most people try and do with women (laughs). He is just a guy. He is a guy with friends. He is a guy who has a girlfriend who he is not quite certain whether or not he is in love with her; all of his friends are convinced he is not. He is a normal guy, so because of that he has a normal sense of dressing. He is a typical guy who lives in a small studio apartment in London and travels on tube to go to a small bookstore where he sells Indian books. He is not going to be dressed in a leather jacket and traveling on bikes. So, I think it was a question of saying who is this guy? What is his socio-economic background? Where does he live and therefore how can we expect him to dress? Would this guy have a terribly ripped beefed up body? No, I don’t see this guy having any time for the gym. So, it became imperative that John not be in the best shape of his life for the movie. Would this guy have any time to preen before going out and get the sort of perfect hair style or even have gel in his hair – no he wouldn’t, it would probably be the last thing on his mind. We also saw him as someone who was very plump as a kid. The story, the way Pakhi has written it doesn’t move forward if the guy is extremely confident. There’s obviously a certain amount of insecurity that he has; why would a guy like John have insecurities? So, we actually had to conceive his entire character in terms of his childhood, where he was this plump guy that girls used to laugh at and so he developed this innate shyness and nervousness around girls. He has grown up to be pretty good looking, but in his head he is still the same plump shy boy who used to blush to death every time girls laughed at him. There is a lot of character study that went into who he was and therefore what he would be like on screen.

I think it was a little disorienting for John initially, but once he realized that this was not just a gimmicky decision, not hey, John, let’s put you in a new look, I think this will be great for publicity. Once he realized there was a great deal of love for this person called Siddharth, and once he understood that I cared far more deeply about Sid than I did about some guy called John Abraham, he made the same journey with me, which means he also forgot all the trappings that come with being John Abraham, which is in terms of styling or in terms of appearances and stuff like that and just worked with me to create this guy called Sid. And that, I think, is the most exciting journey an actor can take, to become so immersed in something so different from him and do it with so much joy and so convincingly. I think the biggest discovery of the film is going to be not Pakhi, but John Abraham.

Yes, you can really see that in the trailers and promos. This is a different John Abraham. I mean if you didn’t know who he was, you wouldn’t say oh, that’s the Dhoom guy…

Or that the guy is considered one of the most good-looking men in the country. Yes, exactly. The fact of the matter is if he had looked like “John Abraham”, it would have been terribly distracting for the movie. So yeah, we had to work really hard to get him to dress down.

The music is by AR Rahman, which you know I loved. How was it working with him?

This was the second time around. I worked with him on my first film so there was already a certain rapport, there was also a certain established ease of interaction. Both of us really wanted to work together with each other. I really don’t know how to describe the journey; there is a very spiritual aspect to making music with Rahman. Of course, he reads your script; of course, you tell him the story, and then we discuss song situations, then he will come up with some tunes. You will kind of like one melody and you will build on it, then you put the words and then you record, then you evaluate; it is constantly a work in progress. It is never done until it is done. You are constantly seeing your music evolving more and more and sometimes something will start from a completely different space and go on to become a different song. A song that started off almost being a rock ballad can end up becoming a completely bare piece with a single guitar and some songs will just start off with one simple groove and nothing else and grown on to be filled with strings and flutes and violins and cellos. The music never stops talking to him, the sounds never stop talking to him, every time he sits down he will do something with them. It is something that is a very beautiful and it is an active relationship with music. It is not passive, it is not intellectual. Some music directors’ creativity is almost completely intellectual; they will conceive of it in its finished form and they will go with that and seldom question it again. They will make it perfect in their heads before they record and they will create the song exactly the way they have imagined it. They will execute that first plan. Over here there is never a plan, there is only a template, then there is only a scratch, then there is only a working form, then there is an embellished form, then there is a finished form. Then there will be what all the people associated with Rahman call the “last magic”: that last one hour where Rahman will sit on your sound just before the final mix and do something with it that can alter its entire texture. It is quite a remarkable process.

What is your favorite song?

Well, I have different favorite songs. As a lyricist, I think my favorite songs would be ‘Hello Hello’ and ‘Do Nishaniyan’ because of the lyrical form that is sort of different than a song that becomes more popular. I think there is some pretty funky and interesting stuff going on with the lyrics of ‘Hello Hello’, which is really sort of unusual and very, very modern and very contemporary. Not exactly the words and phrases you are used to hearing in a lot of Hindi songs so I really like that. I really liked ‘Do Nishaniyan’ because it is a sort of Bollywood love ballad in a very, very classical sense and therefore unlike the stuff I normally do: almost lover-like lyrics and very anguished romantic poetry. As a lyricist I guess those are my favorites. As a director, listening to the songs in my film and how they occur and where they occur I might kind of respond to a different song, and as a listener just listening in my car I will respond to a different song. I think that is the truest test: what do you like to listen to in your car? For me that would be ‘I’ll be Waiting’ and ‘Call Me Dil’.

In Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na there was the Waiting for Godot reference. Are there any things like that in this film we should look out for?

Well, there is one rather cheeky touch. I am not going to put it out there right now, but I will give you a hint and you can watch out for it. It’s a little board that is outside the bookshop and that is my little grin for this movie. But I must tell you that I also love what the bookshop is called Kaagaz Ke Phool (flowers made of paper), which I think is really cool!

Are you nervous about the release?

Is there any way one cannot be? You work two, two and half years at something and you have got a couple of weeks, if you are lucky, where people will decide. In a lot of cases people will decide within a day or over the weekend. Everything you have done for the last two years of your life comes down to that weekend. I don’t think you have the option of not being nervous! So, obviously I am nervous and obviously I have all my fingers and toes crossed and am praying hard and everything. There are also jobs to be done to finish it and sort of package it together, so that keeps you so busy that you don’t get to dwell too much on the situation, otherwise you would just go crazy.

Do you know what is coming up next, or is it all Jhootha Hi Sahi now?

You know I am unable to think of what is next, until I finish what I am doing and do it well. So for me, it is absolutely impossible to think about what is next until after the film has completed its release and everything we have to do with it is done. Then I take a little holiday and get the film out of my system, be done with it, make my peace (laughs), say my goodbyes and then start to think about what to do next.

Is it hard to let it go? Like you said, after two and half years and now you are down to the last, is hard to say goodbye?

Are you kidding? As soon as the final print is out I forget the movie. I still have not seen Jaane Tu in its completed form after we checked the first copy. I don’t think I have ever watched any of my movies except once, whether it was Maqbool or Munnabhai MBBS or Main Hoon Na I have never watched them completely more than once. And I can’t bring myself to because by the time I am done, I have just done so much on that film that I can’t wait to be done with it.

What do you think audiences will love about Jhootha Hi Sahi?

I think the biggest highlight that is really, really going to make the movie extremely memorable is John’s performance. It’s absolutely fabulous. So, overall I think this movie is about the script and the performances completely led from the front by John as an actor, but really everyone, Pakhi, Raghu, Alishka, everyone has done such an amazing job. Each one lives and breathes and becomes the character that they are playing. At no point do you say, oh, that is so-and-so playing so-and-so. Each one has become those characters and created that world for us and that is really what makes it so special.

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed talking to Abbas! I would like to thank him for taking the time and for the wonderful and insightful answers. I really feel he has a fresh new voice as a director when it comes to crafting films, and I am really looking forward to seeing Jhootha Hi Sahi!

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