Reema Kagti caught a lot of people’s attention with the first film she wrote and directed, the quirky, fun Honeymoon Travels Private Ltd. in 2007. She also co-wrote Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara with friend and collaborator Zoya Akhtar. (And if you look carefully, you can see her appear very briefly in the audience at one of the band’s concerts in Farhan Akhtar’s Rock On!) Here, she discusses her much-awaited return to directing with the suspense thriller Talaash.
Maria: What have you been doing in the past five years since Honeymoon Travels Private Ltd?
Reema Kagti: Primarily I’ve been trying to get films off the ground for me to direct. Such a long time has not been out of choice. I was focusing on my writing and developing a couple of scripts. I wrote ZNMD with Zoya (Akhtar). So it’s been a lot of writing and trying to get films to direct.
Approximately how long did it take to complete the script of Talaash?
I think over three months. Zoya and I had written the story years ago actually. It was our first attempt at co-writing ever. So we had written the story about eight or nine years ago and I think at that point we were writing and Farhan (Akhtar) came into the room and he heard the story and said “I like it and I think Excel (Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.) should buy it.”
So we sold it to them and we went on a holiday, spent the money and came back and felt really foolish for selling the script because we both felt it was a really, really nice story and we should have kept it for one of us to direct. So we tried to get Farhan to give us the story back. They said we must be professional, since we sold it, that was that.
And we moved on. Zoya did Luck By Chance, I did Honeymoon. Post-Honeymoon I was talking to Farhan and Ritesh (Sidhwani) about what I wanted to do next I brought up this story and I said “Since no one’s really done anything with it, I would like to develop the screenplay with Zoya and direct it for Excel.” And within three months we had hashed it out.
How do you and Zoya write together? How does that work exactly?
The thing is we’ve kind of arrived at this process, at a very organic process. What we kind of do is, right from the germ of the idea we kind of bounce it off each other, so whomever’s idea it is, it becomes the other person’s, because the other one is talking so much about it. Once that happens, we research it, we talk about it a lot and then we start putting one-liners down and we don’t get on to a screenplay until we’ve hashed this one-liner through all the way to the last scene. Then we tackle the screenplay.
There are no rules, at any given point, anyone can just do what they like, but normally what we do is … I think we’ve complementary qualities as writers. I find it easier to look at the big picture and start writing a screenplay and moving on ahead, and I think Zoya is really good at detailing things – characters, dialogues, situations. She’s really good at honing scenes, so she kind of writes over me. Everybody’s writing over each other. It’s democratic. And there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of arguments (laughs).
Talaash is much darker than Honeymoon Travels… to what do you attribute that? Is it because you are older yourself?
Not really. Honestly, the first movie I ever tried to do was a script which I still haven’t been able to make was really much darker than Talaash. I don’t think age has anything to do with it. It was just following this story that led me to this dark suspense drama. It wasn’t like I was consciously heading that way.
I think we’re very intuitive both of us as writers, we like to work a bit spontaneously and we let the idea kind of lead us as opposed to us leading the idea. So I wasn’t consciously seeking to arrive here, which is where the idea led me.
How would you describe that very basic germ of the idea that grew into Talaash?
To protect the suspense and the surprise of the film I wouldn’t like to tell you, but it just came from a passing remark.
Those underwater scenes look like they must have been something to orchestrate. Did Aamir have any qualms about being in the water so much?
Aamir was really great. Initially when he took on the film, he’s not a swimmer. For the underwater sequences, it was more about having diving and breathing equipment down there with him, but he needed to be comfortable in water. There are certain sequences where he needs to swim, so he had taught himself to swim for the part, so had Rani. Kareena was a natural swimmer, she knew how to swim from before.
Shooting underwater is extremely difficult and tedious. I had hoped to shoot both sequences in an underwater stage we had set up a couple of hours out of Mumbai at a diving academy. We shot the first sequence and then we had some problems with the filtration unit. The water just wasn’t as clear as we needed it to be, there were visibility problems. I felt I shouldn’t shoot and I spoke to all three producers, who were all supportive and said “We shouldn’t attempt something you aren’t feeling comfortable about. Let’s wrap and we’ll set it up where you do feel confident about it.” And that happened to be nowhere other than Pinewood (Studios), which was fantastic for all of us because I think it’s quite an institution in film-making.
So it was great to go and shoot on the underwater stage there, and get the scene to what I wanted it to be.
In the second half of this interview, Reema talks more about Talaash and discusses how it was to work with Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherjee and Kareena Kapoor.