From fan to filmmaker

I’m like an audience member making a film,” Advait Chandan declares cheerily as we sit chatting in his spacious study on a breezy Monday afternoon. The production assistant-turned-director, who is counting down the days till the release on October 19 of his first feature Secret Superstar, produced by Aamir Khan Productions and starring Khan himself, describes how he took to cinema fairly early in life. “I think when I was one, my parents took me for Maine Pyar Kiya,” he laughs. Years later when he chose films as a profession somewhat to his parents’ dismay, he had his response ready. It was they who had after all lit the first spark all those years ago.
Growing up, Chandan says, films were an essential part of his diet. Although not from the film industry, he belonged to what he calls “a filmy family”, and regales me with stories of how they would invariably land up at the theatre and then decide which film to watch. Rather than the usual converging during meals at the dining table, “We were the family that sat together and looked at a screen”, says the debutant whose love for mainstream Bollywood films grew early and quickly. He remembers how they would frequently travel all the way to South Mumbai from Borivali to catch the latest shows. Video cassettes were the most eagerly anticipated birthday presents as well as the most cherished and stacks of them would steadily line the walls at home.

For the first-time director who has worked as manager to Aamir Khan for a number of years, writing was a constant preoccupation. At any given point, Chandan says, there are a number of potential projects that he is working on. It was one such idea for a script that occurred to him at the time of Khan’s Satyamev Jayate and which he eventually pitched to producer-director and Khan’s wife Kiran Rao.

There were two episodes in particular that struck him: the first was about a girl who had decided to work to support her mother’s dreams and the second on a kid who had taught himself to play golf by watching golf videos online and had eventually become a champion. Recalling a personal anecdote, Chandan shares that this was also the time when his father was learning to cook from culinary videos on YouTube for his mother. Observing these, what dawned on him was the importance of such symbiotic relationships as well as the way in which the Internet was radically affecting the middle class and shaping inter-personal relations. The realisation dramatically altered his notion of what the hero ought to be and of the kind of story that needed telling. Chandan says that it was there that the idea to use the Internet to empower the mutually supportive mother-daughter duo that lies at the heart of his new film took shape.

Rao took an immediate interest in the idea and helped Chandan develop it further before he took the final screenplay to Aamir Khan. While marvelling at the ease with which he was able to slip into the role of a director all thanks to Khan’s professionalism as an actor, Chandan grants that the quality that he hopes to pick up from his former employer is his single-minded attention to things. Chandan feels he has learnt important lessons from Khan. “I picked up on a bunch of things that I kind of reverse-engineered from the stuff he had rejected whether it was a weak conflict or a weak climax or a dry telling of [the story]. I figured out what works by watching him reject what didn’t work. These four-and-a-half years I spent with him helped me build my storytelling tools,” he admits.

Working with Dangal star Zaira Wasim along with a supporting cast made up of both known and fresh faces, Chandan is eager to see how the performances are received. When asked about the female-centric theme of the film, he feels that it is more a generational issue now, having observed qualities that he portrays in his central character in countless millennials today – confidence in one’s abilities, a willingness to work hard and, most importantly, the absolute refusal to give up on one’s dreams.

Commenting on the film’s music and its centrality given that the young protagonist is an aspiring singer, Chandan says that his love for Bollywood music ensured that it would play an important role in the film. However, simply creating good music would not do in this case; it needed to have a certain character. In the film, he explains, the girl is her own composer, lyricist and guitarist. So the people behind-the-scenes had to come together to be this one person. “They would also have to perform, just like Zaira would have to become this girl”, he points out. It was the combination of Kausar Munir’s lyrics, newcomer Meghna Mishra’s skills along with Amit Trivedi’s expertise that created music that could be believably attributed to a 14-year-old. Though a challenging process, the director believes that the result has been deeply satisfying.
Source-The Hindu

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