Hello Folks! In this week’s #BlabWithSandy, we have director Sunaina Bhatnagar joining us. Sunaina worked as an assistant director for films Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar. She made her debut as a director with the film Dear Maya which released in 2017. It had Manisha Koirala playing the lead role along with Shreya Chaudhry and Pakistani actress Madiha Imam in pivotal roles.
Sandy: Dear Sunaina ji. How is the summer treating you?
Sunaina: Hello Sandeep! I’m good, thank you. 🙂
Sandy: Could you throw some light on your background?
Sunaina: I graduated from London School of Economics. I wasn’t really into films. Whilst my studies, I saw Rang De Basanti and it changed my mind. I was blown away by its visual streak and it intrigued me.
I came to Mumbai and wanted to check if films were a possibility for me. My family gave me three months of time to try my luck in films, during which I stayed with a friend of mine in Mumbai. That’s how things took their start!
Sandy: How did film-making beckon you?
Sunaina: I was always into writing and was a part of my college editorial board. And, movies are always a good medium to showcase different stories.
I assisted Imtiaz Ali when he was unknown. He had just completed his debut film Socha Na Tha. He hired me for Jab We Met, and I continued in his team for Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar. After five years of working as an AD, I left him in 2012.
Sandy: What were you up-to after 2012?
Sunaina: I wrote a couple of scripts, wrote for myself and that’s how Dear Maya came into existence. It wasn’t a conventional script. I went to different studios, but it was tough. I was a first-time director and I got to hear things that it’s not going to work out but, I was convinced as I had a strong story.
Sandy: So, how did Dear Maya finally materialize? 🙂
Sunaina: The process was very hard. I met amazing people through the journey though. Most of the technicians were from Imtiaz Ali’s team like our editor Aarti Bajaj, costume designer Dolly Ahluwalia, etc.
Working with Imtiaz Ali did not help me get producers. It was indeed a struggle but eventually things worked out. It had first time producers who were inexperienced. We got a lot of appreciation and calls once Dear Maya released.
Sandy: Generally, a new filmmaker tries to come up with a commercial subject. But, with Dear Maya, you threaded a path falling in between commercial and art cinema. Your take on it?
Sunaina: Ha-ha! I never put a thought on it. Maybe I should have, and things would have been different. Nevertheless, I wanted my vision to be seen on-screen and it came out well. If it had a big studio support, it would have done better.
Sandy: Could you share your experience of working with Imtiaz Ali?
Sunaina: Like I said, I was with him for five years. Most of Dear Maya’s crew members were part of Imtiaz’s team. I was with Imtiaz for Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar after which I left his team in 2012.
He doesn’t promote his ADs and he says it openly. Once I realized that, I felt its time that I do something on my own. And, that’s how I began writing stories for myself.
Sandy: How was it working with Manisha Koirala? What made you choose her?
Sunaina: I grew up watching her films. When I was writing the script of Dear Maya, I felt she would be amazing for the role. She wasn’t into acting during that time. I approached Mukesh Chhabra casting and through him I met her.
She loved the script and asked me to meet her. She is a fabulous actor and her coming onboard was a blessing. I feel she is much ahead of time and has some amazing ideas with her. She is more than an actress for me, she is a dear friend and very supportive.
Sandy: A few anecdotes on the other ladies of the film, Shreya Chaudhry and Madiha Imam.
Sunaina: Shreya is a well-known model and has featured in many advertisements. Madiha is a Pakistani actress. She used to host MTV Pakistan. I saw one of her YouTube videos and thought she was part of MTV India.
I approached one of my friend who works in BBC Pakistan and he gave me her number. I had a chat via Skype. It was a time when India and Pakistan weren’t fighting, and when Fawad, Mahira and others were all working in India.
Both did a wonderful job. Shreya’s screen test went awesome and with one month of rehearsal, both Shreya and Madiha became good friends and that worked for the film.
Quick Shot Round:
- Love: Freedom
- Dear Maya: Best memories
- Biggest regret in life: Maybe I should have started directing a film a little earlier than I did
- Given a chance to change something about Dear Maya, what would it be? Its Distribution
- Manisha Koirala: She is a blessing
- You are stuck in an Island and can carry only three things. What would those be? A notebook, pen, and a sunscreen
- If a book was to be written on your life, what would you name it? I can’t even imagine. Maybe ‘Kamli’?
- What angers you the most? When people don’t do their given job
- Favorite genre: Drama
- A film which you saw recently and liked it immensely: Gully Boy
- You going on a road trip and can tag two people with you. Who would those two be and which place? Italy with Ronnie Screwvala and Aamir Khan
- One good thing and one bad thing about the film industry: It has highly creative people who can create big impact. Bad thing is, talent is not always rewarded. You can be the most talented but nepotism rules. It’s more of “Kiska uncle, kiska chacha kya laatein hain’, which is really bad
- You 3 AM friend(s): Aarti Bajaj (Editor)
- If not a director, you would have been a? Corporate Head in a media company 🙂
Sandy: What advice would you like to give newcomers who are venturing into films?
Sunaina: You must be pretty smart from the very beginning. For me, when one joins at the age of 22-23, he/she isn’t much focused, as they are into assisting. But, I think one should always focus on how they can move forward, check out who are the people who can truly help them.
If you work in a place and see that you aren’t moving forward, you shall again need to start afresh. So, be clear as the industry is very much relationship based. It’s good if you can meet people and make connections.
Sandy: What’s in the pipeline for you in the coming months?
Sunaina: I have just finished a script. Hopefully, it kickstarts sometime early next year.
Sandy: A few words about Hyderabad Local.
Sunaina: Your interviews are intriguing. It’s a good mix of Bollywood mainstream and art, kind of in-between. Nice to see what you do.
Editor’s note: It was truly splendid blabbing with Sunaina Bhatnagar. Dear Maya, may not have had a wide release but, whosoever watched the film, had a wide appreciation for her work. Wishing Sunaina, a soothing film journey ahead!
Interview by Sandy (Sandeep Rao)