Abraxas Lifestyle sat down for an interview with director Vikram Shankar and producer Rajiv Kumar, whose movie Jab Tum Kaho recently released to extremely positive reviews.
Vikram, you started out as a photographer. Tell us about how you ended up in direction.
I was born in Faridabad, which is not a cultured city but more of a money-making city. You cannot a money-minded city to do something creative. However when I joined the theatre group of Mandi House, there was a change of mind – I wanted to do something different from my family and from my colleagues. In Mandi House there was a year-long photography course at the Triveni Kala Sangam which I signed up for. At that time Priyanka Gandhi was in our class and she had undertaken a 6 month course back in 2001-2002. My friend and I both felt that we didn’t have what it took to become an actor. But we definitely wanted to do something different. At the Shriram Centre 10 people would entertain around 500 people. And the director was the one who was leading the show. So there, every guy had the same mindset, “Mujhe 2 dialogue chahiye, as an actor present hona hai”. I was thinking about what all must be going through the director’s mind – lighting, art designing, story, music, etc. Sometimes you just want to try your hand at everything and learn everything.
My father used to read a lot of novels – from street-side novels to every kind of Hindi literature and I also became well-versed in Hindi literature thanks to him. My mother used to tell me, “Job ke baad business karo aur thoda extra income hoga toh bacche kuch accha kar payenge”. Subsequently my father decided to follow this advice and then hit upon the idea of opening a bookstore where he used to lend books to other people. I was also told to handle the shop after school since dad would not be there.
Everyone was saying “Chalo Bombay chaltein hain”. I have had a love for photography from the time I was a child – one of my uncles had gifted me a camera and I used to click a lot of pictures (which turned out to be expensive since you had to process and develop them). I slowly developed a passion for it and I feel that when that happens, your knowledge also increases and you slowly evolve from an amateur into a professional. Whichever field you may be in, this happens in every profession.
After taking classes at the Triveni Kala Sangam for a year, I then felt that I was ready to go to Bombay and the feeling that “Ab Bombay jaa sakte hai, kuch nahi, toh photography kareinge hi kareinge”. Then I got a show. The name of the show was Mano Ya Na Mano with Irrfan Khan as the anchor. I had to do research for the first episode for which I was sent to Orissa. I would click photographs and then mail them back. During my visit there, I became more interested in direction. I already had that interest due to previously doing theatre. Then the film Fareb came along in 2005 for which I was an assistant cameraman. On that set, Deepak Tijori (the director) felt that I was better suited for direction and script of the movie. So then I came on board as the assistant director of the film.
In Bombay, work concerning a single film can last for around 3 to 4 months after which you are free for a while. So that keeps happening. I proved myself working with Siddharth Kak who is widely known for the TV serial Surabhi, and thanks to him from an assistant, I became a director.
Rajiv, tell us something about yourself.
Deep down I never felt that I had to do a lot in life. Today, I’ll do this; tomorrow I’ll do that and so on. It wasn’t even like I wanted to try out several kinds of businesses. But I have always taken chances in life in order to move forward. I could have taken up a job and my father was a government officer as well who tried convincing me to try for IAS and other things, but I didn’t do anything. In my entire life, I have filled out the forms for only two exams, both of which I never even gave.
Ever since childhood, or to be more accurate, from Class 6 onwards, I was looking for a job that would keep my earning going, so that I would not have to take money from home. Be it working in a newspaper or being a hawker or whatever. So circumstances led to my mother telling me to shift to Delhi where a lot of my family happened to be staying. Immediately after arriving in Delhi, I started working. The man I worked for was a very nice and helpful person. He taught me the art of management, earning money and moving forward. I took a lot of inspiration from him and worked with him for 10 years.
While working there, I started a side business of manufacturing the coil wire that you see on the Indian border. I introduced it into the private sector and when I started in the 90s, I had a monopoly in that business for 10 years, and that probably continues even to this day. I was thoroughly settled and there was no dearth of anything. Then I thought of trying my hand at something else, maybe investing in properties to make more money. Around that time, I met Vikram through a common friend in Mumbai. This common friend of mine had said “I am sending a very good director to you and he’s a young, very energetic newcomer who has many ideas and opportunities so please meet him”, so I did. Both of us would meet up at night and would endlessly chat throughout the night till dawn. After 3 days I started thinking of him as my brother and he was no longer Vikram to me but Vicky. His work and trust kick-started tour company with the thought in mind that it will prosper forever and that our children will also handle it.
What is different about your film Jab Tum Kaho? It must have been quite challenging since your star cast were all newcomers.
Vikram: First of all we need to understand why films just disappear. You can see the many big films have just vanished. I’m not going to take the name of this film, but there was one superstar film where a lot of actor made comebacks after a long time. Despite that, if you watch the film for more than 15 minutes, you will get bored. Salim and Javed saab have always said when stories were told in films back in their time, after that the viewers would always want something new. There should be a sequence. So the number one fact of the matter is that in Bollywood, there is a shortage of content. In out films there is a story. The music of our film is strong. People will be able to understand the lyrics and their meaning. Also, you might have noticed that small films are gaining by taking lesser risks. Plus we are the small budget types so we ultimately know that our film will recover. My job is simply to ensure that when the audience reaches the theatre they should not feel disheartened and think “Yaar kya dikhayaa inhone”. That should not happen.
Rajiv: If we go back around 10 years, there was no concept of blind dates. Now that concept has come up. In our times, our mother and father would make the girl and boy meet and they would talk that too only in front of them and then have them married off. But now this has changed slightly in the rural areas and if you go into the metro cities there has been a complete change. The girl and boy meet in the mall and go out for a cup of coffee. You talk on the phone and social media and subsequently get attached to each other. And the form that this attachment takes what the film is about, be it positive or negative.