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“I do not want to repeat the same cast again and unearth relatively fresh faces”

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In this exclusive telephonic interview for and Mayapuri on the eve of the release of his directorial Scotland, MANISH VATSSALYA tells JYOTHI VENKATESH that his next film will be on the Vikas Dubey biopic, but instead of casting himself in the role of Vikas Gupta, he would like to cast a well known face.

How relevant is the title of your film “Scotland”?

In the film, the father and daughter are N.R.I.’s living in Scotland. The daughter is adamant about visiting India while the father doesn’t want her to do so alone. When the father is called to Mumbai for an emergency surgery, his daughter also tags along with him, which leads to a horrific series of incidents. Since their journey began there, we decided to name the film Scotland.My film commenced in April 2019 and we were gung ho about a theatrical release but the lockdown changed our plans.

What is the advantage of OTT as a platform?

OTT gives you a much bigger opportunity to showcase your talent as a performer, especially when the platform is as recognized as ShemarooMeBox Office. Their initiative brings out the theatrical experience in this era of “stay at home”. An advantage of ShemarooMeBox Office is that audiences no longer need to worry about the ‘house full’ board and the theatre reaches their doorstep.

As a producer, does streaming your film on an OTT platform affect your earnings?

Not really, once we stream on ShemarooMe Box Office for three days, we are going to take the film to other avenues like satellites. We have also made the film on a realistic and efficient budget, so that our revenue does not take a hit. The international acclaim that Scotland has received is the cherry on top that makes it a big value proposition.

Coming to your film Scotland, how did you zero in on Chetan Pandit for the antagonist’s role?

The role of Balvir Shelar that he plays in my film Scotland has shades of white as well as black and he is not that simple. Although Balvir initially seems to be an upright man, when his family is at risk, he sides with them despite knowing the truth. This isn’t limited to Balvir, I think any person will ignore that line of right and wrong once it comes to their family. Keeping these attributes in mind, we needed a vulnerable face that doesn’t look naturally menacing, so after considering a bunch of people, I finally thought of Chetan ji for the role. On hearing the script, he immediately agreed and was on board.

Was there any hesitation on your part as you had never worked with Chetan earlier?

It is true that I hadn’t worked with Chetan as well as any of the other actors in this film, but that was by choice. I had earlier worked with many great character actors in Dasshera, my film with Neil Nitin Mukesh. Some of them had collaborated with me on my previous projects too. Since Scotland was my maiden international co- production, I did not want to repeat the same cast again and hence decided to unearth relatively fresh faces.

How did you sign a newbie like Khusbhoo Purohit for this film?

We had done a couple of look tests with some aspirants where I loved Khushboo’s audition. When I met her, I knew she was perfect for the role as she also looked like an NRI. Her acting talent is also excellent. Nobody would call her a debutante after watching the film. She is a great dancer though sadly we could not exploit her dancing talents.

Don’t you think if Scotland was a brother-sister story instead of a father-daughter one, it could have been commercially more viable with an actor from the market?

The emotional ‘connect’ that a bond between a parent and child establishes is unparalleled. Even in Sridevi ji’s Mom, it was ultimately a mother-daughter story. It is a matter of pride to me that my work is being compared to such an acclaimed work of art, like Damini. Most of the tales in the universe have been somewhere inspired by the epic Mahabharata. Our story idea also germinated when that horrible crime occurred in Hyderabad, ultimately ending up in an encounter.

We were also fascinated by a Bangladeshi news article of Hercules, a vigilante who kills rapists. I then met Adam in London,who had a similar plot in mind which I was interested to develop further. I started thinking about established actors who can essay the role of an honest father, but somehow Adam’s aura stuck with me and I thought of taking a leap of faith and cast him in the role of Dr.Brij Dewan. While Adam was reluctant at first being a newbie to acting, I managed to convince him to go ahead. All these facets blended into the making of Scotland.

What was Adam doing before acting in this film?

He was a member of the Scottish Police. He was very apprehensive about the film, but I guided him through the process, with everything like his look and body language, and he gradually managed to get into the skin of his character and has won about 11 international awards whichare a tribute to his hard work.

How much time did it take to complete this project?

Scotland was completed in a record time of 16 days. We did use a couple of stock footage of London for exterior shots but everything was arranged in Mumbai itself.

Your earlier film Dasshera took some time to find takers. Did that experience encourage you to produce Scotland yourself?

Yes! Dasshera got delayed due to some unavoidable issues and I had to run from pillar to post to get the film in theatres. After such a vexing ordeal, I decided to involve myself as a producer, to not only facilitate production but also lend my name to a project which makes setting up a cast easier.

Your first film was Jeena Hai Toh Thok Daal, produced by Aparna Hoshing. Why didn’t you offer her this film as a producer?

Well, Adam introduced me to Zaina Ibourek who was excited to be a co- producer on this film and we went ahead with Zaina, who is an immensely experienced British producer as our co-producer.

What difference do you find in the roles of an actor, director and producer?

I feel I was destined to work in the film industry. I am a dentist by education, and had never revealed to anybody that I was interested in Bollywood. My family was very worried when I sneaked off to Mumbai to pursue my long cherished dream. After a lot of struggle, I got my first break in Teri Deewani, the super hit music video. Thus began my journey in cinema. I then did Lanka with Manoj Bajpayee in 2011. Later, I got the opportunity to direct a film with Jeena Hai Toh Thok Daal, which I relished and to my delight the film also reaped many awards.

You’ve made just three films in eight years. Why?

The quality of movies matter more than their quantity.  I left my medical career behind to perform on screen and hence I want to keep my choices unique and special.

If I am not wrong, there was news of you clashing with Aparna in the past?

There were some misunderstandings. I had completely immersed myself in the role of a villain in the earlier film which made some people uncomfortable, but that issue is passé now. For me, work is worship, may it be my plays or Cinema. My grandmother has gifted me an immaculate knowledge of Indian literature which has helped me to realize my inner calling as an artiste. I like showcasing all my talents to the audience, may it be in front or behind the camera.

I’ve noticed that you have a penchant for quirky titles and political crime stories?

I’ve grown around an environment that contained many startling stories of crime, and those were imprinted in my mind since childhood. It is not that I am stuck to a particular genre, I would also be glad to make a love story in the future, but it must have an element of crime in it.

What is your opinion of the star system in Bollywood?

We need to move with the market dynamics, and not be blind to it. I too believe that we shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken but keep working hard to strive and make a name as there is no replacement for hard work which gives you success one day.

What is the next film you are planning?

I’m working on the Vikas Dubey biopic. I would like to cast a well known face for the role of Vikas instead of casting myself. I have more time to reach there. Our industry functions on established faces, so it has become a requisite today. I will be playing another role in the project though. Right now, we are speaking to a few actors to essay the eponymous role of Vikas Dubey. During the lockdown, I’ve ideated an incredible script called Ballebaaz, it is a mixture of sport and crime, and I am looking forward to bringing it on screen. I have also written a thriller called “Cockroach.”

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