Kya mamu, tumhaara ishq ishq, hamara ishq sex?” a surma-eyed, stubble-sporting Babban asks his grey-haired Khalujaan.
The promos stirred up instant audience curiosity. And Ishqiya didn’t disappoint. Oblivious to all the accolades, however, debutant director Abhishek Chaubey quietly retreated to Goa. “I was so antsy. I just wanted to get out,” says Chaubey who hails from Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh.
“I come from a small town. And I have spent a substantial part of my life in Delhi and Mumbai. So, I am well-versed with the ethos of both places,” he offers. Perhaps this is why he could make Mumbai’s multiplex audience relate to the idiosyncrasy and grittiness of life in Gorakhpur.
But did it all come easily? With a mentor in Vishal Bhardwaj, he did not do the usual backbreaking rounds with a script in hand. But Ishqiya didn’t come to him on a platter either. Chaubey worked with Bhardwaj for eight years before he gave us the saucy and rustic Ishqiya. He was chief assistant director on Makdee and worked with Bhardwaj on Maqbool, among other projects, as well.
From Makdee in 2002 to Ishqiya in 2010 — Chaubey had to wait for eight long years before getting an opportunity to make a mark.
“Bollywood is tougher to break through than most industries. It’s not a field where you crack an exam and land a job or bag a promotion. It’s a people-based industry. Relationships matter here,” he says. But still he wouldn’t “attend Page 3 parties to simply network”.
Chaubey, however, regards himself lucky and admits that his pitch in Bollywood was certainly amplified with Bhardwaj’s backing. Bollywood is no stranger to strugglers. Anurag Kashyap, for one, waited long before he eventually got recognition with Dev.D.
“That guy has been through a lot. So, yes, in that sense I have been lucky,” says Chaubey.
As a first-time director — to have Gulzar pen the lyrics, Bhardwaj score the music, and Naseeruddin Shah be a part of the cast — Chaubey was fortunate on many counts. “I had worked with Naseerbhai in Maqbool. After the first few shots the nervousness to direct him eased off,” he says.
But his first meeting with Gulzar was intimidating. “When Vishal first told me to brief Gulzarsaab on Ishqiya’s lyrics, my instant reaction was ‘What brief will I give him?’!” recounts Chaubey. With tracks like 'Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji' and 'Ibn-e-Batuta', the film’s music was among the best in 2010.
While he defines Arshad Warsi as an intense actor, with Krishna, the cunning temptress essayed by Vidya Balan, Chaubey broke away from the caricatured portrayal of rural Indian women in more ways than one.
“We have fixed ideas of rural women. But in my life and observation I have come across rural women who are more liberal in their outlook than women in South Mumbai,” says Chaubey.
Ask him what among the many debutant directors this year did he bring to Bollywood and he replies matter-of-factly, “I had no other agenda than to make an entertaining film. Ishqiya had 4-5 genres all roped into one. So, personally, for me, it was tough to handle.”
And though the movie may have done good business, a chat with Chaubey reveals that he is not heady with the success of his debut film just as yet.
“Most first-time directors bring a certain freshness to their films, but sustainability after delivering the first hit is something to watch out for," he says. "It’s not wise to jump to conclusions. It will be interesting to see how much we deviate from the norm and how much we conform to them.”
Personally, he says he is not impressed with “just good” or “just bad” people. Something that the characters in the movie reflected too — there weren’t clear heroes or villains. “We are not white people without blemishes.” Hence, for this young director, people with conflicts and issues make for good characters.
The most overwhelming Ishqiya moment for Chaubey was when the film saw theatres packed in Faizabad. And the same day it was screened twice in New York because the audience turnover was more than expected.
“To think that my movie evoked the same response in my hometown and in New York was exhilarating,” he says, specifying that he doesn’t want to come across as someone who blows his own trumpet. “I’d like to believe, I have just started.”