Every star wanted to really act in my film: Zoya Akhtar

Published Jun 1, 2015, 3:56 am IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 12:52 am IST
Director spekas about her new upcoming movie Dil Dhadakne Do
Zoya Akhtar
 Zoya Akhtar

Why is your film called Dil Dhadakne Do?
I wanted the title to be catchy and easily identifiable.

In your last film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara you motivated  workaholics to go on a holiday. In DDD, you took your entire cast on a holiday...
This film is not so much about the actors getting in the holiday mood. My co-writer Reema Kagti and I needed a device whereby  we could have the entire family together. The ship is also a metaphor for the bigger journey that every family undertakes. A journey where the family is collectively stranded mid-ocean. You can’t get off even if you wanted to. Family is not something you choose.

Did the cruise setting put everyone in a holiday mood?
We were all on a cruise working. Suddenly, we would look out and see the sun setting. The trip was cathartic for a lot of us. We had no Internet, no phones until we would reach a port. It was amazing. It made us realise how stressful it was to have a goddamn phone.

The trailer makes the cast seem like a hyperactive bunch...
(Laughs) They have their moments. They aren’t screaming at each other all the time. Priyanka Chopra’s character is quite mellow. She plays quite against the type. Ranveer Singh is the clean-shaven urban boy for the first time — posh, for a change. It’s really nice to see actors surprise themselves. And Shefali Shah — I don’t know what to say. She’s a blessing. All my actors loved her. The universe must be in love with me. She makes the family in my film look so real.

Were there ego clashes?
No, everyone knew exactly what their roles were, there was no room for arguments. Every star wanted to be an actor in my film. When stars do ensemble, their mindset changes. They know that no one star has to shoulder the blame. They feel more relaxed. The atmosphere is like that of a theatre company with everyone pitching in and playing off one another. If you ask me, actors are easier to deal with in an ensemble cast. No actor came to me with an agenda. And I give them the creative space to do what they think is right because I know they know more about their work than I do. And then I am also honest with them. If I don’t know something I say so. I don’t bullsh*t.

We hear the biggest challenge was to get Anil Kapoor to play a patriarch with grey hair?
It took me a whole year to get him on board. It took Aamir Khan to go to his house. He sat on his head till Anil said yes. There was no Plan B for Anil’s role. Even my dad and Farhan spoke to Anil. Anil’s son Harshvardhan too was a huge help. He kept badgering his father until he signed my film. Too cute, huh?

Has Aamir dubbed for the dog in your film?
No! Aamir is someone I’ve known for years. Both Reema and I’ve worked with him as assistant directors. I take all my scripts to him for consultation. He is very sharp and honest and he understands the commercial language.

Originally, you were supposed to make the film with Ranbir and Kareena Kapoor, right?
They were never in the film, though I’d love to work with them. The actors that I have in DDD are those that I wanted. They agreed to do an ensemble cast film. Some of them were not too inclined at this point in their careers. But I guess I got lucky. Things just worked out for me. Nowadays any actor I meet even for a cup of coffee becomes a source of speculation. I went to Deepika Padukone’s party where I hung around with Fawad Khan. The next thing I knew he was in my next film. Right now I can’t even think of my next film.

Who is the one actor you now want to work with?
Aamir Khan. But I need to write a script that he has to be interested in.  

How has your father contributed this time?
He has written the lyrics. And he was an integral part of the scripting process at every stage.

Has some of your own experience seeped into this film?
My family is very different from the Mehras in my film. But I think there are resemblances. The values that Farhan and I have been brought up with resonate in the relationship between Ranveer and Priyanka.

You’ve directed Farhan for the third time. How did you make sure you didn’t take each other for granted?
Oh, we always take one another for granted. So far he has been in all my films. But it doesn’t have to happen that way.

ZNMD did a lot of good for tourism in Spain. Will DDD do the same for luxury cruises?
I don’t know about that. But I hope it certainly does something for joint-family values. One never knows how a film will get accepted. One makes the food and puts it on the table hoping people will like it.

Why so few female  filmmakers in Bollywood?
There are lots of women directors now. Gauri Shinde, Anusha Rizvi, Kiran Rao. And now Nitya Mehra is directing a film for our company. It’s a good time for female directors.