Zoya Akhtar Surprises

August 25, 2019
We spoke with the ground-breaking Indian filmmaker when she was in Australia for the Indian Film Festival Melbourne.

How are your films different from Rommy Rolly’s*? (*a character in Akhtar’s Luck by Chance; a producer of old-fashioned masala films, struggling to keep afloat in a new-age multiplex dominated India.)

(She laughs) My films are different because I’m different from Rommy Rolly. I think you make films the way you experience the world, how you see a thing, what your value system is or what your politics are. I think it will be different from anyone next to you. I think it’s also different because I’m a woman and my gaze is different. I think it’s different because I come from another time. My education – my exposure was different from Rommy Rolly’s. I make films I want to watch. I don’t think I can make films saying, ‘oh people will like this’. I have to make what I like, then I know there will be more people like me, and it will find an audience.

Are there any genres that you would avoid?

I’m open to most genres. I think the one genre that doesn’t interest me very much is hardcore horror… gore. I’m not into gore of any form whether it’s in horror or war or action. I’m not into gory things, so that’s not something I’d like to do.

You obviously love using song and dance elements. Do you see yourself using them in the future on a large scale as in Baware (Luck by Chance) and Dil Dhadakne Do

Well, yes, it depends on the kind of film you’re making. It depends on the fabric of that story and narrative and whether it organically fits in or not. I also see myself making films that have no songs at all, but it has to fit in – it has to organically flow… Because for Indians our traditional storytelling was oral and part of that was music and singing and theatrics. So, we’ve had musicals all our lives – generations down and that’s filtered down into our filmmaking and that’s unique to our filmmaking so that there are stories that I want to use that in, and there are stories that I won’t … It depends on what the story is.

You’ve said that you really liked the way your segment in Lust Stories turned out [Akhtar was one of four directors, the only female one, in this anthology film]; that the intention was there.

I wanted to make a film that was more than lust. I wanted to make a film that said something about the class system that we come from. It’s kind of weird culturally because you’re allowed to lust for someone but love in your head is just shut off. We make these kinds of differences within human beings. So, the intent was to start by seeing two people who are naked, and you don’t know who’s who because at the end of the day you don’t know who’s who. When you’re naked you’re the same and we are the same. And then you just get your clothes on and it suddenly creates a difference and then you see the jobs (the status) …. and everything else that comes in is just man-made and that to me was interesting. From all the work I’ve done that was the closest that I came to getting it, how I’d seen it.

You seem to like surprises. The dog talking in Dil Dhadakne Do…Or she’s a maid in Lust Stories. Or Alia Bhatt’s character (Gully Boy) is a bit more sexually active than we imagine at the beginning when we see her in a headscarf with her eyes downcast.

I find people are like that. I’ll meet you and I’ll think of you in a particular way and then ten minutes later you’re going to do something or say something or react in a particular way that’s going to completely throw me off because people are just complicated and complex and juicy. It’s fun to create a holistic character… rather than just good and bad. I like to live in the grey. It’s more fun.

You’ve mentioned that you like Singing in the Rain. What do you like about it?

It’s a film I grew up watching. I don’t remember a time I didn’t see it. I just love the fact that it’s set in the film industry. I just love the fact that it’s got the make-believe, the magic, but at the same time it’s got this kind of honesty and truth that goes into it. I love the love story. I love the period of it. I just like everything about it.

Leave a Comment