Life after a safe delivery

It is rare that an exciting one line idea results into a robust film.
Badhaai Ho
ticks almost all the boxes and the credit goes to Delhi boy Amit Ravindernath Sharma who has turned the story of embarrassment, that the young protagonist faces when his mother declares that she is pregnant, into an astutely observed piece on a middle-class family in Delhi. From multiple dialects and class barriers to the emotional core, the film captures the cosmopolitan nature of the Capital in all its colours.

The narrative flows against the tide of the established logic of population control, complications that come up with late pregnancy and socio-economic realities, yet manages to hold on to intrinsic logic where familial bonds withstand social pressure. “Generally, what happens is that an interesting idea doesn’t lead to convincing narratives. That’s why it took us almost two years to write the script. The first draft was of 185 pages, then we brought it down to 140 and finally to 93 pages. Nobody wants to watch a long film these days,” says Amit. “Now, I am getting responses like the first half is good but the second half is even better,” he gushes.

Talking of the quirky idea, Amit says it emerged from the mind of writer Akshat Ghildial. “I could immediately relate to it because I have grown up in a joint family where I have heard such stories. My grandmother and my grandmother’s mother were pregnant at the same time. I got a lot of information from my father and my relatives. At that time it was not a taboo and the embarrassment factor was not there as having five-six children was considered normal. I also understand the politics of a joint family. It is rare to find stories which reflect on what’s happening in the lives of our older generation.”

Amit, who grew up in Jangpura Extension and Lajpat Nagar, says the parents played by Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao are inspired by his parents. “They were considered love birds in the society. After my mother passed away in 2008, I took my father to Mumbai because he could not live alone for even a single day. After some time, I got him remarried. He cried a lot but I managed to convince him. My grandmother has inspired the character of Surekha Sikri in the film. In fact, I showed her the photo of my grandmother and told her that’s how I will dress her up. Sikri ma’am appreciated the effort we were putting in.”

The first choice

Neena Gupta looks absolutely convincing in the film but Amit discloses she was not the first choice. “We approached Tabu, but she felt that she won’t fit the part as the audience won’t find her getting pregnant unusual. She also said that Neenaji would be a better choice.” As for Gajraj Rao, Amit says, he knows the actor from his days in the advertising industry. “He could well be the new scene stealer. However, I had to rein him in after a couple of days of the shoot. I felt that somehow the
sur
was not right. I talked to him and he said that he would gladly go wherever I wanted to take him. Such surrender is hard to find.”

When it came to the market, Amit sold it as an Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer. “I said it is the story of the embarrassment that the son faces because of the ‘action’ of his parents. Though Ayushmann was clear that it is the parents who are the protagonists. And by the time promos came out everybody was convinced.”

Amit loves to explore the emotional spectrum of relationships. “Even in my ad films, you will find a strong emotional connect,” says the ad filmmaker, known for the Google reunion commercial about the meeting of two old friends separated by Partition and the Lifebuoy commercial where a father walks on his hands to celebrate the fifth birthday of his child, hinting at the high infant mortality rate in the country because of lack of hygiene.

He carried his flair to his debut film
Tevar.
“It was an old-school idea and perhaps the last film in that space. I tried to make it realistic but somehow the audience didn’t turn up. But it didn’t affect my career because industry insiders loved the film. Perhaps that’s why Boneyji (Kapoor) has offered me another film.”

In the last few years, there has been a surge of ad filmmakers in the film industry. They have brought a nuanced approach to filmmaking but at times they become too busy with dressing up the scene and getting the colour coordination right that it seems we are visiting a Fabindia store. Amit showed it could be done differently when he used Holi colours to great effect in
Tevar
. His usage of rain in creating intimacy between the protagonists on the run in “Joganiyaan” song stood out. “It usually happens with those who come from art direction background in advertising industry. I rely on my own experiences. I like to shoot in real-life locations. In
Tevar
, we shot in 15 different places. In
Badhaai Ho
, I could not find a house that suited my requirements. As we had to shoot in sync sound, I could not have asked a family to vacate their home for the shoot. I visited many middle-class homes, took pictures and created a set accordingly. For the grandmother, I wanted a quilt whose cover had frills on the sides. For bed sheets, I told my art director to source them from Panipat, as it is famous for printed bedsheets which are found in middle-class homes.” He wanted to find art in the clutter. “My memories are of days when people decorated their walls with calendars and stickers of goddess Lakshmi. When they used to cover their dining table with a plastic sheet. When they tried to fit in every bit of furniture in a small room. The value of sparseness hasn’t dawned on them yet. Now youngsters love sitting on a mattress on the floor but at that time it was considered an insult.”

From the family pitch, Amit will now move to the football field as he is working on the biopic of Syed Abdul Rahim, the charismatic coach who is considered as the architect of modern Indian football. “Under his guidance, India bagged gold medals at the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games and finished fourth in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Ajay Devgn will play Rahim.” Of late, he is not known to stretch himself for a character. “As he is playing the coach, he doesn’t need to play. There is only one scene where he really needs to push himself. And for that I have convinced him,” chuckles Amit.

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