'Paathshaala is not the same as Taare Zameen Par'
From mechanical engineering to product designing to filmmaking, 40-year-old Milind Ukey has come a long way.
His first Marathi film, Devaki, won him 27 awards and his animation film Hanuman did well too. Now, Milind is awaiting the release of Paathshaala, his first Bollywood film with Shahid Kapoor, Nana Patekar and Ayesha Takia.
Milind talks to Patcy N about the experience, and how difficult it was to handle 100 kids and seven puppies on the sets.
How was a mechanical engineer attracted to making films?
Education is a must, but finally you have to listen to what your heart says. I was doing engineering, but towards the end, I realised that it was not what I wanted to do.
I missed my degree and got into product designing. I even joined IIIT-Powai, but then I realised that product design was not creative enough for me. So, I joined the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune and did a three-year diploma course in film direction.
After that, I met Sanjay Leela Bhansali [director] through a common friend. I joined him as an associate director on the films Khamoshi and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. After five years with him, I decided to go my own way.
By then I had spent eight years on learning the craft, three years in FTII and five years with Bhansali.
How was the experience of working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
It was wonderful. Whatever I learnt at FTII was theoretical and basic. Learning the practical aspects of filmmaking the systematic approach to making an actual feature film would not have been possible without working with Sanjay. He is very nice to work with, extremely creative, organised and a visionary. But he is a demanding task master, and you have to be on your toes all the time.
Image: Shahid Kapoor, Ayesha Takia in Paathshaala, inset director Milind Ukey
'The script needed a lot of research'
I left Sanjay and within a year I made my first Marathi film Devaki. It is good to work in your mother tongue, but for a Marathi film the audience is limited. Also, I made Devaki under just Rs 20 lakh, but I can't keep making low-budget films. I had to grow. So, I returned to where I began and got my first Bollywood film Hanuman.
How did you get Paathshaala? Why didn't the producer Ahmed Khan, who is also a choreographer and director, direct the film himself?
A common friend introduced me to Ahmed when he was considering the idea of Paathshaala. I liked the idea, as I had been doing research on a film on the same lines. We decided to work on the screenplay. The first question that I asked Ahmed was why he wasn't directing the film since he had finalised two actors and arranged for the finance. He said his kind of cinema was different. Paathshaala is an issue-based film and he wanted me to direct it because I had handled a similar subject in Devaki.
Tell us more about Devaki and Paathshaala
Devaki is about child adoption, and all the issues and emotions surrounding the adoption. Paathshaala deals with various children's issues. Every parent faces problems like fee hikes in schools that are more interested in raising the facilities standard than the academic standard. Students in city schools are facing more and more pressures. In small towns and villages, children are punished inhumanly and ill treated. Then there is the issue of parents wanting children to participate in reality shows. This not only creates great pressure on the kids, but their education also gets compromised.
Is it true that the idea came to Ahmed during his child's school admission?
Yes, the inspiration came from there, but the script needed a lot of research.
Image: Shahid Kapoor, Ahmed Khan, and Milind Ukey on the sets of Paathshaala
'Paathshaala is Shahid's film'
Are you upset with people comparing it with Taare Zameen Par?
I am not upset about it. It is an honour for my film to be compared to Taare Zameen Par. TZP has paved the way for movies like ours; people have started to believe in that kind of cinema.
TZP is a guiding star, but comparison on any other level is wrong. What I am trying to say is that Paathshaala is not the same. We are not trying to follow the same trend. It deals with different issues all together.
How did you get Shahid on board? Does he really have a special appearance?
Shahid is a good friend of Ahmed's; he was on board even before I came into the picture. He loved the script and wanted to be part of it, as he had never done a film like this.
It is a two-hour film and Shahid has an hour's role. So I don't know why it is being called a special appearance. It is a Shahid's film; the story happens through his point of view.
How was the experience of working with Nana Patekar?
Nana Patekar has been working in films and theatre for the last 40 years. He knows every aspect of filmmaking. It is not easy working with such actors. You have to be well prepared and match up to his standards. If you are not, he will probably have a word to say. And if an actor comes well prepared, it is his right to speak out.
Image: Nana Patekar and Shahid Kapoor in Paathshaala
'Nana and Shahid worked for free'
Did Nana advise you during the shoot?
Yes. For instance, the climax has a big speech. My dialogue writer and I had written a good scene, but Nana added a few lines and enhanced it. Our dialogues pertained only to the issue raised in movie, but Nana's lines made it universal.
Is it true that Nana and Shahid acted in this film for free?
Yes. They did it for two reasons: They are good friends of Ahmed's, and the film has a socially orientation and was made on a small budget.
What is the budget of the film?
I don't know the exact amount, but it is roughly around Rs 12 lakh.
How many days did Nana and Shahid shoot? Where did you shoot?
We shot for 36 days out of which Nana shot for four days and Shahid shot for nine. We shot 98 percent of the film on one set in Film City.
Image: A scene from Paathshaala
'Managing 100 kids and seven puppies was difficult'
How did you manage so many children on the sets?
There were kids who have acted earlier in films and television like Avika Gor, Swini Khara, Ali Haji and Dwij Narendra Yadav.
It was a pleasure working with these kids because they are experts. I had to just narrate the scene and they would perform like senior actors.
But there were a 100 other kids who were non-actors. Managing them and getting them to perform was slightly tedious. My producer, Saira Khan, was very well prepared. She had organised all kind of facilities for the kids, including a game zone and books. She personally looked after them and made my job easy.
Tell us some anecdotes about the shoot?
The shooting went really smoothly, but one incident that I remember was the time I had to shoot with seven puppies. They all had to be in one frame with the actor, but as soon as the scene would start they would fall asleep. They would be taken away, fed and brought back refreshed only to fall asleep again. Just the couple of shots with them took a whole day.
Image: A scene from Paathshaala