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'Kareena has surpassed Julia Roberts'

Last updated on: September 1, 2010 19:04 IST

'Kareena has surpassed Julia Roberts'

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Patcy N in Mumbai

Siddharth Malhotra's directorial debut We Are Family -- starring Kajol, Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal -- will release this week. But not many know about him and his family.

Siddharth belongs to a filmi family -- his grandparents Premnath and Bina Rai were popular actors. His father Prem Krishen was an actor and producer, who owns a production company called Cinevista. So films was a natural step for Siddharth.

He assisted Vidhu Vinod Chopra on the film Kareeb, when he was only 15 years old. He did a filmmaking course from New York University, and then went on to assist Karan Johar on Kal Ho Naa Ho.

Siddharth is also a trained classical singer, and released an album called Dhun. Modestly, he thought he was not good at it, so he gave it up.


Image: A scene from We Are Family

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'I always felt that a director is more powerful than an actor'

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What made him get into direction? "I always felt that a director is more powerful than an actor," he said. "My grandfather always wanted to be a director, so did my father. In fact, every actor wants to be a director at some point. Even Ranbir Kapoor wants to be a director. In my college days, I wanted to be an actor. But that lasted for a short period. I never took it seriously."

Siddharth has been producing television serials for the last 10 years. Yet, he has never directed even an episode. "There you have to learn to cheat. You have to churn out an episode per day. I know the frustration that TV directors go through. They have to be on their toes always. Plus, I can't think saas-bahu. I make young shows like Dil Mil Gaye. I don't enjoy production; I only do it because I have a company to run. I don't understand the economics of serial-making. I would rather spend my time writing scripts and discussing cinema," Siddharth explains.

Besides, the young director has always loved watching films, his favourites being Saaz-e-Maut, Khamosh and Parinda. "I am a huge fan of Vinod Chopra," Siddharth says. "He is a genius. There is not a single director, who can take a shot technically better than him."

When Siddharth asked Chopra if he could work with him, Chopra readily agreed without even knowing his family history. "I was 15 then and everyone bullied me. I did all the things that an assistant would not do in the film industry. I was naive," he smiles.

Besides Chopra, Siddharth claims that Sooraj Barjatya and Karan Johar also taught him well.


Image: A scene from We Are Family

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'I couldn't do soaps any more, even if that meant I would be unemployed'

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So why did Siddharth direct for Karan Johar, after working so closely with Chopra?

"After Kareeb I went to the US to learn filmmaking. I called Vinod Chopra after I returned, but he said he was making a film only after two years. So I joined Karan," Siddharth explains.

And it was Karan, and his blockbuster debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, that made up Siddharth's mind about being a director.

"I just love Kuch Kuch Hota Hai," he says. "I watch it even today. Likewise, I know all the dialogues of Maine Pyar Kiya and even the background music score by heart. My grandfather and Yash (Johar) uncle were good friends. My mother and (Karan Johar's mother) Hiroo aunty are good friends. I have known Karan since a long time. So when I told him that I wanted to assist him, he agreed. I was the fourth assistant on Kal Ho Naa Ho. I never had to struggle."

After Kal Ho Naa Ho, Siddharth returned to television, with a break to produce Salman Khan's Garv. Saas-bahu soaps were very popular at the time, and Siddharth was constantly asked to make one.

"I was so unhappy that I would literally cry. One day, I told my parents that I can't do this any more, even if that meant I would be unemployed," he said.

Thankfully for Siddharth, Sooraj Barjatya came to his rescue. Siddharth had expressed a desire to work with the director a year and a half ago, but Barjatya was scripting Vivaah then. So when Siddharth was down, Barjatya called him and said he was starting the Vivaah shoot. Siddharth immediately came on board.

'With Soorajji, you don't only learn the technical aspects. You also learn how to behave on the sets. He listens to your advice; he will also listen to the advice of spot boys," he says.

"Soorajji and Raju (Rajkumar Hirani) are very close friend to me," he adds. "My first television show was with Abbas Tyrewala, Raju and Victor (Vijay Krishna Acharya, who directed Tashan). These are very down-to-earth people. When I started my film, besides Karan and Soorajji, I also asked Raju for his advice."

After Vivaah, Siddharth decided to write a family comedy. Barjatya read the first draft, and loved it. Siddharth gave the script to Karan as well. After reading it, Karan decided to sign him on as director.

The script did not take off because four drafts later, they still weren't satisfied.


Image: A scene from We Are Family

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'Kajol does not need any workshop'

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Meanwhile, Siddharth asked a writer from Cinevista, Vineeta, to adapt Stepmom for the Indian palate. He gave that script to Karan, and it was accepted.

Karan decided to buy the requisite rights for the film, and the whole process took nine months. The delay made Siddharth frustrated but also taught him patience.

After that, Kajol and Kareena Kapoor were approached. The film was made in 63 shifts, working on a 9 to 6 schedule.

Siddharth picked Stepmom because he had cried when he first saw it, years ago. He wanted to make a film about family values.

"For me, Stepmom is a story of a mother who is going to give away her kids to another woman. That story would appeal to all of us. The man in the film goes through so many complexities. That wasn't highlighted but we have done that here.

"Plus, Julia Roberts' characterisation had a hate graph but Kareena's character is more dignified. She has done a superb job. I am not being biased because she is my second cousin or because it is my film but because I have seen her work," he says, adding, "Kareena has surpassed Julia Roberts because we have shown the film to about 150 people and that's what they have said. Her performance is more dignified than Julia Roberts'. Her character never falls; there are many layers to it. She did workshops with me before we shot for the film. Kajol does not need any workshop so she did not do it. Kareena had this thing that she is sharing the screen with Kajol. Plus, her role was very complex."

Siddharth claims that Karan never came on the sets of We Are Family. "Karan is there to help you as creative producer. But he did not come on the sets for an entire day. He would just visit during the lunch breaks. After approving the script, he directly saw the final edit," Siddharth said.


Image: A scene from We Are Family

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'People who have seen the film say that Arjun Rampal is a surprise package'

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How did he decide on the cast?

"I could not think of anyone other than Kajol and Kareena. In fact, I took a mannat for Kajol that if I get her, I would visit the Hanuman mandir all my life. Now, I think I should have said a year only," he laughs. "But anyway, I have a friend for life now. I will approach her for every film that I write.

"Karan and I both knew that the other role belonged to Kareena. No one could do it better than her," he adds. But getting her was very difficult despite the fact that the two are related.

"Kareena is my cousin but in this industry, there are no relatives. Kareena is at the top of her career. She will not invest her time for a role which is not good for her. Karan would not let me offer her a role which was not worth it because she is his Rakhi sister. But when she heard the script, she okayed it.

"For the actor, we did not want to overcast or under-cast. We wanted a man who would be good enough for the two women to fight over. He should be an actor who can speak with his eyes and his silences. People who have seen the film say that Arjun Rampal is a surprise package."


Image: A scene from We Are Family

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'We started talking in Kareena's lingo'

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Siddharth insists that there were no catfights on the sets between the two actresses. They just had a lot of fun.

"In fact, we started talking in Kareena's lingo. When something is very good, she would say, 'Fab.' If too many people came on the sets, she would call them 'liabilities'."

Like in the first film of his career Kareeb, Siddharth seemed to be bullied here as well. "There was a scene where Kajol had to paint her children's face, and they paint her face. I told Kajol to try it on me and she put all the paint on me! I cleaned up and got ready for the next scene which required them to put maida (flour) on one another. Arjun threw all the maida on me. In another scene, the children had to throw spaghetti on Kareena. Kareena kept asking them to throw very little spaghetti on her, so the kids threw really very little at first. But finally, she let go and they threw all the spaghetti on her. Her hair got completely spoiled," Siddharth says.

Kajol always managed to keep Siddharth on his toes. "Kajol is a very sharp actor," he says. She thinks a hundred times before she asks a question or makes a comment. So when you answer her, you have to convince her with a logical answer. If you are bluffing or you're not prepared, she will catch you."

So what next after We Are Family? "I have signed a three-film contract with Dharma Productions," Siddharth signs off.


Image: A scene from We Are Family

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