The Mumbai Film Festival has launched an online knowledge series, Dial M for Films, curated by Artistic Director Smriti Kiran, which features celebrated figures from the film industry. Filmmakers Kabir Khan, Bejoy Nambiar, Vasan Bala, Shakun Batra, Ruchi Narain, actor Parvathy Thiruvothu, and editor Shweta Venkat Mathew have previously appeared in these sessions. The series focuses on breaking down what lies behind the moving image through sharply curated, specific, live conversations with film talent. It puts the audience and aspiring film professionals in the front seat with some of the best in the business.
Recently, Smriti engaged in a conversation with Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar, who have collaborated on features like Gully Boy, Dil Dhadakne Do and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Together they launched their production house Tiger Baby Films, which has churned out the acclaimed 2019 Ranveer Singh-starrer, as well as OTT content like Netflix's anthology films Lust Stories and Ghost Stories, and Amazon Prime Video's Made in Heaven.
The two discussed their writing process, process behind creating layered characters, how they bring authenticity to their stories, and the future of Tiger Baby Films.
Akhtar, Kagti and Smriti discussed the difference between "what a film says" and "what a film is about." Citing the example of Gully Boy, Kagti said the the musical drama told the story of a boy who breaks the glass ceiling, but its central theme addressed class divide. Akhtar explained the film tried to relay that "art transcends class."
Kagti said that when they are in the process of building and layering their character they frequently tend to discuss their ideas.
"We actually do talk a lot. We both have studied literature. We both read a lot. It's really an amalgamation. We also research a lot. So, if I'm going to be writing something about a rapper, or if we are writing something that involves a hooker from the street, we will do extensive interviews. We will meet people and talk to them. We'll pick out little nuances, little details, and little things about their lives and put that in with what we want to do with the character and where we want to take the character, which benefits our story. We use references from books that we read. Everything is a khichdi (mess). We are also scavengers. So, we steal characteristics from people that we meet all the time," divulged Akhtar.
They also shared anecdotes from their journey of bringing authenticity to their storytelling. In reference to MC Sher's (Siddhant Chaturvedi) closet full of sneakers in Gully Boy, Akhtar shared how it was inspired by Divine's collection, which he stores under lock and key.
Akhtar said they want to continue telling "good stories" via Tiger Baby Films that "align with who we are in terms of our values and politics." She explained that they, as filmmakers, are interested in the female gaze.
"That needn’t only be films about women. We are talking about the gaze on anything. We are interested in alternate stories, queer stories. We are interested in big, commercial stories. We want to take what we want the world to be, mix it in the commercial milieu and put it out there. As filmmakers, we are a hybrid of indie and mainstream. I think that's the kind of stuff we want to tell. We are intrinsically inclined towards Indian stories, which we eventually, hopefully, want to tell to the global audience," she added.
Watch the full video here