Art & Entertainment

'Uunchai’ Actor Boman Irani On Raising His Game At 63, And His Pursuit To Teach Writers Importance Of Good Screenplay

In this interview with Outlook, Boman Irani talks about his experience shooting for 'Uunchai' in the most challenging situations, why good screenplays are the need of the hour and his ambition as a director.

Boman Irani is currently seen in Sooraj R. Barjatya’s directorial ‘Uunchai'
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Actor Boman Irani was 44 when he did his first commercial film which was 'Munna Bhai M.B.B.S' and now at 62, he says that he got much more than he ever deserved, believed, thought, and felt in his acting journey so far. “I have a lifetime ahead of me to do better roles. But up until now, this journey, from the time I've been 44, and now I'll be 63 in a few days, has been one that I could not have written, dreamt off,” says the actor who is currently seen in Sooraj R. Barjatya’s directorial ‘Uunchai' that also stars other veterans like Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Boman Irani, Danny Denzongpa, Parineeti Chopra, Neena Gupta, and Sarika.

In this interview with Outlook, Boman Irani, who will turn an year old in December, talks about his experience shooting for this adventure-drama film in the most challenging situations, working with an ensemble of the cast that collectively had 350 years of experience in acting, why good screenplays are the need of the hour and his ambition as a director.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. 'Uunchai’ is special for being a film that sees so many veterans coming together in one frame. Would you like to talk about your experience working closely with all your co-stars and does that make the film special for you as well?

I think about what happened one day when we were shooting in a car and for that shot, Mr. Bachchan was driving, Anupam was sitting on his left, I was on the right, and Sarika and Neena Ji were in the back seat with me. We were rehearsing, and of course, Mr Bachchan called for the rehearsal and said "Okay enough of the fooling around,’ which we are doing a lot of and we rehearse and rehearsal was like a well-oiled machine and it was almost like a song-it was popping, as we were not looking at each other's faces because people were sitting with their back to us and I said, 'Oh My God, I have never sat in a rehearsal like this.' On the word go all five actors were hitting the notes one after the other making it sound so simple yet so effective, Professional yet so much experience and then we said let's call Suraj Ji and let’s do it for him, and see what he feels if we are in the right tempo, the right pitch, just like a song and so we made him here he said, 'No no no I'll hear it later and then he popped his head into the window because we needed the AC at that time and he said, ‘someone just gave me this news and that collectively in the car there is over 350 years of experience in acting- Mr. Bachchan with 50-odd years and Mr. Kher and myself being the youngest.’ So when we are talking of experience with veterans, It all comes together with each scene reaching an exchange.

But I would like to add that even though there is so much experience, the excitement of doing a scene, the excitement of getting it right, the knowledge that maybe we have not got it right people looking around at each other, winking at each other, showing a thumbs up or maybe asking for another take, maybe why don't we do one more is just a testimony of how 350 years became 350 years. People don't have such long careers. Mr. Bachchan of course is 20-25 years in the industry and is still willing to say that "Maybe we got it wrong" Still willing to say that "We can do better". That's an experience for you and I loved every minute of working with these wonderful, wonderful people.  

Would you like to talk about the most challenging part of doing this film and why?

The film, the production, and the challenges were there – there is no question about that. While all that is fine, there was no transportation to certain remote places in Nepal where we set up basecamps for ourselves, for our unit to transport huge equipment, so many 100s of unit members.

The living conditions were not even 5 stars, 4 stars, 3 stars, no stars and that made it even more beautiful. It was cold, someday minus 8 degrees and we had to pay them really really icy cold water, their proper potter loos to relieve ourselves in the open. Those things were difficult and I don't think I have to elaborate on that. Well, let me put it politely that It wasn't a 5-star but that was the fun of it. The challenges are climbing, doing 10-15 odd miles a day kilometers rather than so many steps, slopes, climbs, and inclines. You got to go up but you gotta come down again and even going down sometimes can be very tricky but that was the fun of it, that was the fun of work every morning. Breathe the fresh air and feel the blood flowing through your veins in a nice happy way and the best of nature's conduction. It may not be the best living conditions but even that was exciting for us so the challenge was for the production,  for Suraj Ji and his grit and determination to make this film the best way possible.  Challenges were for the camera team, and for the catering team. So what we were supposed to do is to walk to the set which would take an hour sometimes, walk back which would again take an hour sometimes, and up and down and sloppy stuff but act truthfully after doing all that work, we just had to go there, do our bit but do it truthfully, honestly and make sure that we are telling the story the way Suraj Ji wanted. What else should be done for actors? The comfort zone matters. In fact, for us , it was the highlight that we were sitting together in the evening in one little room one day around the fire and playing games and eating together and singing together with all kinds of nutty things together. It's just beautiful so yes, the challenge was for the production.

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Q. We read that you had your initial hesitations in saying yes to this film but Anupam Kher convinced you. Would you like to talk about that ?

I had no hesitation in doing this film. The problem is that I was not in a good space because I had some personal problems and I also had a date problem so I needed a little bit of time to confirm all that. I mean who would not want to work with Mr. Bachchan, Anupam, and me the third person?  I didn't know about Neena and Sarika then but I knew that Danny Sahab was gonna be my fourth friend. Common, What a fine company it was just a matter of asking for a little bit of time and just clearing my head because I was going through a little bit of a mess myself with few losses around me at that time, so I couldn't think straight.

There was no hesitation to the film and want to clarify that strongly it was Anupam Kher who called me after he heard the film and said I hear that you have not confirmed the film before he would even let me speak, he spoke for about a minute without allowing me to speak with nice flowery language and I said I know what you are saying is right and I am going to get out of my shell, sort out my date problems, which I did, and then I instantly called up Suraj Ji within the next minute and ten seconds and then there I was. Two days later, I was like I will sort out the problem of the date, It was my own production actually so it became easier in that sense. It was this decision that I had to make because I was waiting to do this for a while now and then once I was committed, I am committed, end the story. Who would let such an opportunity pass

Q. At the age of 41 you did your first film and now at 62 if you look back, how will you describe your journey in the industry and the learnings ?

I was 44 when I did my first commercial film which was Munna Bhai MBBS. I had done two small bit parts and an English film which never got released. I mean, let's talk, which was unheard of. No one had heard of that film so it was a dream debut and the journey started. Somehow those 20-odd years have just flown by. What do I talk about on my journey? People ask, do you have any regrets? I said, what are you talking about? What kind of regrets are we talking about? People ask, would you have it any other way? No, of course not. People even say, have you gotten your due? I said, what due are we talking about? Are we looking at more salary, more fame, and better roles? I think you get what you give. And I've gotten a lot, there is absolutely no doubt about it. I've gotten much, much more than I ever deserved, believed, thought, and feel, which is for the same. So would I have liked to have done more films? No. Would I have better roles? We are all looking for better roles, and I have a lifetime ahead of me to do better roles. But up until now, this journey, from the time I've been 44, and now I'll be 63 in a few days, has been one that I could not have written, or dreamt off so let me talk about my journey from now on.

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So what does one do from here on? That is the question, not what has already happened. From here on, I intend to raise my game. I intend to improve upon what I've done, learn from things that I may not have learned along the way, and improve on my craft. I have already started for the last nine years learning, and writing. I used to make two to three trips to America every year but this time only one and two years without traveling to learn screenwriting. I wrote my own script, and I teach now to a group every day, 100 and 140 students turn up out of a group of 7800 from the community called Spiral Bounds and what we do is teach young screenwriters screenwriting. And to me, that is the most important want of the industry.

If you want to make good movies, we need good scripts, not good stories but good screenplays. Stories can be great, but you can write a story in three pages but the three pages have to last for 2 hours. How does one write that? Good screenplay. So my pursuit is to teach young and old writers how to write good screenplays.  Heartfelt and technically solid screenplays so that people will start to try to figure out why hell did this movie not do well. There probably are technical and thematic questions that were not answered. So we teach that and I learned two every single day, one and a half hours. That's what I do, that's what I've been doing and I feel that if at all, there is anything I have achieved in this business, it is spiral bound and nothing else, everything else comes, goes, people watch the movie, they will say nice things about it, will criticize it, and become part of history, where it becomes part of forgotten history. But the spiral bound is something that I have invested in for anyone from any part of the world, whether you've written a word or not, you are welcome and it's free of cost. I know I'm advertising this through your platform, but it's important that we do because, to me, that is the need of the hour- good screenplays. My screenplay is ready and waiting to get into pre-production any day now and that’s what I intend to do- making my debut as a director at the age of 63 will probably be the most exciting day in my film career.

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