The room Reema Kagti meets us in at her producer’s office is sparse. An iMac, a glass-top table, ivory-upholstered sofas that are comfortable, but not the sort you’d sink in to, and mellow yellow lights. Basic. Barebone. Silent.
Not the sort of room that lets you in on the fun it has witnessed the previous night. A similar description would hold for Kagti, too. The 39-year-old directorscriptwriter was recently in a storm that involved Aamir Khan, his obsession with quality (pre-release tactic? elephant in the room?), Kagti’s second directorial venture, Talaash, and its release date.
She wishes to clear the air: “There is no problem between Aamir and me. The film will release on November 30. Aamir will definitely promote the film,” she says, emphatically. We only wish she’d let on more. “How open are you to suggestions that an actor may make to a director?” we ask.
“You have to be open,” she replies. “Filmmaking is collaborative work. So I’ll take a good suggestion no matter whose it is — my lead actor’s, or my AD’s.” “For instance, I wanted Aamir’s uniform to have a frayed look.
I was getting really ‘micro’ into how many washes it would take for the shirt to look like that. Then Aamir told the wardrobe guy, ‘Don’t give a clean shirt for laundry. Dirty it with mud and polish first, else the laundrywala will think we’re mad to ask him to wash a perfectly clean shirt twice.’
That’s what I am talking about. He is completely obsessive about his films, and so am I.” To get a sense of Kagti’s kind of obsession however, we’d have to go back to the mid-90s, when fresh out of a mass media course from Sophia Polytechnic, Kagti refused to intern at a television company or advertisement agency.
“I wanted to make films after I saw Salaam Bombay in Class 9. It was the first Hindi film I’d seen that was not from the commercial mould.” A 20-something Kagti began to work for Fatso director Rajat Kapoor on his first film, Private Detective. “It was a very small budget film.
They couldn’t afford assistants, so I worked in each department. I worked on the script with Rajat, with the editor, and sound recordist.” Kagti went on to assist in Bombay Boys, where she met and trained under Apoorva Lakhia, then a first assistant on the sets. Simultaneously, Kagti applied to the Film and Television Institute of India, but her application was rejected — four times.
“They just never took me in,” she laughs. “I didn’t take it too badly, because I knew I’ll be making films someday. But yeah, applying to FTII was a ritual for a few years.” Kagti worked as an assistant director on a number of projects, including Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, and Lakshya. In 2007, she wrote and directed her first film, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd.
By then, she says, things had changed in the industry. “When multiplexes came up, the demand for films that were different from conventional single screen films increased. We were now catering to a more urban audience. The year that Honeymoon... released, 50 new directors made their debut.
That has not happened in decades. Lucky me,” says Kagti. Yet, around 2004, Kagti probably didn’t feel all that lucky. The first script she wrote — before Honeymoon... even — “never went anywhere.”
“It was a love story gone wrong. It was very dark. Even now, when I bring it up with my producer, he gulps and says, ‘Arre yaar, forget about that script.’ I think it makes him nervous,” she laughs. Kagti now chooses to write scripts in collaboration. She worked with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara director, Zoya Akhtar on the 2011 film.
Akhtar and Kagti wrote Talaash together, and are working on two other films, one of which is “a drama stroke comedy”. “Zoya and I will continue to write together. It’s boring to write alone.” Would she like to make an Assamese film, as a sort of return-to-roots tribute? “Yes, at some point. Assam has so many stories, and is cinematically so beautiful,” she says.
• I’ll take a good idea no matter whose it is — my lead actor’s or my AD’s