(The fascinating account of the genesis of 'Aladin' continues with Sujoy sharing some of his first concept drawings for the film when the project started, and was much different from the present 'Aladin' , as well as some home-made filmmaking gyaan...Note to readers: please ignore guffaws from Vishal Dadlani during the following narrative - NV)
How do I make a movie that has never been made before?
How do I brave the assessments of others when I make my intentions known? I mean,when Christopher Columbus said the World is ROUND… did everyone around the dinner table look at him and go “…Oh you donkey! What have you been drinking?”
Riteish (Deshmukh, not to be confused with Ritesh – Shah, my co-writer) had a simple solution: JUST WRITE IT.
WOW! What advice! That’s the solution I was lacking. My life wasn’t sad anymore. I didn’t need the last brownie on the dinner table. Julia Roberts could have it for all I care! NOT. Easier said than done.
(Note to self: Never ask Ritiesh for a solution.)
I am not a trained filmmaker. (I can see Vishal Dadlani reading this and guffawing “Ya - we saw that in Home Delivery!” - ignore him.) I taught myself whatever that I know of filmmaking. I had to. I had no choice.
For more than 2 years I knocked on every possible door - and I mean EVERY - with my script ‘Jhankaar Beats’. And when I finally found a producer I realized there was no one to direct it. I was offered the baton and I grabbed it without blinking an eyelid. At that point my knowledge of directing a film was a little less than that of assembling a nuclear missile.
Satyajit Ray says our job as a director is to tell a story. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. By that definition I am a storyteller. I am Mehmood in ‘Pyaar Kiye Jaa’. I am an alternative image of my grandmother who told me the most amazing stories when I was growing up. If I am able to captivate my audience like the way my grandmother held my attention then I am a capable director, else I have no business being in this industry.
So this is what I did:
I read as much as I could. Novels, short stories, graphic novels, bog standard comics… caste creed religion no bar. I read.
I saw as many movies as possible. Apart from Sajid Khan, I can hold my fort on movies with most people.
I learnt to listen. To my editor, my art director, my cameraman… anybody and everybody who could teach me anything about films.
And that’s exactly the path I have followed for 'Aladin'.
I saw every movie in the genre. You name it and I have seen it. Every Ray, Spielberg, Zemekis, Jackson and the Joe Dantes of the world. Even Ridley Scott and Paul Verhoeven. Kissi ko nahi choda.. I devoured them to learn how they told their story. And more importantly to make sure : whatever the audience has seen in those movies is not repeated in mine.
I read all my graphic novels all over again. Fables, Sin Cities, Preachers, Runaways, Sandmans etc. etc. etc. I read all the stories written by Satyajit Ray, Asimov, Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Sukumar Ray, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carol.. sab kuch.
And then I started to write ‘Aladin’ with Ritesh (Shah, my co writer, not Deshmukh)
And to charge us up, we made ourselves a poster. A visual really helps when you are staring from a gaping blank wall.
That’s my very first poster. It was done by my friend Sucharita who incidentally put all my concepts on paper.
We then did one more iteration after the first draft was ready. To include 'Gamal', the main man who was going to wreck havoc on earth on behalf of the forty thieves.
Incidentally GAMAL was the name of the leader of the thieves in ‘Alibaba and 40 Thieves’ (just in case you wanted to know).
It was going to be a modern Aladin. An Aladin of today. With the coolest of the cool Genie and a villain bigger than anyone seen on screen before. A modern Aladin with the most beautiful Jasmine.
One of the biggest hurdles was to find a name for the Genie. Any writer will know the hardest part of writing is to come up with names. Suresh Nair, my friend and co writer, found out that the word ‘GENIUS’ is a derivative of the word ‘GENIE’. Problem solved. Our Genie was named 'Genius'.
The first draft was soon ready. I told the story to Riteish… he was okay but that wasn’t quite the reaction I was expecting. But what does he know?! I was dying to make Mr. Bachchan hear. He instantly agreed. He was scheduled to shoot a Reid and Taylor ad at YRF studios. He asked me come there. Yippe!
I ran with my script. It was an awesome script according to me. I was fully confident ... he was going to hear and instantly say 'YES!'.
(Note to self: …Oh you donkey! What have you been drinking?!)