THE PULP PROD DIGY
With his second film on course to hit the Rs 100- crore mark, Ayan Mukerji is all grown up and ready to enter the big league of Bollywood
It’s five in the evening. Writerdirector Ayan Mukerji is being driven in his car through the streets of Mumbai as he talks to us on the phone about the success of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. The film has collected Rs 62.11 crore in the first three days, the biggest opening for a non- holiday release. Mukerji holds the call up for a minute to ask his driver, Mahesh, which area they are in. Dadar Parsi Colony, he is told. He admires the villas with large wooden balconies and red- tiled roofs, as well as the abundance of gardens in the neighbourhood. “I came here with Ranbir ( Kapoor) while he was shooting for Rocket Singh ( Salesman of the Year),” he says. “I forgot how pretty it is.”
Friendship is one of the three pillars in the 29- year- old Mukerji’s life. Family and love are the other two. They made his debut Wake Up Sid ( 2009), a coming- of- age tale of a laidback youngster, deeply affecting and they inform his second film, which tracks a spirited travel enthusiast who discovers that there’s more to life than being on the run. “I am able to function from my heart and accept it,” says Mukerji. “I don’t think I know myself entirely yet but I understand a bit better what I truly value in life.”
Son of actor Deb Mukerji and Amrit Mukerji, Ayan grew up in Grotto Villa in Santa Cruz, the abode of the Mukerji clan, which includes the families of Deb’s brothers Shomu and Joy. It was Deb and Amrit’s second marriage; both had a child each from their first— Deb’s daughter Sunita, married to director Ashutosh Gowariker, and Amrit’s daughter Shivi, formerly a flight attendant with Cathay Pacific. There is a four- decade age gap between Mukerji and his parents, now in their 70s. “There is a strong affection for my folks but there’s no friendship as such,” says Mukerji. “We don’t hang in the same spots mentally.” Nonetheless, his parents have had a strong influence on him. “My mother is fiercely independent and strong. She is a very traditional woman who has lived a very progressive life. A lot of my ambition comes from her,” he says. “A lot of my personality stems from my father. You could make a movie about our relationship.”
While he hasn’t made a film about it yet, Mukerji has sensitively touched upon father- son relationships in both his films. In Wake Up Sid, Sid ( Ranbir Kapoor) feels that his rich dad is unsympathetic, and leaves home. The film collected Rs 20 crore at the box office. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani focuses on the lead character Bunny’s ( Kapoor) fractured love for his doting father who gives him space. While the former captures teenage angst, the latter channels youthful exuberance.
Mukerji still hasn’t seen most of his father’s films. “He tried his hand at films but was not terribly successful. His brother Joy was more successful,” he says. Mukerji, who studied at Jamnabai Narsee School, grew up enjoying musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain, animated films like Beauty and the Beast, and Hindi films like Lamhe, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dil Chahta Hai. He calls this incessant watching of cinema his biggest lesson in filmmaking. Even though he was an industry child whose grandfather Sashadhar founded Filmalaya Studios and whose cousins include leading actresses Kajol and Rani Mukerji, Mukerji feels it didn’t give him a leg- up in Bollywood. “While I was extremely close to my cousins, I didn’t have a relationship where I could ask them to help me get a job with Karan Johar ( producer of both his films),” he says.
Instead he approached his brother- in- law Ashutosh Gowariker. Mukerji, who quit software engineering in his first year at Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology in Versova, Mumbai, was 19 when Gowariker roped him in as an assistant director
on Swades. “He gave me an amazing window to cinema,” says Mukerji, “I’ll be forever grateful to him.” The stint helped Mukerji acquaint himself with superstar Shah Rukh Khan and gave him the confidence to send a text message to Johar. They would later meet at a film festival in Goa in 2004 and Mukerji would land a job assisting Johar on Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.
Apart from Johar, Mukerji’s most important collaborator is Ranbir Kapoor, the star of both his films. They met in 2008 and hit it off instantly. Their friendship has blossomed into a successful partnership. Kapoor cites Mukerji, along with directors Imtiaz Ali and Rohit Dhawan, as friends who he can rely on when “happy or sad”. Mukerji is grateful for the respect Kapoor gave him as a newbie director. “He has become tied in with mycreative process and life,” says Mukerji. “There is a fear when two people work only and constantly with each other that they’ll tie each other down. But the honest truth is that there is nothing about the collaboration that feels wrong. It is only enriching the movies I want to make.” In both his films, Mukerji has shown that he is especially adept at voicing the feelings of young people. Writing them, he says, is an agonising process. He keeps revising dialogues often an hour before the shoot. “I am never satisfied,” he says. “It’s a never- ending process.”
Mukerji’s plan was to make three films before turning 30. But he isn’t hung up on his inability to do so. “Milestones are overrated anyway,” he says. Like Bunny, the protagonist of his second film, Mukerji plans to travel. He is considering an African safari with his parents. “There is a desire to bring more balance in life,” he says. “It’s all about some travel, good work, good food, good health, good times and good people.” Everything that makes his movies so successful.