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

India Today - - SPORT - By Suhani Singh

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.

SHIVANGI KULKA­RNI

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