Anand Tiwari On the Making of Netflix’s ‘Love Per Square Foot’

‘Love Per Square Foot’ began as a dark film which later became a rom-com.

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Entertainment
10 min read
Anand Tiwari with Vicky Kaushal and Alankrita Sahai on the sets of <i>Love Per Square Foot.</i>
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Love Per Square Foot - Netflix India’s first original hindi film was released on Valentine’s Day earlier this month and it’s been winning hearts all over. Featuring Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar, this rom-com was supposed to be a regular theatrical release, which finally found it’s way to Netflix.

Anand Tiwari, the man behind Love Per Square Foot talks to me about the journey of the film which first began after he witnessed a couple publicly fight in the middle of the road in Mumbai.

Angira Dhar and Vicky Kaushal in <i>Love Per Square Foot.</i>
Angira Dhar and Vicky Kaushal in Love Per Square Foot.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

Every outsider who comes to Mumbai has this aspiration of owning their own home here, even if it’s a small 1-BHK, you’ve captured that obsession and centred Love Per Square Foot around it. But, you were a born here, you probably didn’t have that Mumbai mein ghar hona chahiye-wala feeling?

Anand Tiwari: Your assumption is slightly wrong, people who are Mumbaikars also need that space as much. I was born and brought up in Mumbai, I’ve lived my whole life in this city. I grew up in a very small house, and in this city money doesn’t equate to lifestyle. No matter how much money you make, it never seems enough, and space is also related to that, it is a basic need - like you say roti, kapda aur makaan. So, even if you are from Mumbai and your parents have a home here, there is still that need to have your own house in your name.

You are from Matunga, did you want to get out of there and move to a “hipper” Mumbai suburb?

Anand Tiwari: I love Matunga, in fact if I ever want to settle down in this city, Matunga is the place that I would want to go back to. Girgaon, Matunga, Sion these are areas that have remained like they are forever. When you see Mumbai from Bandra onwards, it has really changed, apart from the mills of Lower Parel, and the mills of certain parts of Lal Baugh, which have now become these sprawling shopping malls, large parts of the seven islands have stayed pretty rooted to a certain kind of culture, which is very specific to Mumbai.

I felt in our cinema in the last 20 years, we’ve sort of forgotten that side of Mumbai and also a lot of filmmakers who came about and spoke about Mumbai, came from a first generation point of view. Nobody had a third or fourth generation point of view in Hindi cinema and I felt that was a little niche that I could talk about.

I absolutely love this city, when we shot this film - we started in Colaba and poetically ended it in Naigaon, we actually covered everything there is to see. I always wanted to romance this city as I see the Swiss Alps being romanced in Yash Raj films, and that’s what I did.

You assisted Anurag Basu in Barfi!, how much of a learning experience was it?

Anand Tiwari: Anything and everything that I have learnt about filmmaking, I have learnt from Anurag Basu. He is like a genius level director. He is brilliant when it comes to breaking down an idea into a scene and how to graph that scene without taking a master and close up, close up - which is the general grammar of filmmaking. He’s able to see it so cinematically, that’s a gift.

For me, when I acted with him in Kites, I was very clear that I have to work with this guy if I want to become a filmmaker. He also tells stories for everyone, not for a niche audience, which is also what I wanted to do. Having said that, I also learnt a lot from Dibakar Banerjee, while shooting for Byomkesh, with Vikramaditya Motwane on Udaan and with Raj and DK, when we did Go Goa Gone.

They are so different as filmmakers and I was lucky enough to be hanging around, acting with such brilliant minds. So my film school was something that paid me, as opposed to me paying for my film school.

How much of a film school was the web series Bang Baaja Baaraat?

Anand Tiwari: Bang Baaja Baaraat came from a learning of what I had from my earliest days of watching cinema. I grew up on Yash Raj cinema, DDLJ, on Yashji’s  Dil Toh Pagal Hai and other cinemas also like David Dhawan etc. Being in Yash Raj, I wanted to give an ode to the scale of a Yash Raj wedding, with the twist of what I had to say.

Right from the top, we were very sure that though it was a web series we didn’t want to treat it like a small 5D camera shot thing because at that point of time, that was the sort of work that was happening on the internet. We were the first ones to open out and show scale in our series. The challenge and approach was to achieve that kind of scale in the given budget and format. I am really happy that we were able to pull it off, we shot it in 11 days.

Anand Tiwari with Vicky Kaushal and Alankrita Sahai on the sets of <i>Love Per Square Foot.</i>
Anand Tiwari with Vicky Kaushal and Alankrita Sahai on the sets of Love Per Square Foot.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

So tell us how did the story of Love Per Square Foot evolve? How did the idea originate, at what point did Sumeet Vyas come in?

Anand Tiwari: I started writing Love Per Square Foot in 2010 when I had no idea what screenplay writing was. If you’ve seen the film, there is a scene in which a couple is fighting in the middle of the road, that is something that I witnessed in Carter Road, later I was heading to Bandra in the local train and the same couple boarded the train and the fight continued in the train and they passionately hugged after that - I saw this journey of love between Bandra and Mumbai Central. Also, having lived quite a few relationships myself, I always wanted to show relationships as they happen, as opposed to how they are shown in films.

I wrote a very dark draft and kept bouncing it off filmmakers I was working with. Even a filmmaker like Vikramaditya Motwane read the draft and said - it’s too dark, you need to make your character likeable. After a while, I got my friends Manav Kaul and Sumeet Vyas to sit with me and we read it together and that’s the day we decided to make a rom-com out of it.

I was shooting for Finding Fanny at that point of time, and I took Sumeet with me to Goa and we lived there for 10 days and we wrote our first draft of Love Per Square Foot and we realised that we would be able to reach a larger audience through the rom-com genre. One thing lead to another, it finally reached Ronnie’s table, it was narrated to him and he loved the story.

I kept imagining Sumeet Vyas in Sanjay Chaturvedi’s role, that would have been an obvious choice, right? How did you guys decide to cast Vicky Kaushal instead?

Anand Tiwari: Sumeet and I have been working together for ages. We did something called Neighbours in 2013, we did something called Oye Teri - these are short films that are readily available on YouTube. We’ve in fact worked even before that, he’s directed me, I’ve directed him in plays etc. From an early stage while we were writing Love Per Square Foot we knew that we cannot be limiting the performances of our characters by acting them out ourselves. At the end of the day, when you are acting out your own writing, you are limiting the performance by your own experiences, because that’s what you put in words, so if you start acting them out too, you’ve not taken a leap beyond the pages. So, very early on we were clear that the two of us will not be playing any part in it.

Vicky Kaushal was someone both Sumeet and I know for a very long time, he’s been in theatre with us. We never thought he’ll be able to pull this off. Honey Trehan suggested Vicky’s name and so did Sumeet, but I thought he’ll be too earnest for this because I knew him as this wonderfully humble boy, so I wasn’t sure that he’ll be able to play the street smart hero that we wanted to make, but the way he tested was just a revelation. Even Ronnie agreed with us that Vicky was the best Sanjay Chaturvedi that we could have found.

Angira Dhar and Vicky Kaushal in <i>Love Per Square Foot</i>.
Angira Dhar and Vicky Kaushal in Love Per Square Foot.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

I liked how you slipped in the inter-religious marriage as  a sub-plot in the film. How was that element made a part of Love Per Square Foot screenplay?

Anand Tiwari: I might be saying something a little big and I’m too young a writer right now, but I feel it’s the responsibility of writers to sensitise the generation that we are in and be responsible about the generation that we talk about. I think there are a lot of inter-religious marriages that happen around us but we don’t talk about them, we get stuck to intercaste. But again, I didn’t want to make a big deal about it.

So, if you see in the film, in the scene in which the parents meet, it’s a very weird amicable synergy that they find. So the attempt was to start sensitising people to the realities that are happening in our world.

Tell me me about the logistics of making Love Per Square Foot, how many days did you shoot? What about post-production?

Anand Tiwari: It took 50 days to shoot the entire film, including the songs, the patchwork and everything, which is what the mandate was. On post, we took about one and a half months for the first cut and then VFX and the rest lasted for about one and half or 2 months more, so in about 3 or 3 and a half months we were done.

Originally, Love Per Square Foot was supposed to have a theatrical release, right? How did it go on to becoming a Netflix Original?

Anand Tiwari: Yes, we were going to come out April because Vicky has some very interesting films lined up - Raazi (with Alia Bhatt) is coming out, then there is the Sanjay Dutt biopic. Because this is Vicky’s standalone rom-com, we wanted to piggy back on those films, we wanted to use the reach that Vicky would have with these mega films and hoped more and more people would watch this when it comes out in April.

Ronnie meanwhile was talking to Netflix for a pre-deal as is usually done for streaming rights post the theatrical release, it was actually Netflix that got back to Ronnie, requesting if this could be Netflix India’s first original film. They really loved the film and they wanted to make it a Valentine’s release to target the millennials and market it not just in India, but in 190 countries across the world, dubbed in various languages.

Anand Tiwari with partner Amritpal Bindra on the sets of <i>Love Per Square Foot.</i>
Anand Tiwari with partner Amritpal Bindra on the sets of Love Per Square Foot.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

Did you have any reservations about that change of plan, in moving away from a traditional theatrical release to an online platform?

Anand Tiwari: Intially yes, because we are brought up with the understanding that cinema is made for a certain - you know jab tak pop corn khaake bade screen mein nahin dekhenge tab tak woh cinema nahin hai. But I think that image has been shattered internationally in a large way. Films like War Machine, Okja so many huge Hollywood films are being streamed straightaway. The biggest property now is Game of Thrones, which is watched more digitally, it’s a HBO series, nobody watches it in cinemas.

I think makers around the world are now realising that you got to reach an audience rather than them reaching you. I think our reservation was because we had not made it for digital, we were thinking - what happens to PVR Juhu, what happens to Chandan cinema, but once we got our heads around it, we realised that we are actually reaching a much larger audience which we could have never managed.

But I feel established Bollywood filmmakers still just warming up to the idea of doing something on the web. Most of them still have a feeling that this is not big enough as a release in cinemas.

Anand Tiwari: Let me tell you something, when we were working on Bang Bajaa Baraat - 2 years ago, most reviewers and reporters didn’t understand what a web series is. Today, everyone knows what it is. At that time the feeling was - those who can’t make a film are into making web series, but today the biggest makers - from Anurag Kashyap for Netflix to Kabir Khan for Amazon, are making web series. The biggest production houses are getting into it - Excel, Balaji, Disney, so the game has changed already.

To end, what’s the kind of reactions that you’ve been getting forLove Per Square Foot, especially from the industry?

Anand Tiwari: My friends, well wishers have all been sweet and kind, so I won’t talk about them. I’ll talk about people who don’t know me and who have reached out to me or Netflix and appreciated the film. Filmmakers like Meghna Gulzar, Sujoy Ghosh and R Balki have been so wonderfully warm to the film and spoken about it on social media or called us up and spoken to us. Habib Faisal sir has spoken to us, so all these filmmakers liking the film has been great.

The fact that Ronnie after watching the first cut of the film, asking me - so what are we making next, that was a great tick mark. We were getting reactions on Twitter from people all around the world and it continues from the day it released till today. It hasn’t stopped and that I think that is also something about Netflix, that my film will not die its death once its box-office is over, it will remain there for perpetuity and people will keep watching, liking or disliking the film.

You can watch the trailer of Love Per Square Foot here:

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