Talking About ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ and Film Titles With Juhi Chaturvedi
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi on her new project ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ and her first impressions of Amitabh Bachchan.
There’s a lot of excitement about filmmaker Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi’s latest collaboration, Gulabo Sitabo. Apart from the fact that it comes from the duo who gave us gems like Vicky Donor, Piku and October, it also brings Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana together for the first time in what looks like a hilariously quirky ride.
I cajoled a slightly reluctant Juhi to tell me all that she could about the new venture and got a behind-the-scenes story on how her team finalises on a title. Listen in.
Q: Gulabo Sitabo is a rather unusual title, and the first thought that comes to mind is that probably these are the names of the characters Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana play. What can you tell us about the title?
Juhi Chaturvedi: The exact connection to the film, obviously I am not going to reveal that at all or its connection to the characters. But as the name suggests and whatever you would have read about the film, it is a quirky film, so, this sort of title works. It’s sort of a colloquial term used in the North, Uttar Pradesh especially. It’s a puppetry form essentially and Gulabo Sitabo are puppets. So, that is the background of Gulabo Sitabo. And colloquially they’re used to call someone Gulabo Sitabo or something like that. How directly it is connected to my characters in the film, that of course you have to wait for.
Q: How do you decide on a title for your film? While writing a script, do you begin with a working title and then finalise the title with Shoojit? What’s the history been whether it’s VickyDonor, Piku or October?
Juhi Chaturvedi: So far usually I give a working title first and then usually I write towards that. Not for it being the title but just to help me ensure that eventually the film is about this particular thing. My working phase title is actually pretty different than from what it eventually becomes. And Vicky Donor was not calledVicky Donor at the beginning. The first ever title was, I think Father’s Day or something like that, and then in fact someone in the AD team, he came up with this idea. There’s a guy called Tushar, he came up with Vicky Donor. So, once the script is given to the team everybody sort of thinks about it and then whoever can come up with something...it’s a pretty democratic way of coming up with a title because you as a writer might be so deep into the script that sometimes you might just lose the objective of what the title must say.
I think of a working title more to help me through my writing phase. So, I choose my title for that phase. So, if it works out, fine. Piku was Piku right from the beginning and it was about Piku, and I was writing towards that only. So, that will never change and it worked well for the film too.
For October it wasn’t called October, it was Wide Awake. , So, everything that I was writing was just to ensure that this thought process remains in his mind, that for him she is awake. So, everything he was doing was as if he was doing fora person who is listening to him, who is aware of him. But Shoojit came up with this title October and the moment he suggested it sat perfectly well because the film was about the feel of October, about these flowers, about… because you know it’s neither hot or cold neither living nor dead. You know, about that space of existence that you are but you are not, October seems to be that little bridge. And so that’s how October came and that’s what Shoojit suggested.
Q: You’ve tweeted about your love for Lucknow where Gulabo Sitabo is set, so what’s your history with Lucknow?
Juhi Chaturvedi: I was born and brought up and studied and went to college and everything in Lucknow, so I’m from Lucknow. I am like a hardcore Lucknowite. So, for me love for Lucknow is.. it is instrumental, that city is instrumental in whoever I am today, my entire thought process. And I have grown up there so I think Lucknow for me is a person. I was in fact thinking in my mind that I’m working for the second time with Mr Bachchan, for the second time with Ayushmann. Sixth time say on a feature with Shoojit, of course I have been working with him for like 2003 onwards but this is the first time I am working with Lucknow. So I feel Lucknow is a person, it is very difficult to describe that because it’s just in the bloodstream.
Q: Coming to the cast, first Amitabh Bachchan, there was a time when you would just write say a Vicky Donor and say let’s figure out who will eventually be cast in it. Now, you’re at a position where you know you can get a certain actor. So, did you write this Gulabo Sitabo with Mr Bachchan in mind?
Juhi Chaturvedi: No, the idea came first, the plot came first, I discussed it with Shoojit and the moment I shared the idea… I think yeah it couldn’t have been anyone else.
Q: Do you remember your first meeting with Mr Bachchan and what were your impressions?
Juhi Chaturvedi: My first meeting with Mr Bachchan was on the sets of Shoebite actually, I did the dialogues for it. And nowhere was it on my radar (pauses, laughs) sorry for that word, these days (we both burst out laughing).
So, nowhere had I thought that I would take film writing. When you’re there on the set, we were in Shimla and it was snowing. We were not even sure whether we were going to do the scene or not. He reached, I mean he was there, and this is 2008 February I am talking about and in Shimla it had snowed like crazy that time. And then when he is saying your lines, he was not changing a word. And I came from an advertising background where we are used to, the junior most person, even the peon in the client’s office can have a point of view on what I have written, because dialogues toh koi bhi likh sakta hai. That kind of respect to the written word, I had not seen ever, and that too coming from Amitabh Bachchan, it was like really is it even possible that he is saying my lines and he is not even changing it.
So it just made me think that.. I suddenly had more respect for writing actually, because of him. You work in an environment that is up for change all the time, it is getting bombed all the time. But then somebody who respects your work so much, you will suddenly start to take yourself and the work more seriously that it’s not all a joke, I mean filmmaking, acting and writing for films. Of course, my whole perspective changed because of him. And, therefore Piku happened and then this happened, so I am excited about Lucknow really.
Q: Now talking about Ayushmann Khurana. He made his debut with Vicky Donor and I’m sure you’ve seen all his films right fromVicky Donor to Andhadhun and also Badhaai Ho. How do you think he has evolved as an actor in all these years?
Juhi Chaturvedi: Fabulous. Because see in 7 years, that was my first film as well, Vicky Donor. I mean Shoebite was only dialogues but a full-length feature with story, dialogues, screenplay and everything his first film, my first film, so, we both were pretty new on the set. Our understanding of the depth of cinema per se was pretty much alike. I think the only person who was more little more aware and more sorted was Shoojit. From then on, his choices, and specially the recent ones, the last one being Andhadhun, phenomenal growth and also what would happen is that in all these years whatever we have discussed about films, the comments he has had on Piku, the discussions he has had on October, of course it’s a very fine journey. For anybody who is not really from Bombay, he’s from Chandigarh, it’s a fabulous trajectory, I must say.
Q: Thank you so much for talking to us and all the best for Gulabo Sitabo, after October now we can’t wait for November.
Juhi Chaturvedi: Thank you. Something will come out of it for sure. For me this is the best way to relive that city.
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