Gauri Shinde drew out the extraordinary in the ordinariness of a housewife in her 2012 debut movie English Vinglish. Shinde is back with Dear Zindagi, starring Alia Bhatt as a young woman who discusses her various romantic entanglements with her therapist, played by Shah Rukh Khan. The November 25 release is gathering favourable attention for its unusual casting and music. All eyes are also on Shinde, who won acclaim for her sunny and sensitive handling of English Vinglish. Shinde owes some of her training to her years in advertising and everything else to her powers of observation, she told in an interview.

Give us one compelling reason to watch your film.
Don’t think of it as a film, but an experience. It is an enriching journey you would want to go through. Give a shot – it’s two hours plus minutes. It could do something to your life.

‘English Vinglish’ and now ‘Dear Zindagi’ – have audiences come to expect more realistic and nuanced cinema from you? Would you take up a commercial entertainer like ‘Om Shanti Om’?
No one has told me what they expect from me as a filmmaker. What matters is what I expect from myself. I love Farah Khan’s films, they are so much fun. I don’t think I am capable of doing that, and that is what is interesting. Everyone has their own unique style. I don’t think I am equipped to handle something like Om Shanti Om. I enjoy watching it but I don’t think like that. Besides I do not segregate films. No one should. Any film that is good could be a commercial success. It has to make money.

Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in ‘Dear Zindagi’.

When you cast a star of Shah Rukh Khan’s stature, how do you re-imagine him?
SRK is a brilliant actor with a very unique appeal and energy and an absolute dream for a director. He can do almost anything. I couldn’t think of anyone else for this role but him.

But I don’t write with actors in mind. I just write it and then I see who fits the bill. You cannot start with an actor and work backwards. The character has to be open to any kind of imagination. The best and most brilliant actors just mould themselves into the role. That is what SRK did. I may not have written the story for him, but I always knew he would be the best person to do it. Similarly for Alia’s character – I cannot imagine anyone else playing Kiara.

What inspires you to create characters and screen relationships?
Nothing better than life – my own experiences, others’ experiences, observing people reading books, and art. Life and everything around me inspires me.

You spent several years in advertising. How does the discipline of telling a story in under two minutes help in directing a film?
I owe a lot of whatever little skills I have to my advertising experience. The whole aspect of working with a team is something I imbibed from there. My entire crew is from advertising. When your people are from that background, it shows in your working style. The way we work is very professional, thanks to our shared experience. It is a fantastic starting point for anybody new to filmmaking, a great base. I would be lost. I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for advertising.

My training shows a lot in the way I work. I don’t want to keep editing after I have shot. I edit a lot on the script itself. I don’t shoot anything not required unless something inspirational and magical happens while shooting. It is discipline. Besides, advertising taught me how not to bore people, though I wouldn’t know what actually bores them!

‘Just Go To Hell’ from ‘Dear Zindagi’.

Shimit Amin had said in an interview to that it is tough for women in the Hindi film industry to break into what he termed the boys’ club. Would you agree?
He is absolutely right. Filmmaking is a very hard profession – even for a man and more so for women. You really have to love it too much and enjoy the process to endure those hardships.

Most places are tougher for women because there are mostly men in the professions. But we are getting there. For men to accept strong women sure of themselves is a challenge because they are used to helpless souls. As a woman, you are more acceptable in a subordinate position. If you are someone in control, it is hard to process. You have to manoeuvre yourself to get your thoughts and decisions be to respected and understood. It is tough.

Has the current depressed state of corporate studios made it tougher?
It is unfortunate also because no one has really studied the industry. The same set of people keeps moving from television to films and back. There is no real understanding of the beat. However, there is hope for outsiders like me to get a chance to break in. The old-world guys really know the medium and the industry the commercials. Their experience makes a difference. Would it be tougher for women filmmakers in this scenario? It is not a gender issue, but one of experience.

Gauri Shinde. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.