When the trailer for the Sushant Singh Rajput-Kriti Sanon starrer Raabta was released, it immediately reminded people of SS Rajamouli’s Magadheera.
An ironic moment for writers Siddharth and Garima, who didn’t imagine that a film about connections across time zones could draw such associations too.
Raabta, like Magadheera, is indeed a reincarnation drama, but Siddharth and Garima, best known as the writers of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela (2013), feel that the comparisons are untenable.
The June 9 release has been directed by Dinesh Vijan. He makes his directorial debut after having produced such films as Love Aaj Kal, Finding Fanny and Badlapur. Siddharth and Garima co-wrote the screenplay with Bhansali for Goliyon ki Raasleela Ramleela and the lyrics for three songs in Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani (2015). They also wrote the dialogue for Karan Malhotra’s Brothers, the Hindi adaptation of the Hollywood movie Warrior. Their upcoming films include Toilet Ek Prem Katha, starring Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar.
What do you make of the comparisons between ‘Raabta’ and ‘Magadheera’?
Garima: Two lovers meeting across time is a template of a past-life film. So if someone is saying that Raabta reminds them of Magadheera, then it should also remind them of every other past-life film that has ever been made in the country. People have also compared it to Mirzya.
Nobody has watched the film yet. Comparing something on the basis of how it looks is a little shallow. Our characters are completely different. The story is not something that we have consciously taken from anywhere. The script is a product of our combined imagination.
Siddharth: While Raabta will find a place within the reincarnation genre in Indian cinema, it attempts to turn every convention associated with this genre on its head. For example, most reincarnation films are about protagonists who come back to the present from a past life to fulfill the unfulfilled. But in Raabta, we have tried to work with the idea of karma. The concept is simple: whatever you do has consequences: it will either come back to bite you or to serve you well. This should put the controversy to rest.
Why a reincarnation drama?
Siddharth: A past life is one idea that every writer is excited about. It is akin to a Romeo-Juliet template, which is also another oft explored, yet exciting idea. Gulzaar saab is excited about the past-life film even today.
Garima: Let me put it this way. What if two people met in today’s time, felt an uncanny connection with each other and realised that they possibly have a past together? This, for us, was very exciting.
Siddharth: Also, at a time when marriages and relationships seem to be falling apart, what if two people experienced timeless love?
What were your references while writing the film?
Garima: Pure fiction was a new space for us as writers. The only references we used were our own filmy selves that have grown up on a heavy dose of Karz and Madhumathi.
Also, water as an element formed an important part of our writing. We did most of our writing next to water fronts in Maharashtra.
Siddharth: The scale becomes a factor in such projects. Without big-scale imagination, these movies are nothing.
And we live in the age of ‘Baahubali’.
Siddharth: Yes, Baahubali has raised the stakes to such a level that it has become difficult to compete. We can’t compare to it though. But even while writing Raabta, it was clear to us that we had to wait for the right kind of team to take this forward.
Why is the idea of reincarnation so appealing to Indian cinema?
Siddharth: In a reincarnation drama, the canvas is huge. Many worlds collide to form the stage for the drama and time itself is a protagonist. This is larger than life, which is what cinema is really about anyway.
Is this idea of cinema partly drawn from working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
Siddharth: He is our mentor. We learnt the art of cinema from him.
After watching the trailer for Raabta, he told us, “No one else can work on such a theme. I know what you have done with the script.” This is a huge compliment for us.
Garima: The one thing we have learnt from him is the process of making a film. The way he crafts his scenes, for instance, is fascinating to watch and learn. His passion for cinema translates into a guilt-free engagement with all that is possible within the medium. That ability to be fearless about filmmaking and putting something up on a grand scale is something that has entered our system after starting out with him.
How did the success of ‘Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela’ affect you?
Siddharth: Our career, in fact, began after a successful film like Ramleela. It then became important for us to move on and prove our mettle in the subsequent projects.
Garima: As Bhansali’s writers, people come to us with a lot of expectations. Most commonly we are asked, ab kya karoge? What can be better than a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film? It’ s a tougher journey full of solid hard work.
Siddharth: But we are also trying to pick up themes and subjects that are markedly different from Ramleela. We want to show our versatility. There was a project like Brothers, for instance. Then there is a comedy like Toilet Ek Prem Katha.
What was the experience of working on Brothers?
Siddharth: We only did the dialogue for the film. It was an experiment which perhaps suffered because of the screenplay. From a story about the martial arts form, it became a little too focussed on the characters and their relationship.
What is ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’ about?
Siddharth: It is a social satire on sanitation and open defecation in India. It took us four years to work on the script. Incidentally, when Narendra Modi spoke about the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, the makers decided that the film could be connected to the initiative. But we began developing the script much before he even became Prime Minister.
Toilet Ek Prem Katha is a lighthearted comedy, again a territory that is absolutely new for us. But it is firmly rooted in the real. While Raabta is as fictional as it can get, Toilet is as real as it can get.