In 2013, Tamil filmmaker RS Prasanna created a compelling mix of romance and wisecracking humour in his first feature film Kalyana Samayal Saadham (Wedding Feast). Raghu (Prasanna) and Meera (Lekha Washington) find love through an arranged marriage. However, Raghu discovers that he suffers from temporary erectile dysfunction. The wedding is barely a month away. The film handles a delicate subject without once resorting to cheap humour.
Four years later, the filmmaker is bringing the same story back to the big screen, but through a different milieu. Produced by Aanand L Rai, Shubh Mangal Savdhan stars Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar, and will be released on September 1.
While Prasanna had written and directed the original, his Bollywood debut has been written by Hitesh Kewalya. The basic plotline aside, Shubh Mangal Savdhan is an entirely original film, Prasanna told Scroll.in.
Kalyana Samayal Saadham handled the delicate subject of temporary erectile dysfunction with subtle humour. What prompted you to make a Hindi adaptation?
I had arranged a screening for Kalyana Samayal Saadham in Mumbai in early 2014 for a couple of friends and filmmakers. Aanand sir was one among them. Somewhere the connection I felt with him was something different and I thought it went beyond just the movie. His films are also essentially about a man and a woman. He saw KSS for what it was– a romantic comedy and not a sex comedy. So I loved that. I knew that with him, my movie would be very safe and that I would grow under his guidance. He approached me to adapt the film, after which one thing led to another.
KSS was my first film and because of its tricky subject, it was made on an extremely tight budget. But when I saw the audience enjoying the film, I realised that there was so much more I wanted to say on the same subject. KSS was just the beginning of that journey. So when I met Aanand sir, I knew that Bollywood was the way to go. This is an industry that has produced films like Vicky Donor, Pink and Lipstick Under My Burkha –all stunning films that handle bold subjects. To make the conversation a little more apparent and to push the boundaries even more – which filmmaker would not want to have a second chance at telling the same story?
What sparked off your debut feature?
I wanted to write a wedding movie for my first film. I love the entire concept of weddings and the distinctive characters that you get to see at the dramatic event. That was the plot, but when I started to think about the vehicle for the storyline, this idea came upon me. Contrary to what people think, the idea of erectile dysfunction came second and the world of the characters came first.
‘Kalyana Samayal Saadham’ is set in an urban Tamil Brahmin milieu. How different is the context in the remake?
Shubh Mangal Savdhan is not a remake of Kalyana Samayal Saadham in that sense. While the adaptation too explores the same idea, the characters, plot points and incidents are all different. I was very clear about not retaining the same contexts and characters because quite often, remakes fail because of that reason.
The germ of the idea for KSS came because I wanted to explore Tamil Nadu and its cultures. Everything else has changed expect the concept simply because the cultures are different. Mudit Sharma from Gurgaon cannot be Raghu from Anna Nagar.
Having written the Tamil original, how was it working with Hitesh Kewalya and adapting the story for a Hindi audience?
I briefed the writer with a half-hour narration about the basic plot, after which he wrote it himself. In fact, I did not want any of my crew or actors to watch the original film and get confused. We approached it like a completely new film.
I did not get into the matter of how Hitesh pieced it together. When somebody else is telling your own story in a different way, you tend to look at it as a new film. That way I could focus on the direction. The process of working with a new writer is a fantastic way of collaborating for re-adaptations. I like directing more than writing, so I am very happy. Also, writing becomes a little tedious in a different setting. But of course my Hindi is a little better than “Ek Gaon Me Ek Kisaan Raghu Thatha.”
What is the reason for the gap between films?
The process had begun as early as January 2015. But we took a long time to fix the story and make it right. It took us almost a year to find the writer in 2015 and further took us eight months to crack the final draft. As a director I am a big geek on pre-production. We wanted to make sure everything was on the right track before the shooting began.
Aanand L Rai apparently told you, ‘Don’t Bollywood-ise the subject.’
He told me that the beauty of KSS was that it was a very intimate, personal film. He did not want me to lose that. What he meant by Bollywood-ise was him to not try and make the film fit into a certain template. Typically when filmmakers come from one city to another to make films, they tend to cater to the template of the industry.
Your film handles a tricky topic, but targets a family audience. Was that a delicate line to tread?
For me, that part was the easiest. For most filmmakers, their ideologies and personalities will be reflected in their first film. So we were clear since the beginning to involve people with our sensibilities, who view the film on exactly our wavelength. For example, even while choosing the cinematographer, I wanted somebody who empathises and connects with the middle-class community.
Also, I have always wondered what the big deal about erectile dysfunction is anyway. It is a part of the body. The smallest and simplest of things are made into such huge issues. People discuss everything right from politics to cricket with their family, but are still shy to speak up about something so small. Sex is supposed to be a happy thing at the end of the day. Why make it so complicated?
Did ‘Vicky Donor’, in which Ayushhman Khurrana plays a sperm donor, make him a perfect fit for your movie?
Yes, definitely. He is someone who has the charm to play a common man and also play a fitting hero. When we picked him for the film, I knew that there would be a few tongue-in-cheek references to his character from Vicky Donor. Both Ayushmann and Bhumi were amazing to work with and brought a lot to the table.