Shashank Khaitan’s third film, Dhadak, is the official Hindi remake of Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi blockbuster Sairat (2016). But Khaitan prefers to call his film an “adaptation”. Manjule’s saga of an inter-caste romance is Marathi cinema’s highest-grossing production and has been remade in Kannada and Punjabi. Telugu and Tamil remakes are on the way.

Dhadak is set in Udaipur in Rajasthan. Worries over the film’s treatment of caste and the small-town setting have raged since the release of the trailer in June. Khaitan told that he was unfazed with the criticism. “I would have been surprised and shocked if I didn’t expect this from day one, but I did,” he said.

Khaitan has previously made the hits Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017). Dhadak, starring Janhvi Kapoor and Ishan Khatter, will be released on July 20.

Why remake ‘Sairat’?
Firstly, I want to clarify that Dhadak is an adaptation and not a remake. There are things that we have done differently from Sairat in Dhadak. At the same time, we have, hopefully, maintained the essence of Sairat.

Sairat has been told multiple times. We have seen such love stories with tragic endings like Ek Duje Ke Liye, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and all the Romeo and Juliet-inspired movies. But how Nagraj Manjule chose to tell that story and the uniqueness he brought to the film really inspired me. It resonated with me so much that I wanted to express the story in a similar but different way. That was my starting point for writing Dhadak.

Dhadak (2018).

While writing ‘Dhadak’, were you wary of departing from the much-loved original? Did you rein yourself in?
Not at all. I react to the story I want to tell. Once I decided to adapt Sairat, and base the story and its characters in Udaipur, then it was important to follow that graph. If that required moving away from the original, then I did, because my story is about these characters from Rajasthan. You cannot be untrue to the characters and the region you have chosen.

I didn’t get caught up with the thought of, should I make a Bollywood film or should I stay true to Sairat? What was important was staying true to myself and the story I am telling.

Why set ‘Dhadak’ in Udaipur and Kolkata?
Because I am familiar with these two places. I am a Marwari, a Rajasthani. I was born in Kolkata and spent a lot of time with my family there. Kolkata has a huge Rajasthani population. And I know Udaipur really well, having travelled to Rajasthan extensively. Besides knowing these two cities well, another reason for choosing them for Dhadak is that they are visually and linguistically so different from each other.

Dhadak. Courtesy Dharma Productions/Zee Studios.

Does ‘Dhadak’ deal with caste just as ‘Sairat’ does?
Dhadak definitely deals with caste, class, and socio-economic disparities. These things are woven into the fabric of our society, and unfortunately, we haven’t been able to overcome them. And when you talk about any one of them, you need to talk about all three.

I don’t know if the film gives a solution. But it’s there. It’s part of the subtext of the entire movie and that is something that cannot change.

Were you expecting the kind of criticism ‘Dhadak’ has received?
When I chose to make Dhadak, I knew criticism was going to happen, and I am open to it. I have made the film that I believe in. Everyone associated with the film is very happy with what we have done. Anyone who would choose to adapt Sairat in Hindi, including even Nagraj Manjule, would have faced criticism because Sairat is so close to people. I hope that when people see Dhadak, they realise that it’s the most sincere and honest tribute one could give to the original.

Is the criticism justified?
I am not in a position to say whether the criticism is justified. When a trailer comes out, it has only a few things that people see and react to. But when people will see Dhadak, they will see the larger story.

One of the criticisms is that we have glamourised the story. Well, we have set the film in Udaipur, and Udaipur is just a pretty city. You cannot change that. We haven’t glamourised anything. I have made an honest film.

When you are making art that is meant for public consumption, you have to stay open to all criticism. None of the criticism is bothering me. I am very sure and very proud of what I have made.

Dhadak. Courtesy Dharma Productions/Zee Studios.

What do you make of the allegation against Bollywood regarding the airbrushing of small-town India?
Movies are fictional. I might have one perspective on a story or a place in a movie. Someone else will have another. Anurag Kashyap makes a movie on Mumbai and he makes Black Friday (2007). Ayan Mukerji makes a movie on Mumbai but he makes Wake Up Sid (2009). The beauty of movies is that two different directors can make different movies centred in the same city.

So, I am going to make Dhadak the way I see this world. It’s not a matter of being glamourous or realistic. Where I come from, I think I have made a very authentic film.

How was it getting two untested leads, coming from privileged backgrounds, to sink their teeth into a story like this?
Well, Ishaan has seen a fair amount of struggle in life, so it would be unfair to think he is privileged.

The process began almost a year before I started shooting the film in December last year. I met Ishaan and Janhvi in January just before the release of Badri [Badrinath Ki Dulhania]. I started spending a lot of time with them to know what they are made up of. I wanted to know their strengths and their weaknesses. Once Badri released, I started explaining to them the space of my movie.

One of the things we did was to take them to Udaipur. They spent some 15 days to understand the vibe of the city. They spent time meeting local people, eating local food, and understanding the city till the point it became their city. They learned the socio-economic structure that their characters belong to. Understanding where the pride of Udaipur comes from, and how its people react to certain situations, was important.

Once the script was ready, four-five months before shooting, we got down to working on how their characters would behave, speak, and what their inter-personal relationships would be like.

Please tell us about the supporting cast of ‘Dhadak’.
I am not going to reveal everything because some of the supporting cast will come as surprises, especially in the second half. What I can say is that the friends of Ishaan and Janhvi form a very important part in this movie. Friendships is something I have dealt with in both my films. Relationships between friends is something I enjoy writing.

Ankit Bisht plays one of Ishaan’s friends Gokul. The other one called Purushottam, a very, very interesting character, is being played by Shridhar Watsar. I am excited to see how people react to these characters.

Mhare bhai #धड़क @shridhar_1978 @bishtankit94

A post shared by Ishaan Khatter (@ishaan95) on

Economic divide between lovers, feudal mindsets, patriarchy, love fraught with social tension – what keeps drawing you to these themes?
Because I see these things happening all around me. Patriarchy, feudalism, and women continuing to fight these for equal opportunities are realities in 2018. Additionally, caste and class issues are equally pertinent.

It is important to voice these things so that people can examine themselves. My films circle around certain things because they disturb me as a person. When I travel all over India and speak to people, even those close to me, I see how these issues continue to be relevant. So I feel I should have a voice on them, sometimes in small and sometimes in big ways.

Shashank Khaitan. Courtesy Dharma Productions.