Homi Adajania is many things, and being a filmmaker is just one of them. So it’s no surprise that in 14 years, he has directed only four films. In between making his debut, the black comedy Being Cyrus in 2006, to taking up the Bollywood song-dance romance Cocktail in 2012, Adajania didn’t go underground but underwater and elsewhere – he spent time with his first born, went scuba diving and snowboarding and wrote a couple of scripts. One of them became his third film, Finding Fanny (2014).
For Adajania, now a father of two, Angrezi Medium, starring Irrfan, Radhika Madan, Deepak Dobriyal Kareena Kapoor, Tillotama Shome and Dimple Kapadia, was not just another adventure in filmmaking but also a great lesson about life, he told Scroll.in.
Do you define yourself by any one identity?
Not at all, in fact I am very scared of doing that. Filmmaking is not my full time job. I make films because I love telling stories. The rest of my life is my full-time job. Our biggest failing as people is to give ourselves a specific identity, because we start believing we are that, and that’s complete BS.
It’s like what Irrfan told me – this experience I have had, I would not change it. In 40 lifetimes I would not have understood what life is about. I used to think I am Irrfan Khan, the actor. I was so deluded. Now I am Irrfan Khan the human being, who is enjoying the miracle of being alive and enjoying what life is about.
That’s the essence of what I understood from Irrfan. The minute you start thinking you are someone – and that identity usually comes how others have defined you – then you lose touch with who you really are as a person.
Did you make adjustments to the script or the shoot to accommodate the needs of Irrfan, who is undergoing treatment for a neuroendocrine tumour?
Not really, except that we did wait a year for him because there was no way we could make this film without Irrfan. Also the shifts were shorter as we didn’t want to tax him.
I sometimes look at the film and wonder, how did it even get made? There were good days and bad days, stuff we got and stuff we didn’t get. But that didn’t matter. It was just such an honest experience, full of love. We laughed at his illness, we abused his illness, we cried about his illness. But we didn’t tiptoe around it.
How was your equation with Irrfan?
I was in London with him before the shoot, during his treatment. I was with another friend in London who was going through something similar. Irrfan said, you really are a full mad Parsi, you have no filters. I think he liked that there was no game, that it is what it is. He was managing his treatment and shooting. His resilience and spirit gave us all a lot of strength. It made us positive and helped us look at the bigger picture.
How did you put together the rest of the cast?
I had seen Radhika’s audition for Pataakha and was gobsmacked. I knew I wanted to work with her. When she heard I was casting for this film she was persistent about auditioning even though I was looking at 17-year-old girls.
Deepak and Irrfan’s chemistry is magic. We had to have Tillotama [Shome] for the fun of it. She came in and gave it her own hilarious spin. There is no way I could not have Dimple [Kapadia]. She would have kicked my butt.
Kareena is so intuitive and got the tone of her character instantly. She also said I don’t want a guest appearance or special appearance credit. I am an actor and I am playing a part in a narrative. It is a crucial part because she’s a threat and the two buffoons have to manoeuvre around her.
What drew you to ‘Angrezi Medium’, which takes you out of your urban comfort zone?
I was working on another script which was in a very dark space, when Dinoo [producer Dinesh Vijan] got me to hear the narration of Angrezi Medium. I was rolling on the floor laughing and then rolling on the floor crying. And I thought: look at the world around us; it is time to laugh and to lighten up.
This was a bizarre story which had soul and which I also connected with as a father. As a parent, you unconditionally invest emotionally in your child. You plod along on their journey holding their little hand until at some point you have to let that hand go, with a lot of pride and pain, which you hide, but also with the hope that one day, when you need it, that hand will come and hold yours. That is the sur of Angrezi Medium.
Would you say this is a sequel to ‘Hindi Medium’?
I loved Hindi Medium but I would not have directed a direct sequel. Angrezi Medium is a thematic franchise with a brand new palette and new characters that I could create. Irrfan plays a single parent who is a mithaiwala in Udaipur and Radhika Madan plays his daughter who is obsessed with going abroad. He can’t understand why she wants to leave when everything is right here. The story is about how far a father will go for his daughter.
Both films explore aspiration. As an ‘English medium’ type yourself from an affluent South Mumbai family, do you relate to that aspiration?
Yes, I do understand the aspiration. I saw it in the school kids in Udaipur. They were from a Hindi medium school, hanging out at cafes and talking about the new season of Gossip Girl. The exposure children have today is so different.
Human beings are human beings. You are playing around with universal emotions of love, anger, pain and loneliness that exist everywhere. But for some reason, we keep trying to do divisive shit and make ourselves different from others.
For me, language is not a barrier because what we have in our core as human beings is universal. When I get a script, I get under its skin. I deep dive and learn about the place so I don’t hit false notes. Of course, it will have my sensibility and I will bring fresh texture.
Will you ever return to the edgy English language space in which you began?
I am sure it will come up at some point, but right now, I just want to make people laugh. There is unparalleled joy in sneaking into a theatre and hearing 200 people laughing from their bellies. It’s too satisfying.