Naam Shabana stars talk about nepotism during Dubai visit

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Naam Shabana stars talk about nepotism during Dubai visit
Neeraj Pandey, Prithviraj, Taapsee Pannu and Manoj Bajpayee at Khaleej Times office.

Published: Sat 25 Mar 2017, 4:21 PM

Last updated: Wed 29 Mar 2017, 11:54 AM

Nepotism seems to be the buzz word in the Hindi film industry (aka Bollywood) these days. Though it has existed for decades, the term recently grabbed headlines after Kangana Ranaut's virulent attack on host Karan Johar during his chat show. She labelled the filmmaker a flag-bearer of nepotism. Ever since then, the subject has become a hot topic of discussion in industry circles.
However, there are two camps on nepotism. One side decidedly like it, and the other doesn't as City Times found out from Manoj Bajpayee, Prithviraj, Taapsee Pannu and Neeraj Pandey, the stars of Bollywood film Naam Shabana, who were in Dubai to promote their new film, releasing in the UAE this Thursday (March 30).
It was a different kind of nepotism we sensed here as the stars fawned over each other's talents, providing fodder for a session filled with fun and laughter. The stars dropped their guard to bare their hearts and speak extensively on the subject.
"There is nothing wrong with nepotism," retorted Pandey, the writer of the action thriller, touted to be the first-of its kind film in Bollywood based on the making of a female spy.
"This (Bollywood) is like any other industry where people want their sons or daughters to follow in their footsteps. So what's the big deal if it (nepotism) happens in our industry," he added.
Pandey, who is a rank outsider, is all for nepotism. "People who are not in that position will of course feel that way (about nepotism). Though I'm an outsider, I support and cherish it. People like us have worked our way up in this profession and we do things on our own terms," said the filmmaker of acclaimed movies such as A Wednesday.
Bajpayee, however, has a different perspective. Such revelations (as made by Kangana), he feels, is good for the industry. "Speaking about myself, I can say that no star kid would have dared to do the kind of roles I have done," said the actor  who won a National Award for his hard-hitting portayal of a gangster in Satya
He reckons star kids only prefer plum roles. "I don't think any star kid would have done, for instance, a Bhiku Mhatre (his character) in Satya or played second fiddle in Rajneeti or would have chosen a film like Shool as their launch vehicle.
"I was offered roles purely on merit basis, because the directors had confidence in my (acting) abilities. Personally, I like to be on the fringe because it gives me great scope to explore my talents. In fact, I am happy to play a supporting role in Naam Shabana. I have given Taapsee all the responsibility to lead us (he laughs)," Bajpayee added.
Arguing for the other side, Malayalam superstar and star son Prithviraj reckons belonging to a celebrity family doesn't guarantee success. "Why is it okay for an entrepreneur to hand over the reins of his company to his kid, while it is considered nepotism when a director launches his kid?" asked the actor of  Hindi films such as Aiyyaa and Aurangzeb.
"Your (famous) surname may give you maybe one or two hits. From there on, unless you are good at what you're doing, I don't think you can survive in the industry. I got my first film because my surname is Sukumaran, but I don't think I am doing my 98th film because my surname is Sukumaran," the actor said. Prithvi couldn't be more right, many star kids have faded into obscurity after debut.
Taapsee gets into action mode
Taapsee Pannu considers herself lucky to have bagged Naam Shabana which is the back story of her character in the film Baby. "Firstly, I did not choose Naam Shabana. Beggars can't be choosers! I have been lucky. I would have done anything possible to bag this role," said the actor whose work in Pink won her much acclaim.
She feels the time is right for Indian cinema to delve into more women-centric films. "Earlier, we used to probably have one or two women-centric movies (in a year), but now we have at least one film a month."
Naam Shabana is an explosive, action flick in which Taapsee had to flaunt her martial art talent. She had to undergo intense training to prepare for the role. "Training-wise it was a continuation of what I did in Baby. I was doing Krav Maga for the film. After that, when I learnt that I would be doing Naam Shabana, I was told to continue my martial arts practice. I then underwent intensive training, but closer to the shooting I also practiced Kudo and  MMA (martial arts forms). I used to train for more than two hours a day. Considering the energy I was expending during training, I ensured I ate more proteins than carbs, and fatty foods too. I don't think there's nothing wrong in eating healthy fats."
The star, however, did not have much to say about her other 'action' colleagues like Priyanka Chopra or Deepika Padukone who are working in Hollywood action films.  "What can I say? Very good. Bravo!  Congratulations to them. I am happy to see them do all that (action films) in Hollywood and I am happy to do it in Bollywood!"
Manoj Bajpayee rises to the occasion
Manoj has always kept himself away from Bollywood circles. So was it his friendship with Neeraj Pandey that got him Naam Shabana? "Neeraj has come up with a unique genre that never existed before. Content is king for him. He puts it together in such a way that it reaches out to everybody. That's what attracted me to the movie. The way he writes his scripts and the way he does his movies is a rarity in the industry. If you remember A Wednesday, there wasn't a single song in the movie, but he did not compromise on the storytelling or the characters, and the movie managed to touch every segment of our society. I can go on and on about him!" Both Bajpayee and Pandey seemed to be in awe of each other's talents as they repeatedly lauded each other's work throughout the session.
Neeraj Pandey: The master story-teller
Naam Shabana is being touted as one of the first female-centric spy films to come out of Bollywood. Is that true?
"Not really. We are basically talking about Naam Shabana as a spin-off to the Baby franchise. It's basically Taapsee's character from Baby and her journey towards becoming a spy. The story is loosely inspired from several stories. It's actually based on research."
The cast on Akshay Kumar
Taapsee: "What can I say about Akshay. I can say I've been trained by the best. He used to monitor my progress closely during my training period, every single day."
Prithviraj: "The first time you meet him and stretch out your hand for a shake, he just grabs you and gives you a tight hug. That's Akshay for you."
Manoj: "He has had very humble beginnings - somebody who has risen from scratch. He respects everyone on the sets, be it a spot boy, a co-star or the director. I have yet to see him talk harshly with anybody on the sets. It is the mark of a true gentleman and a successful person."
Parallel vs mainstream cinema
Bajpayee is among a clutch of actors who straddle mainstream Bollywood and parallel cinema, so which one does he find more appealing? "Actors cannot afford to have their favourite genres if they want to be called actors. Our decisions should not be based on our whims and fancy.

"Our job is to fit into a role as per the vision of the director and the requirement of the story. My endeavour is to work and do justice to any film. It would be wrong to say that only parallel cinema gives me chance to explore my talents. I get satisfaction from working on any movie. It's all about how well I do my job and how well the movie is received. That's all that matters for me," the actor said.
Handling success and failures
Manoj: "Physical struggle is far more easier to handle than emotional struggle. It's easy to feel down when you suffer rejection. But the idea is to rise above it. Over the years, I have learnt to take rejection in my stride. Now, it's the other way; I take it as a challenge. If you want me to rise, reject me! Whether it's success or failure of a film, moving on is the key."
Prithviraj: "The idea is to stay disconnected with your successes and failures. It's very tempting to get goaded by your successes and events that follow that. You can drown in it, that's when you need to stay put. At the same time, if your movie flops, it's easy to get depressed. But the idea is to analyse your mistakes and move on."
Neeraj: "I have learnt much more from my failures than my successes. Once I've finished a film, I get completely detached from it. I don't even see it, unless my family is watching it on TV. For me, doing a movie is like doing a 9-5 job. Once the movie is done, we should move on."
Feeding off co-star
: I feed off the energy of my co-stars. I don't think I can ever do an audition on my own, without a director or a co-star. Having said that, it is however intimidating to work with actors who are at a higher level. I used to get intimidated on the sets both by Manoj and Prithviraj. It's quite stressful. But what I have taken back from them is; actors who are at the top of their game are good at playing the 'humble game'. It's always good to know where you started from. That's what I learnt from them.
Manoj: You feed off each other on the sets. If I am doing a scene with an actor who's not getting things right, then I have to take a step back and work with him to get the scene right. It's very important to have a capable co-actor then only does the scene get elevated. It's not about one actor in scene; It's about every character working together towards a goal. Each an every actor has their own unique talent. With so much of theater and films behind me some of the magical performances these young newcomers bring to the screen takes me by surprise. So each actor has his own strong point and we can learn from them. Every bit helps in improving my own performance.
Prithviraj: For a film to be great, you have to be working in a movie that has actors who are good or better than you. Having said that, though I have worked in countless action movies, working with a female action protagonist was something new to me. Hats off to Taapsee and the hard work she put in her role in Naam Shabana.
Little secrets we didn't know...
Taapsee: Manoj is the exact opposite of his scarry, fierce onscreen character. He's fun on the sets. Prithvi speaks Hindi quite well. His Hindi is not as bad a you would imagine.
Neeraj: Prithvi's Hindi took me by surprise. He quite good and he's dubbed for the film himself.
Prithiviraj: I must admit I do not like rehearsals. So whenever I was called for rehearsals for Naam Shabana, I used to cook up some sort of excuse.
Manoj: I would love to work in a Malayalam or Marathi film. The are making some of the best movies. I know a smattering of Marathi but no Malayalam at all.

By MIchael Gomes

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