Writer-director Cherag Ruparel talks to Murtaza Ali Khan about the creative vision behind Yeh Saali Aashiqui, challenges he faced while filming it, his inspirations and future plans we mostly get to watch biopics, period films, romcoms, or social dramas. Debutant filmmaker Cherag Ruparel’s Yeh Saali Aashiqui is an exception. Here is a film that harks back to some of the most stylistic thrillers we have seen in the first two decades of this millennium.
The film can best be described as Ek Hasina Thi meets Gone Girl meets Mithya. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that the film stars two newcomers in the lead: Vardhan Puri and Shivaleeka Oberoi. Now, Vardhan is the paternal grandson of the legendary Amrish Puri. He has also co-written Yeh Saali Aashiqui along with Ruparel. The film offers an eye-opening examination of the millennial aspirations, aggression, insecurities, and the toxic emotional drives.
Excerpts from the interview:
What are the different projects that you have been associated with before making Yeh Saali Aashiqui?
This is my first independent project as a writer-director. The film has been co-written by Vardhan Puri who also plays the male lead in the film. Prior to making this, I assisted Habib Faisal on Daawat-e-Ishq, Ishaqzaade, and Do Dooni Chaar, Maneesh Sharma on Shuddh Desi Romance, Pradeep Sarkar on Lafangey Parindey, and Ken Ghosh on the ALTBalaji series Haq Se. I have also assisted directors like Vikas Bahl and Ram Madhwani on ad films. I have worked on all the feature films as an assistant director right from the pre-production to release as I love the process of film making. So that’s how I have had my training.
How did conceive Yeh Saali Aashiqui?
I left assisting in feature films in 2014 after working on Daawat-e-ishq and decided to do a project of my own. Vardhan was the one who encouraged me to take this decision. He was sure that I was ready to direct and had the potential to carry a full-length feature film responsibility on my shoulder. This motivated me to take the risk and jump into the fire.
So, I started writing concepts trying to figure out what would excite me as a filmmaker. Around the same time Vardhan was also preparing to become an actor and was in the process of meeting producers and casting directors. So, we jammed for a month, spending 18-20 hours just talking to each other while trying to figure out what could it be and then we finally came up with the germ of Yeh Saali Aashiqui that was initially titled as Paagal. We took almost a year or so to write this script as it was a very challenging film to write as the lead characters of the film had many complexities and layers in their character graph.
What’s the creative vision behind the project?
During my conversations with Vardhan I once reminded him about his meeting with Yashji during our assisting days in Yash Raj Films. Yashji had suggested Vardhan to start his career the way Shah Rukh Khan did in his early days with films like Darr and Baazigar. He suggested to Vardhan that it would be something different if he debuts with a film that has elements of grey in his character or plays an anti hero which no one does these days. In fact, I also thought that he would be amazing playing such complex and layered characters.
How did you get the project funded?
So we started pitching the film to a few producers once we came up with the story idea and at that time Rajeev Amrish Puri was in the process of forming a production house under the banner of Amrish Puri Films. He was meeting established directors and writers to produce the project but was not getting anything exciting. That’s when we decided to pitch our story to Rajeev Puri sir and Meena ma’am. They got really excited with the story idea and they encouraged us to write the script. After a yearlong writing process we came up with a script which excited him and that is how we got Amrish Puri Films on board. That is when we also met Dr. Jayantibhai Gada sir from PEN studios to be the studio behind the film. PEN studios were also impressed with our script and our young team and they decided to support us.
As a first time filmmakers yourself, how was it like to work with two newcomers as your film’s lead actors?
I have assisted Habib Faisal sir who is always excited with work with new actors. He has successfully launched careers of Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra in Ishaqzaade on which I worked as an assistant director. That film trained me how do deal with debutant actors. The biggest advantage for me was that Vardhan has been a theatre actor since he was 5 years old. He has trained under the legendary Pandit Satyadev Dubey sir and so I never had to worry about him. Vardhan’s character, Sahil Mehra, in the film has so many layers and emotions and we were successfully able to capture them. He is a brilliant actor who is well equipped to give a performance that a director exactly wants. Actually, he is a delight for any director to work with. With Vardhan as the lead it was important to cast a leading lady who can match the level of performance.
That’s when I met Shivaleeka Oberoi. We did readings of few scenes with Shivaleeka and Vardhan which I recorded on the camera. When I see both of them in the same frame, I noticed that they had a strong presence together and shared intense chemistry between them. The frame looked powerful. Before we went on the floors we did 3 rounds of script readings with Vardhan and Shivaleeka which we recorded on camera so that we all were sure of what exactly we had to do during the shoot. This also helped us in understanding the characters in depth and ensured that we were on the same page.
Tell us about your influences and inspirations.
I greatly admire films by directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick. But I have been trained under Bollywood directors like Habib Faisal, Maneesh Sharma and Pradeep Dada. So this unique combination of world cinema and Bollywood films is what I find really exciting as it has trained me to make films of the quality that anyone around the world can see but at the same time excite the Bollywood film lovers because in the end the main target audiences of Hindi films are the people from India.
What do you plan to do next?
Currently, I am in talks with producers to curate a web series for Netflix. Also I am in talks with a producer for a feature film. So there is a lot of work in the pipeline and hopefully I will be able to share the details very soon.