Adgully Exclusive | Marketing is vital for films: Punit Malhotra

Punit Malhotra has acquitted himself well with his directorial debut I Hate Luv Storys. Many reviewers have praised the film's freshness and others have characterised his effort as a daring creative foray. In an exclusive conversation with Adgully, Malhotra explains how he kept his tryst with Bollywood destiny.

"I did not really dream of becoming a film director," Malhotra said, setting the opening scene dramatically. "I had some time off during my very long stint as an assistant director and I was writing a script. In the meanwhile, Tarun Mansukhani had begun to experience some stress while working in Dostana, and I began to assist him."

As a stand-in director, Malhotra was confronted with a frequent, heartening, and challenging query. "Everybody on the sets started asking, "when are you directing your film?'.That served as an impetus," he said. "The cameraman came to me and said, "when you direct your film, I will work with you'; even the art director said the same. So I realised that support already existed for me in the industry, and that awareness gave me a boost."

It must be noted that Malhotra had savoured the glam world from the front of the camera, as it were, when he was younger. "I did not act during my school days," he said. "But eventually, I did a lot of modeling. I have done ads, TV commercials, and campaigns." He said he has not acted in Bollywood so far because he "probably did not get roles". So Adgully asked him if he was tempted to give himself one now. "I don't know whether I can write a role for myself," Malhotra said. "Offers to direct are very tempting¦so I am taking my time."

At any rate, Malhotra's desire to be a part of filmdom, even if it did not involve the desire to be a director, had always been strong. "I wanted to do films, but I did not know exactly what!" he said. "My maternal grandfather, Mr Ramdayal, was a film producer. So I had the exposure which shaped my inclination toward films. No one from my immediate family was into films except for Manish Malhotra. I started working with Manish." Then, one day, the career-changer came in the form of Karan Johar. "He saw what I was doing and said, "this is not your cup of tea, you should start working with me'. And I did," Malhotra said. "I was 19 when I started working for Karan." Since then, Malhotra has been part of projects such as K3G, Kal Ho Ka Ho, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Paheli and Dostana. And Malhotra is loving it so much that he has never, thus far, considered distractions, like ad films. "No I haven't tried those", he said. "Because this is a very great opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands. I am looking to direct ad films though, and now I am getting some offers."

The opportunity that Malhotra mentioned could not have come from a more venerable source in Bollywood. "Karan always told me that whenever I wanted to direct a film I should tell him," Malhotra said. "Few people get such an opportunity. But I don't think I got lucky; I worked really hard for 10 years as an assistant director."

Malhotra the director is a hard-working person, Malhotra the man just hates reading books. Not surprising then that his definition of creativity is hardly bookish. "Creativity is an expression of a person's mind, whether good or bad," he said.

Armed with that pragmatism, and his enviable experience, Malhotra approached Imran and Sonam for his directorial debut. "Imran's first reaction was, "acchha I did not understand the script'! He reads the script before accepting a film," Malhotra said. "Stylistic treatment is a big part of my film and I wanted to narrate the story to him, but he insisted on reading the script first anyway. So I had to go through the script with him. With Sonam it was easy, she was on board with a few alterations to the script."

As for the script itself, Malhotra relied on the counsel of his confidants. "I went to Manish all through and used him as a sounding board for ideas," he said. "I also sought the views of Niranjan Iyengar; he is the dialogue writer and a very close friend." Malhotra keeps an open mind on the sets too. "You have to be open to suggestions," he said. "Not only while you are directing but even after that. And later still, while editing or when you put your film out for test shows. There are many suggestions that come in. I am very open and very easy to work with."

That easy-going attitude has been honed by his experiences. "From the start of my career, I had a great time working with all the big actors," he said. "I also enjoyed the cordial atmosphere that Karan always created on the sets. All the stars were really very sweet." For I Hate Luv Storys, Malhotra said, Johar made only one demand: "He was insistent that music be good". That advice heeded, Malhotra stuck to his strengths. "The edit map is very clear in my head," he said. "I am very sure which scene will come after what. If I ever fumble on that count, I spend sleepless nights worrying."

Though Malhotra has worked with India's biggest stars, he attaches greater premium to scripts. "When we started the film we did not have a big star cast," he said. "Now everybody is reacting to Imran and Sonam. But at that time there were strange reactions to their pairing. Both Imran and Sonam came with films that did not do well. And none of my supporting cast is famous. The only thing that sold the film was Karan Johar's name."

That star cast is no longer de rigueur for a hit testifies to Bollywood's growing maturity. "I can say Bollywood is changing because we are making newer kinds of films," Malhotra said. "The change is reflected by the fact that my film got such a big opening, and films that are path-breaking or edgy are doing really well. So I think the industry is changing in direct relation to the change in the audience's mindset."

Of course, marketing has never been more vital for the industry. "Marketing is important and I realised this only with I Hate Luv Storys," Malhotra said. "We did not have big stars and I was a first-time director, but look at the opening the film got, and the business it did. All that happened because of marketing. We went all-out to promote the film and it was strategically planned." Malhotra's next plan is a holiday. "After that I will start writing again," he said. "I want to start my new film next year. I have no idea what the subject is going to be!"

However, Malhotra does have an idea about the actors he wants to work with. "Aamir Khan, because he is a perfectionist," Malhotra said.


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