Mission Majnu director Shantanu Bagchi feels ecstatic about the Sidharth Malhotra-starrer, which is ruling Netflix’s top 10 movies in India. While some might think it’s the award-winning ad maker’s film debut, his first film as a child artist was Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella. In a conversation with Hindustan Times, Shantanu recalled his fond memories of Ray who sparked his interest in filmmaking and his latest experience with Mission Majnu.
Several fans hoped for a theatrical release of Mission Majnu and many repeated it on Twitter even after it landed on Netflix on January 20. Shantanu reasoned their decision, “A lot of people say that but in today’s day and age, the reach that Netflix can bring is absolutely great. For instance, even though I knew that it was released in 190 countries, I had my doubts that anybody but Indians would watch it. I was thinking maybe in India people will watch it but never thought it will be in 5th position in UK or 6th in Canada in the top watch list.”
While the reception of the spy thriller came as a surprise to the director, many people compared the film to Alia Bhatt’s spy drama, Raazi. What does Shantanu think about it? He answered, “At the time of the trailer release, everybody was talking about the elements which should be there in a spy story. First of all, I have never understood the meaning of reviewing a trailer. You can review a film, but I haven’t gotten around to how you can review a trailer. But people watch and do so there must be a solid reason.”
“You are, by looking at the trailer, commenting on a film, which you haven’t seen. Maybe you should wait, watch the film and then maybe you are in the right position to comment. But people are saying it’s the same thing—there’s spy who goes to Pakistan, but those are elements. When you watch the film, you will see it’s completely different. It’s based on a true story which actually happened. In this story the spy is an intelligent guy who is thinking laterally, he is not snooping on somebody and figuring it out. He is trying to find something and it’s an interesting story of a spy with a bright mind, adhering to a kind of realistic situation, rather than many other spy films that you have seen. They are glorified, almost like superheroes. Of course, there are some action sequences (in Mission Majnu) which are not as realistic but…I think they will add to the thrill. There are some people, even after watching it, who are saying you know it’s like Raazi. For them, I have no answer.”
The film also misses Rashmika Mandanna’s voice. When asked Shantanu about it, he revealed why they opted for dubbing. “Rashmika tried it during one of the Hindi workshops but it was a Pakistani dialect with some Urdu nuqta (the way of pronouncing and expressing the words). Those things were not happening because she is born and brought up with a certain language. We dubbed the voice with somebody who’s good at it.”
But, was Rashmika comfortable? “No actor is comfortable when you are dubbing their voice. That’s a given. But we have tried to dub the voice very close to their voice inflection.” Shantanu added around 10-15 voice artists were tested during multiple rounds to find the perfect match while only concentrating on pronunciations.
Shantanu’s film was the first Hindi film shot by Rashmika but her debut title went to Vikas Bahl’s Goodbye. But, the director has no qualms about it. “In life, there are certain things which are not in your hand. When a film will release is not in your hand, I would not worry about it at all. I would worry about the actor’s performance in my film. I was not worried at all because I knew she has done a wonderful job. When the audience sees something good they will take it up, which they did. I was never worried about what is that other film and how will people react to it.”
Shantanu helmed several popular advertisements and eventually navigated his way into films. But, was it an easy journey or stakes were even higher than for a rookie? “Whenever you do anything new in your life, stakes are high. It’s true for everybody. But one has to take the plunge and approach it with honesty, integrity, positivity and try. According to me, ads are a wonderful training ground.”
“Now you have come to a place where the format is big, the risk is larger and you have to tell a different story. How to tweak it to entertain the audience is the real task. There’s a high chance you can fail because you have never done it before. But, if one is aware, one can try to reduce mistakes,” he opined from experience.
It was Satyajit’s 1969 hit film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne which made Shantanu his fan. He shared, “I watched Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne with grandfather. I asked him who is Satyajit Ray. What role is he playing? My grandfather told me that he is not in the film but because of him everything is happening on the screen. I was intrigued by the idea that there was a man for whom everything is happening in the film but you can’t see him. Maybe that kindled my curiosity and interest (in films).”