Very few people can nurture a dream so strongly that they make it come true in their lives. Abhishek Dogra is a passionate film maker and his conviction shows from each and every word he utters. The innocence of just having touched a long time dream is still very evident in Abhishek. The fact that his film has been up there on the big screen and audience had poured cheerful reviews is something that brings back fond memories! Contemporary Bollywood personalities, critics and audience had pulled a thumbs up for his directorial debut Dolly Ki Doli and success of the romantic comedy has been celebrated everywhere. His path to the big screen unfolds a spectacular journey into showbiz.
I was very filmy from childhood and would see one film three or four times if I liked it. Noting down the minute details of films and thinking over them occupied a large part of my fantasies. After 10th, I got serious that my career will have something to do with films. I didn’t know then what I’ll be doing but I knew that this was my space. I was doing my graduation in Dehradoon and my hostel room had 15 or 20 odd film posters. My friends laughed saying that I intended to open a tea stall there. But I loved to be surrounded by those. Later I applied to FTI but couldn’t get through. Nevertheless I came to Mumbai and started working as Assistant Director.
I have stayed in Kolkata, Lucknow, Delhi during my childhood. Our family kept travelling as my father got transferred from one place to the other. I was always very average in academics. My dad’s family is full of doctors but somehow the profession did not quite interest me. My father was naturally very worried. Not just that I was picking up a different line for myself, but we didn’t have any background either. There was no one to help or show the path. He tried to talk me out of this, but I was never convinced.
No, it wasn’t. I didn’t have a penny to support myself. For a long time my parents were supporting me. After I slogged myself without any result, I somehow got a chance to meet Yash Chopra through an old family contact. That was a big moment for me, though there were no promises of work. I met him with dreams in my eyes. Yash Ji was kind; but he didn’t give me colourful hopes. He explained the toughness of this place. He said that even if I stick on for donkey’s years, there would be no guarantee of success. It needs patience and perseverance to sustain here, along with talent and intellect.
5 or 6 years after this meeting I came to know that my father had told the family contact to request Yash Ji to discourage me. Yash Ji never discouraged though. He just showed me a mirror of truth.
But by then I had fallen in love with Mumbai. There was no chance that I was going back with nothing!
I got a chance to meet Subhash Ghai and requested him to keep me as an Assistant Director in one of the films that he was producing under his banner. He allowed me to intern as an AD, which meant no money, just food on the sets! Next I was working as a 3rd AD on the sets of Satish Kaushik’s Shaadi Se Pehle. I realized what I wanted to do. It was directing most certainly and I knew I loved working behind the screen. Soon I met choreographer Ahmed Khan, who was directing Fool and Final. Ahmed was technically very strong. He was very quick at work. Choreographers usually have a very detailed sense of how to work with the camera so that emotions are well captured. Working with him was a huge learning experience. Next I worked on Shahid Kapoor starrer Paathshaala, produced again by Ahmed Khan. My confidence was growing. This is when I watched Cheeni Kum and wondered who is this person who could make this kind of a film? Before this I hadn’t heard about R. Balki. But I knew I have to work with this man. I managed to reach out to him and learnt that he was making Paa. I offered to work with him as an AD. He said he only had place for a 3rd AD. It was a difficult choice for me as it required me to go backwards on my career ladder. But I said yes! Fortunately for me, one of the ADs couldn’t make it and he was replaced by me! I learnt immensely from Balki Sir. After Paa, I felt I should go ahead and make my own film. I discussed it with him and he said, go ahead and listen to your heart. Don’t get depressed or encouraged by what others may have to say; just do what you feel is correct. That’s when my real journey began.
Post Dabang, I had become a huge fan of Arbaaz Khan. That film told me that this person was a visionary and he had an eye for unpredictable but simple entertainment. I somehow got his number and sent him a text. In one text I typed in as much as I could write to make him interested in me. He didn’t respond. Next month I sent him the same text again and repeated this for the third time a month later! After a few days, my mobile suddenly beeped “Arbaaz Khan calling”! I was so nervous that I didn’t pick for the first time. He called again and I answered then. His exact words were, “For the last three months you had been copying and pasting the same sms to me; who are you and what do you want?” I told him that I have a script which I wish to bring to him. He said he’ll call me in a while and I have to make myself available within a few hours post his call. I actually got a call within a week and was scheduled to meet him for half an hour. The half hour of meeting stretched for four hours and at the end he said, “Stop meeting people; I am doing this!” For a while I was absolutely spell bound. It had been mad days till a while ago and then all of a sudden one moment sealed it all!
I love earthy films that can relate to people. I have travelled and stayed in many cities and have understood people across cultures. I have known how different communities and classes behave or react differently to the same situations. I want to create films that appeal to all of them and something that all of them, irrespective of class or age can sit together and watch! I love concepts that have a universal appeal.
I may have been very lucky but the industry is a tough place. There are so many ADs slogging themselves every day and all of them nurture a common dream. But only a counted few can become a director. I have never ever seen a more competitive place. A lot depends upon how you conduct yourself. If it clicks, then you are in the game. Otherwise it is over and out for you!
The first person we needed to finalise was the woman who plays the title role. So Sonam (Kapoor) was the first person to come in. She had the right combination of quirkiness, notoriety and innocence that Dolly’s character required. Rest of the characters were woven around her. I needed young guys to complement Sonam. Looks, physicality, age etc. had to match to make things convincing. Initially Raj (Raj Kumar Rao) had refused this role. But we caught hold of him and explained how this character was cut out for him and that the film can’t happen if he said a “no”!
It was difficult for me to maintain my reserve! I was working very honestly and was stressed because it was my first film. They made fun of me because I was very serious on the sets. Pulkit (Samrat) was very subtle. He would quietly say a word at any situation and everyone would burst out laughing. Varun (Sharma) was talkative; he would share jokes over phone, pull others legs, play pranks and enjoy his time on the set. Raj (Kumar Rao) was extremely focused at work but chilled out otherwise. His punchlines are to die for and they can put you to splits. Given a serious face that he carries, it is difficult to believe that he has such a great sense of humour. Sonam has grown exponentially over the last few years and it shows on her now. Her grasp of a situation or emotion is spontaneous and she has this really enviable comic timing. I have seldom seen such a relaxed actor on sets and yet, her participation in a scene gets infectious the moment you turn on the camera.
He was a true mentor. His inputs on the script were mind blowing. He takes work very seriously and gets creatively involved in every big or small thing. Under him, there was no sword hanging on the head. He doesn’t put stringent deadlines, neither is he impractical about cutting costs. He gives a free run to his crew with just one demand – the scene has to be shot flawlessly!