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“I don’t know what I like, but I do know what I hate,” Nikhil Advani tells Images on Sunday between laughs over the phone. “I hate writing and I hate editing. And I hate seeing my work in the editing room. Agar mera buss chale to main shoot karoon aur apne paas rakhoon.”

Pretty soon he stamps a label of “insane perfectionist” onto himself.

Nikhil has an immediately identifiable career in movies since his debut as a director with the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Kal Ho Na Ho. That was 12 years ago. Since then Nikhil’s filmography has gone through a variety of transitions, from multi-starrer sing-song dazzlers (Salam-i-Ishq with an ensemble of a bazillion high-profile actors), to silly slapstick (Chandni Chowk to China, Akshay Kumar) to a sports flick (Patiala House, Akshay), a CG animation (Delhi Safari, an international ensemble with Cary Elwes, Vanessa Williams, Govinda and Suniel Shetty) and a film on terrorists (D-Day).


In conversation with the director of Katti Batti, Nikhil Advani


Nikhil’s latest, one of two this year actually, is Katti Batti, a romantic dramedy starring Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan. Nikhil says that he “fell in love with the script” when it was sent over by Disney/UTV. “I couldn’t believe a first time writer has written such an amazing script, the dialogues, the moments, the theme; it just felt so real to me and so familiar.”

Katti Batti is a boy-meets-girl love story with reverse role play. Maddy, (Imran Khan) is your average, cutesy-meek, college boy who falls for Payal (Kangana Ranaut) who doesn’t want to get shackled up in a relationship. “I don’t have time for a serious relationship,” she tells him in the trailer, “however, if you are willing to settle for time-pass, then that’s okay.” Apparently, that’s how things roll in a forward-thinking society. Maddy is, of course, more emotionally invested in the trailer; he’s the way women used to be in movies, a decade or three ago.

“I only showed 10 per cent of the film in the trailer,” Nikhil says. “The film goes through a huge surprise and a twist in the end.”

So how is Katti Batti different from other routine heartbreak dramas? “Surprising you should say that! I don’t know when there was a romantic comedy last. I don’t know whether you mean 2 States and Humpthy Sharma ki Dulhaniya — those two were from last year. I have not wanted to do this kind of a film since Kal Ho Na Ho, because I never felt I overcame it. But when I read this script, I understood what I could (achieve) with this. I think you will identify with this film more than you can identify with most rom-coms because of the honesty in the writing.


Nikhil says that he “fell in love with the script” of Katti Batti when it was sent over by Disney/UTV.


“I couldn’t believe a first time writer has written such an amazing script, the dialogues, the moments, the theme; it just felt so real to me and so familiar.”

“Then when I was reading the character of Maddy and Payal, I just knew that I would not want to make the film without Imran Khan. I spoke to Siddharth Roy Kapur (UTV) and I’m very happy that he understood. I talked to Imran and the first time he heard it he went ‘I don’t understand it. Kya hai? Rom-com hai’? I said ‘Just hear it, it’s much more than just a rom-com’.”

Despite some odd-ball career choices (Matru ki Bikji ka Mandola) Imran has made a career out of having his heart broken by his leading ladies. The list so far includes Kareena Kapoor and Deepika Padukone (Ek Main aur Ek Tu, Break ke Baad). When not losing the girl of his dreams, Khan has the boy-next-door persona down pat (Jaane Tu … Ya Jaane Naa, I Hate Luv Stories, Mere Brother ki Dulhan, Gori Tere Pyar Mein).

How is this role different? “It’s very different for him because I think he’s never played any character this real,” Nikhil explains. “I think he has drawn a lot from his own personal life and so have I (and) I think he comes up with flying colours. And as for Kangana, which director does not want her be in his film. When she came for the narration and started speaking the part, she was playing Payal already. I was so happy.”

Nikhil started off as an assistant director with Aziz Mirza (Naya Nukkad) then Sudhir Mishra (Is Raat ki Subha Nahin), Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum) and Aditiya Chopra (Mohabbatein). The last few years’ work of big, star-driven movies clearly had an impact on his early film credits. He recalls one day in particular when he had his first brief taste of directing on the set of Mohabbatein. “It was the first day when I said to Amitabh Bachchan, ‘Sir, aapka look left of camera hai’. I came home and told my wife that I don’t need to direct ever again … I’ve directed Amitabh Bachchan!”

But these days are different. “I have assistants who are so young that they don’t even know if there was a film called Deewar,” he says with a tinge of disappointment. “Main Sholay ka har dialogue bol sakta hoon,” he continues his worship of Bachchan.

What about influences? “Everybody is an influence, every Friday is an influence,” he exclaims. “You pick up the good things and you learn from mistakes that others make. So everything is an influence.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 12th, 2015

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