If the Hindi film industry is indeed male-dominated, Zoya Akhtar is proving otherwise. Akhtar directed last year’s successful Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and is gearing up for the release of Talaash next month, which she's co-written with director Reema Kagti.
Akhtar was recently in New York City as guest panelist at Ticket2Bollywood, a two-day conference dedicated to learning how to achieve success in the film industry. Smart, confident, and unafraid to speak their mind, Akhtar chatted with The NRI and while acknowledging that it can be a man’s world, she's confident that ultimately only talent and perseverance prevail.
What sort of things can go wrong while making a film?
Filmmaking has so many variables. It’s not like you’re a painter that you have a canvas, or you’re a composer. Filmmaking is a collaborative art. You’re dependent on various technical assistants, professionals in their field. I can’t build a set, I can’t light my frame, I can’t act. I’m dependant on very, very talented people to make sure my vision comes true. They are looking towards me, and at the same time they are lending their expertise to better my craft and my art form and my stories. As far as crisis goes, if the weather is off, your whole schedule goes for a toss. Or your actor during a dance breaks his arm and you can’t shoot. Anything can happen, there are just too many variables.
How do you handle the pressure?
You have to keep calm, you can’t freak out because the vibe on the set comes from the top. It’s very important to be congenial, it’s very important to know where the boundaries are. People have to take you seriously and at the same time they have to have access to speak to you. People need to respect you and for that you need to respect them and their work. I think that is very important.
How do you create the right team?
I have a previous relationship with most of the crew I work with. I also tend to surround myself with my friends because they are all within the business and somehow I don’t feel my life is over when I’m making a movie because I have all my mates with me and they’re all super-genius at what they do. Like sometimes for an action sequence, I will look at people’s work. I would see what works for me, if they’ve done something similar to what I want, and then I will interview people and see who I have the best vibe with.
What was the toughest professional setback you had and how did you deal with it?
I couldn’t cast Luck By Chance for seven years. No actor wanted to act in it and I just kept working. I kept working on scripts, I executive produced two other films, I just kept myself busy because I knew I was gonna make films, I’m going to make one eventually. I can’t even cook so I knew that I’m going to be a filmmaker. It’s all I ever wanted to do. But you tend to get low, but you can’t let anyone else tell you what to do. You have to tell your own stories.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Mira Nair told me: never, ever lose your femininity. Don’t feel that you need to be a man to direct a film. Stay true to what you are. What’s supposedly called a man’s job, doesn’t mean who have to take that role on. Be who you are, and don’t ever get involved with the actors! Best, best advice!
Tell us about your next project. Are the rumors true about the film starring Ranbir Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor?
Well nobody has signed yet. I’m still writing the script with Reema Kagti, the director of Talaash. That’s a film I’ve co-written that’s the next big one coming out. Then we’re co-writing two scripts, one for her and one for me. So I’m still working on the script, nothing is planned yet.