INTERVIEW

‘A Gentleman’ is ‘99’ on steroids, say directors Raj and DK

The Sidharth Malhotra-Jacqueline Fernandez starrer is a crime comedy with better marketing, say the directors.

Fellow Andhra boys, college friends and software engineers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK gave up their lucrative jobs in the United States of America and set themselves a six-month time limit to give their filmmaking careers a chance. That was in 2008. Nine years later, they are still here, and ready to present their most Bollywood movie yet: the August 24 release, A Gentleman, starring Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez.

The partners, who made their first film Flavors “out of their bedrooms”, came to Mumbai in 2003 and have so far made four features – crime comedy 99 (2009), crime drama Shor in the City (2010), zombie comedy Go Goa Gone (2013) and the romcom Happy Ending (2014). Along the way, they dropped their surnames and adopted the more hip-sounding “Raj & DK” title.

“After 99, we said okay, now we can stay here,” Raj said, but it wasn’t easy persuading their families. DK’s mother was particularly anxious about their decision. “My mom kept asking me if I was going to go back to a real job. Once the film was done, she was like, oh great, you’ve finished. Now go back to your job and focus on that. Basically she thought filmmaking was a hobby.”

Raj helped DK out: “Auntie and I had a quick chat, because I don’t think she was getting through to him. She said I hope this not a career and just a hobby that you are making bigger.”

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A Gentleman (2017).

After their early independent-spirited and irreverent films, the writer-director team moved into the mainstream with Happy Ending and have cemented the transition with A Gentleman. What the films have in common are genre elements.

A Gentleman is also a genre film of our sensibility based on our script and story, but with just a little more money in it, a little more than Shor for sure,” Raj said. “In fact we made this film on a romcom budget and shot in parallel to save time and resources. The independent spirit is still intact and that uniqueness, or whatever it is we bring, has been brought to the mainstream set up. Our approach remains the same, it’s just the packaging that is making you think that maybe they sold their souls.”

The filmmakers are fans of the action comedy genre, and cite Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, Nice Guys, Baby Driver and the later Mission Impossible films as among their favourites. “Once you take away all the marketing trappings, the gloss and the songs, the film is still the film,” DK said.

Raj added, “A Gentleman is 99 on steroids. It’s a crime comedy with the same intertwining plots. This is 99 with marketing.”

An extended kiss had to be snipped at the behest of the censors, but Raj and DK do not see that as a problem. “This kiss is too minor a thing – A Gentleman is a fun, cool, action film for all audiences. It isn’t embarrassing in anyway,” DK said. “All we have had to do is reduce the duration of the kiss. The experience with the censors was not unpleasant at all. I have my own personal point of view on censorship, but we have never had any problem with any of our films. Even Go Goa Gone was released as is, with an A certificate.”

Raj (left) and DK.
Raj (left) and DK.

In a previous interview, Raj and DK had said that they use a code to communicate on the sets. Is the code still in use?

“What code? Telugu?” DK responded. “Yes, we do and it still works because fortunately for us, most of the people we work with don’t know Telugu. Sometimes we will be discussing something and a light boy will look up, smile and say you are from Hyderabad?”

The duo agrees that it is immensely helpful for them to have roots outside of Mumbai (DK’s mother lives in Bangalore and Raj’s family is based in Andhra Pradesh). “That keeps us rooted, and close to what we were and who we are,” Raj said. “So we know that world and work in this world.”

The collaborators are keen to increase their output. With a web series for Amazon Prime Video and another feature film in the works, they are considering tweaking their working methods in order to be more productive. “We are pretty open and flexible with all our communication and we love to do everything together,” Raj said. “At the same time, if we want to make a film a year, rather than one in three years, we would have to make some adjustments. We have had a chat about I produce one that he directs and vice versa.”

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Chandraleka, A Gentleman (2017).
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.