Fenil and Bollywood

I’m the best AD in the country-Shaad Ali Sahgal

Posted on: January 13, 2010

Shaad Ali Sahgal says it’s no big deal that he has spent the last eighteen months assisting his mentor Mani Ratnam, while putting his own career on hold

By Indu Mirani (MUMBAI MIRROR; January 12, 2010)

Taking a few years off to continue studying, after having been part of the workforce, is a luxury only a few of us can afford. In the film industry, where getting independent charge of a film is tough, it would be suicidal. And yet, there’s one person who has done exactly that.

Shaad Ali Sahgal, director of blockbusters like Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli and the tepid Jhoom Barabar Jhoom has not only taken two years (by the time Raavana releases in June 2010) out of his professional life to assist his mentor Mani Ratnam with the never ending Raavana, he also doesn’t think there is anything weird about it or that it  means taking a step back. “No,” he says resolutely,  “it’s not a step back because beside the fact that Mani sir is my mentor and guru, Raavana is as much my film as any film of mine and I’m still learning with every film.”

Pic: Rana Chakraborty

“In fact,” he adds, “I have been with him for every film of his from Dil Se except when I have been shooting at the same time. It’s not something I am asked to do; it’s just something I do. I will continue to do this in the future, as I would for any close friend or anyone who had worked for me too. I have a 13-year-long relationship with Mani sir, nearly half my life. For some films I stay for a longer duration, for others I am there for a shorter while.”

He is rather amused when asked what exactly it is that he does on a Mani film which another assistant can’t. “I run around and get the work done and give whatever creative and logistic input I can give to him which is what I would do for my own film. I work very very closely with him and because over a period of time our relationship has grown, my inputs are taken more seriously.  I try and add as much value as I can when I am on set, try to anticipate problems and see that the work is done on time. Also,” he adds with a laugh, “I think I am the best assistant in the country.”

Shaad was 19 and had just finished school when he saw Mani’s Roja and knew he had found the man he wanted to learn from except that Mani sent him away saying he wasn’t a good teacher. Two years later, when Shaad was 21 he brushed aside Mani’s objections and insisted he take him on. “Luckily Mani sir was making Dil Se and needed someone to help him with his Hindi,” Shaad says with a chuckle. Shaad never left.

He shot into prominence as an independent director with the sensitive Saathiya (a remake of Mani’s Alaipayuthey) and then completely lived up to his early promise with the fun and cheeky Bunty aur Babli which did more for the cause of small-town India than a dozen National Geographic documentaries could. He faltered with Jhoom Barabar Jhoom but insists it was not the failure that made him go back to school, as it were. “I will only make a film when I think I need to make a film and I have something to say. Though Jhoom… didn’t work, I liked the script. It is not in my hands if a film works or not.”

Shaad is 34 and Mani is in his mid-fifties. When asked to define their relationship, Shaad reflects. “It’s a very strange bond, he’s neither like a boss nor like a father, it’s a friendship. It’s a relationship that I have earned and which I will always have. I talk about everything to him and I run all my scripts past him. Sometimes when he comes up with ideas which no one else would think of, I am awestruck. He is a genius and he keeps showing that quite often. It’s like seeing Sachin bat from upclose.”

He continues, “It’s an old and strong bond, it’s beyond films and assisting. He and I are very close friends, we are in touch almost daily.”

Co-workers on the sets say Shaad was very protective about Mani after he suffered his heart attack and would constantly monitor the food Mani ate as well as keep him supplied with the pills he needed to take. Shaad is totally nonchalant about it, “If somebody in your family is not well, won’t you monitor his food and check-ups? It’s just a normal thing; it’s not anything out of the ordinary.”

Pic: Yogen Shah

Shaad’s next film will once again be for YRF but while he doesn’t know what that is going to be, he does know that it will be more serious without losing its entertainment quotient and not just be a completely light and musical film because he is done with that. And will Rahman score the music? “It all depends on the film I’m doing and what kind of music I want and what kind of time I have to be with Rahman because everyone wants to work with Rahman, but Rahman wants to work with very few people,” he says.

And on the subject of assisting, would he assist anyone who wanted a ‘great assistant’? His answer is typically non melodramatic, “I don’t think anybody wants me but if there is a close friend or someone that has worked with me or has been my assistant or my boss, if they need me, I’m available any time for any kind of help.”

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