DIRECTING “DETECTIVE NAANI”
Debutant director Romilla Mukherjee has always had a special fondness for murder mysteries and family fare. “Parinda” and “Parichay” may seem worlds apart, but she’s always believed that widely different themes can be blended beautifully together into one single movie. The result is “Detective Naani”, ready for release this summer.
What is “Detective Naani” about?
It is about a crime committed in a Mumbai society complex. Since 75 year old Naani is the sole witness, she decides to solve the case herself. Her unusual team of detectives, made up of her 2 young grandchildren, 2 teenagers, an old invalid gentleman and her dog Bruno, bring high spirits and high adventure to the proceedings. As the crime is a serious one, their investigation brings them close to danger and evil, and only their united willpower and courage save the day.
What made you think of directing a feature?
Call it a childhood obsession. My heart was always with cinema. At age 13 I was already noticing names of directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, music composers, even casting directors. My father had a huge collection of old Hollywood magazines like “Screen Stories” which had abridged versions of screenplays and stills. I would devour everything from “Gone with the Wind” to Marlon Brando’s Julius Caesar”.
But you never went into formal film training?
Strangely enough, no. I stayed in advertising, doing corporate and ad films. I never thought that Indian cinema would have room for the kind of stories I would like to tell. Obviously I was wrong. When Farhan Akhtar’s “Dil Chahta Hai” happened, it was like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly here was a film that spoke my language, and it had found the kind of audience I was looking for. It gave me hope and started me off on this journey, and here we are.
What made you think of this story?
I had seen a cover story of a criminal racket in an India Today magazine, and it stayed with me for years. When we decided to make a family film with an original script, the India Today cover popped back in my mind. I started writing about a lively, lovable 75 year old lady who turns into a detective to solve this heinous crime. Before I knew it, I had added 2 naughty grandchildren, 2 teenagers and an interesting old gentleman who acts as Naani’s ground floor spy. And ofcourse, a big huggable dog. I had finished about 40 pages before I realized that Detective Naani was inspired by my mother. It took me totally by surprise.
So your mother Ava Mukherjee was always your first choice for Naani?
Yes, first and last. She kept telling me to choose one of our many great senior actresses, but I knew without a doubt that she would be the perfect Naani. Her personality and charm had made such a success of the Ayurvedic Concepts Dadima campaign. I think the same Dadima became the inspiration for my Naani.
What was it like directing your mother?
Oh, she will tell you that I was a hard taskmaster. But I knew she had the talent and toughness to rise to any challenge. She has an aura of goodness, of grace mixed with a wacky, mischievous sense of humour. This is the absolute essence of Naani. By the time the camera rolled, my mother had totally absorbed the character into her system, completely lost herself in the story. She’s a very natural actress. Since her main language is Bengali, she spent 8 months working very hard, learning Hindi. She has a Bengali accent, but she wanted to honour the language by speaking grammatically correct Hindi.
Which part of directing did you enjoy the most?
Everything. Being a first time director, I knew that the best way for me to get great results is to create a democracy. My cinematographer, art director, editor and sound designer were my creative collaborators on this film. They protected my vision and enhanced it. The one thing that I did entirely on my own was working with the actors. There is a saying in film, “Never work with children and animals”. Well, I did, and it was a total blast. Kids are so pure, so open to everything. Once they sense that you trust their intelligence and talent, they give you so much more than you could have imagined. When we saw the rushes after the first week of shooting, we knew weOut with Daadi, in with Naani
84-year-old Ava Mukherjee may have won hearts as the Ayurvedic Concepts Dadima, but people still stop her on the streets to ask her how Shahrukh is doing. Why? Because thanks to re-runs of “Devdas” on TV, they see her as Dev’s beloved Dadima again and again. But that was then, this is now - her most ambitious role, one she has taken on with the vitality and vigour of a 34 year old. Meet “Detective Naani”.
Tell us a little about your film “Detective Naani”
“Detective Naani” is a feel-good family film that happens to be a mystery thriller as well. A crime is committed in Naani’s society complex in Mumbai. When she decides to solve the case along with her 2 grandkids, neighbours and dog Bruno, the laughs, thrills and spills start rolling.
So, it’s a children’s film?
It’s a film for all ages. Kids, teenagers, 30-somethings, senior citizens, all play a major role in solving this crime. Each one approaches the case through his/her own point of view, giving rise to hilarious hijinks, romantic squabbles, nail-biting tension and emotional moments of drama.
The film seems to have many characters. Then why is it called “Detective Naani”?
Because Naani is the sole witness to the crime. When no one believes her story, she becomes the leader of this team of home-made detectives. Her relentless search for one little victim forms the heart and soul of the story.
How did you approach the role? Did you identify with Naani?
Haha, funnily enough, I don’t have any grandchildren. But I love kids. I’m a people person. I love being active and in touch with everything that’s going on in the world. I drool over Gregory Peck and George Clooney at the same time, and can watch a Kishore Kumar or an Akshay Kumar comedy any number of times.
So when I read this script I felt that this was a very unconventional Naani, a real “cool cat”, as my daughter would say. Who can resist that. I even worked hard to learn Hindi for the role.
Any memorable moments while working on this film?
Oh yes. The scenes with the kids and dog always kept me laughing. Our Labrador dog Bruno was a character. The director had a running shot which started with little Nakul giving Bruno food from the dining table, then taking a phone call, then getting up and answering the doorbell.
In one take Bruno would refuse the food, but when Nakul would take the phone call Bruno would start sniffing him, searching for the food. I don’t know how the kids kept a straight face.
In the next take, Bruno would again refuse the food, but when Nakul would finish the phone call and go off to answer the door, then Bruno would quietly steal the food from the table and eat it up. When Bruno finally got it right, it turned out to be the most boring take!
Any shooting experiences involving you?
Ah, my poor memory was a big joke on the set. Having the main role means remembering so many lines! In one scene I had to be very tough with the CID, and there was a lot of important dialogue to be delivered in one flow. I did it with full force, and then when the director said “Cut!” I collapsed in relief and went, “Oof, orre baapre!” in Bengali. Everyone cracked up. After that, the cast and crew would keep saying “Orre baapre!”
What kind of genre does “Detective Naani” come under?
“Detective Naani” doesn’t come under the usual horror, murder, romance or comedy genre. It draws from real life where we go through so many emotions all the time, from laughter to sorrow, fear...to hope, love and warmth.
For all the feel-good fun that happens while solving this case, the crime itself is a very serious one, the kind that makes the headlines on a regular basis. And though the characters get caught up in larger-than-life situations, they are basically like you and me, real and relatable.
Why should people go and see “Detective Naani”?
So that they can feel good for days and days. So that they feel inspired by watching ordinary people do extraordinary things to right a wrong. We are living in extraordinary times after all, and now is the time for us to be alert, active, plucky citizens. If Naani & Co. can do it, anyone can!
had something special
WATCH OUT FOR OUR DESI SHERLOCK HOLMES THIS SUMMER!
DETECTIVE NAANI…COMING SOON TO A THEATRE NEAR YOU
Humour, suspense, emotion, insight and loads of entertainment…This summer Detective Naani brings you the perfect reason to visit a cinema hall nearest to you! Directed by debutante director Romilla Mukherjee, the movie has immense appeal not only for kids but teenagers and adults as well…a feel-good family film. With a plot very close to reality, showing how this in-fact could happen to anyone in your neighborhood, the movie is sure to touch a chord and keep you wanting more as the story progresses! The film stars the veteran Ava Mukherjee as Detective Naani, Shweta Gulati, Amrita Raichand, Hemant Pandey and Ankur Nayyar amongst others as they try to crack a mysterious case in their locality. Ea ch one approaches the case through their own point of view, giving rise to hilarious hijinks, romantic squabbles, nail-biting tension and emotional moments of drama.
The movie is mischievously titled ‘Detective Naani’ as Naani is the sole witness to the crime. When no one believes her story, she becomes the leader of a team of home-made detectives. Her relentless search for one little victim forms the heart and soul of the story! For all the feel-good fun that ensues while solving this case, the crime itself is a very serious one, the kind that makes headlines on a regular basis. And though the characters get caught up in larger-than-life situations, they are like any one of us…real and relatable.
Romilla Mukherjee : “These are extraordinary times we live in today, and we need to be alert more than ever. We all have the courage, the conviction to do the right thing when the need arises. We just need to unleash the hero within all of us. This is what my actors believed when they signed up for this film. The 2 little kids, the teenagers, the 78 year old actor playing Naani’s groundfloor spy, wonder dog Bruno and ofcourse, Naani herself – all played their parts with guts and gusto. They have made “Detective Naani” what it is – a movie that shows how people of all ages, from all walks of life, can not only fight crime together but can celebrate life to the full. They have helped me make a genre-blender where strong family values battles evil to create a new formula...a fun-family-mystery-thriller. Their charm and spirit will bring a smile to your face and also give you something to think about long after the movie is over.”
A regular day at Gulmohar Complex… spunky, independent, 75 year old Naani is on her way back home from her daily morning walk, Suddenly her eye catches the face of a little girl peeping nervously from a 3rd floor window. The flat belongs to a newly arrived childless couple. The girl hides quickly. Naani’s intrigue about the little girl leads her to a possible murder. Naani finds herself in the middle of a mystery where some people will come to her aid, some will be indifferent and some will prove to be dangerous. When the CID dismisses Naani’s story due to lack of hard evidence, she transforms into a detective. She uses her home-spun common-sense and logic and she carries out her investigation in classic “whodunit” style. Of course, Naani’s rather eccentric methods of investigation lead to many quirky and humourous incidents. Her unusual team of deputies comprise of her 2 inquisitive little grandchildren, her divorced daughter and couple of teenagers. The search for one lost girl leads Naani &. Co to a racket where the stakes are high, the criminals are ruthless, and their leader is powerful. Once Naani gets too close to their trail, she endangers herself. She finds herself sharing the same plight as the little girl she had seen in the window. Naani’s team of amateur detectives get together and finally with a little help from the CID, they discover something startling! Watch out what happens next this summer 2009!
Produced by : Bombay Duck Films
Producers: Romilla Mukherjee, Jolly Mukherjee, Urmilla Chaterjee
Direction by : Romilla Mukherjee
Music : Jolly Mukherjee