Debutante director Sunaina Bhatnagar opens up in an exclusive interview with Koimoi about Manisha Koirala’s comeback to Bollywood with her film, her personal connect with Dear Maya’s story, Imtiaz Ali and more…

Why Dear Maya?

It’s a story that touches your heart. There are many things in the film that I personally believe. I wanted to share that. For me, Dear Maya is a personal story of growing up and facing life.

Sunaina Bhatnagar: For Me, Dear Maya Is A Personal Story Of Growing Up And Facing Life
Sunaina Bhatnagar: For Me, Dear Maya Is A Personal Story Of Growing Up And Facing Life

Did something happen in the film which you have experienced in your life?

I think the girls, who are best friends in the film; a lot of those moments between them are like me and my sister. That comes from our growing up together and the kind of experiences that we’ve had. Since I have written the film also, it naturally came to me while writing the script.

A little bit of the story?

The film deals with two young girls who play a prank on this lady, Maya Devi who lives next door. Maya Devi is having her own journey and these two young girls who are inexperienced teenagers. What happens to them and how they deal with it is the crux of the story.

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What is Maya Devi’s age?

She is around 45-46. She is not that old.

But she looks older in the trailer…

Yes, that’s because she has not taken care of herself. She doesn’t look after herself. So she looks very neglected. If you don’t take care of yourself, you tend to look older, your hair becomes rough, your skin becomes dry and there are patches and all that. So she looks older but she is not. When we were conceptualizing the film, I wanted her to look around 50. But her actual age is around 45. She looks 5-6 years older than what she is.

What is the genre of this film?

I would say drama but I would also like to say it’s a coming of age or slice of life film. It’s not very easy to slip this film into a slot. Perhaps somebody might find it to be a drama but for me, it’s a coming of age story. You have to watch it first and then decide.

Why did you choose to do a film on this kind of a story?

You get excited by certain stories because you feel like it says something very important. For you it is important. I have written a couple of more stories before Dear Maya but this one I could connect with and decided this is the story I should tell people. I felt very passionately and strongly about this story. That’s why it became my first film.

Why did you cast Manisha Koirala in this role?

She is so talented, she is so beautiful and she has done everything. She has done offbeat as well as commercial films. I needed somebody who can pull off this character and yet you like her. Unfortunately, some actresses do this kind of role a lot and they get typecast. For Manisha to do this is a little surprising because she has done diverse roles. She is the girl from 1942: A Love Story, she is also the girl from Khamoshi, she has never been typecast. She can be anybody. That’s a very rare thing for an actor. She can turn hot if you ask her to, and can easily become the neglected Maya Devi the next moment and you will believe both! That’s the beauty of Manisha Koirala.

Who are the other actors?

I have taken two new girls Madiha Imam and Shreya Singh Chaudhary. This is their first film. Both of them are very talented. When you see the film, you will be happy and surprised. They worked really hard. There was a lot of good energy on the set because so many of people were working on their first film including me, these two girls and my camera person. Apart from the girls, there is also Iravati Harshe, who is coming back to Hindi films after a long time. Also, there is model turned actor Sahil Shroff.

Manisha Koirala is making a comeback to Bollywood with your film. How do you feel?

I feel very privileged. It’s an honour of course as well as a big responsibility. When you have good actors like Manisha working with you, you are forced to be better than you are because you have to match up to that talent. I’ve tried my best to make a film which everyone feels proud of including Manisha.

What did you do before this?

This is my first film as a director. Before this, I have worked as an assistant director with Imtiaz Ali. I assisted him for 6 years almost including films like Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar and a few commercials. Rockstar was my last film with him.

With your debut film releasing in a few days…how are you feeling?

I am both nervous and excited. I still can’t believe that it’s coming out, releasing and all that because it has been a long journey to get here. So I am pinching myself every now and then that it is finally happening. I am not so nervous about the audience’s reaction, I am just nervous that it is going to release! It feels great when people comment after watching the film…that gives a real high!


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