Imtiaz Ali
Director of Tamasha, When Harry met Sejal, Rockstar

For Rockstar, there was a lot of integration. There were folk stories, folk music, and folk artists that the film borrowed from. There were also other artists, like dancers and singers, from other parts of the European Union, like France and Bosnia, which are not members of the European Union. They came to Prague, and it became a kind of hub where we did a lot of these things. Then there was Verona, which is in Italy. And that was also a very significant location for us in Rockstar.

The film begins in Verona. And we were in contact with the Mayor of Verona, who offered us a special deal so that we could easily glide from Prague to Verona, complete the shoot, and return. Here as well, we used a lot of local artists. And I like a two-way flow kind of interaction with every place I go to because it makes the film authentic and rich. And it happens in different ways. Let’s say a film like Jab We Met in Punjab—it’s the two-way traffic that makes the film authentic. And the same thing happens abroad. If I were to go to Bengal or some other place and could integrate something from there, then the film would sound authentic. People in India will note that. But when that happens with a foreign nation, you don’t hear the fact that it has become a major mode of thinking. But I try to enrich the narrative that way…. The place is not just a place. The people are the place; the music is the place; the stories are the stories; the atmosphere is the climate, food, family structure, and clothing. And we also take artists and designers from all of these fields into the film and work with them. I try to take as small a unit as possible. Most of the HODs come from here. And we do that extra work, that extra reconnaissance, that extra living there as pre-production, and bring those people in.

Rehman has worked in Prague with a Philharmonic orchestra. And he doesn’t need to go to a place necessarily to know the music of that place. He’s got an innate sense of the style of music inked to particular locations. It was written in the script that Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) has an ear for music. He doesn’t even realise that. So he gets pulled to a certain style of music that’s playing in some town square in Prague, which is usually the case. And the sound draws him. And that’s a gipsy sound. So the gipsy sounds and the gipsy instruments are playing, and they are singing in their language. And then this guy begins to take a guitar and improvise, joining them in the event that he’s gone for, and a song is born. This song that he sings is about a girl, princess or queen who slips out at night and goes to party in the depths of hell—the inferno of hell. And she dances so much that her shoes melt. So then her husband gets suspicious, and he tries to find out. This is a popular legend of the Czech Republic. When we were making the song, we were wondering what to do about it. Rehman asked, “Instead of being a song, what if it’s a story?” Then I picked on this legend of Sleepy Haunsa. Haunsa is called John in their language. So Han is John. Johnny is Haunsa for them. So there are many stories of Sleepy Haunsa, and this is one of the stories. And it was very symbolic for us because it was also a reflection of what’s happening in the film. Where this girl, Heer, is some sort of princess, and she comes to this dark side to celebrate with this guy. Her social order is shaken up. So this was a local legend.

I went to some gipsy festivals to understand how these things are, and I spent the night in those crazy festivals. The synergy that gets formed in these spaces emerges from those musicians who originally told me the story and now feature with their group in the film. They performed and we recorded. We got everything else from them and put everything together. And there are instruments we didn’t even know about. There’s something called the herdy-gerdy. There is a certain style of tambourine that they play. So it’s truly authentic – The Czech gipsy spirit. And then, when we create that on a bigger scale, we get dancers who are also gipsies, but a different kind of gipsy. This group came from France. And this was a unique group where everybody was older than 50. And then we got some folk dancers, who were young girls, from somewhere else. So it all synergizes, because now, in spirit, they understand what’s happening. It is their song. They know how to dance to it. In “Bebasi ka Bayaan,” we see a European musician, a beautiful girl called Alma Ferovich. Now this is the girl for Bosnia. She acts in it. We knew we were going to use her.

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