While we try to ride through the technical curveballs we are thrown at, we finally settle into the new square pockets of the new video conferencing norms as the country faces a second wave of the pandemic. Shlokka Pandit and Aadar Jain who will next be seen in Hello Charlie – Excel Entertainment’s and Amazon Prime Video’s newest offering – are just as excited and stoked as we all are. The world needs a hardcore comedy to laugh away our worries and statistics staring at our faces which is exactly what the dream team of Pankaj Saraswat (director), Jain and Pandit have teamed up for. Basically a comedy of errors, the story is about a goofy simpleton and his dynamic with the gorilla who he is transporting to Diu. Aptly calling it a ‘Gomance’ – gorilla and romance – Jain wants the audience to see the innocence and the efforts that went into making the film. Pandit, who always wanted to become an actor sees this as her dream come true minus the ‘cliché’, recollects her entire experience as one of being full of learnings, takeaways, opportunities, workshops, stand-up comedies and so much more! Nailing a comedy genre and especially a ‘comedy of errors’ one at that can be daunting even for the most experienced artists, but Pandit and Jain showcase their skills with effortless and tremendous screen presence. Legendary actors like Jackie Shroff and Rajpal Yadav are also holding this film up on their shoulders bringing to the table their comic timing and delivery we have all loved until now.
Our latest digital cover stars, headlining the cast of Hello Charlie talk about what connected to the film, how the project came through and the memories they will take away from the sets of this ‘gomance’. Excerpts from the interview…
How does it feel to have the trailer receive such a great response considering?
Shlokka Pandit: It’s an overwhelming response and the fact that we got only positive responses in such a short period of time, it has been amazing for us. We put in so much hard work, and made this film with so much love. The fact that everyone gets to watch it in their homes is such a big boon. I am very excited as its my first film. I have always wanted to be an actress and it is finally happening and even during a global pandemic, the film is set to release on the 9th, so that is just a surreal feeling, to be honest.
Aadar Jain: I feel amazing, I feel really, really good, very excited, with all the responses that have been coming in. Like she said, everything has been so positive so far, to the teasers first, then to the trailer, obviously, that concept and the uniqueness of the script has been accepted so widely by everyone. Also, One Two One Two has been loved by everyone, and people are making reels, dance challenges, a lot of kids are doing it which is very special. It really means a lot to me and just the fact that everyone is connecting to the film. It is a one of a kind film – it is about a boy and a gorilla who are running away on this road trip from Mumbai to Diu. The characters are amazing, the cast is great. Shlokka is lovely in the film. There’s Elnaaz (Norouzi), Jackie (Shroff) sir, Rajpal (Yadav) sir, Pankaj sir is directing. It is a first collaboration for the both of us with Excel Entertainment. So, it’s special for so many reasons and just the fact that whatever we have worked so hard on for the last two years is finally being appreciated by so many people so it really means a lot to all of us.
How was the shooting experience during the pandemic? How was the entire experience?
AJ: We started the film in 2019 and later the pandemic just hit us. Suddenly, we didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t shoot for about five months. Not a lot of people know this but our film, Hello Charlie was the first film to shoot during the pandemic. Our shooting started first, from all the other films and shows that started and went on floors as soon as the government announced we can.And she had a song to shoot, which was Soneya Ve, so we went and shot that and then we shot a couple scenes also. Taking precautions, quarantining, we had to go out, which we were also very excited about, we wanted to finish the film, and we wanted to show the whole world our film because we had waited for so long. But, of course, we had to take the correct precautions Excel Entertainment followed all the safety norms properly. I think everything went really, really well, touchwood, no one, not one person from the crew got Covid and we shot very smoothly, it went very well after that. So, it was good fun.
SP: We started shooting in July, so I had a three-day shoot for my song, we had sanitation tanks, and people were all PPE-suited up, visors, and hair and makeup. For three days it was hectic, because we had to go through a sanitation tank, we had to do oxygen checks. Luckily we had everything – an ambulance and doctors on standby but it was scary but you had to leave that at home and come. I didn’t go back home for the next 10 days, we quarantined after and we were very safe so the precautions were taken. It was a weird time, but, we managed to come out of it.
AJ: I think it was also a good distraction because when you are home, you are just thinking about what’s happening outside. There are only so many movies and shows you can watch, only so many friends you can talk to. Beyond a point, you have to have some normalcy in your life. You want to do the things that you love, for me it is acting and want to go back to work. Obviously, it was a scary thought to go back, but after we shot it, we felt very normal. So, yeah, it was a good distraction to go and do something different, something you love.
What about Hello Charlie attracted you?
AJ: Everything. The first time I met Riteish (Sidhwani) sir, he narrated a few lines of what the movie is all about and I was instantly hooked. Pankaj sir was writing it and when you audition with him, you want a certain simplicity and innocence for this character. When Pankaj sir narrated the story to me, honestly, main has has ke pagal ho gaya tha, I was literally falling off my seat because it was so funny. The situation of the movie is so funny, the character that I am playing, Charlie, is very lovable, a simpleton, he comes from a very small town, he is very goofy, cartoonish, he loves to help people, and sometimes his simplicity lands him up in trouble. It’s something that I connected to, on a very deep level with Charlie, and I just knew that this is something I had to do. I don’t know whether it was destined for me or whether I met Riteish sir at the right time, and he was making this film. Pankaj Sir is an amazing director. He has been working for 25-30 years, writing and producing such amazing shows. To have that honour and privilege of working with him and to get to learn so much everyday from him was amazing. He really opened us up in front of the camera, taught us a lot of things about spontaneity, comic timing, dialogue delivery. Shlokka, who is so lovely, it is her debut film but she honestly has this amazing energy on set, screen presence, she is a great dancer. Everybody is going to love her in the movie. And to work with her and to do lines with her, it was a lot of fun. We have become such good friends.
SP: I always wanted to be an actress and have been waiting to make my debut. It has been a childhood dream and not a clichéd one at that. When it finally materialised, I was really happy because it is very unconventional to debut in a comedy film. They were auditioning other girls and when I auditioned for the part, I had three rounds to clear. I was literally waiting for that phone call to arrive. I am super excited, as he said, very rightly, so, everything is so special about this film, our cast is amazing, we have such amazing senior actors to, you know, learn from, our director is fantastic with comedy in films, so that too. All in all, it’s a great package and a fabulous film to be a part of.
Comedy is considered to be one of the most difficult genres to act in. Were there any difficulties or challenges you faced when it came to comic timing or delivering your dialogue?
SP: Honestly, and this is for both of us that, we were extremely well prepared before going to set. We did a lot of workshops with our director, he used to literally give us homework, that “this is our script today, you and Aadar have to go and perform one stand-up comedy in the office and make everyone laugh.” That was our prep; we were so prepared. Mainly, we learnt dialogue delivery, timing, and really trained before going on set. Also, in essence, we are not really ‘doing comedy’, we are just playing our characters strictly plus with the situations being so funny, script is so well-written and seamless, everything just weaved in.
So, we really did not have that much problem and I think Aadar will agree…
AJ: 100 per cent. For me, I have loved watching comedies ever since I was a child. It is a very cliché thing to say but very true that laughter is the best medicine. Comedy can uplift your mood, make you feel lighter, make you forget about your worries. That’s the impact a comedy can have on people. My major reason for becoming an actor is to entertain people, to make them laugh, and to give joy and spread happiness. So when I got the opportunity and when I heard about this film being a comedy, I literally just jumped at it. Comedy is a hard genre, for sure. But like she rightly said, we are not trying to do some physical humour or ‘trying’ to make people laugh. We are just playing our characters honestly. I have to give credit to Pankaj sir for writing the script in such a way that would make us all look very good. We obviously worked on spontaneity, comic timing, being in the moment as an actor and being present in the moment. Other than that, when you enjoy yourself, you see it on screen.
How was it working with legendary actors like Jackie Shroff and Rajpal Yadav? Were there any takeaways from them?
SP: Number one is humility, definitely the first thing we both would take home. We’re so new and but they never made us feel that way, we were very welcomed. They treated us like their own kids, helped us, advised us, and took us through the whole process so smoothly. They are so cool and funny even otherwise, it’s not like they are putting an act, and they are actually that fun and that cool. Keeping your calm, humility, composure and encouraging new actors and giving them wings to fly is something that I have taken home with me and it is the most wonderful experience for any actor to work with such great actors. Not only are they great actors but amazing people who have warmth, positivity and they are so good at what they do and how they are so spontaneous with their dialogues. They do it so well so observing that and knowing that acting is not about learning the lines and coming to the set, it is about what you bring to the table as an individual.
AJ: I have to agree with her. The first time I met Jackie sir properly was on the sets of Farah Khan’s Happy New Year as an assistant director. I always thought that one day, I really want to work with Jackie sir. He’s a really cool guy and he is a rockstar in the truest sense. He’s very experienced, so disciplined and professional, and he has a child-like approach when he comes on set. The best thing about him is that he makes you feel like he’s your friend. He doesn’t make you feel like there is a star walking in. He is a star because he is such an amazing human being. Like Shlokka always says, comedy and Rajpal sir go hand in hand. To work with them is obviously an honour and privilege for both of us and we got to learn a lot from them in terms of dialogue delivery, spontaneity, comic timing, the way they stand in front of the camera, their presence, the way they talk, the way they walk. For us it is a learning experience, it was very inspiring to watch them – even after so many films – to be working that hard and having the same passion that they probably had in their first films. It pushes you as new actors to work even harder and be better.
Hello Charlie is releasing on Amazon Prime video. How does it feel to have your film launch on a streaming platform?
AJ: It’s amazing because the fact that we are an Excel film and Amazon Prime Video has come on board now due to which the reach has widened. We are in the middle of a pandemic, no one is going out to a restaurant, just about going to their work because that’s a necessity. Right now, you can be entertained from the comfort of your home and safer for the people as the cases are rising. We can showcase our film on Amazon Prime Video which is such a big platform. The reach is for over 200 countries, if I am not mistaken, which is huge, and we’re going to be having a world premier on the 9th of April with such a big reach and visibility which is amazing for us. We also have a responsibility as actors, filmmakers and producers to showcase our films in the right way and now, in a safe way. Our film is a family film, everyone can come together and watch it, nana-nani, dada-dadi, mom, dad, padosis, sab log saath mein baith ke dekh sakte hai. It’s a family movie experience.
SP: The fact that our work gets to be out there in such a time is a privilege in itself. We have a huge corporation like Amazon backing that and making that possible for us. The viewership of Amazon is more than we would expect than if we had launched it in a theatre. Of course, we all dream of seeing ourselves on the big screen – it’s an inherent thing that runs in any actor’s blood but owing to the situation, I think we are very blessed that we are able to have our film release on the 9th and everyone can watch it. We are doing interviews and promoting it; it is going as per plan during the pandemic as well. So, I think, we are just blessed and really fortunate to have them on board.