Total Siyapaa is an interesting topic, keeping in mind the prejudices that people often carry about different cultures. Yami, your television serial, Chand Ke Paar Chalo was also on caste differences. Keeping your films aside, have you ever faced such stereotypes in real life
Yami Gautam: I have not really faced it, but yes, it did cross my mind. Its an interesting topic for each one of us, because we see such things happening around us. I remember we had such an example in our neighbourhood, where a couple struggled through their love life. It was so much like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, except for the climax (laughs). They had that whole zamaane ko dikhana hain attitude. So, I think when a project on the lines of this comes your way, you are able to relate to it more. And of course, it does reflect in your work. You never know, but I hope I dont end up being a part of all this in real life (laughs).
Ali,talking of prejudices and biases, you being from Pakistan and working in India, must have certainly resulted in people stereotyping you. Is it irritating sometimes
Ali Zafar: Honestly, I dont really blame the people. They gather their set of thoughts from all that they see and hear through different mediums, including television, the media and now even social media. The fact remains that social media has become a big thing now, and there is a crossover because of YouTube, Facebook and other platforms. Earlier, there was no such crossover of cultures. We only had access to Doordarshan or PTV and it wasnt like Pakistani channels were shown here or vice versa. There was never a single source of communication, where we could understand each others point of view. I seriously believe that whatever perception people of each of these country have of each other, is because we hardly get any chance to meet one another face-to-face. And trust me, whenever somebody has done that, their opinion changes completely. Like, I have met Indian people who have gone to Pakistan and they say, Yaar mujhe kisi cheez ke paise hi nahin dene pade. Even during cricket matches, people would get along really well. Looking at the nightlife, they would say Arey, Pakistan mein aise party hoti hain I had a friend, who had the same set of perceptions about India, but he came here and it changed completely. He kept saying, Bhai! Humein sab galat dikhaya jaata hai. Our generation must understand that we need to think beyond such perceptions. By and large, everyone wants to share each others culture, have personal interaction and live in peace.
Is the film trying to change these stereotypes that people have in their mind
AZ: The film is a funny take on the perceptions and that is the beauty. We are looking at a heavy subject in a light-hearted manner. The balance was difficult, but Neeraj (film-maker Neeraj Pandey) has worked on the script beautifully. When we finally got a chance to watch the entire film, we were overjoyed, because it tries to bring about a certain change in a beautiful manner. You actually get a feeling that human level pe toh hum sab ek hi hain. So, if you want to be really happy in life, then we suggest you watch this film.
What is your take on communities or groups taking offence on humour For example, the Santa Banta jokes are never meant to hurt anyones sentiments, but they end up hurting some people.
YG: The examples that you gave was just one of the many. First of all, I personally believe that you really cant make everyone happy. People who do this indulge in humour of this sort, know that they may upset a few people. Like, I am a Hindu, a Brahmin to be more specific. Since childhood, I have heard a lot of people talk about a whole lot of things that Brahmins are generally associated with. They used to say, You guys are very snooty and stuff like that. But as a person, I am very cool and dont really let such things affect me. I take it in absolutely good humour and spirit. Its not just me, even a majority of the youngsters that I meet today are okay with such jokes. Across the globe, there will always be a section, who will contradict, so one should be prepared for such things.
You had Vicky Donor, after which we didnt see you for quite sometime. So, how did Total Siyapaa happen
YG: I got a call from Neeraj Pandeys office and he was the first one I met for this project. I was very excited, because I had loved A Wednesday and Special 26, so I was really looking forward to see what he had come up with. It is very natural to expect something different from him every time. I had a very different picture of Neeraj sir before meeting him as someone whos solemn and reserved, which he is, but hes also very easy going. He is very particular about the cast and had already decided who will play which character. So I asked him, Why me I want my second film to be different from what I have done in Vicky Donor. He immediately told me, Yes! It is very different. You just go through the script. When he narrated the concept to me, I just kept quiet. Knowing that several questions would crop up in my mind, Neeraj sir gave me the script, told me to read it thoroughly and give him a call as soon as I was done with it. I read the entire script in one go on a flight, and I absolutely loved it. The most interesting part for me was the fact that we have only seen Indo-Pak films in a war, Partition or love saga kind of a zone, but this was completely different.
Yami, you played a Bengali character in Vicky Donor, and here you play a Punjabi girl. Was it any different
YG: I am from Chandigarh, so I didnt have to really work hard on that aspect. The preparation for this role was very different from what I had to do for Ashima (in Vicky Donor); that role required more work. For Asha, the emphasis was more on spontaniety. In Vicky, I wasnt really a part of the humour, whereas here, I am a part of this whole madness. And I have to give credit to Ali, Kirronji (Kher) and all the actors involved, their effortless comic timing helped me improve my performance.
So, Ali plays Aman and Yami plays Asha. The film was titled Aman Ki Asha. Did it change before the two of you joined
AZ: Aman Ki Asha was a tentative title, based on our characters names. During the process of filming and later, when the product was ready, we realised that the script was taken to a slightly higher notch. It actually translated into something very funny, interesting and unique. So, it shouldnt come across as a very serious film which is preachy. Its not the conventional way of approaching the subject. The title suggested by Neeraj Pandey fits the story, where one day, Asha takes Aman to meet her parents and a complete fiasco and chaos follows. So, he decided to keep Total Siyapaa as the title.
Yami, any thought that you had about the people of Pakistan, that changed after this film and working with Ali
YG: I truly believe women of Pakistan are gorgeous.
AZ: After meeting me, you thought the women of Pakistan are beautiful (laughs)
YG: Let me just finish, Ali! (laughs) I met Alis family and a few friends in London. I really think the men and women of Pakistan are very good looking. Whats untrue, well I think the perception part that Ali spoke about people not being hospitable. I was in Bangkok sometime back, and there were a lot of fans who asked for my autograph. They told me that they are waiting for Total Siyapaa (to hit the screen). I casually asked them where they are from and they said, Pakistan. The excitement, warmth and enthusiasm was almost like the time when I meet fans in India. There was no difference, but at the same time, I am not saying that it is all goody-goody as there are more deeper issues at various levels.
Did you have any arguments about cricket That happens to be a favourite issue between the two countries.
AZ: She thought that Shahid Afridi was cute. Yami has a really big crush on him. I asked her, how can you have a crush on him when I am here (laughs)
YG: (laughs) Its true, I did tell him that. I am not a cricket buff at all, but when I first saw Afridi, he was really young. When I used to see him bowl, with his hair flying, I really felt he was good looking. In fact, I even remember the colour of his nice, brown hair.
Who do you think is a good cricketer from India
AZ: Sachin Tendulkar! He was a fantastic cricketer. There is something very interesting about him that I heard from Aamir Khans interview sometime back. He spoke about an incident where Aamir was sitting with Tendulkar in the box and throughout the game, Sachin would keep predicting each ball that the bowler would bowl. Thats the quality Sachin has, where he knows the result even before the ball touches the batsmans bat. I think that is a divine quality.
Pakistani singers are very popular. What has been your experience of performing in India
AZ: The experience has always been good. Indian fans are always very loving and the best part is that they show their enthusiasm when we perform on stage. I have performed in several cities. In fact, I have also had the privilege of performing at Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai and the Jahan-E-Khusro Sufi festival in Delhi.
Yami, you have worked with actors like Ayushmann Khurrana and now, Ali Zafar, both of whom happen to be singers too. Did you ever feel like getting behind the mic as well
YG: I can only sing a line or two, and that is a result of having such co-actors. I think the company really matters (laughs). Honestly, I am far away from Alis level of singing skills. Although I am not a trained singer, I would love to sing. I am not really interested in releasing any album, but I would like to be able to sing for myself. What do you think, Ali
AZ: You can. I really think she can be a really good heavy metal singer. Imagine her in a black leather jacket, nail paint and smokey eye make-up.
YG: Oh, cmon, I am already working on it (showing off her nails painted in black). See, I am getting there.
Yami Gautam was asked if there was any thing that struck her about Pakistan after working with Ali and she stated that the women of Pakistan are absolutely gorgeous. Within minutes, Ali Zafar retorted and asked, After meeting me, you thought the women of Pakistan are beautiful Gautam couldnt control her laughter and said, Let me finish. Well, I met Alis family and a few friends in London and I really think the people of Pakistan are very good looking.
While he was on his way to the Screen preview venue, Ali Zafar was heard singing romantic numbers like Khilte hain gul yahan and Koi hota jisko apna among others. I love old Hindi songs, he confessed, as he continued singing and walking to his own tunes. Later, both Zafar and Yami Gautam even sang a track from Total Siyapaa, titled Palat Meri Jaan, on public demand. While Zafars voice enthralled one and all, Gautam impressed with her singing skills as well.
Transcribed by Priya Adivarekar