‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’ sets fans in the mood for romance and some good OG Bollywood content. There helping director Karan Johar steer this progressive ‘prem kahaani’ forward was writer Ishita Moitra. Known for her work on ‘Four More Shots Please!’, ‘Shakuntala Devi’, and many other Bollywood ventures, Moitra, in a candid chat with ETimes, spilled the beans about tailoring her characters to best suit the film’s hot jodi Ranveer Singh (Rocky Randhawa) and Alia Bhatt (Rani Chatterjee).
From revealing the thought behind the film to bringing strong women characters to the big screen and her dream of writing a film for Shah Rukh Khan, here’s all she had to say…
Did you get to watch ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’ on the big screen? What was your reaction?
Yes! I have seen the film a few times now on the big screen. Once at the cast and crew screening, and then twice with friends and family. Watching the film with the audience for whom it was actually made is a high unlike no other. Especially, when they are reacting and emoting the way you intended for them to. They were clapping, laughing, whistling and even singing along. It was just electric.
Ishita, you co-wrote Rocky Aur Rani, a romantic story that breaks through the clutter of biopics, action, and sci-fi films. Would you say that Bollywood is going back to its roots with this?
This is OG Bollywood. Made by Karan who is a living legend according to me. His films are iconic and they have a fanbase all over the world. No one can do this better than him and he has shown us all – this is how it’s done. The romance, the fun, the big emotions, the scale, the lip sync songs and the feel-good factor – I think this is what we missed and craved as Bollywood buffs and that’s why people are reacting to it so well.
What was Karan Johar’s brief to you for this ‘prem kahaani’?
I think he wanted it to be entertaining as well as relevant. We wanted to, like I said, give the audience what they had been missing – a good old masala Hindi film. But within that construct, he wanted to explore topics touching upon patriarchy, gender roles and also elitism and cancel culture. And all the while, he wanted it to also be an ode to Hindi cinema, like a warm hug to Bollywood.
KJo loves to explore different emotional journeys with his films. What was the most difficult aspect of scripting this journey of love?
He is such a wonderful and fun person. He creates a very stress-free and easy environment at work and that is really conducive to creativity. Even during the most emotional scenes for the characters, like Chandon and Rocky’s scene post the wedding sangeet, where both of them are baring their hearts, I wouldn’t call the process difficult, because he was always there through the writing process, so encouraging and positive. His feedback and inputs on the script were invaluable.
Ranveer and Alia’s chemistry was the biggest talking point. Who was on your mind while scripting their characters?
Ranveer and Alia even in ‘Gully Boy’ had an absolutely crackling chemistry. Also, they are possibly the best actors of this generation. So one already knows that when you put the two of them together, what you get is fireworks. Karan always had only Ranveer and Alia in mind for Rocky and Rani. So I wrote only with them in mind.
With Ranveer and Alia bringing your work to life, which star would you like to see in a film written by you?
I would love to work with Shah Rukh Khan. Putting it out there in the universe. (Laughs)
You have a panache of writing strong women characters. In RARKPK, you have Jaya, Shabana, Churni. What was it like writing for their characters as compared to Alia?
It was wonderful writing for all the women characters in the film. Including Kshitee Jog, Anjali Anand and Jaya ji. Each character had a unique journey, arc and voice. Some were more empowered than others.
Jayaji, played evil so deliciously. But also, right at the beginning of the film, we tried to explain how she came to become the woman that she did. Even though she’s the antagonist, she is a very strong character.
Shabanaji’s character is not afraid to love in her 70s. She is intelligent and opinionated and shapes Rani’s worldview.
Churni plays an empowered mother whose husband actually shifted cities to support her career. And the scene she has with Rocky in the lingerie shop really stands out.
Anjali’s character Gayatri comes a long way from taking the fat shaming she is subjected to lying down and finally is able to speak her mind and live life on her own terms. Ditto with Poonam, she finally realises her dreams matter as well and she is able to confront her tormentors.
At a time when feminist content is taking centre stage, how does this film promote its women characters without clamping down on its men?
I feel like, with Rocky, we got the opportunity to showcase a sensitive, vulnerable, romantic, yet macho hero. Someone who is not afraid to say sorry. Someone who is willing to learn. And someone that everyone easily falls in love with because of his inherent goodness and charm.
Men and women are both victims of the patriarchy. And hence, both Tijori and Dhanlakshmi behave the way they do. The idea is not to villainise any gender but to create stories with a lens that shows men and women as equal. Different, but equal.
What according to you is the new formula for writing films with the dawn of the OTT age? How do you appeal to the masses and make a socially relevant film?
I think the idea is to always tell a story with heart. No matter what the medium. And when you write a story and tell a story with sincerity, it reaches out to the viewer. If we judge a little less and feel a little more, many of our problems would be solved.
You have worked on a number of OTT series, how did that help push your limits as a writer? What are some topics you now want to explore on the big screen?
OTT helps you explore characters in a long format. You can layer them and nuance them more. While in film, it’s about moving the story fast, telling as much as you can, in an entertaining way as soon as possible, writing shows like ‘Four More Shots Please!’ and ‘The Test Case’ have really been very rewarding writing experiences.
No matter what the subject for my next film/show, I just want to make sure that it has my gaze as a woman, and that all women characters have agency.
We are often told how big production houses don’t want to risk experimenting. With OTT content, world cinema and even South Indian content pushing the limits, would you say Bollywood is ready to step out of its lull?
I think with films like Rocky Aur Rani and Satya Prem that have come out this month, one can already see that we are trying to tell new stories and at the same time keep them entertaining.
Hollywood has been dropped at a halt over the writers’ strike. How do you assume this can assist change the sport for writers all over the world if efficient?
I believe we in India have to have a Minimal Fundamental Contract in place for writers first, in order that writers cannot be exploited. The Screenwriters Affiliation has been combating the nice combat and making an attempt to get this carried out for a while now. I actually hope it occurs quickly!