Sunday, July 24, 2011

Interview with Nitin Ganatra - June 22nd, 2009

Promoting: Mad, Sad & Bad
Venue: 13/1 Cornwall St, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Film Festival
Interview type: One-on-one

ViewLondon (VL): What's Mad, Sad & Bad about and who do you play?

Nitin Ganatra (NG): I play Atul, who's a writer, a sitcom writer that's suffering from a dignity crisis. That's the first time I've ever said that, that's actually great, he's in dignity crisis and he's decided that – the catalyst is having a crush on his best friend's wife and trying to get into bed with her and then finding out that she's shagging his boss has left him kind of challenging his own dignity, so he wants to give up writing crappy sitcoms and go into something more noble like writing an opera.

VL: About cheese?

NG: About cheese. And he gets to fulfil that desire. So Mad, Bad & Sad is about dysfunctional characters generally. I know [writer-director] Avie's an academic and a shrink and is very highbrow in his way of looking at things but basically it's the Three Billy Goats Gruff and they're crossing the bridge to get to the greener grass. It's a fable about people wanting their lives to be better. But it's about looking for that and discovering what that is. Heh. He's going to be so pissed off that I said that. But really, he's just ripped off Three Billy Goats Gruff (laughs). And it just happens to be centred around an Asian family because that's Avie's point of contact. A lot of these characters are based on – he's a prolific writer so a lot of them are his psyche. I mean, playing the writer in a movie where your director has written it, you just have to watch him a little bit. You start observing things about him and then you realise, 'Oh God, I am playing him'. Because he's a manipulator – Atul – I play a manipulator who's always got his own agenda and of course a writer-director has got to be a manipulator. So the whole thing, maybe because it's set around an Asian family, because it's a family and because it's dysfunctional, is what's making the whole thing quite universal.

VL: Was the cheese song a large part of what attracted you to the script or was there something else?

NG: The cheese song is one of those things where you – I can't play guitar and I can't dance and I can't sing and yet I'm doing all of those in the film. And being asked to improvise them as well. So imagine, you learn a few chords and I was improvising this cheese song and it was getting quite rude. And I think because of copyright, Avie was actually quite clever and said, 'Actually, I don't want you to improvise, I'll give you some lyrics' and wrote them. Which is a very crafty thing to do, just in case I get some money. But improvising a cheese song is not an easy thing, especially if you can't play or sing.

VL: Did you draw on Flight of the Conchords?

NG: (laughs) I wish I had, actually, but mine's certainly not as good as that. But yeah, it's quite a nice quirky thing. Having seen the film, I think it could have been a bigger number, the whole cheese opera – it would have been nice to have really made it an opera. Had it gone that way, I think it would have been spectacular.

VL: Was there anything cut out that you really hated to lose?

NG: Yeah, there was lots of stuff, mainly to do with me (laughs). There was a scene – it's only because it sticks with me slightly because there were some plot devices that were set up. I don't play squash either, but there was a whole squash court scene with Tony Gardner, who I think is the gem of the film. I think he's impeccable in his timing and I really enjoyed working with him. Anyway, we did a whole squash court scene where we set up stuff like 'You should meet the wife, Roxy' and Atul goes, 'Oh, I don't think so' and it's kind of like, 'Well what's your problem?' and stuff like that. So for me there's a kind of editorial, a plot line thing and as an actor, you play that plot line and then you find that then I don't get it, why I'm suddenly behaving like that.

VL: Do you have a favourite scene in the film?

NG: I love watching Tony and what he does on screen. The way he sets up – the funniest moment is during the burial, where he talks about the make-up and what he does. And his timing, it's very underplayed but so typically English. That gave me a big laugh and I think I enjoyed working with Ayesha (Dharker) a lot. There's a scene with Ayesher and I where we were really just bouncing off each other. Actors, we all have to kind of negotiate each other's egos all the time and everyone's different methods. And everyone's got different ways of approaching their work. Some people can take up a lot of time on set and then produce something that doesn't really warrant taking that much time. If it means taking an hour talking about how to walk across the room, you just kind of go [makes a face]. I'm of the school that you don't waste people's time on the day, you do your homework. And also you get some actors that give to a scene, some actors take away from a scene, they suck the life out of you, whereas Ayesha, there was a scene with Ayesha and I where she comes round and I describe what happens in this opera and the timing was working beautifully and Ayesha was catching that ball and throwing it back and we could overlap and we could play – but still keeping to the script, you know – and that, to me, is one of those moments when you do a job where you kind of go, 'I remember that', I remember that giving, in a film, where you really are bouncing off each other and that's one of my most memorable moments of the whole shoot, other than Tony.

VL: You were briefly in Shifty. Do you have any other film projects coming up, EastEnders schedule permitting?

NG: Well, Shifty was before I was on EastEnders, so after that, I joined EastEnders and then did Mad, Sad & Bad and then I did a show called Mumbai Calling, which is on at the moment. But no, I'm writing now. I've got another couple of projects that I've pitched and treatments that I'm writing so fingers crossed.


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