SHILLONG: “Shillong taught me something very valuable – sense of respect and the importance of equality,” PINK producer, Ronnie Lahiri told TNT–The Northeast Today.
Is it true that Andrea Tariang was identified by you for her role in PINK?
Yes. The script was about three working girls living in Delhi, it’s about how people look at girls especially those coming from the North East. When I was in Delhi and Mumbai, I always see how girls from North East are looked at differently because of the way they dress, they talk and they would always take charge and look different. So, that’s what I have suggested that if we are to have an actress playing the role of a northeastern girl, why not actually get a girl from Northeast to play that role. So it was clear, if there is a character from Northeast, we will cast a girl from Northeast only.
I gave the idea but then it was up to me to find the girl. It was tough, I tried to find out people from northeast but since the film industry is not so huge in the Northeast, it was difficult. Then I remembered Andrea, because her uncle lives in Mumbai and that he has a niece, Rudy Wahlang’s daughter. So I called up Rudy immediately, and apprised him of the situation. Rudy was more than willing to grant the permission and asked me to talk to her. But I insist that Rudy should speak to her first for which he agreed and luckily Andrea agreed!!!
She came for a test and the moment she came, Shoojit, the director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and me were clear that Yeah!!! She is our Andrea and we name the character’s name in PINK as Andrea only.
How well did your experience in Shillong mould you as a producer?
Shillong gave me the chance to dream big, all those years spent in Shillong were precious. It gave me the required space to think, ponder and move ahead and most importantly, it reminds me of my origin, to imbibe art and culture at a very young age, the fact that music and sports are given so much importance is also something to think about. Shillong gave me something valuable which I still hold dear till today, and that is, the sense of respect, it taught me how to respect people and to treat everyone equally.
Having your roots in Shillong, How do you feel to carry the tag ‘Shillongite’ while moving ahead in the Film industry?
The feeling is great. Growing up in Shillong, you know, we were very close to Bollywood. I was my dream also to join Bollywood and I think it’s a matter of fate that I landed up in Mumbai because I never thought I’ll get any closer to Mumbai, let alone join the film industry. I feel really proud and there are also many people from Northeast who are really doing good here, so it’s a good feeling to be amongst my own people.
There is also another man from Shillong who is doing very well in this industry, his name is Anirban blah. He runs an agency, so it’s a good feeling to see our fellow landing up in big post and doing very well in life outside Shillong. There are also other Northeast personalities like Papon from Assam and now Andrea Tariang has joined the gang. So yes, it’s feels good.
Ronnie and film making. How did the journey start?
Basically, after my graduation from St Edmund’s College, Shillong I went on to pursue my management and then I joined as a managing professional in big companies in Goa and then I came back to Delhi. But somehow, I wasn’t very happy with the corporate culture, I wanted to get into the creative side. It was in 1999 when I met Shoojit Sircar who was my partner and my friend now. He was also just starting off in advertising as a director. I used to take his advice in various issues pertaining advertisement and I used to tell him about other things outside the advertising world, and while talking, it clicked!!! Shoojit said, “I know how to make films but I don’t have any idea about business”. Because I was a business management student, I know how to handle the business side of it. So, we came together and started working together in Delhi and still we haven’t thought of moving to Mumbai.
So in the early 2000s, we decided to move to Mumbai because most of the big advertising agencies were also situated in Mumbai with an idea of making small feature stories in advertisements which is 30-40 seconds at the most. Naturally, we want to do big feature stories and we worked for it until we got into Bollywood.
How many movies have you produced?
I have produced a total of 6 movies — Vicky Donor, Piku, Madras café and now PINK including 2 Begalee films— Aparajita Tumi Open Tee Bioscope. Right now, under production, I’ve got two films – rom-com Hindi film Running Shadi.com and Banana.
What is the one thing you miss about Shillong whilst in Mumbai?
Ummm… there are a lot of things I missed about Shillong, but the ones which top the list are the Food, the Weather and the open spaces. Well now, I know Shillong is a little congested, but while we were growing up, it was much more open, but still, if I go upto to Smit or Laitkor area, I would still the open spaces.
I missed Jadoh so much. But luckily, I have friends over here who makes Shillong’s food and Andrea Tariang is a very good cook. So whenever, I’m craving for Khasi food, I’d call her and ask her to prepare lunch.
I am told that you are also a big football fan? Could Shillong be the reason behind such hype?
Of course!!! I mean right from childhood, we used to go down to Polo and watch the game, the kind of craze we had for football was exciting. I myself am not a big cricket fan, because being from Shillong, you would always carry that around you, it will never cease to die out no matter where you are. So for me, Shillong is the reason why football is my favourite sport.
You grew up in Shillong during the trouble times when ethnic clashes were at its peak. How was it living in Shillong those days?
Ahhh!!! Actually for me, I never faced such problems because I lived in a mixed community where most of my friends were Khasis. I was born in Nagaland, and grew up in Shillong. So I had friends from all the northeastern states. I never consider myself an outsider, even today, when I say I’m from Shillong, people would think ‘Oh, he’s an outsider’. But in my heart, I feel like I’m from there because that where I spent 21 years of my life. And I always embrace the place where I was born and where I grew up.
For me personally, I was not subjected to any indifferent attitude and stigmatization but the only problem that we faced was the fact that those times, Shillong was crippled by continuous ‘bandhs’ and ‘curfews’. Schools were disrupted, I mean those days, it was fun when schools were closed but when I came to think of it now, it’s not very healthy.
But now, Shillong has evolved into a peaceful city. Because, now whenever I visit Shillong, I never had problems when I go to Mawphlang or Mawlai. I was called the ‘Loving Kharbang’ by my Khasi friends. I would tell them, ‘But I’m a kharbang’ and they would laugh and say ‘You’re our Kharbang, you’re not an outsider’.
How was your time in St Edmund’s College?
(Laughing), Hmmm telling you the truth, I didn’t spend much of my time in College. Most of my time was spent in Laitumkhrah and Don Bosco Square. But yeah, the little time I spent in college was amazing. It is a fond memory and will always remain so. My time in college gave me a lot of time to think about my future. St Edmund’s will always stay close to my heart because I am what I am because of that institute.
Are you also considering to cast more actors from North East for your upcoming films?
If there is a script, then yeah, definitely. Like I said, if I have a script where a character from North East is required then yeah, I would always go for an actor from Northeast. But as of now, I don’t have a script but yeah, we are developing quite a few, so let’s see.
Have you ever thought of shooting a movie in Meghalaya, considering its natural beauty?
Yeah. See the script has to be based on a location and that is how it works. And if we have something which we can use open spaces, then I would definitely go for Meghalaya. I mean, that is my dream to shoot in Meghalaya some day, but I’m waiting for a right script from my writers.
You are also the shareholder in NE United FC, any other job profiles?
I’m no longer a shareholder in North East United Football Club because of my pressure and busy schedule. Whenever I want to associate my name with any club, I want to do justice to it and since I couldn’t do the same for NE united FC, I had to quit. But of course, like I said, football is my first love; I would want to do something with football in the future. I have always wanted to set up a football academy to produce good players from North east.
What is your message to the budding film directors and producers of North East?
I would say, dream big, don’t restrict yourself. Nothing can stop you, if you want to achieve something, you can. Don’t think that in Mumbai and Delhi, you won’t be able to make it big. If you have the talent, you are there.
I’m always open. If somebody wants to learn and pursue their career in film making, come to Mumbai and I will help them out.
(By Ibankyntiew Mawrie)
(Image: contributed by Ronnie Lahiri)