Asad Shan… naam toh suna hoga? Well, if you haven’t heard of him then what planet have you been on? Asad and his team have been taking part in full-fledged promotions of his movie, ‘7 Welcome to London’ for around a month now. The movie is branded a Bollywood feature film with a difference. I think it’s safe to say that the ‘outside the box’ factor about the movie lies in the fact that it is the first of it’s kind to be made by someone outside the sub-continent of India, which we all know to be the conventional heart of all things Bollywood. ‘7 Welcome to London’ follows the story of Jai who is an Indian immigrant in the UK and sees him fall in love with a British born and bred lady, Simran. There is just one phonecall that changes his life…
I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to the lovely Asad Shan who is, quite frankly, the driving force behind the movie. He is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, a driving force to be reckoned with and here’s your chance to find out why…
Tell me a little about your journey from model to filmmaker.
Well I actually won Mr Asia UK in 2004 and this was a major stepping stone for me, but I did it for kicks. I went with a friend of mine who wanted to take part. He didn’t get into the contest but I did. I managed to enter the register hall without filling out an application form. They asked me to do a catwalk which I did and then I got a call the next day to tell me I was in. I used to work in Selfridges on Sundays because I was a student and I was concerned when I was told I had to travel go to the next part of the contest. I spoke to my manager and I asked if I could book my entire annual leave allowance for it. Thankfully I ended up winning it!
I then moved to New York for a year at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. I then went to India and carried on working as a model covering many brands; I even did the ‘Fair and Lovely’ ad. At that time, you do what you’ve got to do and take whatever it is to get yourself out there because even a 20 second clip could make you a rockstar. I was a part of various Fashion Weeks in Mumbai and I was the face of Options which is the biggest store brand in Mumbai. Myself and Bruna Adbullah – most recently from Desi ‘Subha Hone Ha De’ Boyz fame – became brand ambassadors. Modelling was just the first step of recognition and my heart was always on the creative side. I ended up as a VJ on B4U but then I felt like I would have gotten typecast as the ever-smiling, T-shirt-wearing VJ. I got offered a movie which was to begin during the recession but at that point, I hadn’t been home for over a year and a half. I thought I would take a few months break.
When I returned to the UK, I decided to check out the market and I realised that not much was happening here for British Asians. I didn’t quite understand why no-one was doing anything and this is how the idea of ‘7 Welcome toLondon’ came about.
How would you describe the kind of person you are creatively/personally?
I would say my style is very commercial but I’m also a perfectionist. Everything has to make sense including the editing and the story-telling. Its one thing being commercial but the story should tie in well. There shouldn’t be any room for manoeuvre. In Bollywood films, it’s easy to question a script and find holes. In ‘7 Welcome toLondon’, there are no holes. We’ve taken care of each and every thing that you can think of. Everything adds up. I would say if Guy Ritchie and Karan Johar collaborated to make a movie then it would be ‘7 Welcome to London’. I’m inspired by them both because I love the love stories of Karan Johar and Guy Ritchie’s movies have great editing style and at the same time he targets the popcorn crowd; today’s generation can identify with him. That’s the style I would go for. I would say I’ve learnt from the best and added my own vision into it… which all amounts to Asad Shan style.
How did the story of the ‘7 Welcome to London’ come about?
I was reading lots of books and amongst them I came across an article which I found quite interesting. When I was at university, my father owned a house which was rented to students. It wasn’t very far from where I lived so I used to go and spend time with them. They were from Chennai and, even though they all had part-time jobs, in the evenings they used to all come together to eat rice, sambhar, and talk about Rajnikant sitting on the floor. There used to be about five people sleeping in a room. In them I came across a spirit and a strength which was so beautiful that I wanted to be with them all the time. It was hard to believe their sense of unity was such that they had known each other for years but they had actually only met here in theUK. I thought this spirit was so important. It made me want to show an immigrant’s perspective. In ‘7 Welcome to London’, Jai is the immigrant and he is sweet and vulnerable. The other characters are all English so I would say that this film is about personal experiences. When I started writing the script took me from one place to another and I thought to make a movie once a script was written with Manju Iyer, who had graduated from London Film School in script-writing.
What most appealed to you about the story?
I think it’s our respect towards the audience and that we don’t take them for granted. Also, the appeal lies in the fact that we’re giving everything in just one film; action, comedy, romance, thriller, suspense. You will go through every emotion in this movie. You will cry, laugh, love… it’s a 110minute journey in which you will go through so much. I think that when the last shot of the movie comes, the audiences will feel satisfied and have a feeling of warmth in their heart. I promise that every single person might have a tear in your eye but you’ll definitely want to hug the love of your life.
You wear many hats for ‘7 Welcome to London’; actor, director, producer. Which of the three would you say has been the most rewarding so far and why?
They all were! I can’t really pick just one because one wouldn’t have been possible without the other. I always had a certain vision about the movie so I thought I had to direct it because I thought the end product should have been the way I visualised it and without my direction, it wouldn’t be what it is and would be a wasted effort. Also, to produce was also important because it meant that I wanted to cast everyone; I wanted to pick the locations; I wanted to know which camera to use and which crew to get. It was a collective vision coming together.
In terms of casting, we actually auditioned many guys for the character of Jai. We wanted to see what the market had. I wanted someone who could speak proper Hindi without the hint of a western accent. That was an interesting episode but what helped the cause somewhat is knowing that all actors are greedy, for sake of argument. For instance, if I needed the villain or the lady to overpower the male lead, I would purposefully being the lead’s character down to make sure the other person rises. I had the liberty as a director to do that and I don’t think if I had had another actor playing the part of Jai, more effort would have had to go into making sure this happened. I would say this was a blessing in disguise.
Judging by the promos, there appears to be a romantic angle to what is essentially an action thriller. What about the love story between the lead characters, Jai and Simran, do you feel will appeal to the audiences?
I think that would be the simplicity because it’s the kind of story that one could see to happen everyday. Everyday, we travel by Tube or we walk on the road and, everyday, we may keep bumping into the same person thinking they’re cute. You could bump into them in a Gurudwara, an ice-cream shop or in Tescos; how would you know that that person is your soulmate? Jai is a boy who comes fromDelhiand Simran is the kind of girl who always wanted to find her ShahRukh Khan. He’s a completely different breed to Simran who is born and brought in the UK. Their story is very ground-level and very earthy. If you think about Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Hrithik Roshan’s first appearance, you see him in a Ferrari at Dulwich College. Who, in real life, drives a Ferrari to college where everyone is dressed as if they’re straight out of the cast of Clueless? Nobody does that. I’ve never known there to be a college in the UK where people drive those sorts of cars and has cheerleaders in every corner. Our romantic story doesn’t take the mick out of the love between the characters and keeps it at a human, emotional level. You will instantly connect with every scene.
Let’s talk a little about your leading lady, Sabeeka. What about Sabeeka made her perfect for the role of Simran?
Well, during the casting stage, we shortlisted about 4 or 5 girls who we thought would be perfect for the character. Funnily enough, all of the girls turned up at the same time. There was an eerie silence in the waiting room as they were all waiting together and we felt it was a real mess-up on our part. When Sabeeka was called in, she came in with full-on make-up on. She actually read the scene really well but when we looked back, she looked older than me because she had so much make-up on. So, afterwards, my team kept saying that even though she had read the scene perfectly, the way she looked was wrong for the role. Having said that, somewhere along the line she stood out because she spoke Hindi really well and she gave the right kind of emotion.
We then narrowed is down to two girls. I asked for Sabeeka to be called again but asked that she be told to come without any make-up on and to come in how she would look when she first woke up in the morning. When she came, we plaited her hair and put a dupatta on her head. She re-enacted the climax scene and two other scenes and we all agreed that she had – once again – done them really. The rest as they say is history. It is quite an interesting story as to how she was chosen for the role of Simran.
In the movie, apart from in the song ‘Tera Saath Ho’, Sabeeka is made to look like a normal UK girl. Simran is an interior designer and we’ve given her that kind of look.
Are there any similarities between yourself and Jai’s character?
Yes, I would say we’re both hard-working. We’re both ambitious. We love our families. I would say I’m as loyal as Jai’s character and we both value friendship. Maybe I am a bit more street-wise than Jai. Jai is the perfect boy that mums would like. Every mum will fall in love with him; he is the perfect guy that a girl would want to take home. Jai has all the qualities that you would need in a perfect guy and hopefully I come slightly close to him.
Who/what do you believe with be the surprise package of the movie?
I think the whole film is the surprise package of the year. I don’t think anyone expected home-grown talent to come out with a movie quite like this. We have so much buzz right now; there isn’t anyone right now who doesn’t know about 7 Welcome to London – to the extent that when I’m walking down the road, I get guys singing ‘Tera Saath Ho’ to me, which is a little odd I have to say! 7 Welcome to London marks a new era. It’s been so many years since our forefathers came toBritainand we still haven’t managed to create our own industry. There are so many talented people in theUK– writers, singers, directors, actors, – but there is nothing going on. We are the biggest audience outside India for Bollywood films and although we make films, we lack quality. Let’s make proper films that are commercially valuable and, at the same time, making sure they appeal to Bollywood audiences.
Everyone in the movie has played their characters to a tee but check out our music in the movie and I promise he will blow your mind.
It’s a little unusual to release so many music videos and trailers prior to a movie’s release, was this conscious decision on your part?
We have 7 songs in the film and 6 of those are part of the background music. Jai has only one lip-sync song (which I’m exclusively telling you) and that is ‘Tera Saath Ho’; everything else is just promotional. The footage is different in the film to what we’re giving you in the music videos. You are all blessed that what we’re giving you now is totally different to what you will find in the film itself. I think its important today because everyone releases their music videos beforehand.
The album of 7WTL has some very soulful tracks. How much input did you have in the music?
I was once a VJ so when I decided to make a movie, I did a call-out to all the music directors. I always supported them so I asked for them to support me as I wanted a kick-ass album for 7 Welcome to London. Everyone sent me music from every country possible. I also asked a friend of mine, Ankur Tiwari, who wrote the music to Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, to send me some music. When I was being sent all this music, I suddenly found it really hard to pick music for my film from about 150 songs. I started looking at the script and matching up the music. I managed to cut my list to a final 10, and then I finally decided on 7. So, it was just me in a room imagining the story and the characters, and picking what would touch my heart. In reality, the way it happens in Bollywood is that the producer of a movie sits in his car and keeps changing CDs and listening to different kinds of music. What I wanted to do was give my movie music that even Mahesh Bhatt would be envious of. When people hear the entire album they will think it is as good as the music of a Mahesh Bhat film but it’s not. It’s an Asad Shan film.
Which of the tracks, if you had to choose one, would you say is closest to your heart?
Oh, they all are. (Slight pause) If I had to pick one… (sigh). I would say… Ohhh I it’s too hard. Ok Ok if push comes to shove and I have to pick one then it would be between ‘Tera Saath Ho’ and ‘Mera Mann’. I would choose them because they are both pivotal in the film and would make everyone fall in love.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Well, I’ve just been offered two films; one in America and one in India. I’m also in touch with people about a film in the UK too. Also, I have just started writing a story; a universal film about a road journey. I will hopefully continue and finish that once ‘7 Welcome to London’ has released. I’ve got three film offers in total and I want to grow with Iconic Productions. I want to utilise the talent we have in the UK and that’s why I would say ‘7 Welcome to London’ is one of the most important films of it’s time for the British-Asian industry. It will help create a platform for all talents to be exposed of British Asians and help people come forward. It will create a benchmark in what it achieves at the box office and in its quality. I think it’s important that every British Asian backs this project because we all want to do things; write, produce, editor, etc. It will createa pathway where future such projects could use this film as an example and people will sit up and take notice.
What advice would you give to any budding filmmakers out there?
Perserverance. Never ever give up. Believe in yourself and don’t ever let anything get to you. Don’t let anything stop you and unite with other people. The problem with people is that we all do our little penny’s worth in a corner and we never unite. I want that to stop and I want everyone to get together. There’s no glory factor, you’re not going to lose anything. Do what is best for a product, not what is best for you. I hope we can all unite and if we were to make another film, it’ll be about what we set out to achieve. Stay united and if you show unity then everyone else will follow suit. Lead by example.
Why should people go and watch ‘7 Welcome to London’?
People should go and watch the movie because it incorporates all the human emotions possible in the most amazing way. It’s best quality in performances, editing, story-telling, action; you name it. We have everything packaged in one movie for your pleasure. You’re going to have the time of your life. You’ll want to watch the movie again and again and it will keep you on the edge of your seat. I promise you that the first 40 minutes will whizz past you. I swear you won’t even want to blink in this movie because it will blow your mind. It is what you expect from a movie to give you. You should watch it because the movie belongs to you.
Do you have any last words for your supporters?
I love you all more than anything. They are my strength and make me believe in myself. They make me feel as if i’m doing something right. I don’t think I have fans because they think I am the best-looking person in the world but rather because they understand the kind of work that i’m doing. I’m sorry I haven’t driven a Ferrari and neither do I turn up in an Armani suit. I want my fans to think that I did something with my heart. I appreciate all your love and support. My ground-level attitude is shocking to people but i’m just a normal people who has goals and ambitions trying to achieve something. I hope you can continue the support the effort we’ve made.
So there we have it! I end by saying a huge thank you to Asad for being such a sport and talking to me for longer than expected. I am sure you will echo my excitement for ‘7 Welcome to London’ which promises to be one of the most defining films of the British-Asian industry. Tomorrow (8 March 2012) will see the grand premiere of the movie and I am certain I won’t be the only one wishing Asad and the team of the movie all the best for their venture and for the future of the very aptly named Iconic Productions.
Follow Asad on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asadshan
Follow the movie’s official account on Twitter: www.twitter.com/7WTLFILM
The website: www.7wtlfilm.com
Photo credit: Desimag.co.uk, Bollywood Hungama, apnamusic.pk, iconix.pk