Bollywood debutant Ahan Shetty's coming film Tadap was made under trying circumstances. With production halted for 10 months owing to Covid-19 restrictions, the rest of the film was eventually completed under strict safety protocols, including daily Covid tests for its cast and crew.
“Another time our set was completely flooded," Shetty tells The National. "Obviously, I was very anxious. The industry was suffering. We didn’t know what the future held for us. None of us knew what to expect."
The actor, 25, looks visibly relieved. As the son of erstwhile Bollywood action star Suneil Shetty, he must know that indefinite delays can sometimes lead to movies being shelved altogether.
Bollywood’s annals are littered with big-budget, highly anticipated movies with far bigger stars that gave its makers sleepless nights when the audience lost interest. Think Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor's 2017 film Jagga Jasoos, or Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor's 2010 film Milenge Milenge, or 2002's Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam starring Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan.
Also, if you're remaking an already contentious film, it’s a veritable roll of the dice.
Tadap is the official Hindi remake of 2018 Telugu film RX 100, and similarly promoted as a romantic action drama. Even if you haven’t seen the original, one look at Tadap’s trailer will convince you of the action and drama part of its billing. It’s the romance part that makes things a bit hairy.
Bollywood's entitled heroes
Both Tadap and RX 100 revolve around the all-consuming, passionate love between its lead pair. But they are forced to part ways, followed by the hero's "shocking" realisation that the heroine never actually loved him.
It’s no secret that Bollywood has a contentious relationship with the idea of male entitlement over the women they covet. In recent years, especially in the post #MeToo world, Bollywood, much like Hollywood, has had to introspect and grudgingly accept its part in normalising, even celebrating, certifiably abusive behaviours by its male leads under the garb of passion and love.
We’ve watched an endless parade of heroes running roughshod over the agency of the women they claim to care for, such as in the case of the deeply problematic and misogynistic Telugu film Arjun Reddy and its Hindi remake Kabir Singh. Other times, as confused discomfort – like in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, where the male lead constantly, and exhaustingly, attempts to negotiate the female lead’s refusal to reciprocate his love.
In all these films, we’re asked to feel sorry for him, understand his pain, empathise with him, not the woman trapped under the weight of a man-baby’s feelings. And that’s what lies at the heart of the cultural controversy around Bollywood’s portrayal of spurned men.
Does Tadap deserve to be dismissed as belonging to Kabir Singh’s ilk? We’ll know soon enough. For now we’ll have to take Sutaria’s word, convinced as she is, that’s not something Tadap needs to worry about.
“I truly believe we’re raising the bar with Tadap. We don’t often get to see male hurt finding an honest outlet in films," she says. "I think we’ve flipped many assumptions about male and female emotions and motivations in Tadap. Women are not always paragons of virtues. Men are not always the aggressors and betrayers. I found that break from the norm challenging.
"I was afraid initially, to be honest, about taking on a part where the woman is responsible for the betrayal, whatever form that might come in. But I’ve given it my best shot. Let’s see how the audience receives it now.”
Like its predecessor, Tadap has been promoted heavily as a film that is “different”. That’s the official party line, anyway.
In the course of this interview, both Shetty and Sutaria made it a point to repeat it several times.
“I signed the film because of how different my character and the story is,” says Shetty.
“We’re not used to seeing love this way,” adds Sutaria.
Shetty is also quick to point out that he and Sutaria were given plenty of creative freedom within the process.
“While the character arcs are more or less the same, Milan [Lutharia, the director] gave Tara and me complete freedom over what we wanted to do with the characters. There were certain emotions that we could play with as actors. We didn’t want to mimic the actors in the original,” he says.
Tadap will be out in UAE cinemas on Thursday