How a phone call from Shah Rukh Khan kickstarted the journey for Vishal Punjabi, the man behind The Wedding Filmer
They say marriages are made in heaven. But the celebration of this commitment of a lifetime takes place very much on earth. And we might as well add, with great pomp and show!
Whether it is the band-baaja and shor sharaba or the sumptuous spread of rich Indian food or even the eccentric mix of colours and glitter, without these things the big fat Indian wedding remains incomplete. This element of grandeur is what lends a wedding its Indian flavour. But what is the point of all this if you cannot document it and play it (and then replay it) to relive the memory of your special day forever?
Here’s where The Wedding Filmer comes into the picture. The Mumbai-based film production company is the brainchild of Ghanaian-Indian director and producer Vishal Punjabi, the man who has been responsible for creating some of the most mesmerising wedding sequences on screen – think of films like Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani and recent web series, Made in Heaven – and also in real life.
So far, The Wedding Filmer has created more than 200 wedding films for real-life couples. And this includes Vishal’s association with some of the most famous Bollywood couples including Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli, Bipasha Basu and Karan Singh Grover, Dia Mirza and Sahil Sangha, and Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.
Ask him how it all began and Vishal is quick to respond, it all started with a phone call from none other than Shah Rukh Khan. From working as a line producer with Red Chillies Entertainment to starting his own company, The Wedding Filmer, here’s recounting Vishal’s journey.
Edited excerpts from the interview...
YS Weekender: What is the concept behind The Wedding Filmer and what led to its inception?
Vishal Punjabi: Hiring The Wedding Filmer to film your wedding means having a team of the most talented individuals in the world come together to capture, edit, post-produce and finally deliver your wedding film in the most beautiful and respectful way possible.
From my own wedding to the other 250 weddings we have filmed over 10 years, this has always been our main focus. The Wedding Filmer was born out of pure love, a desire to succeed and brotherhood in the form of the crew and team that have now become more than family.
YSW: What is wedding filmmaking? Tell us about your brand of production.
VP: Wedding film-making is about honing the power of anticipation and realising that these films are not made with actors. This is as real as film making can get. The purpose is clear. They remind us of why we choose each other every day and how truly special the day is when those promises were made.
YSW: Who all have you worked with so far and how has that impacted your style of production?
VP: We have filmed weddings in over 89 cities around the world and our clients include Koreans, Spanish, Australian, Indian, American, British and African. The reason why Anushka-Virat, or Deepika-Ranveer, or even the Amabani’s chose us is because of the quality of our work and excellence of our crew. Hiring The Wedding Filmer would mean you would get the best version of your wedding days in the video.
YSW: How did you get roped in to film special sequences for movies like Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani or shows like Made in Heaven? How was the experience?
VP: Fiction is very different from real life documentaries where there are no retakes. Thankfully 10 years of experience in Bollywood and advertising and training under mentors like Shah Rukh Khan, Farah Khan, Santosh Sivan and Bobby Chawla prepared me to accept offers to direct wedding scenes for Bollywood films like YJHD and Made in Heaven titles.
We were recently roped in to make a song sequence for The Zoya Factor and that too was a big learning curve. Most of the time, the producers want TWF specifically because of real-life sense of capturing love and human emotion.
YSW: What is difference between filming wedding sequences for movies/web series and filming it for real-life couples?
VP: It’s like driving a car and flying a plane. Both are exhilarating and demanding of your attention and time but require different skill sets. In non-fiction documentaries, like the ones we make, it’s about having an eye to capture life as it happens in the most romantic way possible. In fiction, like in the movies, it’s about tapping into your soul and re-creating life as you know it, from nothing real, but it has to feel even more romantic than real life!
YSW: Tell us about your association with Sony Digital. What is The Wedding Filmer Workshop all about?
VP: We get about 3000 requests a year to film weddings but we can’t make more than 30, and if I believe every marriage deserves a memory, there are 2970 brides who might be left disappointed. The idea is to train dynamic and talented people around the country who are interested in making a career in this field in our way of film making to create more jobs and a chance for young people to make a little more money than they currently make by improving their products and services in digital film making. Sony Digital Imaging help us put these workshops together. We have done over 15 workshops in over 10 cities around the country so far.
YSW: Let’s rewind a bit. How did you get initiated into this field?
VP: In 2007, I got deported from India at a time when my career as a Bollywood film maker was about to take off. Since I was born in Ghana and I overstayed my visa (don’t try this at home), I was asked to leave the country and go back to a place I hadn’t lived in since I was 12 (I was educated in the UK).
What seemed like the worst thing that could happen to me turned out to be an eye opener, though at the time I couldn’t see it. Up until then, as a Bollywood/Adfilm Director for Red Chillies Entertainment, I was spoilt with the biggest budgets, sets and crew, but in Ghana, there was no film industry.
I had to do everything myself and find local artists and mechanics and turn them into crew to film ads and documentaries. I couldn’t afford big cameras and film stock (there is no film lab in the whole of West Africa), so I picked up a small DSLR and that is when I began to discover myself as a film maker.
YSW: Working with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chilies Entertainment, did you have any star-struck moments?
VP: Growing up away from India and never fitting in fully into the cultures I was living in, I turned to Bollywood films for grounding like most Indian kids born and raised in foreign lands.
As I grew older, my mother thought I looked like Shah Rukh Khan and so very soon, he became my idol. I would dress like him and even wanted to work in films because of him, and then one day, I got a phone call and it was him on the other line asking me to work for him! A website I had made in Flash Animation back in 1998, when the internet was in its infancy, caught his attention and thus began my fortunate journey.
YSW: How do you strike a chord between the creative and the business side of TWF?
VP: I do believe I am a very poor businessman and a very thrifty producer. To be a really successful film maker, you need the support of someone who can take care of the logistics and money and ground you so that you can focus on making visuals efficiently. I found that support in my superwoman Neha Sharma who runs the operations of our beloved company.
YSW: How do you see the future of wedding filmmaking shaping up in India and how do you plan to make the most of the wave?
VP: Technology keeps evolving and we have to evolve with it. Better cameras that can see in the dark, virtual reality to make you feel like you’re in the space you got married, surround sound so you can hear not just what happened in front of you but all around you, and new creative treatments and songs that have a soundscape of today are just a few ways of making our films more engaging. Our future would be to build this team and continue to look for the brightest and best film makers out there and make our family grow so we can expand globally and ensure every bride and groom gets the memories they deserve.