He started off as an assistant to filmmaker Pankaj Parashar many moons ago. He also tried his luck as an actor in over a dozen films.
But in a ‘return to my first love' sort of twist, Atul Agnihotri took to direction with Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha three years ago and currently he's adapting Chetan Bhagat's bestseller, One Night at a Call Centre for the big screen.
I drop into Atul Agnihotri's Khar office on a sultry afternoon to be greeted with a mini-lavish lunch of noodles and soup.
Atul's affable wife, Alvira Khan serves the spread.. the beneficiaries of which include writer Chetan Bhagat (who was on an excursion to Mumbai), Gul Panag (grousing about inefficient service provided by her bank) and me.
Khana-peena done, I ask:
How much of Hello is complete?
We're done with almost 70 per cent of it. Right now, we're shooting in different places in Mumbai. I'm also waiting for the monsoon because an important portion of the film is based in the rainy season. So far, the film has been bang on schedule. I want to release it in October.
Why did Zayed Khan walk out?
He had date problems. It was very sweet of Sohail (Khan) to volunteer to do the film when Zayed expressed his unwillingness.
Come on, Atul.. that's the most clichéd answer. Don't you have any hard feelings against Zayed?
Not at all. I understand if an actor excuses himself from a project. When one ventures out to make a film, some actors consider it, some think, rethink.. others says yes instantly. It's all a part of . the game.
In fact, I just met Zayed the other day. He's a no-fuss guy. I'm not the sort that has problems with people either. It's a very small world. Holding grudges against someone is not right.
You were accused of snatching One Night at a Call Centre's rights away from the Sippys. Is that true?
(Laughs) Who told you that? I'm the most harmless person, yaar.. don't get me into trouble. When I was in talks with Chetan for the rights, I didn't know Rohan and Ramesh Sippy saab were involved. Blaming me for snatching their concept would be wrong.
Do you cast Salman Khan in your films because he's easily accessible to you?
Salman is one of the gentlest souls around. Having superstars like Shah Rukh, Aamir or Salman in a film is a coup for any director. I feel blessed that Salman works with me. If I had my way I'd never want to make a film without him.
What went wrong with your acting career?
I don't think about that. I believe in destiny. If something has to happen, it will. Maybe it was the lack of knowledge about the way things work in the industry I was raw.. perhaps I made mistakes which were irrevocable.
So, have you officially quit acting?
Not really I recently shot for Sameer Karnik's film with Bobby Deol. I wasn't so keen but I don't know how he managed to convince me to take up the role.