His journey in Bollywood has been no less than a roller-coaster ride. And although film-maker Milan Luthria is on a career high at the moment, the 48-year-old admits that when he entered the film industry with Kachche Dhaage (1999), he did go through “a tough time”. Here, he talks about being content with his professional pursuits, and admits that he is in a “good space” right now.
You started out working as an assistant director with Mahesh Bhatt. Were you always interested in directing movies?
I knew that I didn’t want a desk job. I was always fond of music, which reflects in my films. I had joined him (Bhatt) like someone does a summer job. I wanted to see whether I would be good at it or not. In six months, from being a clapper boy, I became his associate director. He gave me a lot of confidence and placed a lot of faith in me. Ajay (Devgn) became a close friend of mine during that phase. He said, “I will act in your first film whenever you make it.” That gave me a boost, as getting a star for your first film is always tough. He was very supportive.
How do you manage to maintain a good working equation with industry folk?
I don’t play games (smiles). I am very straightforward in my dealings when I work with people. I don’t backbite. Whatever I have to say, I say it on the person’s face. It always helps. Also, you work with a lot of talented, but temperamental people, who are busy and successful. So, you have to give them a little space. You can’t have everything your way. The idea is to keep things simple.
After two decades in the industry, would you say you have achieved your goal?
You know, someone asked David Lean at 86, “Why are you making another film?’ And he said, “I am just about getting the hang of it.” It’s a medium that teaches you something new every day. It’s a very tough medium, so the quest continues. To some extent, The Dirty Picture (2011; TDP) and Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010; OUATIM) gave me a lot of satisfaction. But they are still small blemishes. I wish to do better next time. What makes me happy is that I have developed my own style.
Your films are high on style, but still have soul. Is that difficult to achieve?
It’s very tough. Many people try to push you away from that. So, if you see OUATIM, which I feel is Ajay’s best performance, he hardly has a single fight sequence in it. I feel directors should follow their instincts and not succumb to pressure. You must hold your ground. Yet, I know it is tough as sometimes, you don’t get the right people to support your vision.
You have had long-standing relationships with people in the industry.
I was an associate director when Ajay was a young actor, who was somewhat successful, but not where he is today. We became friends. We have maintained our friendship since then, whether we are working together or not. When it came to Amitabh Bachchan, I was like a stupid, idiotic fan. But I had to be his director too, so that became an equation. I don’t let anything change my equation with anyone. But there are some people whose egos go a bit haywire with success. My relationships don’t depend on what I want from a person. For instance, Ajay couldn’t do TDP as he didn’t have the dates. Emraan’s (Hashmi; actor) part was offered to him first, but there was no bitterness.
I have a film with Ajay. After OUATIM, it took me time to find the perfect subject for him, which would allow us to do something different. We should start in three-four months. We are in a good space.