Although his two suspense thrillers - Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddaar - were hugely appreciated by critics, the box office response was not too overwhelming. But Sriram Raghavan refuses to do a formula film to attract audiences.
Your next film stars Saif Ali Khan.
No, before that there's a film with John Abraham. Only then comes Agent Vinod with Saif, which my brother Sridhar Raghavan is co-writing with me. If people find the title funny, the very first scene will dispel their amusement because it's a spy thriller in a very realistic mould.
It's not one of those fantasy espionage thrillers - not like Call Agent Vinod and we cut to Saif in bed, nothing like that. It's not James Bond either. It is more in the mood of a Frederick Forsythe than a James Hadley Chase.
It's a strangely corny title.
Saif liked the title Agent Vinod and so did I. A lot of people had told me Johnny Gaddar sounded like a B-grade thriller. But even a hardcore commercial producer like Keshu Ramsay liked it. Agent Viinod will be made in the middle of 2008.
Gaddaar, you've used an eclectic mix of songs from the 1960s and 1970s.
Yes, in fact the influence of the Hindi films from that era is very strong on me. I grew up on them. I still remember the snazzy credit titles for Ravi Nagaich's The Train.
I've used that style in the credits of Johnny Gaddaar. Songs like Rama rama ghazab and Bachke kahan jaoge fitted in very well with the narrative. And these were the songs and films I grew up with.
My editor Pooja Surti helped me pick those songs. She has even sung Mora gora ang liai le from Bandini. I wanted to include Bachke kahan jaoge in my CD. It's from Yakeen where Dharamendraji played a negative role but the copyright was too expensive.
There are so many influences in Johnny Gaddaar.
I had the script with me from before my first film Ek Hasina Thi. I wanted to make it with unknown actors. But I didn't get a producer. I met my leading man Neil Mukesh Mathur in Jhamu Sugandh's office. He has a common secretary with Hrithik. And I had gone to meet Jhamuji for a film with Hrithik. He gave me the portfolio. I sounded off the idea of Johnny Gaddaar to him. He loved it.
Though he wanted to be a conventional leading man, Neil grabbed the chance to play this cold-blooded killer. I just hope his next four to five films would be right. I'd rather have him grow as an actor first. He needs to work with directors who'd educate him on life and cinema. By the way, Neil is excellent in conventional stuff.
Both Saif and Neil in your two films are antagonists.
It was just a coincidence. I'm very attracted to Dostoevsky's theory of Crime and Punishment or Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley series where he's amiable and cruel. Actual people are like that.
Actual people don't plot and kill.
I guess these two are extreme cases (laughed)
He does it for love in
We don't really know whether Neil's character loves the girl. We toyed with the idea of making the romance more prominent. I know she loves him. But does he really love her? I don't know.
If you don't know how do we know?
Can you do a conventional formula film?
Formula film, no. I'm rather disappointed that the ticket sales for Johnny Gaddaar haven't really picked up. I'm hoping they would eventually. I'd love to have the audience that goes for Partner and Heyy Babyy. But I'd like to have the audience on my own terms.
I can't do a spoon-feeding kind of cinema. Johnny Gaddaar requires the audience to be attentive. It adheres to the old Hollywood if-you-blink-you-miss-a-link guideline.
You've copied a murder plan from an old Amitabh Bachchan starrer Parwana?
Yes, Neil's audacious criminal plan comes in his head while watching Parwana. I needed to reveal the source of the murder plot from the outset.
One actor who's keen to work with you is Irrfan Khan.
I know. I approached Irrfan to play Zakir Hussain's role in Johnny Gaddaar. But he was busy elsewhere.