His directorial debut is ready and though Kunal Deshmukh asserts that the intention was not to "clean up the game or spark off controversies", Jannat could ruffle a few feathers given that it touches on the match-fixing allegation surrounding Pakistan's coach Bob Woolmer's untimely demise.
"We'd been working on the script for a while but it didn't have a direction. Woolmer's death tied up the different chunks nicely. It's the main piece in the puzzle," acknowledges the film's 26-year-old director. "But at its core Jannat is a bookie's love story."
Quiz him about real-life parallels with alleged ‘match-fixers' like Mohammed Azharuddin and Hansie Cronje and Deshmukh says, "You may or may not be reminded of certain people but we haven't taken names. The idea was not to make a Black Friday."
Jannat is scheduled for release on May 16 when the IPL season will be at its peak. Bad timing, given that the recently released Tashan suffered a body blow because of the on-going cricket matches?
"Since the film deals with cricket it suits us to come in the IPL season. Also, with most big releases being pushed back, I get a solo run. Yeah, the matches did hamper Tashan to an extent but well, the reports were negative to begin with," he points out.
Deshmukh who has been dreaming of making movies since he was in school, started out as Mohit Suri's assistant director before branching out on his own. However, he's in no hurry to leave the Bhatt camp having signed a three-film contract with them.
Rather than feel restricted he believes it gives him a sense of security and confidence. "I don't have to go looking for work," he reasons.
In China Town
He's already got started on his next film, a fast-paced action thriller set against the Naxalite movement. "It's the story of a rebel and I plan to shoot it in Kolkata's China Town," informs Deshmukh.
He'd like to work with Emraan Hashmi again having enjoyed the
experience. But things weren't smooth sailing with Sonal Chauhan.
The Miss India runners-up during a shoot in Goa refused to wear a bikini or any kind of beach wear and Deshmukh had to make do with her in a short, summery dress.
"Fortunately, we were shooting the promotional video so I wasn't too upset but I made it clear to her that this could not happen in the future with a scene."
There was an issue over a kiss too. After doing a lip-lock with Hashmi in South Africa, Chauhan refused to kiss him a second time in a Mumbai studio. "I could understand her being inhibited," says the director.
"There were a lot more people around on the sets and she must have been worried about her parents' reaction. Also, in the script narrated to her there was just one kiss. But we felt later that we needed a few more kisses."
So will there be more than that one kiss? "Definitely," he asserts.
The music of Jannat has caught on in a big way but wasn't the songs scored for a Mohit Suri film? "Only Zara sa," says Deshmukh.
"I'd fallen in love with it and when Mohit couldn't use it in Awaarapan I spoke to Mukeshji for it. Pritam has reworked it into a groovier, peppier love track now and No. 1 on the charts. By the time the film releases, I should have a couple more songs in the top 10 list," he says confidently.
One last question: Why would a film that deals with the hellish underworld be called Jannat?
"Aren't all of us searching for our personal heaven? It is the same with my hero who's looking for his heaven on earth." Amen.