He has an enviable track record of hit films down south. But in Mumbai, Dil Se and Yuva didn’t exactly set the box-office jingling, despite their high quality. He’s hoping to get third time lucky with Guru, featuring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai.
Apparently Guru is inspired by Dhirubai Ambani’s life. Why keep that under wraps?
Guru is not a biography of Dhirubai Ambani, but a work fiction. It could be about anyone who comes from nowhere and becomes a big name.
Yes, it’s done in a realistic fashion so you can draw parallels. We have looked at the spirit of the character, a villager who becomes an achiever. We’ve delved into the mind of the person, fictionalised it, see in it from his perspective. The character played by Mithun Chakraborty is supposedly inspired by Ramnath Goenka, whose rivalry with Ambani is famous.
Characters don’t come out of thin air; they come out of real people. But it’s only the essence of the character that you take, not his story.
Not the plot, just the mind behind it, which you imbibe and flesh into your story.
What inspired the casting of Abhishek Bachchan as Gurukant Desai?
I can’t pinpoint what it is, it’s an instinct. I worked with him in Yuva and know we can work well together again. I needed someone who could be 21 years old, simple, naïve, ambitious, honest, evolve, struggle and break through to become powerful.
I needed someone who could travel that span of life, I thought Abhishek was right for that. He’s just growing as an actor, honing his craft all the time. He’s an intelligent man, puts a lot of thought in what he’s doing.
To an extent Lallan Singh of Yuva was slightly over the top, louder, violent, emotional, flamboyant, extrovert, there was a lot to come out overt. Guru is rooted, real, the character required a lot more subtlety, nuances, being realistic, which Abhsihek has done very well.
Aishwarya Rai began her film career under your direction in Iruvar. How much has she grown as an actress?
I think Aishwarya was good in Iruvar, though it was difficult for her since the film was in Tamil. Here it’s the reverse, I had to tackle Hindi. She’s done a mature job, performed her part with dignity and ease. Hers is a strong character, with a mind of her own, definite about what she thinks.
What prompted you to add two songs after the launch of the film’s music?
It happens with most of my films. While doing the final background, I realsied that a song would help more than just the background score. It’s a decision A R Rahman and I mutually arrived at, to enhance the emotions of the characters, the mood of the scene, which in turn helps the film in totality. It’s happened in almost every film I’ve done with Rahman.
There seemed to be no chemistry between the characters Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai played in Umrao Jaan.
I don’t know about that. I had no issues. When you see Guru, it will appear like they have been man and woman for years.
Apparently, Vidya Balan and Mallika Sherawat are feeling shortchanged. And that’s why they were absent at music launch.
I don’t know if I should even talk anything about this. Both have been very good. They knew exactly what they were doing in the film. Vidya has given a fantastic performance, playing a difficult part of a handicapped girl.
Though her role is small, she’s the life in the second half. If at all anyone’s scenes have been cut, it’s Aishwarya’s scenes or Abhishek’s. Such rumours are ridiculous.
You’re known to cast talented actors in your films. And Mallika Sherawat isn’t exactly known for her acting skills.
I don’t look at it that way. She’s very intelligent and hard working. She shot her portion in difficult conditions, very cold climate, with nonchalance.
It seems Abhishek requested you to delay the film for a more auspicious date?
Why would he do that? And why would I do that? I’m a non-believer. I can start my film at any point of time I like, and release it when I’m ready with it. I’m not superstitious; I’m a rationalist. Your Hindi films haven’t done well commercially.
Do you have to deal with box-office dictates?
The box-office influences me, no doubt. When a certain film does well, I accept the audience and their taste. When Yuva didn’t do well commercially, I accepted my mistakes.
While you were completing Guru and Aamir Khan is completing his home production Taare Zameen Par, Lajjo has been postponed. It’s believed that you’ll be making another film in the interim.
Lajjo hasn’t been postponed. It is certainly happening, a little later this year. I need time to get over with Guru, and gather myself before moving on to the next film. And I’m not making any other film in the interim either. Lajjo is next. I’ll need six months to get everything ready before I start on Lajjo.