Amitabh Bachchan is getting increasingly more involved with departments other than acting. After jotting off dialogues for Rituparno Ghosh's film Last Lear, he motivated R Balki to take a plunge into filmmaking with Cheeni Kum.
Balki, who is a Tamilian from Bangalore, would have grappled with Hindi if it were not for Big B.
"I've grown up watching his films," said the director of Cheeni Kum.
"And I love the casual colloquial conversational way he speaks in his films. No long-flowing poetic rhetoric. That's the Hindi which comes naturally to me."
"It was Amitji's language that I decided to use in Cheeni Kum. Even otherwise, he has been completely supportive. He silently kept pushing me to take the plunge.
"One day when I messaged him saying I had an idea for a film, he called me over immediately. From that day onwards he has motivated me into making this film."
As Cheeni Kum gets swathed in compliments, it gets progressively hard to believe that its director had never looked into a camera before this film.
"It's true. I'm not a filmmaker," Balki said.
"I'm an advertising person. I just write ads. I had never made a film in my life before Cheeni Kum. I wrote my script two-and-a-half years ago with Amitji in mind."
"Then for various reasons, including Amitji's illness, the film kept getting postponed. Finally I just took 45 days to shoot the film. I didn't try to be different in Cheeni Kum. I just made it the way I wanted to."
Cheeni Kum is arguably the most original film since last year's runaway hit Rang De Basanti.
"It's completely original," admits Balki. "I don't think it's worthwhile to rip off someone else's idea. I also think a director needs to write the script and dialogue himself."
"I had a friend to get the gender, etc., in Hindi right. Otherwise I can't imagine how anyone can have two different people doing the direction and the writing."
Balki is currently writing his second film, but is in no hurry to start it.
About Bachchan playing a chef, Balki explains: "I wanted him to convey the arrogance of some kind of an artiste. Amitabh had never played a chef before. My script was based on my perception of what Amitji and Tabu were like in real life."
"I always thought Amitabh is very wry. Amitabh is always larger than life. I wanted to work around that. As for Tabu, I wanted her role to be played by someone who would make the relationship with the much older man real. There's a fantastic chemistry between the two."
Paresh was the only afterthought in the cast. "Paresh was out of the country. When he returned he said he had to be in the film."
Balki cast his first choice for almost every role. "The guy who plays the waiter Colgate is actually a Kannada guy playing a Malayali. I was very clear about which actors I wanted for the four principal roles played by Amitabh, Tabu, Zohra Sehgal and the little girl Swini Khare whom I had worked with in a couple of ads. I needed a seven-year-old girl who is Amitabh's confidante."
"Does the film industry under-utilise Tabu? I don't think so. She under-utilises herself. She's very simple and choosy. She's as sarcastic, quiet and cool as the character she plays. And she's a very honest person. She was in awe of Amitabh. But she never let it show on screen.
"In fact Amitabh's awe for Tabu is more visible on screen. If it was some two other less skilled actors it'd have looked like Amitji was leching."
Balki still remains an advertising person at heart.
"Feature film is a new idea. For Cheeni Kum I got immense support from my old friend cinematographer PC Sreeram and my art director Julie Bonnet from London who recreated the whole London restaurant on a studio set. But I'd say 99 percent of the encouragement to make my first film came from Amitji."
"Working with him has completely spoilt me. I grew up watching and idolising three people: Kamal Haasan, Rajnikant and Amitji."
After Cheeni Kum, Balki does not intend to abandon his main vocation. "I'll make a film only when I get an idea that I can film. I'm in the middle of writing a film called Pa for Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan. It's a funny and light film."
"And if the casting sounds gimmicky it isn't so. Just like Cheeni Kum was written for Amitji and Tabu, Pa is written for the two Bachchans. And, no, there's no Aishwarya Rai or Vidya Balan in the film, as mentioned in an interview in a tabloid."