Speaking to the HT Café team during an ‘On the Record’ session, Hirani admits “it’s just an idea right now.”
“The subject of religion has always fascinated me because, apart from moral values, there are rituals, superstitions and blind faith associated with it,” he says, admitting it is an area few would want to venture into.
“I am not saying there is no God,” Hirani clarifies, “there might be one great power but I will never find the answer to that. There are so many Gods in every religion, so whose God is the best? What are we fighting over? I truly feel that if there was no religion, we would not fight.”
Hirani states that he feels all religions teach the same thing—living life in peace and harmony and being good people. So there is no need to adhere to everything being dictated.
He refuses to divulge how Munnabhai will take on the subject in the movie but says he will treat it in a light vein just like the other films in the series.
“But there will be no George Bush in the movie, as I had planned earlier” he smiles. “I found that there were two to three other Bollywood movies where the protagonist met the US President. So I didn’t want mine to travel the same path.”
This is not the first time that Hirani has touched upon a controversial topic. When the director was making his second movie, Lage Raho Munnabhai, his friends felt that he could get into trouble for depicting Mahatma Gandhi coming back to life.
“A friend of mine came on the shoot and threw a fit,” he recalls. “But I felt that I was putting Gandhi on a pedestal and making him contemporary for today’s generation. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
He admits he was a bit worried when Lage Raho Munnabhai went to the Censor Board: “Someone did object to the use of the word, ‘Gandhigiri’. But the other members of the committee overruled him. Fortunately for me, they viewed the larger picture and weren’t swayed by the member’s objection.”
In retrospect, he agrees that the film could have triggered off stone-throwing incidents. “But I’m glad people took it in the right spirit,” he concludes.
Let’s start with your new film, 3 Idiots, slated for release in December. After penning two fine screenplays, why did you decide to adapt Chetan Bhagat’s pulp fiction?
Chetan Bhagat was in Singapore when he sent me his novel. At the time of the terror attacks, my shooting came to a standstill and I was stuck at home.
So I picked up the book and started reading it. I had stayed in a hostel too but never thought of making a film shot on campus. I called Chetan to tell him I’d enjoyed the book.
Next, he landed in Mumbai and gave me the rights to the book. So I started writing. By the time I’d finished the screenplay it resembled only 5 per cent of the novel. But I will give him credit because because it was due to his urging, that I thought of making a film about a college and the education system.
3 Idiots was shot in the mountains of Ladakh and you had to come back because of bad weather.
That’s right. We were up at 16,500 feet. There was no electricity and no phones. We hardly shot for half a day when it started snowing. So most of us left by the evening.
Onlythe production team stayed back to wind down the tents. The following morning, they were stranded in two feet snow. We had reached the airport to take a flight to Shimla. When they didn’t turn up, we stayed back.
We were worried because the only message we got was from the line producer saying, “We are stuck. Send help.” Then the line went dead. They finally managed to get out with help from the locals. One of the guys made a video of the ordeal. We went back to complete the shoot later.
Aamir Khan is a student, not a professor…You’re kidding me.
That’s the least of my worries. In one time span, he’s a collegian, the other is set five years after he graduates. I went hunting around for four 25-year-old great actors but, I’m sorry to say, that’s a tall order. It’s only post-30 that actors peak. And an older actor can play a young role convincingly.
But you also have real students from the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore in your cast?
Yes. I went to IIM about six times to finalise the shoot. There was a lot of enthusiasm so I sent a mail to the student body requesting for some actors. We had auditions and four to five students from the institute and some from other colleges were chose.
They turned the shoot into a management exercise. Before we went on the floors, they came to Mumbai to understand the business and we did some workshops with distributors and technicians. During the shoot too we spoke to them (Laughs). The idea was to devise a film management course.
Did the filmi students get on well with the real students?
Aamir was almost living with them, playing chess, tennis and badminton every evening. The interaction helped him and Sharman (Joshi) too. When we left we threw a party. The students and staff were in tears.
How do you get good performances out of stars?
The first step is to have a good scene or a good role. If that is in place, even a bad actor can do a decent job.
You also need to pamper actors big time. You need to understand their personality too. For example, with Sanjay Dutt there is no way I can rehearse. Aamir, wants rehearsals a month in advance. Sanjay would just laugh off the suggestion and say it’s a waste of time. But he has an elephantine memory.
I can give him two pages of dialogue and he will read it once and say it straight out. He is also able to give a take, which is diametrically opposite to the one befor.
With someone like Boman, if you don’t rehearse, you are dead. I have gone to bars in Sion with him and been surrounded by Sardars drinking. Boman is very insecure. I have to give him lots of attention.
Where did you find Arshad Warsi?
Shah Rukh Khan was supposed to do Munnabhai MBBS with Makarand Deshpande as Circuit. After Makarand dropped out, Vijay Raaz was Circuit. But we kept shifting dates and 10 days before the shoot, I had no Circuit.
Arshad was on my list of possible Munnabhais. But eventually, I offered him the role of Circuit. He was resistent because it was a sidekick’s role and he was a hero. But I convinced him it was a role people would remember him by. I gave him a black kurta, as there was no time to make costumes for him and it became his trademark.
What happened with Shah Rukh Khan?
At the time he was doing Devdas and had to go for surgery to London for a neck problem. He was not sure how long it would take him to recuperate. It could be anything from a month to a year. We had recorded the songs with him and were on the verge of going on the floors.
You recorded songs with Shah Rukh Khan as Munnabhai?
Yes. In fact there was one song which Shah Rukh was supposed to sing. Finally, Sunju (Sanjay Dutt) sang it when he bagged the role.
Very little is known about you before you became a filmmaker.
Well, I grew up in Nagpur in a small business family. My dad sold typewriters and calculators. First, I wanted to become an engineer but couldn’t get into an engineering college. So, then I did commerce and started doing plays in my spare time. There were plenty of plays happening when I was at college.
My dad was very progressive and told to me to do what I wished. I wanted to do something with films and no one from Nagpur had been to film school before. Still I took the brave step forward and applied to the Film Institute in Pune.
I applied for a direction course initially, but could not get through. Then someone told me to apply for editing since it was easier to get through. I did.
I guess, I shoot and write differently because I am an editor. I edit while scripting so I rarely have to do extra scenes that need to be deleted later.
I came to Mumbai and I edited a couple of films. I was really disillusioned as no one paid me. So I drifted into advertising. Then, I told myself that I did not come here to make ad films. I was unhappy because I could not connect with anyone, until I met Vinod Chopra and he asked me to edit Mission Kashmir.
For the first time, I met people who were passionate about their work. Then I thought I will write an extraordinary script because I wanted Vinod to produce the film.
Why does everyone wants to be an actor or diarector in Bollywood? No one wants to be a writer or editor.
Probably because of the glamour attached. Everyone wants to be an actor first, then a director. At the Film school in Pune everyone wanted to be an actor.
Does every writer want to be a director at some point?
Not necessarily. But yeah, if you are ambitious, you have full control over things only when you are directing a film. As a writer you are not your own boss and everyone wants to be the boss.
It takes you close to two years to complete a script. That’s not very prolific.
It wouldn’t bother me if I make only five or six films in my career as long as they are good films. I’m active in every department, I have fun making one film at a time. Some say I could make more money doing
multiple films together, but this is better.
What’s more important-- critical acclaim or commercial success?
While working on my script I write intensely, sometimes working 18 hours straight. Then I rehearse, shoot and edit the film. I hear the same lines 10,000 times over. By the time the film nears release, I think I have made the worst film in my life because I can no longer laugh at any of the jokes.
Fortunately, I have people who tell me if something is not working. India is a huge country so it’s difficult to predict what will work where. You can only make a film that you like and hope it will be accepted.
How did Abhijat Joshi come into the picture?
Abhijat writes plays. He’s worked with Vinod (Chopra) on Mission Kashmir. I used to bump into him off and on. When I was narrating the script of Munnabhai to Vinod, Abhijat was there. He expressed the desire to work with me.
He’s from Ahmedabad so there is the Gandhi connection. After going back to the U S, he mailed me a scene. It was terrible. But the next scene he sent across was brilliant.
Because of the time difference between the two countries, he would send me a scene before going to bed. I’d work on it while he slept and mail it back to him.
We worked for a month like this on three-four scenes. Then, he came down to India.
I picked him up from the airport and took him to Madh island. We stayed there for 10 days before I dropped him back at the airport. Now we work over the phone and skype.
How do two people write a script together?
We don’t divide the work but work on scenes together. It would be difficult if you are on different books but fortunately, we are on the same page. We write similar stories. The guy is tireless! (Laughs) He calls me up at strange hours to change a line.
Weren’t you apprehensive about using Gandhi as a metaphor?
Not while writing it but while shooting at Mukesh Mill, a friend came on the sets and threw a fit on seeing a drunk Munnabhai and Circuit calling for a cab for Gandhi. He said, “What are you doing? Guys will burn your house.”
Have you started scripting the next Munnabhai film?
Yes, I look for a theme first, then weave a story around it.
Wasn’t Munnabhai supposed to meet George Bush in the US?
That idea has been discarded after I discovered that Shah Rukh Khan is meeting Bush in My Name is Khan. It also happened in Singh is Kinng.
Is there a refrain like GandhiGiri in 3 Idiots also?
(Laughs) Yes, there is a refrain, ‘All is well.’
Which Munnabhai was better, Part 1 or Part 2?
I think the script of Munnabhai MBBS was better while the concept and set-up worked for Lage Raho Munnabhai..
Is there such a thing as a western sense of humour that people here don’t like Shashi Tharoor’s comment on the cattle class?
Probably we take ourselves too seriously. We need to learn to laugh at ourselves.