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Happy with response, don't make movies with box office in mind: Rajkumar Hirani on 'Dunki'

PTI |
Dec 30, 2023 11:42 AM IST

Happy with response, don't make movies with box office in mind: Rajkumar Hirani on 'Dunki'

"Dunki", fronted by Shah Rukh Khan, is based on the illegal migration of people who travel through the dangerous ‘donkey route’ in search of a better life.

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The much-discussed film comes after Shah Rukh’s blockbusters “Pathaan” and “Jawan”, both high-octane action thrillers that crossed over 1,000 crore each at the box office. “Dunki”, which also stars Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal and Boman Irani, is a gentler film and has made 300 crore – a success though not at par with the other two films.

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"Of course, commercial success matters to me but I try not focus on it at all because the moment you start focusing on it, then you start colouring the kind of film you want to make...,” Hirani told PTI in a Zoom interview.

His last film was “Sanju” in 2018.

"I take three or four years to make a film. This time I took five years to make a story. It should be like... let me make this film whatever the fate of the film is. Sometimes you will get a universal audience, sometimes you will get an audience which is in smaller pockets. India is a massive country and there will be all kinds of audiences liking all kinds of films," Hirani said.

The 61-year-old is known for his unique brand of cinema that focuses on human stories with a touch of comedy and commerciality. His earlier films include the super successful "Munnabhai" films and “3 Idiots” as well as “PK” and "Sanju".

Hirani said he was not scared at all while making “Dunki”.

"It's an Indian story which in Hindi cinema no one thought about. I’m happy with the response. Sometimes it will be massive, sometimes it will be different. It is a successful film and people are going for it and people are liking it. I don’t think one should ever worry about box office numbers. If the attention is there, then it’s a big trap."

What scares him, he said, is audience expectation.

"I get scared... people expect that 'jo pehle banaya tha wohi humko dekna hai' (We want to something similar to what we saw earlier). With every film, I’m always jumping genres and trying to make something different -- from ‘Munnabhai’ to ‘3 Idiots’ to ‘PK’, ‘Sanju’ and this," he added.

As a storyteller, Hirani said his goal is to scout for unique subjects and it’s the most difficult task.

"For 100 years, cinema has been made and now people are exposed to world cinema and they see all kinds of films, so to find a subject that has not been dealt with is always difficult.”

“Dunki” references village homes in Punjab which have concrete planes on their rooftops.

"I initially saw one plane on top of a house and I was like, ‘why are they making these planes on top of the house?' Then I discovered that this is kind of a status symbol for people whose children are abroad. Then I dived into it,” he said.

Home is an emotion for Nagpur-based Hirani, and he said he could understand the desire to move out of a place for better work opportunities.

“Dunki” to him is also a story of coming back home.

“Most of these people leave their homes eventually to come back, nobody leaves a home thinking that will permanently settle there. They will be like, ‘We will go there, make money and come back and retire in my own country’ but most don't. So, to me, home is a great emotion and that was more inspiring,” the filmmaker said.

During his research for “Dunki”, Hirani found there are many English-speaking classes in Punjab where students learn the language in order to fulfil their dream of getting a visa.

It's an interesting world, the director said, adding that he met many people, who followed the donkey route and even attended English-speaking classes in disguise.

“During COVID-19, I went to Punjab and sat in all those English-speaking classes. I would put on a mask and go there and attend it and I would be like, ‘I want to do a trial class’. I went to those villages and many of them have become empty as there are just older people staying there, and no young people. I met a lot of people there, families, children and saw those aircraft on top of the houses,” he added.

Working with Shah Rukh Khan, who was his first choice for his 2003 directorial debut “Munna Bhai M.B.B.S” and 2009 hit “3 Idiots”, has been a long-cherished dream.

More than him, his mother was happy he was finally collaborating with the superstar.

“After my last film ‘Sanju’, we started meeting more often. During COVID-19 times when not much work was happening, he asked me, ‘What are you working on?’ I said, ‘I’ve these two-three ideas.’ I narrated all the ideas to him and he got fascinated with this one and he was like, if this one develops then let’s do it.

"So, it happened organically. All I can say is I had complete joy working with him. As Abhijat (Joshi, writer) describes Shah Rukh, he says, ‘This man is pure love’. I had a very happy experience of not only working with him as an actor but also as a human being.”

According to Hirani, the role of Hardy, who is not fluent in English, was challenging for Shah Rukh.

“This role comes naturally for other actors like Taapsee (Pannu) is a sardarni, most of the other actors are Punjabi, they have lived in Punjab like Balli (Anil Grover), Buggu (Vikram Kochhar), Vicky (Kaushal). Shah Rukh was the only actor who is an urban person and has (played) urban roles (before) and he would say, ‘How would you make the world believe that I can’t speak English in the film?’.

"For him, it's the most challenging thing and I’ve seen him walk that extra mile and work very hard. My phone is full of videos that he had sent me where he is rehearsing every day before the shoot. He didn’t leave one stone unturned,” Hirani said.

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