1857: The Rising is being hyped as one of the biggest movies of 2005. Does that make you nervous?
One gets nervous before every film. In the case of 1857: The Rising, we’re nervous not only about whether we will recover our costs. That will eventually be seen. But it’s scary, because two years of hard work have gone into the film. Believe me, I haven’t taken a single holiday in the last couple of years. Not even a Sunday off.
But I don’t think of The Rising as one of the biggest films of the year. Honestly, a film becomes big only when it finds a big audience. But you could call it one of the most ambitious projects of the year. Even in terms of the budget, this film has been made most cost-effectively. It is said that Devdas was made with Rs. 50 crores ($11.5 million). I don’t know whether this figure is exaggerated or correct. But, assuming Devdas was made with that kind of budget, I can safely say we haven’t gone over-budget on The Rising.
Since I’m also the producer of the film, if, God forbid, the film fails to deliver, then the person hit will be me.
Ah, that reminds us, Manmohan Shetty and Sahara pulled out of your project after you began filming. Did that upset the apple cart?
Look, you have to take these things in your stride. When accidents such as these happen, you don’t stop to think, “Yeh kiski galti hai? (Whose fault is this?)” Your primary concern is that work shouldn’t come to a halt. When Manmohan Shetty told me he wasn’t comfortable being part of the project, I felt it was best to let him go. And I’m sure Sahara had good reason to pull out.
But I also made sure that Ketan Mehta, my director, didn’t lose a single day. Talking of Manmohan Shetty, there were no fights or arguments between us. Both of us are members of the Producers’ Guild, so we keep bumping into each other and I did not want a situation where we started walking in opposite directions the minute we spotted each other.
I’m of the firm belief that God always has a good reason to make these accidents happen. Even during Bandit Queen there was a huge litigation problem, which only helped the movie in the long run.
But surely you must have lost some sleep when two of your financiers backed out?
Look, I can’t sit and complain. We were under-resourced, but Ketan Mehta, Aamir Khan, and I just tightened our belts and made the movie to the best of our abilities. The level of professionalism that has come into the movies in the last few years is amazing. Most of the dealings now are quite upfront and banks and financial institutions are also willing to back a project if the paperwork is intact. And there is good clean paisa available for a genuine producer. No one goes to the underworld for finance.
Losing Aishwarya Rai as the lead actress must have also dealt you a blow.
No point in getting upset about a problem. If you get upset you can’t deal with it. I don’t know what Aishwarya’s compulsions were. But Ash and I still share a very cordial relationship. So reports of the so-called war between us were grossly exaggerated. I spoke just once on the whole issue and I said the same thing I’m saying now. Rumors are part of showbiz, but if they’re wrong, they settle down on their own. It’s only when you fuel a rumor by raising an objection that it gets blown out of proportion. I’m here to make a movie. Why should I occupy my mind-space with negativity?
Here’s another rumor: Trade gupshup is that Aamir Khan got paid Rs. 7 crore ($1.6 million) plus for your film.
I don’t wish to confirm what we have paid Aamir Khan for our film. But let me tell you that Aamir has not been paid a high price at all. Any big hero in the Hindi film industry gets paid Rs. 4 to Rs. 5 crore. And Aamir is no different. Please remember that this is the only film Aamir has done in the last two years. He has also been with us on our story sessions, editing, publicity, and what-have-you. He has kept his look so he’s in character for the publicity campaign. I don’t think I will ever work with as committed an actor or person as Aamir. He is a producer’s delight. Taking all this into consideration, if you look at his per-day price, I think Aamir is the lowest-paid worker on 1857: The Rising.
And here’s one more rumor—linking your name with Mallika Sherawat.
I’ve met Mallika Sherawat briefly on one occasion. I had wanted to make a movie with her and I heard she was having trouble with the Producers’ Association. Since I’m a part of the Producers’ Guild, I volunteered to help her sort out the problems. Naturally, if I were making a film with her, I didn’t want complications to arise after we started shooting. But that was a while ago. As of now, there’s been no progress on that front.
I didn’t know how to react when I read the item calling me Mallika’s sugar daddy. And I didn’t bother reacting because, as I said earlier, when a rumor mill is wrong, it is best to let it be. Then the buzz will die down automatically. That’s exactly what happened.
What’s next on the anvil?
A film that I will produce and Mani Ratnam will direct. I also plan to produce a Hindi film directed by the renowned Malayalam director Shaji. He’s not known in the Hindi film industry but I must tell you that he has had a lot of his work showcased in Cannes.
How do you manage to get Yash Chopra in on all your projects?
My association with Yash Chopra dates back to Saathiya, which he distributed and I produced. Mani Ratnam, who held the original rights for the Tamil version, was also part of that winning team. Next, Yashji distributed Maqbool. And he has very graciously agreed to distribute my film 1857: The Rising. But let me tell you, what I have with Yash Chopra is a friendship, not just a partnership.
There’s talk that you may get into direction soon. True?
Nahin (no). If I direct, I will have to stop producing because that will be two jobs. And I’m not the conventional producer who just signs checks. I’m involved in the complete creative process of every film that I undertake. And the creative job I do, on the production side of films, is very satisfying.