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A hushed silence prevails on the sets of Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate. Boss is at work, glued to the TV monitor, checking out the nuances of Bipasha Basu’s performance. A few retakes later, he shouts, “Okay.” The silence is spliced aloud with the boom in his voice.

Then he issues rapid instructions to his assistant directors for the next shot and the next. Things move with clockwork precision. Clearly, Bhandarkar packs in all that he wants, wasting no time.

“Can’t afford to,” he smiles. “I work on tight budgets. Time is money out here. You have to be careful with it.” That explains why he has almost finished the movie in just about 30 days.

Money matters aside, in the same breath he gushes, “You have to catch Bipasha in the movie to see what she has done. She’s simply fabulous. She’s never played a character like this before. She is always known for her glamorous roles. But you should seriously watch out for her performance in Corporate.”

And if you notice a spring in the two-time National Award winner’s gait, you know it’s because things have been going swimmingly for him in recent times. But it’s Corporate that sets him buzzing. He discuses his movie with giddy excitement. Says he, “Page 3, Corporate, and my next film, Signal, are a part of a trilogy. But they are very different from one another. I would hate to repeat myself. Corporate may have a sprinkling of Page 3 but that’s only because so often the corporate world and the Page 3 world overlap. There’s an unusually intense relationship between Kay Kay Menon and Bipasha Basu.”

Regarding the casting, you want to know why he didn’t stick to his first choice: Aishwarya Rai. He explains, “I narrated the subject to her, she loved it and very much wanted to be part of the film. She tried to work out the dates too but it wasn’t possible. She had already committed to other projects.”

His thoughts emerge slowly, “We even thought of delaying the movie and launching it next year. But the subject is very contemporary, so I didn’t want to delay it. Besides, I’m hugely excited about the subject right now. After three or four months, perhaps I may not have been so enthusiastic about it. So we decided to go ahead with it. But I definitely plan to work with Aishwarya some time. In fact, I’m working on a script for her.”

He vehemently denies rumors that Rai demanded a whopping sum for the film. “In fact, we didn’t discuss the price at all,” he says dismissively. “Money wasn’t the problem at all. Before she left for her Hollywood film, we spoke and she told me she would definitely want to work with me. So I’m looking for a script and as soon as I get one we’ll chalk out a plan.”
He then set his sights on Bipasha Basu for her glamorous image and her style. “Everyone on my team thought Bipasha would be perfect. Her statuesque figure suits the character perfectly. Also I wanted to start the film quickly since I had the dates of all the other actors. And luckily for me, she was able to give me the required dates.”

So is he now operating from a position of strength, what with Page 3 having won him his second National Award? He states, “I don’t know about it myself. Though everyone refers to me as a two-time National Award winner these days. They joke that I’ll score a hat trick with Corporate. Yes, when your film becomes a hit and wins an award, it’s definitely a morale booster. Then you have people coming forward to fund your new ventures. For instance, when I told the producers that I had an idea for a film based on Mumbai’s traffic signals, they were excited. It’s a subject which hasn’t been done before and as I was studying it, I found that the signals are an industry in itself. They agreed to fund me. That’s what I needed. Why only me, every filmmaker who’s had a hit will have the strength and power to make the film he wants to.”

And to that he adds, “I’m not a filmi person. I do have friends here but in the industry you have only convenient friends. Most people say—and they are right—that Madhur Bhandarkar operates from his own cocoon, makes his own kind of cinema and enjoys himself. Really, I’m an orphan in the industry. I don’t really bother with what the industry thinks about me. My only funda is to make my next film.”

So what’s the secret behind his National Award-winning ways? His eyes emit a muted gleam, “Someone told me, ‘Madhur you’re the only one whose films have critical acclaim, box-office success, and National Awards too.’ I guess I’m just plain lucky.”

Remind him then of Ram Gopal Varma’s statement that he hadn’t seen much potential in Bhandarkar when he was his assistant, and he shrugs his shoulders. Does he feel vindicated now? He laughs, “I liked Ramuji’s statement because I thought it was at least an honest opinion. Ramuji and I had a meeting after that. He said he didn’t believe in me when I was his assistant, he never thought I would become such a big director. Look at it this way, he never told me he had no hopes for me when I was working with him. Today when I’ve made it, it’s okay for him to say so. Today I have about six assistants. I may feel maybe one of them is hopeless but he could surprise me six years later. Who knows? We humans have a habit of judging people all the time—yeh kya karega?”

Then, with a lop-sided smile, he lets on, “By the way, Ramuji saw Page 3 and loved it.”

Time to switch the channel of conversation then. Focus on his image of a serious filmmaker and he surprises you by saying that it’s time to break the image. “I don’t want the tag of a serious filmmaker,” he pleads. “If I’ve been making such movies it’s only because I didn’t find people to fund my other projects. I had a limited budget so I made Chandni Bar, Satta, and Page 3. I’d love to make a David Dhawan kind of masala film. Now that will be the true test. But one thing is for sure, my film will have my sensibilities.”
Switching tracks one more time, this time it’s his private life that’s up for inspection. And I try to stymie him with gossip about the Preeti Jain imbroglio. Matters took a serious turn when it was found that she’d handed out a supari to eliminate the director.

“The police are working on the case and she’s been charge-sheeted,” he informs me. “When I found out about the supari, I just went blank. I was scared for my family. The Times of India wrote that the people who wanted to eliminate me actually came to my house to do a dry run. They knocked on my door and asked for me. That chilled me to my bones. I’m a person who walks to the Siddhi Vinayak temple every Tuesday. I’m the sort who roams freely on the roads of Lokhandwala or Bandra. I enjoy eating paani puri and vada-pav from the roadside stalls. I’m a sitting duck for anyone.”

He sizzles like a sizzling saucepan, “Things were very traumatic for me at that point. Aan flopped and I was written off completely. Then this girl came up with her charges. Then my Page 3 hero died. My shooting went haywire. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. And to top it all, this problem came up. People said all sorts of nasty things about me. I really don’t know why all that happened. But things have been fine lately. Page 3 was the first hit of last year and broke the jinx in the industry. After that we’ve had quite a few big hits. Now, people say this man always comes back. Yes, I’ll always be back.”

Right, said Arnold Bhandarkar.

Copyright © 2006, Filmfare. All Right Reserved.

Aniruddh C.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.