I’ve been hoping to do so for some time now. We were supposed to work on another project (Ek) but that somehow didn’t materialize. So Sarkar will be our first. We’ve had initial meetings and decided how we’ll go about it. Long ago, when Ramu had mooted the idea of doing a Godfather, I had offered him some inputs, which he had liked. I believe he’ll incorporate my ideas into his script. Ramu is busy with Naach till August but we’re trying to work out dates.
Both Abhishek and I will be in Sarkar together. I saw the rushes of his Naach, directed by Ramu—it’s a very unusual, very stylish film. I’ve watched all of Ramu’s recent films; he is very innovative. I hope I can live up to his expectations.
You’ve also signed two new films with Vikram Bhatt?
Yes, one is Maharathi, in which I’m doing a very small 10-12-day role. Paresh Rawail plays the main role. The movie is an adaptation of a very successful stage play and Paresh was very keen that I do it. Vikram is also directing me in a film to be produced by Ramesh Sippy. He has already presented me with the script. I guess we can categorize it as a political thriller. And yes, this is a central role.
How’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black coming along?
Very, very well. It’s such a joy to work with a craftsman like Sanjay. He’s very meticulous; I’m just amazed at the way he visualizes every aspect, every nuance. He’s unbelievably attentive on the sets even when the shot isn’t on. Even when the lighting is being set up, he’s observing the cast and crew. And if something catches his eye he quickly incorporates it into the shot. You need to be an exceptional person to make films the way he does. He’s an amazing human being, an exceptional filmmaker.
People are predicting that you’ll sweep the awards for Black.
One doesn’t work for awards—you know that. The greatest award is to have worked in a film like Black and to be directed by a visionary like Sanjay Bhansali.
Awards are all about TRPs (television rating points). And why not? The functions are television events, hence the need to make them glamorous. Stars are brought in, paid to perform. All over the world today, events are manufactured, rules broken on television. Look at cricket—where did we have one-day cricket before television? Or take tennis—it never had the one minute-two minute rest period. That was invented only for the commercial break.
So how do we genuinely honor cinema?
By going to see the films. If a film becomes a hit and people appreciate it, that is the greatest award. Is it necessary to hold a statuette and give a diplomatic thank-you speech? All the awards are valuable and I respect them. But they’re done for TRPs. You think the Oscars aren’t for TRPs?
Every other journalist asks me when I’ll win an Oscar. I think that’s a stupid question. We aren’t making films in the English language, so how can we qualify for the Oscars? Why is there such a strong attraction for Indian actors to go to the West? Let them come here and make films in Hindi.
For me, our own system of recognition is good enough. Every sixth person in the world is an Indian and I’m happy to be recognized by one-sixth of the world population.
But barring a couple of filmmakers, is our best comparable with, say, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ?
If we had a budget of $100 million, we too could make films of that quality. I sincerely believe we don’t lag behind in any detail. Look at the kind of work Farhan Akhtar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Karan Johar, or Aditya Chopra are doing. Our cinematographers—Santosh Sivan, Binod Pradhan, Kiran Deohans—look at what they achieve while working under such grueling circumstances.
Yes, a lot of our films are mediocre. But we’re learning from our mistakes. Fine filmmaker that he is, J.P. Dutta won’t make LoC II. The public will guide us in choosing our leaders and our cinema. If people reject a film, no producer or financier will invest in something similar. Besides, don’t forget Hollywood produces an unbelievable number of failures as well.
Would you be open to doing Hollywood films at all?
I do get offers. But they’re nothing to run for. Going to Hollywood isn’t the same as going to Bandra. It would be a strictly professional decision. If someone comes to me with an agreeable subject I’ll take it up as just another assignment. What’s the big deal? What would an Indian be doing in a Hollywood film? We’re the wrong color and I’m not interested in playing a stereotype. They visualize Indians as newspaper vendors, taxi drivers, Patel motel owners, or anachronistic maharajas indulging in lascivious pleasures with spears in their hands. Sorry, not interested.
You know, when a country does well for itself, everything about it becomes desirable. The West is interested in us because India has opened up economically. Now we even have Hindi words entering the English-language dictionary. Unfortunately, Bollywood has entered the Oxford dictionary. Because we’re in awe of Western endorsement we have no choice but to accept such terminologies.
But the Indian will not find a place in the West unless he’s of some social relevance to their society. They’ve no place for us in their films, and neither have we a place for them in our films. Because of our colonial history, white characters were portrayed as villains for a long time. Lagaan is the most recent example. So please, let’s not get carried away.
Agreed, we should appreciate their technical polish and professionalism. But this continuous pressure about when I’m going to Hollywood … No! It’s just a film; they’re not inventing a rocket. After 70 years of bashing, the West is beginning to acknowledge our films. This is the way we make films—accept it. The West has the advantage of invention, but then so have we. Where do you think the zero and yoga came from?
Unke paas technology hai, hamare paas Amitabh Bachchan hai.
(laughs) Arrey kahan! According to Mahesh Bhatt, Amitabh Bachchan is dead and buried. A couple of years ago he said the public should give me a decent burial. If that’s how he feels, why write about my experience in Dubai? Why does he want to resurrect me? Just remember, there’s always another side to every story. Mahesh Bhatt wasn’t present at the event in Dubai. He doesn’t know the facts. Mr. Amar Singh was there and he’s better equipped to know the truth.
To get back to movies, looks like we’re going to have an avalanche of your films this year.
Well, yeah. Deewaar, Dev, and Lakshya are coming one after another in May and June. Such overlapping is bound to happen more frequently because I’m now playing character roles, which take comparatively fewer days. So I can obviously accommodate more assignments.
I don’t think Deewaar and Dev feature you in character roles.
Dev does have me in the title role but Deewaar doesn’t have that much of me; I’m one of the three main protagonists. In Lakshya I play an army general during the Kargil war and in Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon I play a retired army general. Bobby Deol plays both my son and grandson in a double role. I guess my roles in all these films are very different, though all very aggressive. The action in Dev is very internalized. As Govind Nihalani says, if Khakee was an explosion, Dev is an implosion.
You worked with the directors of Deewaar, Dev, and Lakshya for the first time, didn’t you?
Yes—Milan Luthria in Deewaar, Govind Nihalani in Dev and Farhan Akhtar in Lakshya.
I’ve always been a great admirer of Govindji’s work, particularly Ardh Satya. We’ve sat through several possible subjects in the past. This time when he came up with a subject we both loved it. Govindji is a great all-rounder. From the direction and cinematography to the lunch on the sets, he takes care of it all. He always brings out a social reality through his cinema. He isn’t afraid to pick subjects that we only whisper about.
Milan Luthria has made some polished films in the past like Kachche Dhaage. In Deewaar he has chosen a fairly complicated subject—it’s a film about prisoners of war. I must say the producer Gaurang Doshi is a very ambitious, confident man with innovative ideas. In his first production Aankhen and now in Deewaar he has attempted something totally unexpected. He has derring-do and I’m glad to be not just in his first two productions, but also in his third film, which he’ll produce in 2005. I’m glad at least some filmmaker is repeating me in his projects.
Very funny. There isn’t a filmmaker in Mumbai who doesn’t want to work with you.
Oh, there’re several, believe me. Mahesh Bhatt, for instance. In the meanwhile I continue to gather the goodies that come my way, like Farhan Akhtar. What can one say about him? He’s our whizkid. He has a great sense of cinema. He wants to a make a different kind of cinema not for the sake of being different but because he believes that’s the only way of going about it. If a shot requires an actor to behave in a way not seen in our cinema so far, he’ll go ahead. He’s filled with novel ideas and the joy and thrill of working with Farhan is immense.
Whatever its outcome at the box office, I know Lakshya will be as refreshing as Dil Chahta Hai, without having any trace of it. It’s very brave of Farhan not to follow a genre he has already succeeded in. Karan Johar and Adi Chopra, for all their talent, haven’t been able to move away from the genre they’ve embraced. I’m sure they will, though.
There was talk of Farhan misbehaving with you …
No, no, no. That was blown out of all proportion. Nothing happened. The whole thing was quite unnecessary. Farhan came to me to talk about it when the media wrote about it. I know how fond Farhan is of me. There’s a music piece in Lakshya, which is taken from the background score of my starrer The Great Gambler. Farhan told me he had seen the film a number of times and wanted to incorporate that musical piece.
But then, which filmmaker in Mumbai isn’t a fan of yours?
(laughs) That’s quite irrelevant. I’m very fortunate to be working with so many generations of filmmakers, and now Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Black. I hope I can live up to their expectations. And never mind if they are only character roles. There’re people who’re giving me central roles in Baghban, Khakee, and Dev. But one can’t be lucky all the time. I’m sure this will wane away soon. Everything comes to an end.