You went underground after Dil Chahta Hai—and have surfaced only now, three years later, when Lakshya is ready!
My daughter Shakya was born while I was filming Dil Chahta Hai. I felt extremely guilty that I wasn’t really around much for the first year of her life. I very consciously decided that the day Dil Chahta Hai released and I was free to start leading my personal life again, I should spend quality time with her. I couldn’t risk her calling me “Uncle.”
What else did you do in these two years besides babysitting?
I traveled extensively. I caught up with my friends who were the main inspiration behind Dil Chahta Hai and I also went to England where I saw a whole load of world cinema.
Are you an introvert?
Yes, to a certain extent. I’m also very cautious about what I say around people I don’t know. I can’t have free-flowing conversations with strangers. Saif Ali Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Hrithik Roshan, and Preity Zinta are the only people from the film industry with whom I socialize.
Is Lakshya going to be another niche film like Dil Chahta Hai?
Lakshya has been made for the pure cinema-going audience. Honestly speaking, even DCH was made with the same goal. I don’t think there is anything like a niche audience.
People told me DCH appealed mainly to the city audience. Believe me, that was never my intention. The film dealt with friendship and love, which is a very universal theme. The only new thing was the narrative style. Also, DCH was character-driven while most films are plot-driven. That’s probably why it was accepted only in some places. For me, it was an educational experience on how the industry works.
We hear your protagonist in Lakshya is a guy who is initially aimless but later turns responsible. You’ve said you identified with his character, haven’t you?
Yes, when I was 18 and in my second year of senior college, I was very disillusioned. I had enrolled for commerce, but accounting, economics, and balance sheets didn’t interest me. So I quit college and sat at home watching movies for two full years. That was the most confusing period in my life. It lasted till my mother threatened to throw me out of the house.
I believe there can be genuine confusion about what you want to do with your life when you are around 18-20. Not everyone is sorted out in their minds from the age of 14.
Tell us a little more about Hrithik’s character.
Hrithik plays a young man who has many options open to him but doesn’t know what he wants to pursue. He has a romantic interest in his life (Preity Zinta) who is very determined, very focused. And a cynical, concerned father (Boman Irani).
Under mysterious circumstances, pretty much not under his control, Hrithik enrolls into the Indian Military Academy. When he gets a posting in the Third Punjab Regiment, circumstances unfold whereby he discovers his true identity, his place in society and what he’s made of.
Was Hrithik your first choice?
He was my only choice. I had been very impressed with him in Kaho Na … Pyaar Hai and had offered him a role in Dil Chahta Hai, which he had refused. However, when Lakshya was planned he was more sorted out and very keen to do the film.
Hrithik is a very sincere actor. He’s also a very honest guy and this reflects in his work. Although I’ve known him on a personal level, the kind of relationship we struck after being with each other for the last six to eight months makes me really glad that I know a person like him.
Was Preity your only choice too?
I have known Preity from the time she first came to Mumbai to screen-test for Kya Kehna. Back then, she told me that when my script was ready she would do my film. Though she was a big star before Dil Chahta Hai released, she honored her commitment. So I’m eternally grateful to her.
I wanted her in Lakshya because we share a certain comfort level and also because she’s a versatile actress. She has the ability to use her body, her voice and her eyes to portray her character.
More importantly, what is Amitabh Bachchan doing in your film?
Amitabh Bachchan is in a supporting role. He has 10-12 crucial scenes in the movie. The reason I had to have him is because it is a very mature, intense part. Also a very verbose one. He plays the commanding officer of Hrithik’s regiment and is the man who educates him (and viewers) on the ethos of the army, its tradition and commitment, the glory, and honor.
Mr. Bachchan’s character is very stationary. A commanding officer never really goes out and fights a war. He’s the one who strategizes, so it is a very static character. He’s usually in dimly-lit rooms with maps and plans in front of him. Through all this I needed an actor who could hold the viewers’ attention. So I needed a rock star. And I think Amitabh Bachchan is probably one of the most attention-commanding actors India has had for a long, long time.
He is also my inspiration for being in the movies.
We heard you shouted a lot on the sets of Lakshya. Are you the tyrannical sort?
For the record, let me say that I do not like shouting. By and large, I’m the sort who works peacefully. I admit that I did put people in some kind of line when I found things going awry. Mr. Bachchan, Prabhu Devaa, Hrithik, and Preity are the only people who didn’t get shouted at.
But in a place like Ladakh it was important for everything to be streamlined. If one thing fell out of place, many things could go wrong. It is also the kind of place where people tend to get casual, tired, and lazy, and say to hell with it. At such a time, the only person who can motivate the team is the director. Of course, there was a little bit of screaming that did happen. But that is very natural. And it’s not as if I asked them to report at 4 a.m. and wasn’t there myself.
What next after Lakshya?
Excel Entertainment, in which Ritesh Sidhwani and I are partners, will produce my sister Zoya’s first film titled Luck By Chance. I intend to keep myself free while Zoya is filming so I can be of use to her, if she needs me. And in October 2005 I will start my own film, for which I’ve written the script. I know whom I wish to cast but it is too early to reveal the details.
So can we discuss your hairstyle instead?
There is nothing to discuss. I get very easily bored with the way I look. Some time ago I was bald, so this time I decided to grow my hair long and wear it in a ponytail. I wear some clips in my hair too. On the day of the music launch I wanted to look neat because we had invited a whole load of army guys and I just didn’t want to look unkempt around them.
Are you nervous about the fate of Lakshya?
Of course, I am nervous. When you put so much time and effort into something, there is a desire to be appreciated. I have butterflies in my stomach. But I think it is healthy to be like that. It would be unhealthy to be complacent and say I don’t care what happens.
Is it box-office pressure?
There is a certain pressure. But for me it’s not really box-office pressure. Of course, I want the film to do well commercially. But more than that, I hope that on a creative level, I have pushed it up one notch higher than Dil Chahta Hai. A lot more has gone into Lakshya than what went into Dil Chahta Hai. It’s a classical story of epic proportions. It has been treated very interestingly. For me, the most satisfying bit would be if people recognized that aspect of it.