There is a controversy in Tamil Nadu about the title of your new Hindi-Tamil bilingual.
Yes, they think "Mumbai Express" is an Anglo-centric title. By calling my film "Mumbai Express", I am practicing cultural erosion and never mind if there are recent Tamil films with titles like "Boyz". Never mind if dozens of trains in the country have 'express' in their names and if there's a leading newspaper by that name in the country. Never mind if it is my job and prerogative to 'express' myself. It is a very provincial Tamil Nadu-centric attitude. First "Virumaandi", then "Vasool Raja" and now "Mumbai Express"...my films seem to be constantly getting into title hassles.
Is "Mumbai Express" your return to Bollywood?
Had I really gone away? Or was I packed off? If I was told to leave Bollywood, thank you for having me back. But I cannot remember when I was given a send-off. So I am a bit confused. If my last Hindi release "Abhay" could be considered a send-off, then I am back. "Mumbai Express" could bring me back to Mumbai. Even Ramesh Sippy wants me to make a film.
Is "Mumbai Express" a departure from "Abhay" and your other Hindi films?
It does not have the dark dimensions of "Abhay" at all. When my director, Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, and I sit on the editing, there are all-round chuckles among the technicians. "Mumbai Express" is a very young, very hip and urban film. The actors may not be 18- or 19-year-olds. But the mindset is certainly very young and heavily into contemporary attitudes. It is very difficult to do this kind of comedy. I cannot brag about it now until it is complete. But a little bit of preening is allowed.
Sure. What kind of comedy is "Mumbai Express"?
Though the characters are funny, none of them lose their identity or dignity. No one sweats it out to be funny. They are actually serious people. Great comedians like John Cocteau and Charlie Chaplin never lost their dignity. They might have been clowns, but they were gentleman clowns. In "Mumbai Express" if we cut off the soundtrack, it looks like "Nayakan" or any of my better films.
Your earlier film with Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, "Pushpak", was a pioneering comedy.
I think "Mumbai Express", too, would be pioneering. I know all filmmakers are enthusiastic about what they do. But I know "Mumbai Express" is a trendsetter. It will be a different act to follow.
Your last big hit in Tamil, "Vasool Raja", was a big hit.
With due respect to all my friends involved with that project, "Mumbai Express" is a different league of comedy. This is way above "Vasool Raja". It is a sophisticated comedy though not to the extent of losing mass appeal. My other recent comedies were not in my hands. But "Mumbai Express" is written by me. Singeetham Rao and I have done seven films together. All are trendsetters in their own way. I think audiences want to laugh, though they like to cry as well.
No more tears in your life?
I have gone dry for some time. Life is a bed of roses, not thorns.
Very frankly, were you proud of "Vasool Raja"?
I was proud of the collections. Beyond that, "Vasool Raja" was a very strategic move on my part to tickle the market. I was sleeping through the shooting. They had to wake me up for the shots. Sounds pompous, but true. It was like asking a sprinter to run in a bathtub. I am so glad Bollywood has taken to comedy in a big way after "Munnabhai M.B.B.S." and now "Hulchul". It is believed Indians do not have a sense of humour. But everyone wants to laugh. I have met very humorous people all over India. Trade pundits keep saying, 'Aisa picture nahin chalega'. They said "Mughal-e-Azam" would not work. But look at what it has done. I went to see "Mughal-e-Azam" again to see what it would do to me. It took me by surprise. I could crib to K. Asif about the length but that would just be professional jealousy.
What expectations do you have from "Mumbai Express"?
Why would I want to come to Mumbai? Because I like applause, always have. I want to be recognized for whatever I am worth. I want to widen whatever little horizon I have. "Mumbai Express" is worth the Hindi attempt. I would not have brought it here if I were not sure it would provide pleasure to the watcher. "Mumbai Express" is like my "Gold Rush". Oops, there I go back to Chaplin. "Mumbai Express" is outwardly one free flow of confusion. It is going to give my earlier Hindi comedy "Chachi 420" a run for its money. Audiences should not expect me to masquerade as a woman. Why do I need to, when Manisha Koirala does such a neat job of being a woman?
Your leading lady Manisha came in at the eleventh hour.
Yes. My "Chachi 420" heroine Tabu was approached. She said yes, then she disappeared. Bipasha Basu was willing. She asked questions about her character's status as wife and mother. But we could not afford her. Most of the other heroines did not understand what the script required them to do. How do you explain a "Pushpak" or an "Appu Raja" to an actress? If you say she is going to be paired alongside a dwarf, she will recoil. It took an actress of Gautami's guts to do "Appu Raja". Manisha has proved to be a real friend. She put aside other engagements to accommodate "Mumbai Express". Usually actresses take offence when they are approached at the last minute. Manisha never held it against me. She is looking very pretty and I am happy to have her in the film.
Your other favourite, Om Puri, is also in "Mumbai Express".
Oh yes. In spite of undergoing surgery recently, he insisted. He explained what he can do and then chose his role. It was very touching to have Sir Om offer his services so generously. That is the spirit of an actor. It is not about the role, it is about being part of the whole. I wish I could be as humble as Om ji. He chose a role that required less physical strain. Besides Om ji, there is Vijay Raaz, Sourabh Shukla, Dinesh Lamba and a 10-year-old boy Hardik.
Madhavan is remaking a Tamil comedy, "Nala Damyanthi", written by you into Hindi.
I think I have always been useful to actors attempting Hindi versions of Tamil films. I wrote Anil Kapoor's hits "Biwi No 1" and "Viraasat".
What happened to your plans of a Hindi film with Madhuri Dixit?
I would have to wait from here to maternity.