I don't think you've ever done a film like "Paheli" before.
And I hope I can do things like "Paheli" in the future as well. "Paheli" is very different. I could only make it when my production house could afford to take a risk. After "Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani" and "Asoka", I had to make films that were commercially viable. After "Asoka", my company was in the red.
Had the non-success of "Asoka" disappointed you?
People said it was ahead of its time. Somehow, somewhere, we weren't able to hold the audience's attention. We were to blame. I don't think the audience ever goes to a film with the intention of rejecting it. Either the audience is entertained or not. If you don't like a particular food, you won't eat it. As simple as that! We make films for the audience. And we'd better make them entertaining.
I think "Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani" was a fantastic entertainer on the commercialization of television news. When it came, the concept of cutthroat TV journalism hadn't really caught on. But look at what's happening now. At Sunil Dutt's funeral, there were huge crowds of journalists and fans jostling to grab the stars' attention. It certainly took away from the solemnity of the occasion. That's the truth about the quality of life today.
"Swades" also told a truth about the quality of life, though it was not as entertaining as "Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani".
It's like this. A film on the life of Mahatma Gandhi cannot be made deliberately entertaining. Every theme has its own mood and tempo. And that mood and tempo is established from Frame 1. From the promos of "Paheli" to the credit titles, I hope the mood of the movie comes across to the audience. I love comedy. But "Paheli" isn't a funny film, though it does have light moments.
Amol Palekar isn't the first avant-garde director you've worked with.
I've worked with Mani Kaul, Kundan Shah, Ketan Mehta... But being the producer in "Paheli", this was the first occasion when I got to observe a so-called serious director so closely. Earlier, I was younger and brasher. I just did my job and went home. This is my first real brush with the mindset of an avant-garde filmmaker.
There're stories of differences of opinion with Amol Palekar.
Isn't that natural? We are different people. I've differences of opinion with Karan and Farah. But those are friends, so the differences didn't seem like major things. Amol Palekar was an entirely new experience. And like I said, I was the producer of "Paheli"...
And the leading man.
Correction. Rani Mukherjee is the hero of the film. I'm the supporting actor. Rather, supporting actors, since I've two roles. I like the story. I told it to my kids, in my own way. And they found it very sweet. And I've a child's heart and imagination. I can't be pompous enough to feel audiences will go along with anything I do. As long as they find "Paheli" entertaining, they'll come to see it. Those who expect to see me in Armani and Kelvin Klein may be put off.
Are you in love with your new moustachioed look in "Paheli"?
No... It can get very sticky and uncomfortable when you're shooting in Rajasthan at a temperature of 40 degrees. I don't like it.
Since Rani is the hero of "Paheli", she should've used the moustache.
Not allowed for women. It's all about the non-permissible things that a woman without a moustache can do.
You think the audience would take to a film about a woman who gets impregnated by a ghost?
I hope they don't go home and try to make love to a ghost. People know cinema is make-believe. And, nowadays, a lot of my friends like Karan Johar and Sunita Menon believe in ghosts. I don't believe in ghosts. But if you believe a man can believe that a man can come back from the dead to save his wife ("Ghost") why not "Paheli"?
If you can believe that an 80-year-old woman can continue to love the man she loved as a young girl ("Titanic"), then why not the love story between a ghost and a woman? And if you can believe that a man can be in a prison cell for 20 years without speaking to anyone ("Veer-Zaara"), and if you can believe smoking on screen encourages smoking in real life, then you can believe anything.
"Paheli" looks like quite a puzzle for your fans.
Why is that? It's a love triangle among a man, his wife and a ghost. I happen to play two of the roles. I do believe love stories are immensely liked by audiences in India and abroad. Out West, there are much better love stories and action films, and there are better offbeat films too. But when it comes to love stories I believe we're unbeatable.
There're so many love emotions that come naturally to us. A German friend of mine put it so well: "We've perfected the art of technology in our country. But we've forgotten how to cry in our films. For a good cry, we've to go to your films." I think we tell love tales from our heart. That's why they work so well.
You keep saying you're tired of doing love stories.
Yeah... That's like saying I'm tired of travelling in a car. Doesn't mean I'll start moving around in a chopper. Love stories are a way of life. And I do believe every story we tell is finally a love story. Even in a sci-fi film like "Star Wars", there's a love angle.
I do get bored doing the same kind of love stories. That's where "Paheli" comes in... just like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who does a "Kindergarten Cop" in between his action routine. I need to do just three films a year, and I do them very honestly. I try to make each of my films look as different as possible. Sometimes they all end up looking similar, as was the case during the year of "Darr", "Anjaam" and "Baazigar". But "Main Hoon Na", "Veer-Zaara" and "Swades" are as different from one another as humanly possible.
I don't consciously work out strategies and phases for my films. I've reached a stage in my career where I just tell the story that I want to. I do my best along with the director. I don't think about the end-results. But, yes, I do want to say things in my films that have a social relevance. "Paheli" talks about the loneliness of a rural wife who's left behind by her husband.
Again, you think it'll work?
"Swades" may not have been a blockbuster. But I'm proud of it. Likewise "Paheli"... It's targeted at an audience that would like to see more than just songs and dances, though there're plenty of those, and I'm proud of them. If you're in love, you'd like to see "Paheli".