Did you expect this kind of lavish praise?
No, I didn't. One always hopes that a film would make an impact. The critics have been more than generous. I had just hoped it would work for the audience. It's fulfilling for a filmmaker to hear that the audience laughed and cried during a film, that they reacted this way.
For the most part, the film deals with real people. "Iqbal" was the first film where I had written the protagonist's part as purely heroic. Everyone loves an underdog's rise to triumph. If you look at the film's ambience, you'll see it's very fable-like. The location is pretty. I wanted a fable where everything goes right.
Adversity isn't an issue in "Iqbal".
Right. I didn't want the adversity to be one of the things Iqbal had to overcome. As it is, he had enough problems to get over. The one thing that a disabled person wants is to be treated normally. I wanted to condition the audience into treating a deaf-and-dumb person as normal. In that I've been reasonably successful.
That's modest! Isn't "Iqbal" your most "accepted" film?
What "Iqbal" does is to give people optimism and hope. Cynicism seems to be the operative principle in today's lifestyle. But it isn't. The film says, "Hey, it's okay to believe in your dreams." That's exactly what's working for "Iqbal".
The characters are almost cliches?
The underdog's story has already been done a million times, though not within the Indian context. The film opens up this nice little genre for me. As a screenwriter my challenge is to make the old seem new. None of my screenplays are so original that they make people go wow. The challenge for me is to make the familiar look unfamiliar.
Even "Hyderabad Blues" was original in the telling. Even though the narrative in "Iqbal" is very linear, I've treated each scene in a different way. Right at the outset, the audience knows this kid is going to win. The challenge is to delay the inevitable without rambling or slackening. How do I get your empathy and not sympathy? That was the challenge.
The casting of the girl, Shweta, is outstanding.
Yes, she is. She is the soul of the film. I wanted the character to take on an adult role without getting cloying. She was phenomenal in "Makdee". For the title role, I auditioned close to 200 people, including cricketers whom I wanted to convert into actors. I started looking in cricket academies to get my hero. Then I started looking at actors who could bowl. That made it worse.
Finally, I found Shreyas Talpade. He's done television and Marathi theatre. He's bowled medium-pace before. This is a cricket-crazy country. We didn't want to be caught out with cricket. When Sandeep Patil saw the film he wanted to know if Shreyas had bowled before.
Did you have to re-acclimatize yourself to Subhash Ghai's production plans?
Not at all. Mukta Arts made me comfortable from the start. And the proof of it is, I'm doing another film for Mutka.
Is it going to be "90 Days"?
No! Where did that come from? I don't know what I'll be making next. "90 Days" is not the likely one. I guess people are interested in my work now. I'm the flavor of the week. There're about four or five ideas. After "Iqbal" calms down, one of those ideas will come screaming out. I'm waiting for that defining moment.
But, yes, chances are I'll make my next for Mr. Ghai. For now there's no specific idea that I want to cling to. Too much "Iqbal" happening around me. I never imagined it'd grow to such an extent. It's quite exciting. For the first time, I'm allowing myself to enjoy my success.
I think you're coming to terms with Bollywood.
Maybe. But I still don't mind making a spoof like "Bollywood Calling".
Tough to be in the thick of it and yet stay amused by it.
I think I can manage. I always use self-deprecating humor. I've never been enamored of playing the big game. "Iqbal" was big enough for me. Mr. Ghai was clear he wanted my kind of film, not his kind of film.
Are you becoming progressively conventional?
Not at all! Each story has its own narrative style to follow. "Iqbal" was fable. And it followed its rules. I keep going back to Robert Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful". I wanted a film that the audience leaves with a smile. If I succeeded in that, I hit home.
Ashutosh Gowariker thinks "Iqbal" is the best sports film he has seen.
If it's true, I thank him for it.
When will you make a big Bollywood film?
Not yet. I'll build up to it.
You didn't give yourself a role in "Iqbal" and it was a hit!
I played the lead in "Hyderabad Blues", and it was a hit. Okay?