You seem to be rejuvenated as an actor?
I'm rejuvenated as a human being thanks to "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" (MGKNM). It's the best scripts I've come across in the last 10 years. As an actor, I've moved one step ahead since "Saaransh". In between I've given some very good performances. But I was tired of people saying that nothing could compare with "Saaransh". The quiet dignity of Pradhan in "Saaransh" and Prof Chowdhary in "MGKNM" is compelling. Pradhan was a hero. Here the 'hero' is going through memory loss. He isn't in control of his emotions.
How did you approach this role?
Any other kind of ailment is easy to show. But how do you show Alzheimer's? There's no external prop. An actor has no choice but to BE that person. My doctor saw the film and thought it was fantastic.
Mr Bachchan recently portrayed a man with Alzheimer's in "Black"...
And that was a brilliant performance. But this is my own interpretation. Such roles and characters are becoming progressively acceptable. In terms of variety, 2005 is a golden year for Hindi cinema. Earlier, the so-called art films questioned and challenged the audiences' intelligence. But now with "Page 3", "Black" and "Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi" the movement has got a popular mandate. It's here to stay.
What made you produce "MGKNM"?
Jahnu Barua had come to meet me only to offer me a role as an actor. He told me he had written the role keeping me in mind. At that time NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) was the producer. When I read the script I was blown. It was a brilliant piece of work. When NFDC backed out, I thought it would be a tragedy if the film wasn't made. Some scripts decide on their own that they have to be turned into movies. This was one of them. "MGKNM" drove its own destiny. I decided to produce and got Aditya Chopra to back it up. When he agreed, we were on.
How did Urmila Matondkar come in?
She's one of the most remarkable actresses I've worked with, and I'm not just saying this because I directed her in "Om Jai Jagdish" or acted with her in "MGKNM". She's most underrated. Her understanding of her character is far more instinctive than most of her colleagues. She's around when very exciting things are happening in our cinema.
Yashraj Films was on from the start?
Oh yes, I couldn't have made this film without their assurance of marketing from the outset. To have Yashraj Films support our project meant it would get mass audience.
Do you have to produce films to vindicate your position as an actor?
Not really. My previous production, "Bariwali", didn't star me. At the same time I can't deny it took me 321 films to get to "Gandhi...". I can't deny I put it on top of my list. It's in the same genre as "Saaransh" but more relevant for Gandhiji's legacy which is now almost forgotten.
Do you think the Gandhian strategy will work in your film's favor?
I don't know. There're some films that you just need to make. The rest is secondary. I personally feel rewarded after making the film. I'll be happy to get my investment back. It isn't a phenomenal amount. If I get my money back, I'll have the courage to make more such films. As a producer I cannot compete with Yash Chopra, Karan Johar and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. They've a legacy behind them. I've to make small and effective films. That will be my niche.
Why this long gap as producer between "Bariwali" and "MGKNM"?
No script excited me. Actually the hero in "Gandhi" is my script. It took eight years for that script to come to me. I always joke with Jahnu Barua that if it wasn't for me, this film wouldn't have been what it is. Even if I come across as arrogant, my participation in this project cannot be denied. I must say Barua is a fantastic storyteller. We provided him with all the resources he needed. The film needed to look good. Nowadays, no one goes to see a tacky product. Television has set high standards all over the country.
What after "MGKNM"?
No actor today, whether it's Mr Bachchan or Abhishek, is doing the work he fully wants to. Eighty percent of our work is by compulsion. We've to create brilliance through the work we get. Not even Al Pacino or Robert de Niro has done only brilliant films. But out of 300-odd films I'm proud of 50. I don't know how many actors can say the same. I'm getting very good work, like Tanuja Chandra's "Hope & A Little Sugar", "Khosla Ka Ghosla" and "Jaan-e-Man".