Amitabh Bachchan has made news beyond news with his illness.
I find it a damper. When we had our first screening and Mr. Bachchan hasn't seen it. He would've cheered very hard. But I'm not nervous. We've portrayed Mr Bachchan in a novel manner. And I'm quite excited about it. He's too cool. His dialogues are very Arnold Schwarzenneger. When he blows up the screen he turns around to say, 'Issey hamare yahan Happy Diwali kehte hain' (We call it Happy Diwali).
The film looks pretty slick.
Yeah we strove to get an ultra-modern look into the film. The editing pattern is pretty much out there. I made a conscious effort to move out of the village that was part of my first film "Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost". Very honestly "Mumbai Se..." had a script that moved slowly. It came just before "Lagaan".
The script in "Ek Ajnabee" is based on "Man On Fire". Once we got Mr. Bachchan, we decided to take the film to another level where he'll do things he has not done before. At his age the physical action is unbelievable. Most of the film is shot with a tele-photo zoom lens. It looks different for sure. It's a really modern genre.
But I love my first film too. I had written it from my heart when I was in America. Everyone including Abhishek who worked on "Mumbai..." is doing really well now. Now it's my turn.
Like "Apaharan", "Ek Ajnabee" is also about the kidnapping industry.
Yes, but "Ek Ajnabee" is set in Bangkok. According to a UN survey, kidnapping is the second-most thriving industry in the world after drugs. If I had taken "Ek Ajnabee" to Bihar like "Apaharan" it would've been similar in ambience in "Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost". And there would've been no chance to give Mr. Bachchan a whole new look. We wanted to put Mr. Bachchan in a place of hedonism, which isn't India.
How was it directing Mr. Bachchan?
How do you tell Sachin Tendulkar how to bat? We completed our film with 35 days in Bangkok. Obviously we didn't want to tire him. So we'd start our work early morning and ask him to be on location by 11 (a.m.). He was great motivator. When you wake up and know you've to shoot with him you feel special. He takes a project to a level of professionalism that's hard to follow.
We all knew, 'Dude, this is Mr. B so don't mess it up.' He doesn't ask questions. He just knows what to do. Mr. Bachchan knows everything that needs to be known about cinema... He plays an ex-commando who knows every method of self-preservation.
Is he larger than life?
There's no other way for him to be. I've kept his age in mind while making him do the stunts. But he's definitely heroic. To me "Khakee" collapsed when a 'subedaar' (constable) slapped Mr. Bachchan. It's unthinkable. It gave me pangs of indignation. I agree his character was realistic in "Khakee". But this is still Indian cinema.
When I saw "Man On Fire" and read the book, I told Abhishek it was a good idea for his dad to do an Indian version. Abhishek showed the film to his dad and that was that. We waited a year and half to get Mr. Bachchan's dates.
We did some photo shoots experimented with his hair and clothes... Once he signs a film he isn't just an actor. He's a colleague and collaborator. He was into it a hundred per cent. We all were. The producers Bunty and Jassi Wallia were very accommodating. We had gone on location in Bangkok with all the spadework done.
What others USPs besides Amitabh Bachchan?
The little girl Rucha. After "Black" audiences will see Mr. Bachchan bonding with a young co-star girl again. I was worried about directing her. But it was the easiest thing to do. We sat with her for 90 days. We put her into two months of swimming classes. She needed to be a swimming champ for her role. By the time we started shooting she knew the entire script by heart. For a scene where she had to burp, she actually managed it!
Rucha was very comfortable with Mr. Bchhchan. Children wouldn't be that aware of his star power. Every other member of the cast faltered with their first take with the Legend. Not Rucha. In a scene where she had to express anger with Mr. Bachchan she wasn't getting it right. He helped her get it just right.
There were some casting controversies in the supporting cast?
You mean about Diya Mirza? We had signed her initially. But later we got some unusual actors, like Vikram Chatwal and Perizaad Zorabian who are strangers to Hindi commercial films.
With due respects to Diya, she hasn't featured in any successful film so far whereas Perizaad is untried in commercial cinema.