What made you decide to make a film like Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se?
I was dumbstruck when I read the book. Frankly I did not know about the Chittagong revolution, especially about the 59 teenagers who participated in it. Not only was I shocked but also fascinated with the revolution and felt that I should make it as a film and hence bought the rights of Maninee Chatterjee’s book Do Or Die.
Kindly elaborate more about the film?
‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se’ is a period thriller which has been set in Chittagong, British India and revolves around a series of attacks executed in one single night on April 18, 1930 and its aftermath. The film deals with five experienced revolutionaries, two defiant and resolute women - Kalpana Dutta (Deepika Padukone) and Pritilata Waddedar) and a group of innocent but fearless boys who were led by Surjya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan), a school teacher by profession who carried out attacks on the British Cantonment AFI Armoury, Police Lines, European Club, Telegraph Office and Nangalkote Railway Lines.
What was the biggest challenge for you as far as Khelenge Hum Jee Jaan Se was concerned?
The biggest challenge for me was to cast the right actors for my film. I wanted the right actor to play the right role, because I was very particular that I should not maker a proposal with just stars. If I cast Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika Padukone, I have also cast Samrat Mukherjee and Sikander Kher. Samrat and Sikander may not be successful today.
I am glad that I cast Abhishek Bachchan in my film though he had never ever acted under my direction. I would say that Abhishek is effortless in the film as Surjya Sen. He is in any case a superb actor and I was sure that he would bring a lot of purity to his character as Surjya. It helped me greatly that he is a half Bengali and hence could get the nuances of the character very well.
Why did you zero in on Abhishek and Deepika who had never acted with you earlier?
It did not at all matter to me that Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika Padukone had never ever acted in a period film earlier. I do not think that an actor’s experience matters, because it is up to the director to create the right ambience for the actors to get into the mould of his vision. I have made three period films till date. I would not hesitate to make yet another period film if I am fascinated by the subject and feel that the seed of the story is important.
How was Deepika as an actress?
Deepika is a very committed actress. I was very impressed with her when I saw her in Om Shanti Om and thought that I should zero in on her for the character of Kalpana. Deepika was ready on the sets on time after learning her lines. Deepika was extremely professional and warm on the sets. I should say that Deepika very commendably brought the simplicity and purity of the character of Kalpana with her effortless acting. I am sure that she must have also enjoyed playing the deglamorised part as well as she had enjoyed playing a blind girl in Lafange Parindey.
What made you cast actors like Sikander and Samrat?
People ask me why, when I could have got any other well known actor. The problem in the industry is that an actor tends to go unnoticed if he is not successful. If an actor is not successful at the box office, it does not necessarily mean that he is not talented. If Aamir Khan had not given me a break when I wrote Lagaan and approached him to act in his film, do you think I would have been able to bounce back as a director after Baazi?
Are you aware of the fact that yet another film is being made on similar lines?
I am aware of the fact that yet another film is being made with the same backdrop of Chittagong revolution with Manoj Bajpayee essaying the character which Abhishek is doing in my film. It is unfortunate that two filmmakers have hit upon the same idea of making a film on the Chittagong uprising. However, it really doe not matter to me for the simple reason that I feel that two filmmakers will never make a film in the same way and each of them will execute his vision in a different way.
Why do you always take up the challenge of exploring the unexplored, making films like Lagaan, Swades, Jodha Akbar or Khelenge Hum Jee Jaan Se?
My creative process of choosing the right script is the most fragile process and once I decide that I should make a particular genre of a film, I do not look back. I like to tread the untread path. What is the use if I too set out to make a frothy feel good subject? I need to really feel charged to set out to make a film. I confess that it is my weakness to make films on unsung and untold heroines and heroes. I set out to make Jodha Akbar and not a film on Jehangir after I wondered why Akbar alone was called The Great while Jehnangir was not called The Great. I would not be spurred to make a film on say Lakshmibai because all of us know a lot about her and hence I feel that there is very little scope for me to do any more research.