First "Virumaandi" and now "Vasool Raja", two hits this year.
Both very welcome. "Vasool Raja" is even bigger than "Virumaandi", though cinematically it isn't a step ahead. I am not sure if "Vasool Raja" is a regression or just a status quo for me. I've done this sort of a thing before.
As my own critic, I feel I should move ahead. But let's not go into No. 1 or No. 2. I'm looking at the larger picture. Both films have put me in a bargaining position. I want my output to increase. I think I'm a bit slow. There'll be more films from me, and hopefully, they'll take me forward.
Are you looking at a less commercial kind of cinema?
All my films, even "Nayakan" and "Thevar Magan", are commercial. Yes, perhaps "Abhay" was a little experimental. But that was my own production. Whenever I do something different, it'll have to come from Raj Kamal Films.
The film that I'm now making in Hindi and Tamil will push the envelope. Bharat Shah will be part of the project. We're getting together again after "He Ram". I'm also buying the rights of a romantic Spanish film "Tempus Fugit" by Enrique Folch that I want to remake. When I asked the director for the rights he was surprised. He thought they just re-made films in India without permission.
How do you feel about your life right now?
Much much more comfortable. It's like I've taken a vapour elation. I can breathe easy. I feel rejuvenated. I feel relaxed. I am able to meet my elder daughter Shruti who's in Chennai every day. I see my younger daughter Akshara only once a month. She lives in Mumbai with her mother. I was finding it hard to be normal without access to my daughters. I now have a smile on my face and it's showing in my films.
You have a new lady in your life?
Yes. Everyone in Chennai knows about her. I'm very happy and peaceful with her. In fact this is my most peaceful relationship ever with a woman. Ever since my mom, who was more than three times my age, I'm used to volatile women in my life.
Gradually, my life is returning to an even keel. "Vasool Raja" seemed fated to be a hit even before it was released. After a long time, I was paid my full amount. But don't worry, I'll pump it back to what I love the most: movies.
How did "Vasool Raja" come to you?
My friend Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the producer of "Munnabhai M.B.B.S." was very confident about the remake. He insisted I do the remake. He asked me to do it for him. He has been asking me to do a film from the time he made his first feature "Saza-e-Maut". Somehow it never worked out before. I'd tell him that one set can't hold two eccentrics. I couldn't say no to him this time. But my biggest reason to do "Vasool Raja" was that it became the property of L.V. Prasad's grandson.
Prasadji and I go back a long long way. Among other things, he produced my first Hindi film "Ek Duuje Ke Liye". If I said no to his grandson, I'd have had Prasad's ghost to deal with.
Why were you reluctant to do "Vasool Raja"?
Because I've done several such comedies. But I guess nothing succeeds like success. Before I said yes to it I thought a lot about it because I knew "Vasool Raja" wouldn't take me anywhere I haven't gone before. When I returned from a holiday in the US, I said, 'Ok give me the money. I'll do it'.
Everyone around me was surprised. I was supposed to start my project "KG" with director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao. That's what I'm working on now. I told "Vasool Raja" director Saran that changes would've to be made in the remake. He thought otherwise. He thought my performance would automatically bring a logistic of its own into the project. Othewise the director was sure he wanted to retain the qualities in "Munnabhai" which made it work in Hindi. I told the director to be sure of what he wants. Because this time, my contribution was going to be nothing more than walking into the costumes section and walking to the set. And that's exactly what I did. I've contributed to "Vasool Raja" only as an actor.
There's an impression that you take an interest in every department.
Only if it's asked of me. Otherwise, how do you think I produce all those failures (laughs)? Sometimes, some films I don't contribute to in any capacity except as an actor are successes. Like "Sahalakala Vallavan", where I was just an actor and a stunt-coordinator.
How did you hit on the language to replace the "Bambaiyya" in "Munnabhai"?
Oh, I had to go back to the Madras slang that I'd done in approximately 24 films before. What I've done in "Vasool Raja" is like Nana Patekar doing a Marathi accent. Otherwise, in spirit, the two films remain the same.
I've played my character as a dull, uneducated, slightly dim witted guy, nothing like what Sanjay Dutt has done. I haven't attributed great intelligence to the character. But he has tremendous compassion for the underdogs. "Munnabhai" is a very simple tale. It's like the "Ramayan". Each rendering brings out new relevances. It all depends on where the accents are put.
Is this the first Hindi film that you've done in Tamil?
No I've done several. I was in the Tamil remake of Manmohan Desai's "Chacha Bhatija" And the biggest debacle of my career was a Tamil version of Gulzar's "Koshish". I looked like such a wimp in the film! It was like a school play with me playing the dad. It was directed by a late friend of mine D.N. Balu.
We both redeemed ourselves when he remade Raj Kapoor's "Awara" with me in the lead. When he went to ask Raj saab for the rights, the great man replied: "I don't sell my film's rights. You go ahead and make it. I'm sure it'll be different." So sweet. I was so moved. I've always been a great fan of Raj Saab. And we were both fans of Charlie Chaplin. And now a docu-profile on Chaplin being made by an Australian woman will feature me.
Why did the docs in Tamil Nadu get antsy about the title "Vasool Raja M.B.B.S."?
Simply for nothing! It was so so silly. The honourable judge told them not to waste the court's time. These are educated people and they should know better. I spoke to some doctor friends and they agreed there was nothing wrong with the title "Vasool Raja M.B.B.S." The minor crisis got blown over soon.
Anyway, this title battle was different from my earlier one where "Sandiyar" had to be changed under pressure to "Virumaandi". Fate has always been fickle and unpredictable mistress in my life. Why should that change?