Rajkumar Hirani, who rules critics’ hearts as much as he rules the box office, is back after five years. Sonil Dedhia listens in as the filmmaker talks about PK (without dropping the cloak of secrecy of course).
Rajkumar Hirani wears his trademark smile, as he walks into the UTV office in Mumbai.
He is one of the most successful directors in recent times -- at the box-office and with the critics -- but readily admits that he is feeling the pressure to deliver another hit in PK.
Hirani, who returns to the theatres after five years and a mega hit like 3 Idiots, sidesteps questions on the subject of PK but opens up about its making, an Inception-like project that had to be scrapped and his plans of making a biopic on Sanjay Dutt.
Are you nervous about the release?
The more you succeed, the more you want people to love your efforts. So the only film I was not nervous about was Munnabhai MBBS. It was my first film and I was just happy with the thought that I have made my first film and my friends and family have seen it and appreciated it.
Since then, I have always been nervous before the release of all my films.
I remember when 3 Idiots was about to release, I thought it was a shit film and my previous film Lage Raho Munnabhai was far superior (laughs).
I am really nervous with PK. The good thing is that the film has a unique story and I am confident that people will love it.
What prompted you to turn producer with this film?
It’s a natural progression. I have produced my earlier films too, though my name did not appear in the credits.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who has produced my earlier films, is still a part of PK and is presenting it. He is not a hands-on producer -- he used to put a certain amount in the bank and give me the cheque book.
You are one of the very few directors whose films have done well at the box office and been appreciated by the critics as well. Does that put a lot of pressure on you?
Of course it does. There is so much of money at stake. I want my film to be loved and I would want people to talk and remember my films. My last film (3 Idiots) released five years back.
If I had to look at the box office success and just earn money, then I would have made five films in the past five years. At the end of the day, you don’t remember Mother India or Pyaasa for the business it did, you remember them because they had a good story to tell.
Every director has a trademark. In your case, all your films have a certain kind of newness that bridges the gap between the classes and the masses. What can we see in PK?
I cannot reveal anything about the film. PK is a very unique story. There are no benchmarks in Hindi cinema to give you an idea about PK.
Abhijat (Joshi, the co-script writer) and I have consciously decided that we will make fewer films, but with every film we will give a unique twist to it.
We don’t really have a formula to make films we just do it with our gut feeling.
There were reports that the film was similar to Oh My God (2012) and you had to scrap the project. Later there was also news that the film deals with certain societal issues and is on the lines of Aamir Khan’s television show Satyamev Jayate.
The only thing I can tell you is we are tackling a unique issue relevant to our society.
I can tell you one incident which is not related to PK. Abhijat and I were writing another script and it turned out to be pretty similar to Inception. We spent one year writing it.
We had written a story where our central character had the ability to get into an other person’s mind and make him a better human being.
One day a friend of ours told us to watch Inception. After the film ended, Abhijat and I couldn’t get up from the seats as one year of our hard work had gone to waste. Eventually, we decided to scrap the film.
So, how many drafts did you write for PK?
You know my constant joke with Abhijat is that we always have a never ending script so we have to be forsake it. On the day of the film’s release we realise we cannot write and make any further changes so we abandon it (laughs).
You won’t believe that our prints are getting ready but just last week, I realised I could improve one line in the film and I called up Aamir (Khan) and asked him to dub for that line again.
How involved is your family with your work?
My wife Manjeet is not very clued into the film industry, but she likes to watch films. I am sure she has watched more films than me (laughs).
My son Vir, who is 16 and still in school, is very much interested in filmmaking. He has made a short film called Return Gift. During his school vacation, he came for PK’s shoot in Rajasthan and worked as a clapper boy.
The nude poster of PK created a lot of buzz, but some people objected to it.
I want to ask a question to all the people, who found it offensive. From which angle can you see nudity in the poster?
Are people watching through the transistor that Aamir is holding in his hands?
The problem is that people don’t understand the difference between nudity and vulgarity. There’s nothing wrong in nudity.
When you see the film, you’ll realise the importance of the poster. To me it’s not a nude poster at all. For me, it’s a very interesting-looking poster that signifies the film.
I was amused when people complained about nudity. There’s no vulgar moment in the film.
Aamir’s character speaks in Bhojpuri…
I love to play with languages in my film. Aamir is speaking Bhojpuri in PK. Earlier you had seen Sanju (Dutt’s nickname in Bollywood circles) speaking the Bambaiyya language.
I love the fact that as a country we have so many different milieus that it just adds to the character of any film. I feel language gets out a lot of humour.
How was it working with Sanjay Dutt in PK?
I was hesitant of casting Sanju as it is a very small role. His name is Bhairon Singh, an owner of a local band group in Rajasthan. I wasn’t convinced with anyone and finally I decided to call up Sanju. He was so positive and told me a yes the very first moment. He also cancelled his other shootings to be a part of PK.
He would land up on the sets earlier than his call time.
I remember the first time when Sanju walked in on the sets I made an announcement that Aamir and Sanju are working together for the first time so let’s applaud them... When they both stood together Aamir realised how tall Sanju is and he jokingly mentioned to me, ‘Raju mere ko cast kar le Circuit ke role ke liye (cast me as Munnabhai’s right-hand man Circuit, played by Arshad Warsi). I think I would have looked good in it.’
Your next film is going to be a biopic on Dutt’s life.
We were supposed to start working on other projects, but Sanju’s story caught my interest. He had returned home on a three-month parole and that’s when I met him. We ended up talking for eight hours. I discovered that although I did three films with him, I only knew 1 percent of that man. I called him again the next day because I was very moved with whatever he told me.
Abhijat and I sat with him for 25 days to know his full story. I used to edit PK, then reach his house in the evening and be there till 3 am every day.
There’s so much about him which he has never shared with anyone. I saw a film there. That’s why we decided to make a biopic.
Are there any facets of his life that you are going to showcase in your film?
There is no way that we are doing this to glorify him. Neither are we doing this to show him in bad light. We will show what it is, in a very straight manner.
One would be shocked to know that so much can happen to one person in a lifetime. I am still meeting his family, friends and collecting material, researching things about him.
We have only three hours of run time. So, definitely, we cannot show all phases. We will touch some and leave some phases and characters out.
Are you planning to make the third part in your Munnabhai series?
I want to make the third installment, but that will happen only when Sanju is out of jail. As of now, I don’t have plans to replace him and Arshad.