Time: A dull afternoon.
The film: Kurukshetra.
Location: Bajaj Bungalow, Andheri.
Stars shooting for the day: Sanjay Dutt, Om Puri, Shivaji Satam.
The set: A huge, eerie-looking bungalow with monstrous chandeliers, gaudy sofas, filmi antiques... the works. Whisky bottles and glasses of tea lie scattered on a table. Spot boys and technicians are busy fitting lights and discussing suitable camera angles.
The hit hero-director duo, Sanjay Dutt and Mahesh Manjrekar, wear identically irritated expressions. Tension, it seems, is the order of the day.
Reason? Shooting has been delayed due to technical problems. Not surprisingly, Sanjay is reeling off a choice collection of abuses.
Clad in a sky-blue shirt and beige trousers, Sanjay looks dashing. But his petulant visage makes you wary. When approached for a brief Q & A session, he is anything but game. "No, no! I can't talk. The shooting has been delayed endlessly as it is. We were supposed to finish this shoot in the morning. We haven't even started yet."
Leading lady Mahima Chaudhary, who plays Sanjay's wife in the film, is nowhere to be seen. Apparently, none of her shots are scheduled for the day.
Mahesh, meanwhile, is busy explaining the scene to his actors. And, after canning a few shots of a verbal tussle between Om Puri and Sanjay Dutt, he declares a break.
Dressed in a bright orange striped tee shirt and six-pocket chinos, he looks a far cry from the chawlwallah he claims to be.
Directorially yours:"This is the climax of Kurukshetra."
Makes you wonder: why is the climax for a film called Kurukshetra being shot indoors? "Kurukshetra doesn't literally mean Kurukshetra. It about is one man's battle against the system. And that role is enacted by Sanju (Sanjay Dutt)."
He's visibly elated with the success of his recent films. "I haven't changed," he is quick to clarify. "But, yes, I have benefited. After you succeed, you get a free hand in your work. The producers trust you more. And, more than anything else, the acceptance by the masses brings you a sense of relief."
The smooth chemistry between Mahesh and Sanjay, which is evident on the sets, was splendidly reflected on the big screen in Vaastav. No wonder the film went on to win Sanjay, among others, both the Filmfare and Screen awards. "It feels great… the fact that he won these awards. While doing the film, I told him I'd see to it that he'd win two awards at least. But he won four or five. It is a great feeling that, after 20 years, a guy wins an award for my film.
"Our off-screen chemistry makes lot of difference. However, before Vaastav, we didn't have any rapport as such. We became friends during the making of the film and that helped in shaping the film in a much more intense manner. Now, of course, I'm a little partial to Sanju. Whenever I write a script, I am like... does Sanju fit in some role?"
If Vaastav was a male-dominated subject, the protagonist in Astitva was obviously its female character. What about Kurukshetra? "What does a journalist use to fight his war? His pen. What does a film-maker do? He uses the medium of cinema. I have tried to show that one can confront the system, it is not an impossible task.
"My dealing with issues is not a conscious effort. I've done a Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai, which doesn't tackle any issues. It is a fun film. But if I can deal with an issue, I'd love it. The whole commitment factor towards a film increases when one does so."
Presently he has the reputation of being the busiest director in Bollywood, considering he has five films on the floors. The resultant lack of sleep is conspicuous on his tired face. "I don't think I have signed too many films. I think I have signed as much as I can manage. Everything is spaced out. I am no Yash Chopra or Subhash Ghai with an ek film banao (one film at a time) attitude. I have the time and scripts I can handle."
But doesn't he regret the fact that, now, he does not have too much time for his family. "You can't have the best of both the worlds. Either you can capitalise on your success or you can be with your family. Once I streamline everything, there will be time for family too."