In the middle of this Kidnap promo blitz, how could you take time out for the Singapore Grand Prix?
I am not that big an F1 fan. I went because I was invited by Vijay Mallya… The only place to watch F1 is on TV. At the track you sit at one place and the cars go vroom… and you dont know who or what just went by. But it was still quite an experience. I went down to the pits. I walked the starting grid. All the cars were lined up… Hamilton, Massa… they were all sitting there and I was walking around. I was told that prior to this, the only Indian who had done this was (Sachin) Tendulkar. That was really cool. The rest… watch it on TV.
Why did you become incommunicado right after the release of Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na?
All the time we were making Jaane Tu…, it was a small film. We had a lot of faith in it and we were sure it would do well but we didnt think it would do that (raises his left hand high above his head). We thought it would be a moderate hit, but for it to become such a psychotic hit, suddenly it became crazy. The audience reaction, the fan following — that is not a scary thing at all. I love meeting people… that really is not as threatening… What is really overwhelming is… (thinking)…
People around you?
Let me put it in perspective for you. I signed Jaane Tu... in July 2005 and it took us a year and a half to get the film started. And all this time, there was nobody helping us out. I started shooting Jaane Tu... and then got Kidnap. Even when I signed Kidnap, that was at a time when most producers would not have touched me. Then we shot for sometime and Baba (Sanjay Dutt) went to jail. I was really afraid because my career was at stake.
Throughout that time, every newspaper, every magazine, every radio channel, every website was doing rundowns of the stars of tomorrow and, I swear to God, not a single one ever mentioned my name once. Ranbir Kapoor, Harman Baweja, Neil Nitin Mukesh, even Nikhil Dwivedi… one after the other… hot young stars of tomorrow. Not one ever mentioned my name. And the producers were the same… nobody was interested in me. I remember meeting producers who would behave like I was this kid with no future. And suddenly, two days after the release of Jaane Tu..., the top producers are calling me, hounding me and breathing down my neck.
So by vanishing, you paid it back to all of them?
I was still travelling and promoting Jaane Tu... and I didnt have the time to meet any of them. People were throwing money at me. People were throwing three-film deals and five-film deals at me. People were offering me lakhs of rupees to turn up at a party. Its obscene… Lets not go into figures… Imagine more than most people get paid for a debut film I was being offered to be at a party for an hour. It all seemed very sordid, it seemed very sleazy. Suddenly people had great ideas of what I should do with my money. It just freaked me out. I didnt know what to do. Luckily, the schedule for Sohams Luck had been planned. So I went to South Africa and switched my phone off.
Did it never cross your mind that you may be losing out on good stuff?
I did go through them. Some people came with scripts and directors attached. Some people came with three films and the option to choose my director, my story… whatever I want.
Isnt that a lovely position to be in, one of immense power?
Actually it isnt, you get stuck. What if you do one film with him and realise that you cant work with him as a producer? You have taken the producers money and now you have to make those three films. I have to find content, I have to find directors. Why should I do all that work as well? Come to me as an actor and hire me.
Aamir was with you everywhere before the release of Jaane Tu... but now hes nowhere during Kidnap. Did he push you at that time because it was his production or because it was his nephews first film?
I think it was both. As a producer, it was his first film where he was not acting. So he had to take that extra care to bolster it. Add to that the emotional aspect of our relationship. He wanted to be there. But beyond that, in the creative sense, he never called the shots in Jaane Tu.... He has had absolutely nothing to do with Kidnap. He didnt read the script, he didnt meet the director. Sanjay (Gadhvi) made the film he wanted to make. So the promotion is also being handled by me.
Has Aamir seen Kidnap?
He saw the rough cut a month-and-a-half ago.
And what did he have to say?
Hold on… (taking out his cellphone from the pocket of his jeans, he quickly scans through the message inbox and displays an SMS from sender Maamujaan which reads: You have done well in Kidnap) It scared me to bits. I immediately replied What? What? What? To which he replied (he opens another SMS: I knew youd jump).
You hold him in very high esteem…
Yes… You have no idea what you have done well from him means. The best thing he told me about Jaane Tu... was not bad… yeah not bad. So from not bad to you have done well… well, I almost died.
Wouldnt you have liked him to be around now?
I am missing him a lot. Throughout the promotion of Jaane Tu..., I always knew he was a step behind me. If I stumbled he would have been there… It has not changed the way I have worked but now I know that I do not have the safety net anymore. Its a mental thing… All said and done, I am happy with Kidnap.
Kidnap doesnt look like you from the promos…
Its in a completely different space. Its a lot more massy.
When you say Hell is right here, Raina it sounds very…
Filmi? I know that. I didnt start out very comfortable initially. I knew what I was going in for but it didnt come naturally to me. I had to work at it and it took me a little time to get on the train with Gadhvi. I was running alongside but it took me a couple of days to get on board.
I have become comfortable now… And it has worked. The executive producer called me in South Africa from the theatres when the promos broke… You remember the first teaser? It begins with Sanjay Dutt and then, as my face is revealed, the theatre erupted… It was a multiplex, Cinemax in Mumbai… and when I say Hell is right here, Raina it erupted again…
You getting comfortable doing a massy film… isnt it as sleazy as appearing at a party for money?
Not really… I dont want to condemn dancing at parties or at award functions… It feels wrong to me… Walk the ramp for designers… I cant do it. But films, as long as I find it interesting, I will do it. Films I am a lot more forgiving of. I can watch any kind of film… within certain limits, within certain reason. You really have to make films that cater to the public. You dont pander to them, you dont compromise, you dont talk down to them. At the end of the day, you need to sell tickets and so you need to find a balance.
After the success of Jaane Tu..., did you ever feel that you would have much rather not done a filmi film like Kidnap?
No. I sincerely believe Kidnaps going to do a lot for me. I am happy with the final cut. It will do a lot for my career. I havent signed any film after Jaane Tu… because I had signed Kidnap and Luck.
But didnt Aamir sign you for Delhi Belly after the success of Jaane Tu…?
It was back and forth, man. It was all over the place. Delhi Belly was supposed to start first week of August. It was the same time Luck was supposed to start. I started shooting Luck in May. Aamir said we cant shift our dates and you cant shift your dates. Suddenly, Luck shifted forward, Delhi Belly shifted back and I was wide open.
Why dont you get Aamir to direct a film with you in the lead?
I dont know what his plans with direction are. Taare Zameen Par made him a director by accident. Next time, I am sure he would like to plan it a lot more.
Do you feel TZP has a realistic chance at the Oscars?
I feel we tend to make films that are not entirely honest in the hope of pandering to the Oscars. We literally pimp out our culture. Oh, look at the magnificence of India, the splendour, the mysticism. And because we do stuff thats not honest, it has never happened. Taare Zameen Par is such an honest film, it honestly portrays middle India. At a purely artistic level, I feel we stand a chance.