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‘Crazily dramatic masala film’

Agneepath is the first big release of 2012 and also your debut. Nervous?

Right now, I am really, really nervous! But thankfully, the work pressure is so high that I don’t really have the time to dwell on it.

Does the fact that you are remaking a cult film add to the pressure?

It does. But the pressure was a lot more on the day we decided to make an adaptation of Agneepath. To take a cult film and try and tell our own story around it while keeping the essence alive was a huge challenge. But now, the way it has shaped up, I feel quite confident that we have come up with a quality film.

How similar is your film to ‘the’ Agneepath?

The similarity lies only in the fact that it is a revenge film… a son seeking revenge for his father’s death. Unlike Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan’s film, my film starts and ends in Mandwa and is primarily about the conflict between the mother and the son. It’s a completely new film with a lot of new characters. The biggest change in the film is the introduction of Rishi Kapoor’s character, Rauf Lala. Priyanka’s (Chopra) character (Kali) is completely different from what the heroine (Madhavi) was in the first Agneepath. The setting is also very different.

And you have done away with the character that Mithun Chakraborty played in the original with such aplomb...

Yes, completely... because what Mithunda had done in the first film with his character Krishnan Iyer cannot be replicated by anyone. He had taken the character to a new level altogether. It would have been foolish on our part to try and recreate that magic because I am sure we would have fallen flat on our faces.

How did the idea to remake Agneepath come about?

When I was working with Karan (Johar) as a first assistant director for My Name Is Khan, he casually asked me one evening which cult Bollywood films would I like to see being remade. I promptly blurted out Agneepath! And then I started suggesting the names of various directors who I thought could direct the film. After a couple of days, Karan announced that he wanted to remake Agneepath and I requested for his permission to write the screenplay for the adaptation. He was kind enough to let me do it and then one day, he told me that I was directing it!

How did the casting happen?

Once the script was locked, everything fell into place on its own because Karan is such a fantastic producer. I put forth my wishlist for the casting and Karan made sure that he extended his full-fledged support. He flew me down to the US for just a day to narrate the script to Hrithik (Roshan). Hrithik just took 10 minutes to give his nod to the film. I had given Priyanka the script to read and she said yes to it almost immediately. I narrated the script to Sanjay (Dutt) Sir and he also came on board soon.

Rishi Kapoor was the only actor who took three-and-a-half months to give the nod because he hasn’t played such a blatantly negative character before. He was like, ‘I am apprehensive because if my character fails, the whole film fails’. But eventually, he decided to be a part of it. And you have to see him in the film to know just how powerful an actor he was and still is.

What is it like working with Karan Johar the producer?

When he plays producer, Karan makes sure that he is just a producer. I was lucky that he absolutely loved the script I wrote. When we started shooting, he would rarely visit the sets. But yes, he was actively involved during the editing process because as a first-time director, there was the danger that I could become over-indulgent at the edit table. But Karan was always there to tell me what works and what doesn’t… what should be kept and what should be left out.

Also, the world of Agneepath I have created is quite unlike what you would find in any other Dharma (Productions) film. He really encouraged me to paint my characters and my world the way I thought best. For any newcomer to have someone like Karan Johar as producer is half the battle won even before the film hits the screens.

The promos — particularly the song Chikni Chameli — are quite a rage…

The feedback has been so reassuring that my nervousness has eased. No one has come up to me and said, ‘What the hell have you done to Agneepath?’ Also, Chikni Chameli being so huge has been a plus. It’s a song that is not only being heard by auto drivers but also by college kids! Also, people are reacting to Kancha Cheena’s (Sanjay Dutt) look very favourably. For Kancha’s look, I was strongly influenced by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.

You have assisted Karan Johar, Farah Khan, Farhan Akhtar and Ashutosh Gowariker. What have you learnt from each?

I would also like to add Rajkumar Santoshi and Pankuj Parashar to the list. Hrithik talks very highly of my narration skills and that is something that I have learnt from Rajkumar Santoshi. From Ashutosh Gowariker, I have learnt how to be sincere to my craft. If I hadn’t experienced My Name Is Khan with Karan, I wouldn’t have been able to direct Agneepath. He has the biggest heart in the film industry. Before I worked with Karan, I had a lot of preconceived notions about him through gossip columns, Koffee with Karan and industry talk. But within 10 minutes of meeting him, I could see what a genuine person he was.

Come January 26, why should the audience walk in for Agneepath?

I want people who have loved the first film to just walk in to see a new perception of the old story and try and accept it with an open mind. But I am also open to criticism because I know there are many who are very emotional about Agneepath. And for all those who haven’t seen the first film, I want them to come and have a blast because I am sure they wouldn’t have seen such a crazily dramatic masala Bollywood film in a long time.


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