Tigmanshu Dhulia at Taj Bengal on Thursday evening. Picture: Anindya Shankar Ray
He wolfed down a chicken kathi roll the moment he landed in Calcutta on Wednesday. Lunch on Thursday was at Bhojohori Manna — “What wonderful khana. Mazaa aa gaya”. After lunch, he admits quite sheepishly, he managed to pack in three rosogollas. Food makes Tigmanshu Dhulia’s world go round, but so do films. The 45-year-old man behind Paan Singh Tomar and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is in town to shoot portions of Bullet Raja starring Saif Ali Khan and Sonakshi Sinha, even as he gears up for the release of Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns on March 8. t2 caught up with the soft-spoken Dhulia on Thursday for a chat at Taj Bengal.
How has Calcutta treated you so far?
I last came to Calcutta when I was 11. It was a family vacation… the kind where you make Calcutta the base and go to Puri or Konark (laughs). I even remember watching Operation Daybreak and a Rajesh Khanna film called Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka in a theatre here during that visit. I have been having great food ever since I landed here yesterday. All these years I so wanted to come here, but somehow it never happened.
How did Bullet Raja happen?
This subject has been with me for a very long time… I thought of Bullet Raja about eight years ago. But every film has its destiny. Though all my films have had an element of machismo, I hadn’t really made an out-and-out gangster film... Paan Singh Tomar was a human story of resilience… Charas and Haasil were both love stories… Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster was a story of intrigue and deception. Bullet Raja is my first pure gangster film… it’s a genre I always wanted to tackle. During the time I thought of it, rom coms were big in Bollywood and such a film wouldn’t have worked then. Now is a good time for something like Bullet Raja… an action, men-are-back kind of film. A gun in one hand and a girl on the other, those are the kind of films I am drawn to.
Was Calcutta always an integral part of the film or has it become a lucky charm for filmmakers post Barfi! and Kahaani?
The backdrop of Calcutta was always in the film because Sonakshi’s character is from Calcutta and the portions we will shoot here will be about Sonakshi showing Saif around her city. I always wanted to shoot in this city, but I didn’t force Calcutta into the script just because Barfi! and Kahaani were shot here. I have always loved the city; I have a lot of Bengali friends and I love Bengali food.
Irrfan Khan has been a favourite with you. Why go with Saif for Bullet Raja?
I feel that Saif is a rare star-actor… he is a good combination of both. I have liked his work ever since Dil Chahta Hai. He makes for interesting casting… an urban city boy in a small-town setting. I could have gone to Ajay Devgn and he would have looked the part completely, but there wouldn’t have been a challenge in it for me and not so interesting to watch for the viewer.
You have Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns releasing in a month…
We made the first film on a very low budget… hardly Rs 2 crore… and I was sure that kuch bhi ho utna paisa toh recover kar hi lenge (laughs). That surety gave me the confidence to go in for the sequel. It still operates in the space of intrigue and passion and deception in royalty, but the scale has definitely gone up. We also have new faces in Irrfan and Soha (Ali Khan).
How much has the success of Paan Singh Tomar changed things for you?
Paan Singh Tomar made a world of difference to my career… it established me as someone who could tell a good story in a good way. But I feel the interest in me grew even earlier from the time of Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster. It was a film that was liked by both the audience as well as by people within the industry. With that film, I was able to generate confidence in producers to back me and my films.
2012 also saw you debut as an actor with Gangs of Wasseypur…
The primary reason why I did Wasseypur was that Anurag (Kashyap, the director) had acted in my film Shagird and I wanted to return the favour. So when he offered me the role, I said ‘okay’. But when the prosthetics guy came to my office, I realised that this was a big deal! (Laughs) Since I had committed to the film, I went ahead with it. I had no pressure on my head whatsoever… if I was bad, I would have been labelled a bad actor, but I am not an actor anyway, so what difference would that have made? (Laughs) I am now acting in Ketan Mehta’s Mountain Man.
Is it difficult to rein in the director when you are an actor on set?
Yes, very much, but I just chip in with my suggestions and it’s up to the director to take it or not take it. But I don’t demand that my suggestions should be accepted.
Do you feel India would have had a better chance at the Oscars if Paan Singh Tomar had been sent instead of Barfi!?
I wouldn’t go as far to say that if Paan Singh had been sent then it would have definitely been nominated in the shortlist, but I feel that since it’s a biopic and a human story that is so socially relevant, it had a good chance of catching the Academy’s attention.
2012 also saw the Bolly viewer open up to all kinds of cinema from Ek Tha Tiger to Paan Singh Tomar to Vicky Donor…
My kind of cinema will always have a limited reach. Bollywood will always be about star-centric cinema like Rowdy Rathore and Dabangg. They will always have 70 per cent of the pie, but we guys have the 30 per cent, na? We are happy with that. I will fall flat on my face if I try to make a Rowdy Rathore.
Any recent films that you liked?
I really liked Vicky Donor, Kahaani and Barfi!. I liked only the first part of Wasseypur.
You struggled for eight years to make your third film after Haasil and Charas. What was that period like?
I kept writing through that whole period and those are the films that I am making now, like Bullet Raja… and Begum Samroo that I really want to make but don’t think I can do so in this country because of its sexual content. I started my third film called Killing of a Porn Filmmaker the day Charas released, but something happened with the producer and the film got shelved. Then I started a big film called Ghulami set in 1857. I put up a Rs 70-lakh set, got elephants and horses and big stars, but after three days of shoot, the film wrapped up after the producer lost money. Picture shuru ho rahi thi par I wasn’t being able to complete any. I just kept writing…. But nothing was happening. I was so frustrated that I adopted a dog and called it Action to make up for the fact that I wasn’t being able to say ‘action’ as a filmmaker!
What next from you?
There is Revolver Rani with Kangana Ranaut that I am producing but not directing. In September, I start Milan Talkies with Imran Khan and Priyanka Chopra. That’s a romance, but not a mindless rom com. I will never make rom coms.
What if Aditya Chopra asks you to direct a rom com for him?
I will never be able to do it and Aditya Chopra will never offer me a film like that. He’s not a stupid guy!
Do you agree that Paan Singh Tomar should have been sent to the Oscars instead of Barfi!? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org