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Himmatwala

What is this fascination with Himmatwala?

It’s my favourite film from childhood. I think I saw it 36 times in the theatre. Even before I became a director, I knew that I would want to retell the story in my style with more action, humour and drama.

So how different is your version from K. Raghavendra Rao’s 1983 film starring Jeetendra and Sridevi?

My version is set in the ’80s but it’s made for today’s audience. I have re-written the script. The backdrop is the same but the story is different. The beginning, interval point and the climax have been changed. We have two songs (Naino mein sapna and Taki taki) from the original but they have been designed for Ajay (Devgn). I wanted to showcase Ajay as his fans would like to see him. The promos might have a lot of action but this is predominantly a family drama.

What was it like recreating Naino mein sapna and Taki taki?

I was in tears throughout! (Laughs) While we were recording the songs, I wore sunglasses so people wouldn’t see me crying. When Amit Kumar sang Naino mein sapna, I told him to sing it like his dad (Kishore Kumar). He also got emotional. I am going to be an emotional mess when the film releases on March 29. I will have to wear dark glasses throughout the day! It is very rare to get a chance to work on something that’s influenced your life so much.

Did you really promise Ajay a role in the film while you were both in college?

Not many people know that Ajay and I were friends in college. We used to be a part of the same group. He knew how crazy I was about films and about Himmatwala in particular. I used to always tell him that some day I’ll remake the film and cast him. After he became an actor, we would meet but weren’t in constant touch.

When I called him last year after years, he immediately knew what I was calling him for. He said, ‘So you are finally making Himmatwala’. (Smiles) His next reaction? ‘I am not going to wear white clothes and a wig!’ I showed him my script and he came on board. We got along like a house on fire. More than a new collaboration between a director and actor, I think this film has re-established a friendship.

Was the experience of working with Ajay all that you had thought it would be?

Ajay is like a drug, very addictive. He is such a thorough professional. Ajay is a lot like Akshay (Kumar) in that respect. I am very lucky to have worked with such professional actors. Ajay is completely a director’s actor. Even though he is a superstar, he will give as many retakes as his director requires.

How did you pick Tamannaah to play Ajay’s love interest?

There were a few things that I was very clear on. Like I knew that I wanted to release the film on March 29, 2013 because the first Himmatwala released on the same day 30 years ago. In the same way, I always knew that I wanted to cast a south Indian girl in the film. I had not seen a single frame of Tamannaah before I signed her. Someone told me about her and I liked her pictures. That was it.

You’ve got Jeetendra to do a cameo in the film: true or false?

False. I very consciously didn’t want him to do a cameo. I don’t want people to think that this film is a spoof of his film. I spoke with him on the first and last day of the film’s shoot. He gave me his blessings on the first day before the mahurat and said that he had full faith in me. He said there were very few filmmakers who made films for the audience.

With every film you make, you predict its box-office collection. What’s in store for Himmatwala?

I am quite sure it will do extremely well. I know it’ll be one of the three biggest hits of 2013. But I don’t want to predict the box-office numbers this time.

What is next for you?

I am going to start shooting in July with Saif (Ali Khan) and Riteish (Deshmukh) for a romantic comedy. You’ll see Saif like never before in this film. It’s untitled as yet. I have decided that I want to make one film every year from now on.

himmatwala (1983)

A remake of the 1981 Telugu film Ooriki Monagadu, Himmatwala starred Jeetendra and Sridevi in the lead roles, with Waheeda Rehman, Amjad Khan, Shakti Kapoor and Kader Khan in supporting roles. Directed by K. Raghavendra Rao, Himmatwala was the biggest hit of the year. It made Sridevi the darling of the box office and established Jeetendra’s status as the undisputed dancing-singing star of Bollywood. Bappi Lahiri’s tunes — Naino mein sapna and Taki taki — were blockbusters.