'Only attraction for me was Aamir'

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By A.R. Murugadoss on what he took from Memento and why PRATIM D. GUPTA
  • Published 25.12.08
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All your films down south — Dheena, Ramana, Ghajini and Stalin — have been huge blockbusters. What is the secret of your success?

I take more time over the script. In fact, I take double the time to write the script than what I take to shoot the film. The basis of any film is the screenplay. I take around six months to write a script. I think I am able to treat the story and script in a very different way. That must be the reason.

What have you changed in the Bollywood version from the Tamil Ghajini?

See, after the Tamil Ghajini released, lots of reviews and reactions came out everywhere. So, I took note of all that people thought was lacking in the film. And I have tried to incorporate all those points in the Hindi film and correct myself. So, you can say, I fine-tuned the Tamil Ghajini. The last 20 minutes is totally different from the original. Because Aamir also didn’t like the Tamil ending much. Then I have added an extra song situation. And I removed a fight from the Tamil version because it wasn’t needed in the screenplay. Mainly it is the second half which has all the changes.

How did the remake come about?

We had approached Aamir Khan. Pradeep Rawat, who is the villain of Ghajini (in both versions), was one of the cricket players in Lagaan (Deva, the Sikh fast bowler). When we were doing the Tamil version, he suggested that we could do the Hindi remake with Aamir Khan. At that time I didn’t take the whole idea very seriously. You know, I thought Aamir Khan wouldn’t like to do a film like this. Then we sent him a print of Ghajini. He saw the film and he called me. We had a meeting and the remake was on.

But why did you think of Aamir Khan in an action-oriented role because his usual image is that of a romantic hero?

The posters everywhere are giving you the impression that it is an action film. The film also has a wonderful love story. It is not just an action film. Ghajini is 50 per cent love and 50 per cent action. We thought that if Aamir Khan played an action hero, it would come across as fresh to the Hindi audiences.

How did Aamir react to the offer of playing an action hero?

He suggested the name of Salman Khan. He said that Salman suits the character 100 per cent. Then we said, “Yes sir, but you build your body like Salman Khan and it will be totally new.” Then he said: “Ok, let me think about it for some time.” After four days, he agreed to do the film.

Did you ever imagine he would become this incredible eight-pack body for your film?

No, I never imagined that he would come up with this kind of a huge body! I thought that he would tighten his body a little. I never expected that he could do something like this.

When you saw what he had done with his body, were you tempted to change your script and put in more ‘body’ scenes?

We always had one body shot. That’s at the beginning of the film. It will be on screen for about one minute. For that one minute he worked out so hard for one-and-a-half years. So I decided to put in one more action sequence without the shirt. Only for his body. And I think it was a very good idea and it really worked for the film.

Aamir wrote in his blog that you hadn’t seen Memento before making Ghajini. But the reverse tattoos and the Polaroid pictures... isn’t that too much of a coincidence?

I only saw Memento after I finished the script. I needed some disability for the hero’s character, some kind of obstacle. It was then that I saw Memento. So the two characters are similar. They have the same disease — 15-minute memory loss. Apart from that there is no similarity in the story or how it is told. Only the character, the Polaroid thing, the tattoos... The story is out-and-out different.

Now, you have made the same film twice. Did you find it boring?

Whenever Aamir Khan was not there on the sets I would feel bored (laughs)! The only attraction for me was Aamir Khan. Whenever Aamir Khan was absent from the sets, I would be: “Why are we doing the film again?” So, doing a remake was definitely a bore but doing a film with Aamir Khan was better than best.

Is there any difference in the way Bollywood and the south Indian film industry work?

The main difference is that in the south, they are not as planned as they are in the Hindi film industry. Particularly Aamir Khan and his people are totally professional. They are running things like in Hollywood. That is the only difference I guess.

Why didn’t you go for a Bollywood heroine? Why repeat Asin?

After we decided to do the film in Hindi, we decided to go for some new heroine. Then we did a lot of auditions with many girls. We auditioned Asin also because this time it was sync-sound and it had to be her own voice. And among all the girls, Asin was the best. Also, she knew the character quite well.

But you didn’t go for the same tunes by Harris Jayraj and went for A.R. Rahman...

The Ghajini soundtrack was a big hit in Tamil Nadu. But we wanted to change it for the rest of the country because the music is totally different in the north from that of the south. So, we selected Rahman, who is from the south but has done scores for Hindi films.

As a director of both the films, which Ghajini do you like more?

The Hindi film is far better than the Tamil version.

Why do you say that?

The Tamil version had only around Rs 7 to 7.5 crore budget. So we had limited options. We shot for only 100 days. We couldn’t shoot any more. For the Hindi version, we shot for 135 days. The budget, I think, was more that Rs 25 crore. So with triple the budget, we had no limitations. We could use new equipment. For the original, we did DI (digital intermediate) colour-correction for only two songs. For the Hindi version, we have done DI to the entire film.

Ghajini has become a must-watch movie event. Do you consider yourself lucky to have made such a big debut in Bollywood?

No doubt (laughs)! Doing a Hindi film is a big dream for a south Indian director. And the first film is with Aamir Khan. So, I am 100 per cent happy!

Will your next be in Hindi or Tamil?

It will depend on the script. If the script suits Bollywood, I will make a Hindi film.