?Aishwarya Rai was almost in my film?

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By Andy Tennant, the director of the new Hollywood blockbuster, Hitch, starring Will Smith, reveals. By Subhash K. Jha
  • Published 15.04.05
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Q: How is India?

Wonderful. My wife and I are having a blast. We?re already thinking of coming back with our kids. In fact, I?m leaving India ahead of my wife. She?s staying back for an extra week. We?ve been here for 10 days, and it feels wonderful. Can you imagine how stressed I?d be if my movie had bombed? It would?ve been a terrible holiday.

Q:It opened in the US during the same week as Gurinder Chadha?s Bride & Prejudice. Did it?

I wasn?t in the US when it opened. I was with my film?s leading man, Will Smith, promoting Hitch in Rio de Janeiro.

Q:Sweet Home Albama, Ever Yours?Hitch?You seem to specialise in romantic comedies?

Yes. But my favourite film, Anna & The King, wasn?t a comedy. We didn?t remake the old Yul Brynner-Deborrah Kerr musical, The King & I. We actually reconceived it. We tried to take the opportunity to get the historical facts right. So this was an opportunity for me to tell the story that hadn?t been done before. We thought the idea of a White woman taming the noble savage in The King & I was a little outdated.

Q:So are you against musical films?

Oh, no! I love musicals. My background is in theatre. And when I come out of a musical, I?m elated. In fact, I might be making a musical soon. I believe much of Bollywood?s cinema is in the musical format. I want to see Bride & Prejudice. I want to see Aishwarya Rai because she was almost in my film.

Q:In Hitch?

That?s right. There was a time when she was going to play the college girlfriend, which was originally a much bigger part. I think we were all keen on she doing it. But we had a demanding schedule which she couldn?t work out. That was the hitch on Hitch.

Q: Even without Aishwarya the film has gone on to become a blockbuster?

Yes. I think it?s been categorised as a blockbuster. I don?t know if I?m going to be rich after Hitch. But I know I?m going to get another job.

Q:You?d have got that even without Hitch being a success?

In this line of work, you never know.

Q:Hitch is about a ?date doctor?. Is that the film?s USP?

One of them. The other was, we wanted to make a romantic comedy from a guy?s point of view. Most of the time men don?t want to go and see a romantic comedy.

Q:Why?

I think most of them put a woman up as the protagonist. Romantic comedies like the story to be more emotional. With a male as the protagonist audiences don?t want to see that much emotions when it comes to love. The way to get the men into a romantic comedy is to let them enjoy the comic aspect, and let the women weep and enjoy the comedy.

Q:Is that the ploy you used in Hitch?

I think we made a romantic comedy masquerading as a buddy comedy. The chemistry between Will Smith and his screen-buddy Kevin James is as strong as the chemistry between Will and his romantic lead Eva Mendes. While I was editing Hitch I felt I had made two movies I could cut from the romantic comedy to the buddy comedy and back again?and everything was equally funny.

Q:Do you think there?s a writing crisis in Hollywood?

Oh, yeah! During the course of Hitch we had many writers coming in. I myself collaborated on the writing. It?s difficult to find a coherent voice with so many around. Often the films find themselves a good concept, but not a good script. We in Hollywood tend to bring in multiple writers. Lots of doctoring going on. It gets a bit chaotic. We end up making a film like a relay race where every writer contributes his lap, so to speak. We had a lot of funny people writing Hitch. That?s where I came in. I had to be the ultimate arbitrator. I unified all the voices, tuned all the instruments so that we were all playing at the same key.

Q:How was it working with Will Smith?

Part of the reason I wanted to do Hitch was because my other films had female protagonists, which I enjoyed. Now I wanted to do something with a male protagonist. To have a guy of his stature is a whole different ballgame. It was like a good time around a pool table. With the female stars it was more like a nice candle-lit dinner. With Will there were lots of laughs. That was the currency during Hitch.

Q:Did you take him for Hitch as the perfect casting?

Actually he thought I was perfect for the film. He produced Hitch. It was his decision to hire me. Very flattering.

Q:Not really. He wasn?t doing you any favour.

No. But listen, there are lots of good directors out there who are jobless. I remember November 5, 2003 I was jobless. On November 6, Will Smith called.

Q:You did one of Reese Witherspoon?s earlier comedies, Sweet Home Alabama, now she?s done Vanity Fair with Mira Nair?

Which I saw.

Q:We won?t embarrass you by asking what you thought of it.

Thank you. I?ve done romantic comedies with other very talented ladies including Drew Barrymore in Ever After, which is a personal favourite. I?ve had my share of the genre.

Q:So do you want to move to other challenges?

I don?t know?Making Hitch was harder than Anna & The King, which wasn?t a romantic comedy. I?d like to do some other maybe more serious-toned stories. I don?t think movies need to get more serious. Historically, it has been proven that during stressful times people turn to comedies. Frankly, with all the sadness around me the last thing I wanted to go and do was see Million Dollar Baby. However, there are two kinds of films coming out of Hollywood. I admire the Million Dollar Baby kind of films more than I enjoy them.

Q:At the end of the day the Oscars go to those films?

I don?t care! I?d rather fill up the theatre with people who are laughing. Did you see Sullivan?s Travel? It?s a film about a director making comedies who suddenly decided to make dramas to be taken more seriously. There?s no greater pleasure than to go to the theatre and see the audience howling with delight at your humour. But I?d like to write a drama.

Q: It?s far more difficult to make a funny film?

Doing comedy is like writing music. The timing has to be perfect. The effort to make audiences laugh shouldn?t show up in a comedy. When Anna & The King didn?t work, it drove me away from comedy for a while. I was accused of being pretentious. My leading lady, Jodie Foster, was found to be unlikeable. I was disappointed by the criticism. It was a big investment for my producers, 20th Century Fox. I felt I had let them and myself down. It took me a couple of years to get out of the disappointment. Today, I look back at Anna? as my favourite.

Q:Mine too.

You know my father gave me a quote from Rudyard Kipling, which I carry around as my philosophy of life: ?Treat success and failure equally as the imposters that they are.? Now that I?ve had both, I still have to do what I have to do. I?m trying to do another comedy with Nicole Kidman. I?ve been her fan for years. I wish it would happen. Right now she?s in Australia and I?m in India. Let?s hope it happens. Otherwise, I?d probably write a drama.

Q:Nicole will call.

Well, thank you. From your lips to God?s will.

Q:Would you like to do a film in India?

I?ve come to know that Hollywood films make up only five per cent of the movie-going public in India. Maybe I can do an Anna & The King as a musical in India. That would be great. One of the things Will Smith has taught me is to open new markets with every movie and to expose your movies to a bigger and bigger market. When I came to India I didn?t know Hitch hadn?t opened. I took the initiative to promote the film here. I?m very proud of Hitch. Maybe next time I come back here Holywood would be six per cent of the movie-going market.

Q:Would you like to see Hitch dubbed in Hindi?

I?ve seen it in German and it?s still funny. There?s an awful lot of slapstick in Hitch. You don?t need to know English or Hindi to see Will Smith?s face blow up. Laughter is pretty much universal. Will and I are talking about a sequel.