Much has changed around Nagesh Kukunoor since "Iqbal." As "Dor" kisses the silver screen this Friday, the director remains the same simple man, making simple films.

I can explore materials and situations that many would shy away from. The youngsters are cool to work with.

There was a goodly crowd at New Delhi's renovated PVR Plaza. Guys and gals did a good job of balancing their mobiles, soft drinks and popcorns, even as they managed to hold each other's hands in the waiting lounge. Men and woman past their prime, but making the most of a rare social outing, kept them company. Amidst them stood Nagesh Kukunoor, in black T-shirt and blue jeans. The organisers tried to lead him to his seat, butthe crowd refused to give way. Nobody came for an autograph, and a couple of presspersons just waved at him, and moved on. That was about a year ago at a special show of "Iqbal", the film which found its way to viewers' hearts with its poignant tale of a boy from the back of beyond who makes it big in Indian cricket. Nagesh's life has changed since. Now, you have to go to him often through a secretary who requests you to wait for some time before you can have your moment with the man whose latest, `Dor,' is ready for release this Friday. "Nagesh is busy with some post-production work," the secretary tells you. Another persistent query and he yields.His life has changed, Nagesh has not. He is still free of affectation, still has his thought process in order. And still makes the kind of films he wants, not the kind the distributor-exhibitor network would have him make. Still prepared to face the challenge, and make it to the winning post, his own way.

No stars

No wonder the `star' cast of `Dor' includes Ayesha Takia, Gul Panag and Shreyas Talpade, all more like raw clay than finished products. Between them they may not sell even a dozen tickets at a single screen halls, but in the hands of Nagesh, they are like a wonder box waiting to open. "Making a movie is definitely like going for a battle. The only way my interest level can be at a peak is when I think of a film with a definite deadline. I want to work with stars too, but they have their date problems. I don't want to compromise on my deadline to rope in the stars. My victory lies in making the film exactly the way I want to. There is no flag-hoisting at the end, just the feeling that I have completed the whole process again," says Nagesh, who believes, making a film is often like playing cricket too."In cricket a big star can ensure more footfalls in the stadium. Similarly, a big star can get you some measure of returns but you have to convince people with your craft to ensure your longevity at the box office. In films, if you are not strong enough you get out. Stars are important, but they are not the only important factor at the box office. The script is [also] important."Nagesh may not have worked with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan throughout his career, but right from `Hyderabad Blues' to `Bollywood Calling' to `Iqbal,' he has worked with many seasoned performers like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Girish Karnad. Incidentally, Karnad is part of `Dor' too, a rare outing for the talented actor. "There is a different challenge to work with established actors. You have to be a lot more discreet. Your inputs should be at a minimum. With newer actors the challenge is to show them the way. Here, Gul required lots on information while Ayesha went more by her amazing instincts. They just needed moulding. Based on their talent, I pushed them. Ayesha is a little bundle of talent. I saw her in `Socha Na Tha.' Before watching the film I thought she would be another glamour doll. But I was told otherwise. And now realise watching her with that mindset would have been an absolute travesty."Still, isn't it a huge risk to make films without stars, knowing that cinema-goers are often hero-worshippers? "It is a challenge I am willing to take on any day. I can explore materials and situations that many would shy away from. The youngsters are cool to work with. No ego hassles. No agenda. I have the satisfaction of making films my own way."

About women

But what is `Dor' all about? "I would not say it is a woman-oriented film just because it has two heroines, but it is actually the story of two women from two totally different backgrounds, and how they discover themselves after a stray incident brings them together." Set in Rajasthan, it is said to be his most challenging film so far.So, is life easier, if busier, after `Iqbal'? "It is a little easier. I have come to the conclusion that [if] I play the game my way, I stand a better chance of winning it." Preparing to notch up another victory with `Dor,' Nagesh is "juggling with a couple of scripts" but is only willing to concede that the much talked about `Aashiyana' with Subhash Ghai may not be his next film. No strings attached with that at the moment, just the fact that Nagesh Kukunoor would rather talk of `Dor,' hoping that the string of success just gets longer. As he gets into the car, he discloses, "I am anxious to know how the audiences relate to `Dor'." The man indeed has not changed. He is still simple. He still makes simple films.