It is absolute passion for cinema

KING OF THE WORLD: Nagesh Kukunoor has made films on his own terms.

KING OF THE WORLD: Nagesh Kukunoor has made films on his own terms.  

HE HAD been plagued by scribes and he didn't have much choice considering that there were several, including some fans, wanting to have a word with him, especially after his latest venture, 3 Deewarein, which had received rave reviews. And when it was time for this correspondent to meet him after an excruciatingly long wait, he emerged slightly tired, a little dehydrated but not unwilling to talk about the film.

Dressed casually in a black shirt and carrying a backpack, he is unnoticed by the huge crowds. Not that he is bothered.

During the 20-minute conversation, he talks movies, movies and more movies.

3 Deewarein — it was very good. But why did you have to tie up all those characters like that?

In this film, I have attempted to marry two styles, drama and mystery. People don't like it when rules are changed... So I've gotten this reaction from people who I think are just irritated when rules are changed.

I don't think that is the reaction. It is just that one wants to know why?

BOLLYWOOD CALLING: 3 Deewarein has won rave reviews.

BOLLYWOOD CALLING: 3 Deewarein has won rave reviews.  

Why? Because I wanted to take the rules that we unconsciously accept as drama, as mystery and try and marry the two... sometimes life is stranger than fiction. And within the framework of a fictional piece, it is absolutely possible. Sometimes each action of ours affects a hundred people downstream. And besides it makes for a great story. There are a hundred different ways to interpret a script. But a movie, like anything else is a point of view.

What is the inspiration behind this story?

A documentary on the prisoners at the Yerawada prison in Pune. When the screening was over and the lights came on one of the guys who was in there for murdering his wife, was actually sitting among us. He had been released and I had a long chat with him. And he was just a normal person — like you or me, but had killed his wife.

A person could have one bad day and lives of several persons could change forever. That was the premise for the film. But it took me still three years to actually start writing the script. Have you had problems finding funds for your films?

I have had difficulty, yes. If I stick to what people label me for, which in this case, if you go by the track record, are light hearted films for the most part, then finding money would not be an issue. But if I want to keep changing the rules, after Hyderabad Blues make a film about kids and so on, it will always be difficult.

Have you been comfortable with all the films that you have made?


What really keeps you going?

Just the sheer love of cinema and cinema of every kind. When all is said and done and the curtain falls some day, I hope I would have made at least one film in every genre.

That's my target. That's my challenge. My theory is this. We are generically predisposed to something, something that absolutely makes you feel alive, fires every fibre of your body, makes you want to come back. For some people, its cocaine, for some people its films.

Did you grow up watching films?

MAKING A POINT: Comfortable with his kind of film.

MAKING A POINT: Comfortable with his kind of film.  

Yes. All the time. My dad was an avid moviegoer. So we got to see Hindi cinema and Hollywood, whatever films that trickled down.

When did you decide that you wanted to make movies?

That took time. Wanting and doing are two different things. It took me forever to pluck up courage to actually give up something that I'd spent all my life working for. So that didn't come until, I was 26 and from that point I started taking courses, workshops, doing whatever I could. In the U.S., a lot of places offer weeklong film production workshops and stuff like that. So I'd use my vacation for that. And whatever classes Atlanta could offer, especially acting classes.

What is it that really excites you about a story?

For me at the core of every story, I think, are very good characters. I spend an enormous amount of time on understanding and doing character development because enjoyment for a viewer comes predominantly in the form of empathy with a character. Even in the heart of every great action film are great characters. So that really excites me when I start writing. But I never stop and say okay; I have a great character now let me write a story. It's the story that always comes to me first.

Like in this movie?


And how did you choose these people? Especially Juhi?

I have always thought Juhi Chawla is an underutilised actress. Incidentally, way back I had a crush on her. If I had my way in every film, I would cast against the type. There are some roles that are written for, like Naseer, like Ishaan was, but otherwise I would cast against the type every time.

And was it easy to convince them?

I depend on my script to do it for me. I don't try and tell a person how great he/she would be in a role. Let them read the script, see what roles I am asking them to do and if they like it, they say yes, if they don't like it, no.

And how do you go about directing them? Do you tell them the situation or do you let them react?

It depends on the artiste. I learnt a lot while doing Bollywood Calling. I had three actors who came from three different backgrounds. Pat had every line of the script memorised before he came to India to shoot, Om Puri who comes from the drama background who also had his lines memorised but came with very specific ideas on how to do the character.

And then there was Navin Nischol from the Bollywood world who didn't learn a single line till ten minutes before the scene. Pat wanted elaborate rehearsals, Navin didn't want a single rehearsal. Om would go for a rehearsal but then in the middle of the scene, would change things up, which annoyed Pat. In 3 Deewarein, Jackie preferred specific instructions from me while Naseer came with very specific ideas. Juhi made many intuitive choices, which turned out right. As you can see she's nothing short of magnificent. Would you call yourself a successful filmmaker?

Judging by my bank balance I'm not so sure. But judging by my credibility, I think it's pretty decent.

How do people react to you?

For the most part, I would say favourably. The best thing I like about any movie is if it generates discussion, if the audience is apathetic to it, I think that is failure? I have no problem with people disliking my films. Many people disagree with some of the stuff I've done. And there are very valid reasons why they didn't like it. That's part of the game. But none of my films has been brushed aside.

In certain parts of this movie you have used shades of grey and blue. Is that a deliberate thing?

Absolutely. In prisons, the only source available to them in the nights is the moonlight. One or two lone bulbs burn here and there.

Any interesting projects that you are looking at, other than Hyderabad Blues 2?

One is a movie called Tandoor in Hindi that I am doing with Mr. Bachchan. It's a movie about a cook and a white American lawyer in New York. Mr. Bachchan plays the cook.

What would you say to aspiring filmmakers?

Just follow your heart. Don't listen to people. If there is any proof that anything can work its Hyderabad Blues.

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