"I am not worried about Haasil. It has had so many trials, and, at each one, people loved what they saw. I am sure it will do well on word-of-mouth publicity," says Tigmanshu Dhulia, 35, director of Haasil. "It's an enjoyable action film and does not bore you even for five seconds. It's a film for the masses."
Dhulia's confidence and relaxed manner on the eve of Haasil's release makes one doubt this is his first directorial venture.
Originally from Garhwal, Dhulia graduated from Allahabad University in 1986 before joining the National School of Drama, New Delhi.
He then joined Ketan Mehta as assistant art director for Sardar Patel (Paresh Rawal) and followed it up with stints as chief assistant for Pradip Kishen's Electric Moon, casting director and assistant for Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen (Seema Biswas) and Dushmani (Sunny Deol, Manisha Koirala), dialogue writer for Mani Ratnam's Dil Se.. (Shah Rukh Khan, Manisha, Preity Zinta) and Goldie Behl's Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai (Abhishek Bachchan, Rani Mukherji, Sushmita Sen, Jackie Shroff) and screenplay and dialogue writer for Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited's Tere Mere Sapne (Chandrachur Singh, Arshad Warsi, Priya Gill, Simran).
In between, he continued polishing his writing and directing skills with short films and serials for television channels, including Krishna's Dream and Bombay Blue (Channel Four), Film India (BBC World) and six episodes of Star BestSellers (Star TV).
He also worked as casting director for Peter Ustinov's Stiff Upper Lip, Asif Kapadia's The Warrior and the Indo-Canadian production, Such A Long Journey.
Dhulia spoke to Anjum N about the declining standards of Hindi cinema and on why he made Haasil. Excerpts:
You are making your directorial debut with a film on campus politics. Why?
When I see students not bothered about society, it hurts me. Everybody has become complacent. The youth of India are not growing. They have not studied enough, there is no interest in trying to know what our history is, what politics is all about. They reject politics, saying it is 'dirty'. But politics runs you and your country. If it is dirty, we have to do something about it.
I had to make a film on this issue.
So the film is overtly political?
No, it is an action film set against the backdrop of student politics. It is the story of an ordinary boy who has his opinions and does not fear expressing them. But he does not get into fights with everyone; he's not a Salman Khan. He is no action hero.
Why have you based the film in Allahabad?
I don't think college politics in Mumbai, or anywhere else, is as volatile as it is in the Hindi belt. If you are into college politics in Mumbai, it does not ensure you a political career. So the stakes aren't so high.
But, in Uttar Pradesh, if you are a university president, you are sure to be a politician one day. There's a lot of violence and money involved, there are a lot of political parties that are interested... Everything that you see in mainstream politics goes on in that small molecule level in college also. I had seen all this as a student. So I had to base my film there.
And then, Allahabad is not a village. At one time, it was India's cultural capital. All big Hindi poets and writers came from there.
When I was small, I swear you wouldn't have been able to see the kind of films we saw in Allahabad's theatres in Mumbai. The only Western music magazine in India, Rock Street Journal [now known as RSJ], comes from Allahabad.
But it's all over now. This degeneration of the city prompted me to write Haasil. I had to make a film on how religious and caste-based parties have entered universities and are killing the city.
The film does not have a popular cast.
Frankly, I don't like working with big stars. Dealing with them is a big waste of energy. Keeping them happy becomes more important than making the film.
Nobody is a star today. If I take Shah Rukh Khan in my film and pay him Rs 4 crore [Rs 40 million], can he guarantee a hit? I made Haasil in Rs 4 crore.
On top of it all, these stars are not even good actors. They have no idea what acting is all about; they are nowhere near good acting.
How did you come to choose Jimmy Shergill, Hrishitaa Bhatt and the others?
I auditioned a lot of people before making the choice.
For Hrishitaa's role, I needed a dusky girl who could look like a Thakur... someone who would look vulnerable as well as strong, depending on the scene. Her character has a mind of her own. It's not the role of someone who only has to put her head on the boy's shoulder and sing songs.
Jimmy looks like he comes from a good, cultured family. He doesn't look chichora, there's no cheapness about him. When a guy like him gets into trouble, you feel for him. And then he is from the north, from Gorakhpur. He could understand Haasil, he started catching the nuances of the film when I spoke to him.
Irfan Khan is an old buddy. And Ashutosh Rana is a junior from NSD. His Hindi is so pure, I wanted him to play the right wing student leader.
Will the audience accept Irfan and Ashutosh as college students?
In the north, students remain in college till they are 35 or 40. They will do their bachelors, masters or law degrees; they might do their masters with three different subjects. They remain in the university because of its politics. Ashutosh and Irfan play such students.
Do you think a film like Haasil, which is not Mumbai-centric and does not cater to the NRI audience, will run in today's times?
If you look at the two biggest hits of recent times -- Lagaan [Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh] and Gadar: A Love Story [Sunny Deol, Ameesha Patel] -- both had heroes in dhotis. If someone wants to see Hrithik Roshan riding a motorbike in London, why would they see a Hindi film? They can see English films instead.
But our filmmakers have lost faith in their own culture. If you look at the top 15-20 Hindi blockbusters of all time, they are all rooted films. Mughal-e-Azam [Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala], Pakeezah [Raaj Kumar, Meena Kumari], Ganga Jamuna [Dilip Kumar, Vaijayantimala], Sholay [Sanjeev Kapoor, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Amjad Khan, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri]... all of these are rooted. They aren't guitar-strumming films. You can say the same about Lagaan and Gadar.
Was it easy getting producers to back Haasil?
It wasn't, because the film does not deal with issues preferred by Mumbai's producers. They were all into remakes and wanted me to make something like that too... (smiles) It's a different matter the films they were making then are releasing and flopping now.
When I was looking for a producer, Bobby Bedi [producer, Bandit Queen] asked me to do a television serial for him and said he would back Haasil in return. I had some name in television and could get a serial approved. So I made Rajdhani and got it passed from Star TV, but he never spoke about my film.
Haasil's script had a certain deadline. The climax had to be shot at the Kumbh Mela. And though the mela was approaching, Bedi was silent.
At this time, my friend Amita Sehgal, now the film's executive producer, got some money from her family and friends -- about Rs 4-5 lakhs [Rs 4,00,000-5,00,000]. We took our actors to Allahabad and shot the big scenes, the moving shots and everything and came back and edited the footage. Then we started showing this footage to people; that's how the film started.
You seem to have been involved in college politics as a student.
Yes, I was.
Is it important to have such firsthand experience when making a film on such issues?
You have to have some background when you make a political film. Even films like The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy [Sunny Deol, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra] are political, because it deals with terrorism. But our filmmakers will just stick a beard on an actor's faces and think their job is done.
Earlier, we had directors like Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt who made great political films. For example, [Dutt's] Pyaasa [Dutt, Waheeda Rahman] made a great political comment even though the film did not have a single politician. We don't have such filmmakers now.
Is it because today's filmmakers do not want to take a stand?
I think its because we don't take our filmmaking seriously.
The Indian film industry started with nautanki people. Prithviraj Kapoor's Prithvi Theatre was a Parsi theatre group, a nautanki group that also made great films. They took their art seriously.
But the filmmakers who came later did not encourage their children to learn; they did not send them to film schools even though they could. The entire generation was wasted.
We have to treat cinema as an art form. Yes, we should aim to make money out of it, but that does not mean it stops being an art form. Our filmmaking today is just the art of making proposals: get Salman Khan to sign your film, get some producer to put money on the table and start counting your share. The actual filmmaking has become secondary.
Our industry is suffering today only because we are not making good films.
You worked with Shekhar Kapur in Bandit Queen. Was he instrumental in bringing you to Mumbai?
Yes. When Bandit Queen was completed, Shekhar Kapur asked us to shift to Mumbai.
But, soon, he got an offer for Elizabeth and went away, leaving us stranded. We had come here on his suggestion, but our initiation into the industry had not happened fully. And when he left, we did not have anything to show for our time here.
Tell us something about your next project.
My next film Charas [Jimmy, Hrishitaa, Irfan, Uday Chopra, Namrata Shirodkar, Adam Bedi] is based on drug trafficking, a Rs 700 crore [Rs 7 billion] industry controlled by the Italian and Israeli mafia. This film is also based on reality.
We have completed shooting about 50 per cent of it. It will be a true crossover film. An action film again, with lots of adventure, biking, trekking and mountaineering.
But the budget will remain moderate, about Rs 5 crore [Rs 50 million]. After all, money alone cannot make a good film.