He dropped out of a filmmaking course in New York University to assist Mira Nair on The Perez Family 12 years ago. He then went on to assist Woody Allen, Ang Lee and Nair in many of their award-winning films.
Apoorva Lakhia is now making his debut as writer-director with the Abhishek Bachchan-Lara Dutta starrer, Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost.
The film, which is scheduled to premiere at the International Indian Film Academy awards, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, beginning May 17, will be released in India next month.
MSAMD, which presents former Miss Universe Lara Dutta as a village belle, is expected to showcase her talent and revive Abhishek Bachchan's drooping career.
Lakhia spoke to Monika Baldwa on how he is coping with the expectations raised by MSAMD:
What is Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost about?
It is a story about a village without electricity -- what happens when it gets electricity and how [its] life transforms [as a result]. It came out of a surreal experience I had when I was passing through a village with three foreigners and we had a flat tyre. Some villagers walked out and suddenly started treating me as a demigod, because I had a tattoo on my hand. This bit freaked me out and I actually wondered what it would be like to live in a village without electricity and how it would change their lives [when it got electricity].
We shot Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost just the way they shoot it in Hollywood. We planned the schedule and I worked on the script for almost two years and we finally shot the film in 65 days in a start-to-finish schedule. In fact, the village that was constructed after a two-month research -- with 40 huts, two wells and five cowsheds -- has been gifted to the locals after the shooting was complete.
What made you sign Abhishek Bachchan?
I saw a clip of Refugee and realised that he was the perfect guy for this film. I wrote the script with him in mind. But when I approached him, he wasn't sure whether he wanted to do this film.
Now, when people ask me why I have dirty nails, I blame Abhishek for it -- because I spent two nail-biting years waiting for him to sign the film. I was sure we could make a difference to each other's careers with this film.
The role is quite an offbeat one and he has done complete justice to the character.
Abhishek was a thorough professional. In fact, after his grandfather died, we thought we wouldn't be able to shoot for the next 13 days. But he surprised us; he didn't keep us waiting and returned after the fifth day to finish his work.
What about Lara? Did you actually think she would work as a village belle?
I was convinced she would, and she does. One look at the promos and you are convinced. She's put in a lot [of effort] to get into the skin of her character and it shows on screen.
Your entire family seems to be involved in the film.
Since it is our first film, we decided we should stretch [our goodwill] and ask for as many favours as we could. Since it is our first film, my mother has done Lara's costumes for New York; my aunt has done the sets. One of my uncles plays Abhishek's grandfather and one of my cousins plays his friend. So it is, in a way, a combined Lakhia and Nilahani [Vishal Nihalani, the producer] family effort. In fact, they [our relatives] don't treat us like director and producer. We got some major dressing downs about the kind of deadlines and the way we have pushed our families. But it has worked for us so far.
You have worked with a lot of well-known names in Hollywood. What did you learn from them?
I've been influenced by their way of thinking. And one learns a lot by observing. For instance, Woody Allen hates shooting in the harsh afternoon lights. So we shot during the mornings and in the evenings. Andrew Davis shoots each scene with three cameras. But then their movie budgets are equivalent to the defence budgets of our country. I remember, if they needed to blow up a building, they would actually do it to create the [right] effect.
What I bring from Hollywood is their way of filmmaking -- how everybody should be doing what on the sets. Call sheets, makeup timings, how things are coordinated there and how things are planned so much in advance. But I don't think in Hindi still. In fact, I can only abuse in Hindi. I would do so on the sets in Hollywood and they would smile at me! It was fun.
How was the experience of working on Lagaan?
Working on Lagaan as an assistant director was a learning experience. I learnt how film crews worked in India as compared to the US. In the US, everything is professional. Here, everything is done at an emotional level. My script was ready long before I started work on Lagaan. In fact, I had shown my script to Aamir Khan and asked for his opinion.
Why did you move to India?
I want to make movies. There is nothing that compares to the thrill of working as a totally independent filmmaker. But people there are not so receptive; after all, you are a foreign filmmaker. But I like knowing it is my name at the end of the movie that I have crafted and I am responsible for it.
Do you hope MSAMD will be another Lagaan?
If it makes even as much money as it took to make Lagaan, I will be jumping with joy. But honestly, my movie is a Mandi movie. It will spread by word-of-mouth and then catch on. It's not a regular Hindi film.