'The nation is obsessed with Salman's marriage'
'I have just about started getting my luck back. Maybe actors only get better with time.'
'If a well-written part comes my way, I will do it. I don't have the talent to carry off a not-so-well written part.'
Atul Agnihotri gets ready for his next film, O Teri.
After the 2012 blockbuster Bodyguard, producer-director Atul Agnihotri is ready with his next production, O Teri starring Pulkit Samrat, debutant Bilal Amrohi and Sarah Jane Dias.
But this time, his film does not star his superstar brother-in-law Salman Khan. The film is a satire on socio-political issues in India.
Ahead of the film's release this Friday, March 28, Agnihotri talks to Rajul Hegde about producing the new film, its young cast, and his supportive brother-in-law.
When did you develop the idea of O Teri?
After Bodyguard, we were thinking of what to do next.
The script came out of the blue through Pulkit (Samrat). He consults bhai (Salman Khan is the rakhi brother of Pulkit's fiancé) before he signs any film.
Pulkit made Salman hear the script.
Salman loved it and told me that O Teri was one of the better scripts he had read. He liked its black humour.
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Image: Sarah Jane Dias and Pulkit Samrat in O Teri. Inset: Atul Agnihotri
'Bilal (Amrohi) is a good actor with a great temperament'
Why choose newcomers Pulkit and Bilal Amrohi?
It was required by the script. They play young journalists who want to succeed through short cuts in life. They are looking for the perfect story to impress their channel head.
I like to work with people I know. Pulkit was the first choice in this case.
I was looking for someone like Bilal. He doesn't come with any image yet. I have known him all my life. He has gone to acting school and was looking for a break and this was the perfect casting.
You are the one who encouraged Bilal to learn acting?
Bilal is a very entertaining person. I have known him for years and I know what he is capable of.
He is lucky that Pulkit is his co-star in the film. Pulkit is a good actor with a great temperament and it really cushioned Bilal's debut.
Image: Bilal Amrohi with Pulkit Samrat in O Teri
'Before I lock a film, I show it to Salman'
How involved was Salman Khan in the making of the film?
Salman and Salim uncle were aware of the script. We showed the script around, took feedback from friends too.
Salman is always there. Before I lock the film, I show it to him because of his expanse of work and the gift he has for cinema.
He has a natural gift for cinema; that is why he has been here for two decades. It can't be just his good looks.
He views a film differently from a self-obsessed filmmaker.
He is very objective as a human being, level-headed and doesn't get swayed.
His understanding and instincts are sharper. I like his take on films.
I have worked with him in a couple of films as an actor and some as producer-director.
Image: Salman Khan with Sarah Jane Dias and Pulkit Samrat
Photographs: Abhijit Mhamunkar
'This film wasn't appropriate for Salman'
What's your equation like with him?
We are friends. We have a good time together. We have stayed connected and have known each other's lives for years.
You recently said in an interview that you will not make a film without Salman.
I said if I have a choice why not? If I have something worthy of him that he can do then I will do it with him.
This film is not appropriate for him. But he has helped us in the title promotion.
We were a little worried because ours is a youthful film. So I reached out to him to do the title song. He did it because he believed in the story.
He is the one who has given us that kind of confidence and put us through this journey.
Is Salman your lucky charm?
Definitely! He is our superhero. He does have that quality as a human being.
Image: A scene from O Teri
'I don't have the talent to carry off a not-so-well written part'
How did Sarah Jane come on board?
Sarah plays the role of a TV channel head. When she walked in for the screen test, we felt she was super right for the role.
She had the right body language and a good command over Hindi. She has pulled off the role very well.
Was it harder to produce Bodyguard or Oh Teri?
Bodyguard was a remake. We knew the path. Oh Teri is an original creation, so the job is tougher to get some things right.
Any chance that you will get back to acting?
Actually they tried to force me to do a role in this film, but I said no. It's a launch vehicle for some of them and I didn't want to confuse it.
I think I have just about started getting my luck back. Maybe actors only get better with time, maybe we understand the medium better.
If a well-written part comes my way, I will do it.
I don't have the talent to carry off a not-so-well written part.
Image: Atul Agnihotri
'The nation is obsessed with Salman's marriage'
Do you think Pulkit and Bilal will be able to pull off this film?
I am hoping that the script will pull off Bilal and Pulkit and not the other way around!
That is why this film is different from others. The film will allow Bilal, Pulkit and me to survive.
This is a young film, it's a satire and the youth will connect with it.
Today's generation doesn't want to be preached to. They want to understand. If it makes sense, then they implement it.
The buzz is that Salman Khan is getting married to Lulia Vantur, the item girl in O Teri.
If he is seen with a woman, the next thing is marriage. The nation is obsessed with Salman's marriage.
We don't talk about it because the whole nation is talking about it. So we just watch the news with him.
Image: Lulia Vantur in O Teri
'I have known Lulia Vantur for years'
Is it because of him that you asked her to do an item song in your film?
No, I've known her for years now and we like to work with people we know.
She is a Romanian artist and has been coming to India for some time. She was looking for some work and we were looking for someone to make a special appearance.
How involved is your wife in the production?
Are your children inclined towards acting?
My daughter is going to the UK for higher education. She isn’t keen on joining Bollywood.
She may get interested in direction but nothing as of now; she is focusing on academics.
And she is keen on doing charity work like Salman and is interested in joining the United Nations.
My son is still young.
Image: Atul Agnihotri with wife Alvira and kids
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar