'Casting Urmila, Ajay and Akshaye costs money!'
Writer-director Anees Bazmi on his dream project
He started as a child artiste in Hindi films. Anees Bazmi has since moved on to becoming a fine screenwriter and director.
His directorial ventures, Hulchul (1995) and Pyar Toh Houna Hi Tha (1998), both starring Ajay Devgan and Kajol, were not successful at the box-office.
Yet, the director is back with the Ajay Devgan starrer, Deewangee. Rumoured to be a loose adaptation of the Richard Gere-Edward Norton-Laura Linney crime drama Primal Fear, the film also stars Akshaye Khanna and Urmila Matondkar.
Bazmi started as an assistant to Raj Kapoor in Prem Rog, but made his mark as a distinguished writer with films like Swarg, Pratibandh, Aankhen before he took up direction.
Bazmi took time off to speak with Subhash K Jha:
Deewangee looks very glossy. Is it your most expensive film to date?
No. But casting three top stars like Ajay, Urmila and Akshaye does cost money. We have used seven or eight lavish sets. But Deewangee is not a Mughal-e-Azam or Devdas. It is a reasonably budgeted film.
A suspense thriller is a new for you.
That is true. I have never written a suspense film before, let alone direct one. In fact, before Pyaar Toh Houna Hi Tha I had never written a love story. I am known more as a writer of comedies and social dramas.
Do you feel writers have a tough time establishing themselves as directors?
No. Pyaar Toh Houna Hi Tha did well. After that, I was committed to [producer] Nitin Manmohan for a film. For some strange reason, three of the films that I was to direct Nitin were shelved. Hence, the long gap between Pyar Toh Houna Hi Tha and Deewangee.
Otherwise, I could have easily done some films in-between.
What made you do a suspense thriller?
I like to fly free. After Pyar Toh Houna Hi Tha, people had certain expectations from me. I wanted to get away from those expectations, yet live up to them. I wanted to think less about money and more about my subject. It took me a while to write Deewangee.
Why did you adapt French Kiss for Pyar Toh Houna Hi Tha?
A writer has to bend in directions that he may not like. A writer is like a child who wants something he sees in the shop window. When I saw French Kiss, I liked the basic theme. Many Hindi films have been made on this, like Brahmachari and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin. I wanted to develop on the idea.
Elements from French Kiss were there only till the interval of my film. I agree that some scenes from the original were there in the remake.
Why should I tamper with the original just to prove myself as a writer?
I am very comfortable with adaptations. Over a million Hindi films have been made so far, and most of them are inspired from one source or another. Most films that we think are original are inspired from some place or another.
Is Deewangee adapted from Primal Fear?
No, it is not. I was inspired by Primal Fear. But that film has no music. It cannot be remade into Hindi. When you watch Deewangee, you will realise why it took 18 months to make.
My script is the strongest USP of the film. The three main actors have given a hundred per cent. Akshaye and Urmila are mindblowing. Ajay has been with me in many films. He is very special in Deewangee.
I would say people are looking forward to my film after Pyar Toh Houna Hi Tha, kyunki Anees Bazmi ne achchi film banaayee thi [because Anees Bazmi made a good film].
You and Ajay share a fabulous rapport.
Yes, it started when I directed him in Hulchul, which did not do well. I remember the producers had offered to talk to Ajay. I was not sure if he would work with me. But he agreed without meeting me. His confidence in me just thrilled me!
Sadly, Hulchul was not a good experience.
Many reasons. A film's failure is attributed to many factors. I felt guilty about betraying Ajay's trust in my abilities. I had to make up to him. I did that with Pyar Toh Houna Hi Tha. Now, Deewangee. But the main reason he does films with me is that he likes my scripts.
Are you more at home as writer or director?
I always wanted to become a director. That is why I worked as assistant to Raj Kapoor for four years during Prem Rog. I then assisted ten other directors.
But I was stonewalled as a director because, unlike an aspiring actor, an aspiring director has nothing to recommend himself, not even his pictures. I decided to write scripts to prove what I am capable of. As far as I am concerned, a film is largely written on paper. I consider myself a capable writer and director.
Are you not apprehensive about Deewangee since films nowadays do not seem to be working?
If films are not doing well, it is because they are not worth the success. Today, if you take away Rs 100 from a common man, lock him up in a dark room, tie him to a chair for three hours and then offer him substandard fare, he is bound to feel tortured. The quality of films have to be improved. For that, filmmakers need to work on their scripts.
What are your other projects?
Yes. There is an incomplete venture Radheshyam Sitaram, featuring Suniel Shetty and Aishwarya Rai in double roles. The producer has run into some problems but the film should be out in March-April 2003. Then, there is Hum Do Hamara Ek, with Govinda, Raveena Tandon and Mahima Chaudhry. It is almost complete. It is an out-out-comedy, like the ones I wrote for David Dhawan [Bol Radha Bol, Shola Aur Shabnam, Aankhen].
I have written eight or nine films for David, most of which were hits. But I could not give David my undivided attention. I had to write films for my other director friends, like Abbas-Mustan and Raj Kanwar. Apart from doing a stray film for my friends, I want to devote my time to direction.
But comedies do not seem to be going down well with audiences.
I disagree. That is what people said to me when I was writing Aankhen. No matter what the genre, a good film always works. Today, Aankhen is counted among the most successful film of the 1990s.
Do you think there is a shortage of writers in Mumbai?
Yes, and it will continue to be this way until filmmakers view the problem seriously. Writers need to be treated better. They should be paid better fees and given time to write instead of being forced to churn out scenes just because a star's dates are confirmed. A building can never be strong if the foundation is weak. The script is the basis for any film.
Have you been disappointed by the way other directors have filmed your scripts?
No. As a writer-director, I know how difficult it is to satisfy both. So I have never allowed myself to be unhappy with the way my scripts are filmed. I am writing a film for my friend [producer] Harry Baweja called Karz and an untitled film for Abbas-Mustan. I will continue writing sporadically.
What are your expectations from Deewangee?
It is a very sincere effort. People are looking forward to a good film from me. I do not think they will be disappointed. My stars have not been used as stars.
Urmila is not there for decorative value. The role required a performer and a dancer, hence Urmila.
I have already proved myself as a writer and director. But the success of Deewangee will give me the freedom to make films on my own terms. I want to make a big film with a huge canvas about India called Mulk.
Maybe Deewangee will allow me to make this dream project.