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The Rediff Interview / Director Sriram Raghavan
'Johnny Gaddaar is the opposite of a thriller'
August 09, 2007
His debut film Ek Haseena Thi, starring Saif Ali Khan [Images] and Urmila Matondkar [Images], may not have set the box office afire, but director Sriram Raghavan is back with his next undertaking Johnny Gaddaar, which stars Dharmendra [Images].
Raghavan speaks to Swati R Chaudhary about roping in the big D, his aversion to stereotypical love stories, his career post Ek Haseena Thi, and more.
Why Johnny Gaddaar? Is Johnny one of the central characters?
No. There is no character by that name. Actually I have always had the highest regard for Vijay Anand and this is my way of paying homage to him. I vividly remember some of his films like Jewel Thief, Guide, Teesri Manzil, etc. They are decades old but still so much fun to watch.
His work is admirable and I simply loved Johnny Mera Naam. It suddenly struck me to incorporate a kind of a movie excerpt from Johnny Mera Naam in a particular sequence in the film, and hence the title.
What is so atypical about this suspense thriller?
It is unlike the quintessential thriller where someone is up to something and the audience is speculating. Johnny Gaddaar is the opposite of a thriller. In this case, the audience knows right from the outset what transpires and who the likely culprit is. It is a suspense caper.
There are five friends, rather five business associates, who plan a conspiracy. They are not underworld gangsters; they have legitimate businesses.
One of them decides to double-cross his group. What ensues is an accident that they all try to figure out, when actually this guy is sitting amidst them.
Tell us about the music.
Interestingly, I had never planned any songs. I had only thought of one title track for the promo but I fell in love with the music and wanted more of it. Vishal-Shekhar were supposed to score the music but unfortunately they were busy with Om Shanti Om; so I roped in Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
The music is very eclectic and the songs are very brief, to the point. The film doesn't have the conventional song and dance routine. I needed dark songs to convey the attitude of my characters.
How did you think of casting newcomer Neil (grandson of legendary singer Mukesh)?
One of the five main protagonists (Dharmendra, Zakir Hussain, Daya Shetty, Vinay Pathak and Neil Mukesh) is a young chap, about 25 years old. I guess there are not many actors belonging to that age group; those who are have allotted their dates (to other films).
Besides, (writer) Anurag Kashyap had conducted Neil's screen test some time back and he happened to show it to me.
I met Neil, we discussed the script, he undertook workshops, I did my own screen tests, etc.
It can be intimidating sharing screen space with Dharmendra, but hats off to Neil's confidence and conviction. He has done a good job and he has amazing screen presence.
Incidentally, he is not really a newcomer because he has already assisted Yash Raj and is also trained in acting.
How confident were you of roping in Dharmendra?
When I was scripting, I knew I needed somebody like Dharmendra to essay one of those key roles. I was certainly wary of casting an actor of his stature. More so because he didn't know me and neither had he seen Ek Haseena Thi.
But when we met and interacted, he showed keen interest in the film. In fact, he used to interrupt me with little ideas and inputs. He came up with his own ideas, which made the character much more than what it was on paper.
I had to exercise caution because a suspense thriller, if executed badly, can turn into a B-grade potboiler.
Your fondness for thrillers is evident. Don't you want to explore other genres?
My next film is not a thriller, and I'm very sceptical about it. It is a romantic film devoid of blood and gore (grins).
If you're unwell you can simply cuddle up in bed and tune into a thriller. It's the best remedy.
On a serious note, I just enjoy exploring the unconventional. I like Alfred Hitchcock; I actually grew up watching his films. A thriller gives you much more scope of exhibiting creativity in terms of playing with the camera and sound, as against a typical love story.
What took you so long to direct again?
I didn't intentionally plan things this way. After Ek Haseena Thi (2004), for about six to eight months, I was scripting another movie that kept getting delayed due to various reasons.
Then came Johnny Gaddaar. I wanted to direct a start-to-finish film and I had the basic draft of this one on my mind for a long time. Unfortunately, after shooting 70 per cent of the film, somehow even this one got invariably deferred. (Jhamu Sughand was producing it earlier).
I had a choice to either shelve it or to go ahead with it. We did an edit of the film and showed it to a couple of people including Rohan Sippy. He liked it and informed Adlabs [Get Quote] and that's how it was back on tracks.
Ek Haseena Thi won rave reviews, but didn't work at the box office.
I was definitely disappointed but I don't perceive it as a failure. It did average business at the box office. It still plays on TV and I still get SMSes for the same. Moreover, many trade guys appreciated it.
Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma, who produced Ek Haseena Thi) felt that the title probably misled the audience. It gave them the impression of a love story. Also, it would have done better business had there been more multiplexes then.
So, did the fate of the film slow down your career?
On the contrary, lots of big producers are willing to work with me now.
Also I'm the kind to do one film at a time. I don't like rushing into things. So it's not because the film didn't fare well that I didn't get work. The fact is that I still keep getting work because of Ek Haseena Thi.
Are you planning a sequel to it?
I don't have any such intensions but it can definitely make an interesting sequel. Urmila Matondkar played a very strong character so we can cut to a story four years down which can be a thriller of a different sort.
I remember Ramu had thought of the sequel long back but I'm not really aware of its status as of now.
Your brother Sridhar (Khakee, Apaharan, Family) is a prolific writer. Do you consult each other on professional matters?
We always end up discussing work at home. If he is writing something he will send me his first draft and vice versa. We keep interacting and take inputs from each other. However, he is not free at the moment to extensively and exclusively work for me and even I want to work with someone who can completely focus on my film till the end of the shoot.
So, no sibling rivalry there?
No scope at all! Infact I am meeting him for a promotional video for Johnny Gaddaar. He also contributed to Ek Haseena Thi.
What's next in the pipeline?
I am working on a script with Saif Ali Khan, which is tentatively titled Agent Vinod. It's an action thriller on the lines of James Bond [Images].
Then there is Rohan Sippy's untitled film with John Abraham [Images], a complete departure from what I've been doing. It's a love story about second chances. It is realistic and at the same time it has an element of fantasy.
I am terrified, because it's not a thriller.