In the eighties, few Bollywood filmmakers would have thought of casting Naseeruddin Shah as the hero in a movie. Until Pankuj Parashar came along and cast the brooding actor as the effervescent Mumbai cop in his thriller Jalwa.
Jalwa helped make Naseer bankable in Bollywood; its success made its director hot property.
Parashar followed Jalwa up with Chaalbaaz, with Sridevi. It may have been a remake of Seeta Aur Geeta, but it left few doubts about his talent.
Karamchand, his pathbreaking detective serial, made Pankaj Kapoor a star on Indian television.
But success is fickle.
Three duds followed -- Himalayputra, Rajkumar and Tumko Na Bhool Payenge.
The director recently spoke to Dhiraj Shetty about his latest film, Inteqam: The Perfect Game.
Does failure daunt you?
Does it look like I am daunted? I have made nine feature films, maybe 450 television commercials, about 15 corporate documentaries, won a Filmfare Award for a documentary on a mental hospital (Malfunction), which was a student exercise, pitted against filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Sukhdev.
Do producers still approach you to direct their projects?
I have a handful of offers and am working on two scripts. Besides, I am doing an international film, Spiceboy, to be shot in May-June.
You have been accused of doing remakes -- Jalwa was a remake of Beverly Hills Cop, Chaalbaaz of Seeta Aur Geeta and so on.
Where do you draw the line? If you adapt Mother India into Deewar or Romeo And Juliet into Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, does it make the film a remake or 'inspired' or variation of a theme? Does only original theatre count? Then Shakespeare should not be performed anymore.
Take a play written by [Sadat Hassan] Manto and enacted by Naseer [Naseeruddin Shah]. I can't ask Naseer, 'Why didn't you write your own play?' because Naseer's talent lies in interpretation.
Besides, don't ignore Karamchand, which 'inspired' a lot of clones. But no one could make it as exciting.
The fact remains you improvised on an existing story.
It is equal hard work. Not every improvisation works. My talent lies in how I interpret and present a certain theme. That does not take away from my talent.
Some of them run, some don't.
Is Inteqam: The Perfect Game inspired from Basic Instinct?
No. This is not Basic Instinct though the media has been saying so, which is good for the film as it has got the distributors excited.
But it is definitely something new. You can't say it is like Ittefaq or Teesri Manzil or Bees Saal Baad.
Why this talk of Basic Instinct then?
I told Isha [Koppikar, right below] that her role would be like that of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. There is eroticism in this film. She may have told others and by the time it reached the media, it was made out as if I am doing a remake of Basic Instinct.
The climax is different, the characterisation is different. It is in a thriller format, in the mould of Psycho, Seven, Serial Killer, A Psychotic Cop.
What made you opt for eroticism?
The story required it. Thrills and eroticism is a good combination.
What is the film about?
It is a love triangle with a killer in between. It will be ready for release in April.
Who figures in the cast?
Manoj Bajpai, Isha Koppikar (both, below left), Nethra Raghuraman, Sharad Saxena and Sushmita Mukherjee.
No big names?
I place my faith in a good script and good actors. It does not matter if they are big or small names.
But one has to sell the product. Manoj Bajpai's films have not been faring well.
Whose films have been doing well? The story is the hero, boss.
When I took Naseer for Jalwa, everybody thought I was mad -- he was 'not a hero and has not done any successful commercial movie.' But I needed a good actor.
Eventually, a good story and the presentation matters. Nothing else.
What about Sridevi for Chaalbaaz? How did her casting come about?
When Jalwa was being readied at Prasad Studios, L V Prasad happened to see the film and liked it. He told [producer] Purnachandra Rao to get me to make a stylish film for him.
At that time, Sridevi was basking in the success of Mr India and was the next big thing. When Purnachandra Rao approached me, I said: Get me Sridevi and I'll make a film for you.
To my surprise, he promptly agreed and asked if I had a subject in mind, which I didn't. I just blabbered we would remake Seeta Aur Geeta. He agreed. That was it.
How do you choose your actors?
They have to fit the role. Nothing else matters.
Which has been your best work to date?
I don't know. Karamchand was probably the most path-breaking and set a lot of technical standards. Among other things, repeat cuts and long shots were extensively used in television. And, people are now employing some other techniques I had introduced or used in the 1980s.
How come this pursuit for technical innovation?
My father made movies and owned a studio in pre-Partition Pakistan. I grew up among people connected with the film industry. I started making movies at 12. At that time, you tend to try out various things. I was experimenting with various angles. I have still not stopped.
How did you conceive Karamchand?
Alyque Padamsee told me to do a television quiz called Mashoor Mahal. But it was too static for my liking. The camera never moved and there was no cinema.
I quit. Padamsee was upset and asked what I had in mind. When I described Karamchand, he got excited and backed me totally.
Do you still have the rights?
I share the rights with [ad agency] Lintas. But no re-run is planned yet!
You have a reputation of being a problem director.
I am not. I am technically better than most directors. So people assume I have an ego, which I don't. I know my job and I enjoy making films. I am as thrilled working on this film as I am on a Salman Khan or Sridevi film.
Why do you think films have done badly in 2002?
Multiplexes and television have exposed the audience to world standards, while our cinema hasn't changed since the eighties. There are over 50 feature films on television per day! You have to be different or no one will buy a ticket.
On the other hand, this is the only country that has successfully fought back Hollywood for 50 years. So we still have a chance.
Is there any subject you are keen to work on?
The Ramayan. I want it shot like Star Wars for an international audience with the latest technology and graphics.
We now have the technology to present the epic as it has never been done before. But it will be very expensive. I am yet to find a producer though I have made some presentations.
Do you feel any pressure to deliver a hit?
I am confident about my work. The rest is up to the karma of the movie.