'Baazigar was his first Best Actor trophy and Shah Rukh Khan told us he could not go back home without taking our blessings.'
As Shah Rukh Khan turns 56 on November 2, the Men In White -- Directors Abbas-Mustan tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya about the time when SRK would keep them sleepless for several nights.
Abbas and Mustan Burmawalla had seen Shah Rukh Khan earlier, at film parties and events.
But it was at the preview show of their 1992 suspense thriller, Khiladi, that the brothers were introduced to the actor.
He had come to Mumbai's Dimple preview theatre with one of the film's actors, Deepak Tijori.
After the screening, Shah Rukh congratulated the director duo warmly. But he could not resist adding that he had guessed the identity of the murderer before the grand reveal at the end of the whodunit.
"When we approached him for Baazigar, he was really excited. He insisted that we give him the narration ourselves," shares Abbas.
They tried convincing Shah Rukh to let their writers (Robin Bhatt, Akash Khurana and Javed Siddiqui) sketch out the story to him, promising that they would do a better job.
"But Shah Rukhbhai told us he wanted to hear the story from us so he would know how we were planning to approach the subject and what they had in mind," he recounts.
The narration took place at a hotel in Khar, north west Mumbai, where the writers had a permanent suite for such story telling sessions.
"Most actors like to sleep over the decision of whether they want to do a film or not. Shah Rukhbhai immediately gave his nod. I guess, it was because this was an unapologetic, out-and-out negative role, very different from the romances and comedies that he was doing then, that it sparked his interest," surmises Mustan.
The bloody climax
Shah Rukh's enthusiasm did not wane during the shooting.
He would perform every scene in two or more ways, leaving the choice of which 'take' to retain.
"He is a director's delight, with an amazing range," raves Abbas.
The director in white recalls the bloody scene just before the end, when Dalip Tahils Madan Chopra impales Shah Rukh's character with an iron rod.
As it goes right through him, the Chopra character starts laughing triumphantly, believing he has got the better of his enemy.
"We were wondering how Shah Rukhbhai should react at that point and suggested he should laugh too, taking Chopra by surprise, before rushing and impaling him with the same rod, and taking him down with him," Abbas reminisces.
To this day, he remembers the madness in Shah Rukh's eyes, the menace in his laughter and the murderous expression on his face.
"The emotions came from deep within and he took the scene beyond how we had imagined it. It was one of the action-packed film's highlights, and every time it played out, the theatres reverberated with claps and whistles," he says appreciatively.
The eye-catching Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen
One of the highlights of the chiller-thriller was the chartbuster Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen.
Mustan reveals that all the songs had been recorded when music director Anu Malik told them that he had one more he wanted them to hear. The directors and Producers Ratan and Champak Jain instantly loved Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen.
"But we didn't think it was apt for our film because our leading lady had hazel eyes. However, on second thoughts, we agreed the song was a surefire hit and decided to incorporate it, reasoning that swept up in the magic of the catchy beats, people would overlook the fact that Kajol did not have kaali kaali aankhen," he reasons.
This was one more gamble that worked for Baazigar.
Of sleepless nights...
Once they had decided to include Yeh Kaali Kaali Aanken, everyone wanted only Saroj Khan to choreograph it. But the dance director was shooting for another film in Hyderabad.
Eventually, it was Saroj herself who came up with the solution. She pointed out that it was a 9 am to 6 pm shoot in Hyderabad and told them that if they agreed to shoot at night, immediately after 'pack-up', she would rush to the airport and take the 7 pm flight to Mumbai. She would then drive down directly to Filmistan Studio and shoot with the Baazigar team through the night before taking the early morning flight back to Hyderabad.
"For five-six days, she shuttled between Hyderabad and Mumbai. We caught up on our sleep during the day, but Sarojji survived on an hour or two's sleep on the flight during that hectic week," informs Abbas.
...And waking up to an award
The hard work paid off.
Baazigar was nominated for 10 Filmfare awards in 1994.
It won four, including Best Screenplay (Robin Bhatt, Akash Khurana and Javed Siddiqui), Best Music Director (Anu Malik), Best Playback Singer (male) to Kumar Sanu for Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen and Best Actor for Shah Rukh Khan.
"We were present at the event, but were seated at the back. Since there were barricades separating our enclosure from the VIP enclosure, we did not get to meet Shah Rukhbhai. After the event, we returned home and went straight off to bed," remembers Mustan.
At around 4 am, they were woken from sleep by their 'hero', who had dropped by with Ratan and Ganesh Jain and Anu Malik.
"It was his first Best Actor trophy and he told us he could not go back home without taking our blessings. He embraced us, thanked us, and only after that, did he leave for his own home," narrates a still emotionally moved Abbas.
A Baadshah is born
Baazigar released on November 12, 1993.
Six years later, on August 27, 1999, the trio was back with Baadshah.
It had SRK as Babulal 'Raj' Shah and Baadshah, a private detective from Mumbai.
"Shah Rukhbhai loved the title but he had been very categorical that he didn't want Baadshah to be another Baazigar, a thriller with a killer. He wanted us to collaborate on a fun film. We sat with our writers for months, kahani banayi and took it to him. It was slapstick comedy, revolving around a jasoos Sherlock Holmes-like character, but in a light-hearted way. He loved it," Abbas flashbacks.
However, Baadshah did not work commercially.
The film-maker reasons that back then there was no social media to prepare the audience for what was coming.
"They just watched a trailer when they went to watch another film, and on the basis of that, they were perhaps expecting Baadshah to be the sequel to Baazigar. They were disappointed when it turned out to be a very different film. But over the years, they have grown to enjoy it hugely," Mustan asserts with satisfaction.
In search of something new
Twenty-two years have passed since. Their hat-trick is still pending.
The director duo admit that they haven't come up with another script which could be a worthy successor to Baazigar and Baadshah despite their best attempts.
"It was to be something new, but Shah Rukhbhai has done so much work, he has played so many different characters, that it's hard to come up with something he has never done," admits Mustan.
Abbas shares that just before the pandemic, in March 2020, when they met him, they even suggested that if Shah Rukh had something on his mind, he could share it with them.
"We told him we would work on the idea and develop it. But after that, we were all locked away in our homes by an errant virus," he sighs.
Mustan is quick to add that though they haven't made another film, Shah Rukh's affection for them has not dimmed over the years.
"He is a thorough gentleman who treats everyone with a lot of respect, in particular women. He may be Bollywood's Baadshah, but whenever we visit his home or drop by his set, he still greets us with so much warmth and respect," he says.
Abbas points out that they are the only ones who call him Shah Rukhbhai and even in a crowd, if they call out to him, he will answer back, 'Abbasbhai' or 'Mustanbhai and try to pick them out in the melee.
"When we go to Mannat (his bungalow), he comes out to drop us to the car, opening the car door himself and waiting till we are seated, before stepping back and waving goodbye. Success hasn't changed him, not one bit," he asserts.
On his 56th birthday, their wish is that their Shah Rukhbhai aise hi rahen.
"Today, he has name, fame, success and money. We wish that he gets every happiness too. An actor and a gentleman like him deserves all this and much more," they chorus.