'Eager to see how audiences will react to Raashee'
Ashutosh Gowariker's new film What's Your Raashee has Priyanka Chopra play 12 roles, a first for any Bollywood actor. The film is also quite different from his previous epics -- Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar. What's Your Raashee is a romantic comedy, also starring Harman Baweja.
The director tells rediff.com what to expect from the film, releasing September 25.
Are you anxious about the success of the film?
I am eager to see how the audiences will react. This is my first romantic comedy. It has created a lot of buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival (where it received a red carpet gala and was seen by nearly 1,000 people). But we will know how it fares when it opens worldwide.
Image: Ashutosh Gowariker and Priyanka Chopra
'I can handle a thousand elephants and a historical film more easily than a comedy'
Which comedies have you liked most?
I am a great fan of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee. I have seen (Mukherjee's) Chupke Chupke and (Chatterjee's) Baton Baton Mein several times.
What is your biggest concern about What's Your Raashee?
I will be thinking if I have been able to put a smile on the face of my audiences. As I have said before, I can handle a thousand elephants and a historical film more easily than a comedy.
Some people in Toronto complained that the film is too long at 192 minutes.
The length is immaterial if the film is engaging, right? You might have seen the film with critics. At the festival, you see so many films in a day, and I believe this was the last screening of the day. So someone can go into a theatre feeling tired and not really appreciate a film, even though it is a light-hearted romantic comedy.
How did this project start?
It is based on a Gujarati novel. I was intrigued by the concept of a man desperate to marry within 20 days, looking for prospective brides, each with a different raashee. And that is also one of the reasons for the film's length.
In what way?
I could not give 15 minutes to one woman with a particular raashee, and 10 minutes to another. Each character played by Priyanka in the film had to be given equal weight.
Image: Harman Baweja and Priyanka Chopra
'My next project is going to be a Hollywood film'
Did you have even the slightest doubt that Priyanka might not be able to do justice to the 12 characters?
Never. She is an actress with huge talent and she had a solid script to back her. It was a very good combination.
Your last three films were very long, and yet they succeeded. Would you consider making a shorter film?
Of course. My next film about the Chittagong Rebellion against the British in the 1930s will be a thriller. Abhishek (Bachchan) is playing the rebel leader Surjya Sen. Since it's a thriller, it has to be a shorter film. But my next project, a biopic of Buddha, is going to be a Hollywood film. And Hollywood is known for epics that are longer than the standard Hollywood film.
What made you think of the Chittagong Rebellion?
I read Do And Die, a stirring book on the subject by a journalist and newspaper editor Manini Chatterjee. I have had many discussions with her. This is one of the many chapters in the history of Indian Independence that is not widely known. At the most, it gets a footnote in history books. People in India ought to know more about these unsung heroes.
Image: A still from Whats Your Raashee
'Though I have worked with stars, I don't hesitate to work with newcomers'
You have worked with some of the biggest stars -- Aamir Khan (Lagaan), Shah Rukh Khan (Swades) and Hrithik Roshan (Jodhaa Akbar). What is your main concern while signing a star?
The biggest concern is whether a star fits the role. I don't think that I should sign a star and then make him fit the role. Hrithik (Roshan) had the perfect physique and acting ability to play the young Akbar. Though I have worked with stars, I don't hesitate to work with newcomers.
How did Harman Baweja come to What's My Raashee?
I heard that his father (Harry Baweja, director) was launching him in a film and I wanted to see if Harman was appropriate for my film. I wanted a newcomer opposite Priyanka.
Some people say that he got the film because he was dating Priyanka then.
Not true. I came to know of that only after we signed him for our film.
What impressed you most when you saw the rushes of his first film, Love Story 2050?
(Chuckles) He could dance and romance but he could also do the comic scenes. The most important attraction to me was that he had an air of innocence.
But your film was to come out a year or two later.
Yes, even then I felt the screen innocence would remain.
Did you have any concerns when you signed him?
I wondered -- along with my wife -- what might happen if Love Story 2050 did not work out. So I asked myself: Would I still want him in my film? Both Sunita and I agreed that regardless of what happens with his first or second film, we will still want him.
Image: A still from What's Your Raashee
'Rahman was to compose music for this film'
You have a first-time music composer (Suhail Sen) in What's Your Raashee, not A R Rahman with whom you worked with in your earlier films.
I would love to work with him again and again. You know, he was to compose music for this film too.
We were to start shooting within a few months after I approached him. He was busy with several assignments, including Slumdog Millionaire. He did not have the time to compose 13 songs for this film. And that is why I did not go to any other established composer. I wanted someone to work full time on this film for several months.
Why did you think of a song for each raashee character?
To enhance the appeal. The songs make us know more of a person's character in my film.
This film also carries a few messages.
Yes, primarily it is entertainment. But I have been concerned how even in modern-day arranged marriages women may not have a proper say. I believe that even in an arranged marriage, the girl should have her say. A lot of times women are delegated to be homemakers. But they can also manage the world and stride both worlds -- domestic and public.
Image: A still from What's Your Raashee