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Director Nikhil speaks on <i>Salaam-E-Ishq</i>

Did you always wanted to become a director? Also tell us about the period of struggle that you went through while pursuing filmmaking.
I always said that I happen to be the divine child and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I am actually a drop out of Masters in Chemistry from Xavier's college. I really did not know anything about film making and things related to it, but I thought that I would like to try my hand in this. So, I just took a train to Bandra to Sayeed Mirza's office; Aziz Mirza and Govind Nihlani with Sayeed had started a company called "Friendship Channel Dosti" where they were about seven to eight directors who formed a company and they were actually getting slots from Doordarshan.

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I went to Sayeed Mirza who happened to know my mother and I asked if I could assist him. That is where the story starts. Later I worked as assistant director to Sayeed Mirza, Aziz Mirza, Kundan Shah and Sudhir Mishra. All of them were actually directing a serial called Naya Nukkad, which was the sequel to the original Nukkad and I started working with them but the serial closed down. Sudhir at that point wanted to make a film called Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi and I started working with him. While I was working with him I understood that I could write. So, I started writing Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi for which I was credited. Then I met Karan Johar at an award function where we won the screenplay for Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi, he is an old school friend of mine. Karan was going to start Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, so I started working with him, where I also met Aditya Chopra. So, that is why I said, that I happened to be at the right place at right time. I did not ever think that I am going to make films.

Salaam-E-Ishq is again a romantic film after Kal Ho Naa Ho. Besides, it has six tracks running together. Was it challenging for you considering that this just your second film?
First of all, I did not want to do Salaam-E-Ishq because I have a very childish notion that I want to make a thriller. I want to see cars blowing up, I want to see chase sequences down the Linking Road, the way Shahrukh Khan was chased by Sunny Deol in Darr. For me the death scene of Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay is probably the most romantic scene I have ever seen.

So, I did not want to actually do Salaam-E-Ishq but I was getting money to do Salaam-E-Ishq. That is the reason I thought okay let us try it. I had done Kal Ho Naa Ho, so I had this label that I can do this whole kind of genre very well. I definitely did not want to write it. But while discussing with Saurabh Shukla, I think he understood that it was very important in that sense that everything was so clear in my head that he needed to collaborate with me. I hate the process of writing. I don't mind being a director, I don't mind being a producer but I do not ever want to be a writer because it really takes everything out of you. I love the process of editing because I can sit over there and I can change scenes around and I can do those kinds of things. So I did not want to make Salaam-E-Ishq.

When I wrote the film, there was one scene in film I had written, which is the Anil Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra pre-climax scene. When I wrote that scene, I understood that this is the film that should be made, it is a very special film, why, because I think that it is a very simple story, it is a story of love, it has the ups and downs of love, the two faces of love, sadness and happiness.

Do you think John and Vidya story is somewhere very close to your personal life?
I think this track is completely removed from my life story because I would like be John. I mean once you see the film and you understand what the character of Ashutosh Raina is actually going through, I feel that you need to be very strong and special person to do that. Most people in such a situation would actually take the easy road out but he refuses to do so. I do not know whether I would be able to do what he does but in the truest sense of the word, he is the most unlikely hero of that track. You expect Vidya to be the hero but John ends up becoming the hero in that track.

Are all the six stories somewhere connected to each other?
Yes, all the stories are connected to each other in very subtle ways. It is not that at the end of the day, the guys are all brothers and the ladies are sisters. It is very subtle in the sense in the manner that Akshay Khanna is engaged to Ayesha Takia, Ayesha Takia's sister is Juhi Chawla who lives in London with her family whose husband is Anil Kapoor who is an event organizer and is bored of the daily routine of his life. One of the events he organizes has Priyanka Chopra who is the item queen in India; she actually is a small town girl who has come to realize her big Bollywood dream but has only been given item songs to do. Hence, she is called for an event to London by Anil Kapoor's company. Priyanka goes there and tries to manipulate the media because she wants Karan Johar's phone call. Eventually, she becomes victim of the media because a man comes in to her life who teaches her that ambition is not important than love. That man is Salman Khan. Now also when Priyanka Chopra is introduced, she is actually singing in Akshay Khanna's bachelor party. He is late for that bachelor party and reaches the party in Govinda's taxi. Govinda is a taxi driver who for the last 20 years has only been dreaming of one foreign girl who will come out of the international airport in Delhi and sit in his cab. Now, that girl comes and sits in his taxi and he thinks that his dream is going to be fulfilled. But the truth is that she is in love with the boy who has come to India in search of a suitable bride and one of the girls he is looking for is Ayesha Takiya. The story has two faces of love it has lot of happy moments and a lot of sad moments.

What according to you is the USP of the film?
I think there are two USPs of this film one which is not different in anyway is that this is a Bollywood film in true senses of word. I think that today, this whole notion is that 'hatke picture banana chahiye'. It is 'hatke' in the sense that it is not hatke. Salaam-E-Ishq is one beautiful standard Bollywood rollercoaster, which goes up down up down with great songs and everything and you end up coming out happy and satisfied that you have seen a good Bollywood film. But it has doses of realism so you actually feel I know this man like Anil Kapoor or my boyfriend is like Akshaye Khanna or why am I like Ayesha Takia, why I do not have the ability to stand up to my boyfriend or I wish I was like John Abraham or Salman Khan or you will identify with Priyanka's character, which at the end of the day is a small town girl with big dreams. So, you will identify with most of the characters in this film.

Govinda is back after a long gap. How did you decide to cast him knowing that he was going through a lean phase in his career?
I did not cast Govinda, he was suggested to me by Salman. I think he had spoken to Salman that he wanted to come back into films. I used the word 'come back' with lot of repetitions because if you saw how we shot the film with Govinda, all over the North of India, we actually had to hold back villages, people would travel kilometers because they heard that Govinda is shooting at this place. So, I think he never went anywhere; he has always been in our hearts. Salman asked me to narrate this whole script to Govinda and I went to him. I actually felt honoured when Govinda said Yes, I want to do this film.

Isn't the music of your films also one of the biggest USPs?
I think the strength that I bring to any film whether I am directing the film or I am producing the film with different directors is that I will always encourage them to have a rapport with the music directors, the cameramen and the artists involved. Because at the end of the day, the mindsets have been set. Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy are college buddies of mine and we used to exchange CDs. Today when we think about the situations and we listen to the music and when they point out saying 'Sultan Khans music', I know what they are talking about; our music tastes are very similar.

I gave them freedom in every area of the film not only on the music, if you see us interacting, they will actually cursing me on some shot I took or some costume I okayed but not on the music because we know that the music is going to be okay.

Tell us something about Anil's track because it is about extramarital affair?
It is not about an extramarital affair, I think it is more of an infidelity. The word affair is usually associated with intercourse, I feel that when you think of another woman in a particular way, you are already committing adultery and that is what Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla's track is about. Because at the end of the day, nothing really happens but because he has only been obsessed and infatuated about this girl, he has only been thinking about this girl that is where Juhi Chawla says that the biggest betrayal was the fact that you do not think about me, you thought about her.

You will work with Karan again?
Karan knows that I am available for whatever he wants me to be a part of. But, whether I will produce or direct for Dharma Productions, I am not sure because I have recently started my own production company with this film and I would like to produce my own films. So, I don't think that it is going to happen in the future.

Do you call Karan your mentor?
I would call Sudhir Mishra my mentor, I would call Sayeed Mirza my mentor and I think it would be very unfair to call only Karan as my mentor.

You are also producing films now. Can you tell us about the films made under your banner?
It is a very small film; it is a very personal story. My wife who works in an NGO heard a story of one boy, she narrated the story to me and I thought it is a fascinating story. It is a story of a boy and a man, and how they influence each others lives and change each others lives and I think it is an interesting story to make a film on. I would like to film it in Bombay in the monsoon season, because I feel that this city is really at its best in the monsoons. 

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