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The location is filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani's office in Bandra where our long due meeting is supposed to take place. Seated in the sanctum sanctorum of the aforementioned venue, director Rajkumar Hirani looks a happy man. And with good reasons too. His much talked-about project tentatively titled 3 Idiots is back on track after running into a roadblock. The film about the drawbacks of the education system initially had Shahrukh Khan penciled in for the lead. Matters, however, went awry when the star evinced an interest in producing the film that was being produced by Vinod Chopra Films (Chopra has also produced Hirani's Munnabhai MBBS and Lage Raho...) but a few upheavals later, Hirani has come up tops with a stellar cast that includes Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor to be supported by Sharman Joshi and Boman Irani. The film will be shot in Simla, Ladakh, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore between September and December this year. "Each film comes with its own destiny," says Hirani philosophically about the change in cast, "It's the second time that a film with Shahrukh has not worked out...perhaps some other time."
His enthusiasm to make 3 Idiots, a deviation from his Munnabhai series, is undiminished. Neither is he breaking into a cold sweat about directing an actor whose reputation as a ghost director precedes him. "Aamir is somebody who is immensely involved with the project that he works in and I'd rather have an actor who is involved than indifferent." And for those who were wondering, the recently reported five crore remuneration along with a 40 per cent profit-sharing arrangement for the perfectionist Khan is not true.
And what of the popular belief that the film is based on writer Chetan Bhagat's book titled Five Point Someone...?
"Chetan sent me his book and though I liked it, I wasn't sure if it could be turned into a film. The book had a series of events and in that format did not lend itself well to a screenplay. Once we started writing, the scenes kept reducing and it was a different story altogether. So, while the idea about a story set in an educational institute came from the book, the story of the film as it stands is completely different. Chetan is aware of our story and in agreement that it's not his book."
The story set in an engineering college (not IIT) has Hirani all excited. "The unfortunate truth is that the system forces people to pursue success rather than excellence. My belief is that if you pursue excellence, success is bound to follow."
And Hirani should know, for his life has followed the script. Hirani, an FTII alumni (he trained in film editing) with a background in advertising-he's also modeled-is a success story that many in the industry want to emulate. Having come from a middle-class family in Nagpur where he even helped his father sell typewriters, Hirani believes that his small town sensibilities set him apart. He's more amused than excited about attending swish set parties and being linked to glamorous starlets. "When writing my first script, I knew that being seen at social do's would not get me anywhere but a good script would." He approached Vidhu Vinod Chopra -they had worked together on Mission Kashmir which Hirani had edited--for putting him on to actors and so impressed was Chopra with the script that he even decided to produce it. And the rest, to quote a cliche, is history.
The defining feature of Hirani's work perhaps is the ideological core around which he weaves his narrative- Munnabhai MBBS, his first, where Sanjay Dutt the lovable goon, introduced doctors and the world at large to 'jaadu ki jhappi' followed by 'Gandhigiri' in Lage Raho Munnabhai (co-written by Abhijat Joshi) are examples. "A part of it stemmed from my own anger towards doctors in the way they treat patients but I toned it down because one realizes that there are good doctors too."
And yes, he is an ardent believer in the Mahatma and 'Gandhigiri'. Perhaps it is the sum total of such convictions that makes Hirani's brand of aam aadmi stories so popular--as appealing to the corporate tycoon as to the local hick and of course, the B-Town actors. Says Kareena Kapoor, "I am really excited to be working with Vidhuji and one of the finest directors Raju Hirani. My dream of working with Aamir Khan has also come true."
Hirani could take a bow only that being true to his trademark low-key demanour, he would rather wait till the movie gets a thumbs-up from the audiences.