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Ramu is a changed person. No longer willing to make films at the drop of a hit. No more the dial-a-quote wizard, this maverick moviemaker has mellowed, though not melted down. In a 'no-holds-barred' interview with Subhash K Jha, Ramu finally speaks up after months of silence
Where have you been hiding?
I was shooting my new film Contract in Mumbai and Bangkok, besides shooting the balance and post-production of Sarkar Raj, which releases in May.
People believed you had gone into hiding after Aag?
Why would I hide? I've made flops before. Yes, I agree Aag was a special flop. The reason I didn't speak is because there was nothing to say. I went into a phase of introspection. I now feel I was making films lately with a certain frivolous even callous attitude. I was also making press statements for effect, for shock value. I decided to keep quiet for a while. High time I stopped talking stupidly.
Why do you think your utterances were stupid?
I want to make films that excite me which hopefully will excite the audience. Once you start getting addicted to media interviews you tend to forget you are a filmmaker, and not meant to entertain people through your interviews. I made Aag out of arrogance. I think I just wanted to be cocky by remaking a film I loved and respected. But when I decided to remake Shiva I wonder what I was thinking! Earlier it took me three minutes to decide to do a film. Today I'd think a million times before re-doing Shiva. Why would I want to do something so juvenile after having done Satya, Sarkar and Company?
Has Aag changed you?
Yes. But I don't blame anyone else for going wrong in Aag. Mr. Amitabh Bachchan trusted me completely in Aag. He trusted my vision and intention. But I feel my intention was wrong. Aag was a three-year old dream. Many changes happened. I was told by lawyers to change the story because my Sholay had to be different from the original. I lost my way along the way. Aag ended up as a caricature of Sholay.
You admit that?
When people around you keep saying it's turning out well, you tend to get carried away. Aag was a special flop for me. Just as Sholay was benchmark. Aag was a landmark for me. It was not even a wake up call. It was a slap. If Aag wasn't attached to Sholay it'd have been just another flop. But because of the Sholay factor my blunder was magnified manifold. It was time for me to take time off to think deeply.
You sound different!
Eventually you are what you are. My intention and objectives are now different. People can say what they want. I know exactly why I worked with the cast that I did in Aag. When I came to Mumbai to make films I was like a kid in the candy store. I wanted it all. I guess I didn't have the infrastructure or enough time to do justice to all my projects. By the time, I realized where I was going wrong it was too late. I was stuck with these projects. I continued to make callous cocky statements. But somewhere I felt I was going wrong. I'd never again jump into a project because it sounded good on the idea level. I'll only do films with scripts and with full objectivity and make sure that it has the potential to get an audience. Nobody realizes mistakes until he gets a solid slap. Aag was that slap. Making a success isn't in my hands. But making sure that I make films with objectivity is something I can do, and I will.
Is that the spirit in which Contract is being made?
Yes. I made a conscious decision to make it with newcomers. There're 40 characters in this underworld film, all played by unknown faces. When I took Manoj Bajpai in Satya or Vivek Oberoi in Company I wasn't launching stars. I used them because they were right for the roles. But when the media and my associates started praising me it went to my head. I began seeing myself as a star-maker. I went into the trip of launching new actors. When I signed Mohit Ahlawat and Prashant Raj, I presumed they were stars before the film was made. I was being more and more sucked into a fantasy-land. Doing multiple films at such a fast pace in this state of mind was a potent and lethal blend. Hence, the sabbatical. Now I'm far more clear-headed.
While you were introspecting people thought your career had gone kaput... that you were doing a film with newcomers because established stars won't work with you…
It's a free country. People are free to think and say what they like. I've always done what I wanted. After Satya, I did Rangeela. Then I did Daud, which had Sanjay Dutt. Whether then or now, I did what I wanted. What my detractors or well-wishers say is their business, they're welcome to their opinion. Even I'd think the same way.
Barring Mr. Bachchan, the cast in Aag took it down.
I disagree. It was up to me to do the right thing with the cast. In Sarkar, Mr. Bachchan trusted me as much as he trusted me in Aag. That his character worked in one and not in the other isn't his fault. According to me, his performance in Aag was far more complex and superior. I believed equally in Manoj, Randeep, Mohit and Prashant .Manoj's character worked. The others didn't.
Your financial position is supposed to be so bad you had to apparently sell your car?
How do I answer that without sounding stupid? For the last fifteen years, people have been worried about my finances-so sweet of them. Let me assure them I'm still moving around in the same car. I haven't sold it. People write anything they want. I'm making films the way I want to.
You've supposedly gone from riches to rags.
I was never rich in the first place. My finances are nobody's business. Other people's distress always makes us happy. If they're having fun at the expense of my finances let them.
You've certainly changed!
I've become more intense and objective. And very clear about what I want to do.
Do you feel isolated?
I was always a lonely person. Yes earlier there were more people around me. That's because I had many productions on the floors. Right now, I am doing only one film. Nothing will change in terms of the content. I'll still make highly experimental films.
Will you still give chances to every spotboy who wants to direct a film?
I didn't give chances. I took chances. But I won't sign anyone on a whim. And it would be the responsibility of those I sign to deliver the goods. No point in making films nobody is going to see. I've changed in my attitude. Today, I wonder if I'd make Daud after Satya! Today, I know why I am directing Contract. In 1997, when I made Satya there were 108 underworld shootouts in Mumbai. Today there are far less. The profile of the underworld has changed. And I want to explore that change. The new developments in the underworld have given birth to new characters. And I've used new faces because these faces reflect the new order.
Does this project take you back to your Satya days?
I still continue to make films only for myself. It's a myth you can make films for the audience. You don't know who the audience is. So my films are going to be far more experimental than before. Contract takes me into areas I haven't gone into before.
Okay, lastly what is the one lesson that you learnt from the Aag fiasco?
That I need to get it right. Ramesh Sippy was right. I was foolish to attempt Sholay the way I did. At some point of time when I'm ready I want to do it again. This time I won't make the same mistakes