All that adds up to making a hurricane of energy and a breaker of levees called Apoorva Lakhia. A man who is attracted to a world where morality doesn't exist, where it is impossible to sin. We met the man on a mission, and a minute into our conversation, Lakhia was flying. His hands are moving as excitedly as he is speaking. One second his fingers meet as if in prayer, the next he is open-armed and embracing the world. He is conducting the conversation as he might, well, direct a movie. And then there are his eyes, which have their own power, framed by two black eyebrows set behind his rimmed glasses. Even in a blank living room you feel his force. Go ahead...feel this one!
Is Apoorva Lakhia a recluse?
I wouldn't say that Apoorva Lakhia is a recluse. But I'll also say that Apoorva Lakhia isn't Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan. So even if I give forty interviews, I don't think more than five will be published. We all have a certain standing in Bollywood. As far as publicising this film, it's not the same as publicising the film that's been directed by me. The media connections are such that nothing is done for free these days. There is a strategy that we are going to go all out ten days before the release.
What is the reason for you to produce a film like Hide n Seek?
It is really because of Shawn Arranha. I had no intention of ever producing a film. I don't know if I'll do it again. He has been with me for ten years now. Even when I was an assistant, he used to be my assistant. Then when I turned director, he still was my chief assistant director. I've used him and abused him (laughs). I like promoting new talents and it was the right time for me to launch Shawn as I didn't want him to assist no more.
So how did the locked shopping mall idea came about?
The way the story came about was very interesting. We were in this mall in Johannesburg in South Africa. I and my friends had gone for a recce of my film and we went to watch the 11.15 pm show at the biggest mall in South Africa. So after the film finished, I went into the wash room and was locked in. It was the spookiest feeling because not a single person was there in the mall when we were locked in. There was no music too. But I and my friends were still joking that if we were to be locked up inside this mall for a year, we'd still survive because there were all the basic necessities inside the mall. Suresh Nair, Rajiv Batra and I gifted Shawn this script as writers and Hide N Seek was born.
Is Shawn ready to venture out from your shadows?
Yes, absolutely. I just hope that as soon as the film releases, people see his worth and sign him for ten films because there is nothing more great and satisfying than one of your own success, be it yours or anybody else's. We haven't even signed a contract that he has to work with me for the next three films.
What is more favourable - release a small budget film and make profit or release a big budget film and get the opening?
Firstly, I'd never produce a film that I'm directing. I am an expensive director and I'd go bananas. Secondly, it's a big risk even in this day and age to make a film without stars. I am realising it now, and by stars I mean big stars. Even if your budget is 30 crores, you can sell your film for 40 crores before the film is even made. Everything else after that becomes easier. Abhishek Bachchan can make a film and he will get publicity from Omega, Lux, etc. Same with SRK and Aamir. With the star cast I have, the step for publicity increases. More budget is required. When that rises, you have a question mark. You need to get people into the cinema in spite of having a good script. The word of mouth is important. The lifeline of today's films is one week and then the next week you see a huge film toppling yours.
Is our industry going through its worst phase?
I won't say that because we are progressing at a very slow pace. We are going through the worst financially, yes. There are too many films coming out too soon. There are so many other things happening now that you don't release films during IPL and elections. So the backlog is huge. We have no option but to fight amongst ourselves. The alternate cinema which is now coming out has taken our industry ahead of what it was two years ago.
And aren't the ridiculous costs of film stars making it even more difficult financially?
To some extent, yes. It's a catch twenty two situation. Besides Amitabh Bachchan, who has got a life span as a star which is as long as him? Female actors' life is short. We don't have Meryl Streep's and Judi Dench's. If someone is giving you money, you won't say no. You have a time in your life when you're getting paid for talent and people think that you're worth that amount. I don't think that has anything to do with bad financial phase of our industry.
Do you agree with the line - Hide & Seek isn't a film...it's a game, and the audiences should be playing it?
Yes, it is a very apt line. The audiences are going to be loving the challenge of playing Hide & Seek. What's interesting is the fact that the audiences will be having bets during intermission on who the killer is going to be. A film like this is going to have many answers to one question, and that too is a game.
What's your next directorial venture?
I'm in talks with Shree Ashtavinayak, with whom I'm doing this film called Mumbai Taxi Service. We've almost got the star cast confirmed in the form of Anil Kapoor, Suniel Shetty, Sanjay Dutt. We are waiting for Amitabh Bachchan to get back and are in look out of a young new actor. That's a realistic film like Shootout At Lokhandwala.
What influences you to make cinema?
I get influenced by books, world cinema, get saddened by the daily events which happen in India, and if that charges me to make a film, I make it. If I could make a film on 26/11, I'd love to because that is something which people should know about in detail. When 26/11 happened, there were text messages flowing that people like Apoorva Lakhia, Sanjay Gupta and Ram Gopal Varma should be banned from making realistic cinema. I am surprised to know that if foreign channels can come here and make a film or a documentary on what happened on 26/11, why are we Indians stopped?
Name one film which has really influenced you and that you'd want to remake.
The one that has influenced me is The God Father 1 and 2. I can keep on watching again and again. Everything falls into place.
Describe your star cast in one word or a sentence please:
Purab Kohli - Brilliant actor
Mrinalini Sharma - Hard trier
Arjan Bajwa - Naturally talented
Amruta Patki – Hungry
Ayaz Khan – Mad
Sameer Kocchar - Extremely confident
Throbbing may well be the perfect word to describe Apoorva Lakhia's frenetic world. He breathes cinema like we breathe air, and the only way to understand him is to understand his cinema. So to say that Apoorva changed the face of cinema with Ek Ajnabee and Shootout At Lokhandwala would be a tremendous understatement. What's more is the fact that he thinks that the media hates him or his films...who knows? But it's the truth that he makes more realistically inspired films. He loves reading books; he wants to make the remake of Gran Tarino with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and assures us that he goes bananas when it comes to the budget of his films because he is an expensive director.