He stuck to his own, unaffected, unperturbed by anyone's opinion but his own. Some called him a slice of life director and others typecast his work as non commercial but Nagesh Kukunoor is still one of the few directors who believe in their work passionately and are not hesitant to take the road less travelled. Time and again he has extracted the kind of work from actors that even they didn't know they were capable off and he claims to have done the same with the hunk of our industry John Abraham. Thie correspondent chat's up the director on Aashayein and his own journey through Bollywood:
Why did it take so long for you to surface?
There has been a delay in the release of Aashayein as you know because Percept, the producer, and Reliance, the distributor, both of them had differences and it took a while before they could sort it out. The film, then, got delayed by a year and a half. But now here we are, everything has been sorted and we are on for a release.
You started your career in 1998 with Hyderabad Blues, since then you have never really made an out and out typical Bollywood commercial biggie…
…Did you not feel the need or was it because you wanted to create your own style?
I have always made films the way I know how. Now when you force fit something that is not what you naturally do you're going to make a hotch potch. So I am never worried about making films that I don't believe in. As it is this business is so difficult that you might as well do something that you know how in the best possible way, instead of catering to an audience and do something that you are not good at. That's something I have never attempted. You know it's like asking someone who's never cooked before to make Daal Makhani, he won't even know where to start.
Most of your films Rockford, Iqbal, Dor have been critically acclaimed films but you've never reached out to the masses.
Iqbal did that actually. Iqbal reached out to a much wider audience primarily because my first two films were predominantly in English. It wasn't until Iqbal that I could actually go to Hindi audience so thankfully Iqbal did that and we followed it up with Dor. Having said that each film caters to some audience with a certain sensibility you can't expect a film with completely different set of sensibilities to cross over every border in India.
Is it true that you said somewhere that Bollywood isn't the place for your kind of filmmaking?
It's not true. Because what is Bollywood? Are you defining Bollywood as a small narrow kind of filmmaking group of people? I don't! Because if we actually look at the film industry, it's a big open space where a lot of filmmakers can exist. Are you saying Udaan is Bollywood? If so, then this tag of commercial film has somehow been slapped on the last 20 or 30 years whereas you had great people like Bimaal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and all these people making proper films with a completely different set of sensibilities under the same umbrella of Bollywood. Same way there is no definition as long as we are all making different kind of movies in the same industry.
Talking about your upcoming film Aashayein, what is the story all about? What we do know is that John Abraham is playing a compulsive gambler.
Many of us put our dreams on the backburner, but the protagonist wins a huge amount of money and the same day he also finds out that he has only 90 days left to live. So, then how he deals with the rest of the time, his journey, and the characters he meets and ultimately how he resolves his thing off learning to live his life now, in the moment instead of planning. That's Aashayein. It's an emotional heartfelt film that sort off with a message - don't keep planning, the time is now.
You're known to be a slice of life filmmaker so for Aashayein where did you take the inspiration?
My brother is an oncologist so he would constantly tell me about cases of so many people who would walk through his door when are faced with the prospect that their life has only a finite amount of time, how they deal with it. It always fascinated me and I said it's a challenge but it would be wonderful to make a film that would be uplifting instead. Because every time someone hears of something like this they want to panic and say "yaar ye to ..." you know it would be serious and all that. I am saying that it can be beautifully emotional, heartfelt, uplifting and still deal with the same topic.
You have a starcast of John Abraham and Sonal Sehgal which is extremely new and unique. Comment
Well! Sonal was pretty straightforward because she auditioned for me as I auditioned a whole bunch of girls and that's how I ended up with Sonal. So, also Anaita Nair who plays a big role in the film. John on the other hand has always been known to be a hunk. John is someone who has a lot of honestly on his face. So I thought if I can get John to play John - being simple and natural and then stretch him out as an actor I would be doing justice to the role. And so I approached him and it was a straight forward yes and here we are.
Apparently John had to lose considerable amount of weight for the film, what's that story?
I tried to shoot the film as sequentially as possible and the idea was that he goes through the same difficulty and journey as the character is. So what John would do basically is literally after the day of shooting would then go and workout for a solid period of time and then starve himself so during the process of filmmaking, he almost lost close to 12 kilos.
So how was it working with John as an actor?
The most important thing is how well do you get along with that person as a person and then the actor comes in. John is highly disciplined, comes on the set on time, there is no B.S. and no frills. You shoot for as long as you want and go home. So we struck up a nice rapport and the key thing was that obviously we believed in the material so whatever it took to go that extra mile. I feel that during the process of this film I have pushed John. I have pulled out the performance that is going to catch people by surprise. But I had to push a lot out of him and get it because you know a lot of the stuff he has done up to this point is not something that was taxing himself much as this is. So once you see the performance you will be able to judge it for yourself.
Sonal was a newbie on a film set. Aashayein was supposed to be her debut film. So was it easy working with someone who has never been on a film set before?
No! Sonal had already done some TV so she was well versed with camera, positioning and everything. So she was by far the easiest actor to work with on the set, Because when you know someone who was been on the set, faced the camera, it takes away half the stress of you having to teach them the positioning and stuff like that. Also, Sonal is an actor who takes directions very well. She takes precise direction so it was wonderful working with her. She was the easiest person to direct.
Aashayein took about two years to finally have a release so as a director it must have had huge impact on your work. How did you deal with that?
It's extremely frustrating but you have to understand that the release was completely not in my control and it was for no fault of mine. So there was nothing I could do but wait on the sidelines talk to the people involved and say please I hope we can resolve our differences and beyond that I could do nothing. I just had to wait and watch. No doubt it is extremely frustrating but eventually when it is now releasing I am happy and completely relieved.