When you are with Raj Kumar Hirani, it's easy to forget that he's a very busy man, with his third film 3 Idiots up for release this Christmas and the publicity for the same just picking up. Given his casual and humble demeanor, it's also easy to forget that you are in the company of greatness, that he's the creator of the Munnabhai phenomenon. It's only the second time I am meeting him and after asking me about the public response to the 3 Idiots promos, he says, 'Wait for the next part of the making, its going to be killer'.
In a freewheeling chat us, Raju Hirani talks about his inspiration behind 3 Idiots, about how he's redefining the meaning of the word 'idiot' and why he plans to travel to the nook and crannies of the country in search of his next film. And in the spirit of the film, he also lists the three most idiotic things he's ever done, giving us a peek the ace director's life before Munnabhai - his dreams, disillusionment, struggle and humble resolve.
3 Idiots is a fun film but it addresses the issue of tussle between parents and children.
Yes. It's in a way our comment on what we feel is right or wrong with society around us. But it's a very funnily treated, sugar coated messages.
In an interview after Lage Raho Munnabhai, you said that your filmmaking 'output is proportional to the input'. So what were your inputs for 3 Idiots?
This film is based on college life, life in a hostel. And I have lived in the FTII hostel for three years. I have lots of stories, lots of anecdotes about life in a hostel. So, I've used a lot of my experiences in the film.
In fact, now I feel that we need to now in the future step out, input and enrich our lives. Kaafi input karenge to output karne ko milega. Kyunki ab college se bahut khuch utha le liya, apni purani life se bahut khuch le liya. Actually, after this I want to get away from all this for six months and travel, meet people and completely live a normal life. Because the more you meet and chat with people, the more we enrich our lives.
How long have you been with the film?
Since right after Lage Raho Munnabhai released in 2006, so three years. One, because I write it myself with Abhijit Joshi. It's not that we get a ready script so to write takes a year-and-a-half and to make takes another year at least. If I get scripts I probably won't need to write but I've not been getting good scripts.
Previously you talked about the 'idiots' in your film as actually being non-conformists. Now in college life, this could also mean a lot of drugs, sex and violence.
No, by non-conformists I don't mean to that that route. What I mean is being defiant to very perceived norms which are considered sane. Ek zamane mein bola gaya hai ki yaar the earth is flat. Baad main jab bola kisine ki the earth is round to log bole ki paagalhain ye, jail main daal diya usko. Baad main pata laga, nahi round hain yaar.
So we have preset notions about everything because since we are unknowingly conditioned to think in a particular way since childhood. Lots of it is superstition, like the fact that people do not start anything new if they happen to sneeze or if a cat crosses their path. Have we ever questioned the rationale behind all of this? Somebody who defies all this convention and tries to create his own way is often called an 'idiot'. With the film, I am trying to show that that guy is not an idiot but the most intelligent man. We are trying to redefine the meaning of idiot by saying that they were the people who took the less trodden path.
It occurs to me that you perching up idiots in your previous films too!
Yes. Who would have thought that non-violence would win a country its freedom? Pehle to bada stupid thought samjha gaya. Look at the history of the world - all independence has come from armed revolution. Now one dhoti-clad guy comes down from South Africa and says that I will win you freedom using non-violence, and it seems like a pretty stupid thought. Pehle to log bolenge ki, idiot hain. Par jab who khuch kar jata hain to bolte hain, nahi yaar samajhdaar hain.
The same thing happens in college life. There are individuals who want to live their own dreams, and not do engineering or medicine.
How did you zero in on Aamir Khan?
After the script was ready we considered many other actors before Aamir, we also tried casting new faces, but finally after lots of back and forth decided to go ahead with Aamir only.
How was the experience of shooting at the Bangalore IIM?
It was fun. We all stayed at the college campus for 30 days of shoot. It felt like we were all back to our college days, Aamir hung around the hostel a lot, played chess with the students between takes, we had badminton and table tennis games. We also did some filmmaking workshops with the students. The students had the freedom to walk in and out of the shoot. All of this helped the film as our three actors also started feeling like students.
You have been doing 'focus group' screenings for all your films. The one for 3 Idiots has been quite elaborate.
I have done focus group screenings for both my previous films too, but not as elaborately as the one for 3 Idiots. Aamir does it in a very organized fashion for all his films; he will call people from different strata and takes their reaction. He checks if there is something in every screening that's being attacked, that needs attention.
So because of Aamir's presence we thought it was a good idea to do focus groups. I guess almost over a thousand people have already seen the film and the reactions have been very, very good.
You didn't have to tweak anything?
We did take a few very minor edit calls, but we didn't have to shoot anything because the reactions were pretty extraordinary.
The mamu song in Munnabhai MBBS was added after the focus groups.
Yes. That was added later on. We had it in the background first but after the focus groups we felt the need to have a song there. Kya baat hain yaar, bahut research ki, main khud hi bhool gaya tha...
Before we close the interview, tell me what are the three most idiotic things that you have done in your life? 'Idiotic' in the sense of the film.
I think the first idiotic thing I did was going to the film institute. I came from a small town and there going to a film institute to study was perceived as totally idiotic. Everybody thought that one would study to be doctor, engineer or a CA, professions deemed to be 'safe'. I still remember that when I told someone in Nagpur that I am joining FTII, they laughed at me. He said, 'Nagpur mein sirf santre (oranges) paidahote hain, directors nahi.' I have never forgotten this line. I actually got disillusioned and thought that probably I did not have the capability to make it. That was one of my most idiotic decisions, also one that has changed my life completely.
The second most idiotic decision?
After I graduated from FTII, I found out that making films is no piece of cake. I spent many years working on films. Bad experiences forced me to shift to advertising. One fine day, I asked myself the reason why I had come down Bombay from Nagpur, to make ad films? Mujhey chand log theek nahi mile isliye main ad films banana laga, par aaya to main film banana hi hoon. And I was making these ad films (and I was doing pretty well). Whatever time I found, I used to devote to my script.
Then I decided that I will not take up any work for one whole year. I said to myself, 'I don't care about the money, but I will focus only on one thing which I want to do in my life. Making a film was the dream I had come with and I will work on it for a year.' Many people warned me that my career will start floundering, my father asked me if I was sure I wanted to do that, ad scripts started piling up at the office but I refused all of them. This was that second idiotic decision that turned out to be very good, because this was the time when I wrote Munnabhai MBBS. If I wouldn't have taken the break, I wouldn't have completed the film.
And the third?
This is interesting. When I started making MBBS, I started shooting it in a very simplistic manner. I said I don't want sets which are larger than life, I don't want costumes which are unreal. Because the cinema of those days was what I call very unreal, with huge bungalows and their sprawling lawns, ultra- colourful clothes that one would never adorn in real life, and so on and so forth. I decided to stick to realism. It was considered that if it's a love song, it HAS to be shot outdoors in a beautiful location, which means step put of this country.
So I battled against all this common wisdom. My filmmaker friends questioned me, but I let the dhobhi ghat look like one - dirty, the character of Circuit had only one black kurta to wear. They should look like normal people in normal setting and speak like normal people. We did not shoot the song in Switzerland but in Borivali National Park, Bombay.
See, there are certain set formulae in our industry, that you have to do n number of action scenes, 'X' number of songs, etc, and then you have yourself a package. I defied that package and people thought I was being very stupid. But I think, in the final analysis it turned out to be pretty good. I still do that. Real life main koi aisa nahi rahte... hahaha.
How do you compare 3 Idiots to Munnabhai series?
3 Idiots is different in terms of the characters, story and the environment. But both films fall in the same genre, all three films are heartwarming stories with lovable characters, they make you feel good. If you liked Munnabhai, you will definitely like 3 Idiots because the film will make you laugh and cry, yet leave a message.
But when can we expect a thriller from Raju Hirani?
There is cinema of all sorts; just one type of cinema will make it boring. But I think filmmakers have their own tastes. Somebody might want to depict hardcore reality through her/his films. My belief is that people go to the theatres to get entertained and not to be preached. That means that even if there's a message to be put across, I have to say it in a way that entertains the audience too. Entertain kar ke hasi mazak se bol do.
If you give the same story to four directors, you will get four different films.
So after 3 Idiots, Raju Hirani's recipe is not going to change?
I don't think so. I enjoy doing this and I will hopefully continue doing the same. I don't want to do something that I am not convinced about. You have to believe in what you do. I don't want to reach a stage ki kehne ko hi khuch nahi hain par films banaye ja rahe ho. Then you should go and do farming, I'd love to do farming.
You have farms?
(Laughs) No. But I love nature so I would love to getaway to do that. Seriously, actually.