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When you’re not intellectually strong, strength comes from your bank balance: Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Abhijat Joshi

Mumbai,Harshada Rege: There are still a few weeks for Wazir to hit the big screen. It releases on January 8. This time around, Chopra has handed over the directorial reins to Bejoy Nambiar. One would expect to see a lot of chaos and frenzy behind the closed doors of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s office as they prepare for the movie’s release. But it seems just like any other evening. The movie is being screened for some distributors on the lower level of the office. As Chopra walks up to meet me, he insists I see the first 15 minutes of the film. At first, I think he’s just being polite. We are joined for a chat by Abhijat Joshi, who shares screenplay credits for the movie with Chopra. The filmmaker speaks straight from the heart for the next 30 minutes, during which Joshi gives a glimpse of the method behind the creative madness. As promised, Chopra screens the first 15 minutes of the film for me after our chat. I leave the office premises impressed by the film and producer’s absolute confidence in his movie. Excerpts from the conversation:


Though Wazir is an adaptation of your earlier English film script 64 Squares, explain the process of adapting it?
Vidhu Vinod Chopra: Well, it took us four years to write it first….
Abhijat Joshi: Actually, it took 35 years because he got the idea around 1980. When I met him for the first time around 1994 he told me about this idea of two chess players and this lovely thriller. Then in 2000, we started writing it. It was supposed to be his first Hollywood film. Between 2000 and 2004 we wrote it in English and most of my education in cinema happened during that process. He was mentoring me. Dustin Hoffman was to play the protagonist. Unfortunately, the producer suddenly passed away.
VVC: Bobby Newmyer was the producer.
AJ: Then he saw a film by Bejoy he really liked.
VVC: Not the whole film though. Just one small portion. I liked the black-and-white portion of David very much. I called him (Bejoy), and I have an almirah full of scripts, so I opened it and asked him ‘Which one?’ (laughs) He picked this one. Then we worked for two more years on it.

It seems like a gripping thriller, what was the inspiration behind it?
VVC: It’s a film about friendship. It’s not really a sanjeeda film or an action thriller. It’s about two friends. It’s a very unusual friendship between somebody like Viswanathan Anand and say somebody like Rakesh Maria. Farhan plays his first ever action part and he has done a great job, but the film is really about friendship.

Can a writer ever be happy with the script he has?
AJ: That’s not possible. You always feel that something could be done differently.
VVC: Just today, he was saying that we could change this one shot. So I saw it and said ‘No, no’. You can never be fully happy, but when it’s over — like when this movie releases on January 8, we are flying to Paris for the premiere of Broken Horses — we are going to cut the umbilical cord. If you like it great, if you don’t it’s still yours, we have done our job.
AJ: As a writer, you feel a sense of pride when you see it. It may not absolutely be the perfect thing you have done, but you know that you’ve gone beyond your own capacity in some ways.

That Farhan Ahktar is not only an actor but also a writer, producr director, did that make a difference?
VVC: I think so. I didn’t know him at all. He’s an amazing guy. His contribution has been immense.
AJ: Even where the script is concerned, he came up with a lovely idea, which we used.

How important is it for a writer to be present on the sets when the movie that he has written is being shot?
Both: We didn’t go on the set for this one at all.
AJ: I think it depends on the director. He (Chopra) prefers the writer to be present on the set.
VVC: Yes, when I made Broken Horses, Abhijat was present for the shoot.
AJ: But sometimes the director feels that I am happy with the script and this is how I am going to shoot it and I want to focus on that. If a director prefers that then it’s perfectly fine.
VVC: The other thing is if you take someone like Bejoy for example and if I am on the set then Amitabh would’ve probably looked at me and then everybody would’ve looked at me for approval. I don’t want that. When Munnabhai MBBS was being made by Raju Hirani, I was on the set on the first day of the shoot and Sanjay Dutt looked at me after the shot and asked ‘Theek hai?’ He did that twice, I told Raju that before he does that the third time I am leaving the set. And after that I never went on the set ever again.

How easy or difficult is it to hand something that you have written to another person to direct?
VVC: It’s easy and difficult. If a director delivers — like Bejoy has — then it’s very easy. But if he’s not delivering then it is extremely difficult. The thing with Bejoy is that he really grew up in the last two-three years that he has been with me. He is not the same person who had started out. He has delivered better than I expected so it has been easy. I write a film and hand it over, and then I never go on the set. I let the director be the king on set. He deserves that. Bejoy made his film and brought it to me. Then I saw the edit and felt this is not the way it should be and then because I was so involved I sat on it myself. That’s why I have editing credit in the film. It’s truly like a collaborative force. You don’t know where the writer ends and the director begins and where director ends and the editor begins. It’s like a mixture of colors. It’s one collaborative force that makes the force.

How do you feel about fine-tuning a scene while shooting it?
VVC: I am totally for it. We believe there’s nothing sacrosanct about what we have written. We believe it’s a process. Some of the best lines in Wazir are improvised. The joke about Russian vodka and Russian girls between Amitabh and Farhan is one such instance.
AJ: As hard as you prepare, if something comes along that fits beautifully you incorporate it.
VVC: You can’t be strict. If I ask you to just ask me the questions that you have come with and nothing else that comes to your mind then it would be like an exam. Similarly, we are okay with improvising, the only thing is, we don’t make a compromise. When we make a film like Wazir that takes us six years to write, so be it…

Go on…
VVC: Everybody insisted that we release it on December 25 because it’s a good day. But I am not ready! I will be ready on January 8. It’s a very good film, if you like the film you will come and watch it. Why will you see a bad film on the 25th and not see a good film on 8th? And do you see a film because it is being promoted on a television show where everybody is laughing or are you going to see it because it’s a good film? Why would you want to go make a fool of yourself? If the film is bad you’ll get to know not by the second day, but the second show. Wazir is a damn good film. Even if you say you won’t get the opening like other films would get on the first day, you’ll get more the second day. LOC had released with Munnabhai MBBs. But my week three collection was better than their week two. I am just saying that if you make a good film… toh rukhti nahi hai achhi film. In this office we don’t do movies for Eid, Diwali, or Christmas, we do movies for movies!

Abhijat, how is writing with Vinod different from writing with Rajkumar Hirani?
AJ: The process is the same. First of all we strive to develop a unique idea, and not settle for something that mediocre or done before or is formulae. That’s our first commitment. Then you have to make that unique idea work. What is it that you are trying to say? There has to be a theme. Like in 3 Idiots it was kaabil bano kamyabi aapke pichhe aayegi. In PK, it was that there are two Gods — one that created us, the other that we created. We define that so we get a sense of what the film will be about. Then we start creating characters. Then we slowly approach the writing process. I do that with both of them. There are certain set of principles like every scene has to have either laughter, emotion or drama. If it’s not there then we don’t keep it in the film. In our films you will not find a scene where a car comes, stops, somebody gets out or somebody making conversation. That’s dead footage. We try to keep everything meaningful and respect the time that the audience is spending in an auditorium. With Vinod, he’s my teacher so the equation is different. With Raju, is he is more like my brother, but of course there’s mutual respect.

Abhijat, any plans to turn director?
AJ: No. Having seen these people direct, I quickly realised that my strengths are different. A lot of writers go towards direction because they feel that they are not getting their due. But in this company, writers have been given fantastic treatment. They have been rewarded, recognised, so that human need is satisfied.

Your production house is a few decades old. Is it a conscious decision to do few films unlike other banners that have multiple projects on the floor?
VVC: We can’t do that. We want to make good films. When I die, if there are DVDs of say five or seven my films, I want to look at them and say, ‘You know what, we did very well’.

Your one film rakes in more money than a bunch of movies made by other banners in a year. You clearly believe in quality over quantity…
VVC: Wohi toh main keh raha hoon. Kaabil bano, kamyabi kadam choomegi aapke. Chase excellence, success will follow. That’s true in our life. Tell me in how many offices will they invite you to watch 15 minutes of the film three-four weeks before the release? Nobody will do it because they are not sure of what they are doing at all. Some distributors are seeing the whole film today. They were just seeing the first half, but I said poori dekh lo. Kya problem hai? That is rare.

Why haven’t you directed a Hindi film after Eklavya?
VVC: That I am going to do. I think next year I will do it. After Eklavya, I got busy with Broken Horses then I was caught up with PK, and later Wazir. Now I am free. Now I will make my own movie.

You’ve produced films that Aamir has acted in, but you have never directed him. Will that change anytime soon?
VVC: I would love to direct him. If there’s a script that Abhijat writes and Aamir fits as an actor, which he gives a nod to, I’d love to do it. I would love to work with Aamir, Shah Rukh. With Salman, I’d really like to work. I really like him. I would love to work with younger actors like Varun Dhawan and Hrithik Roshan.

A lot of production houses are remaking old films. Any favourites that you want to remake?
VVC: Everything I have made should be remade. (Laughs loudly)
AJ: But not by him.
VVC: Frankly, I am not into the business of cinema. I cannot say ke chalo yeh film hit ho gayi thi toh isko fir se banake aur paise kamalo. Raju, Abhijaat, me…all of us are not pushed by this ‘oh my God, we have to make so much money’ feeling. The difference is that when you are not intellectually strong your strength comes from your bank balance. But when you are strong deep down, you don’t need that. When you look at great figures like say Mahatma Gandhi or Swami Vivekanand…did they have a lot of money? No, but they had some kind of strength and that what we strive for. That we should become like those great people where the strength is within us. So what will money do? Nothing. I just had a fantastic anda toast before you came in. Uske upar kya kha loonga? I can’t melt gold or it’s not like I can have a few diamonds for breakfast. It’s nonsense. We don’t chase money.

Also you only make films for your production house. Any directors who have impressed you that you’d like to offer a film to?
VVC: I don’t think like that. I see very few movies. For me, more than the work, I have to like that person and he has to like me. He may be a great director, but if doesn’t like me and I don’t like him then why do it? But I am sure I will find somebody that I like. I am making a film that my sister is directing. She has just finished writing it. I would love to make that with her because I love her. She has gone to a film school and has worked on Ferrari Ki Sawari, 3 Idiots, etc. She’ll do a great film. It’s like that. I have to like that person, otherwise you spend four years with an idiot then what’s the use? Picture hit bhi ho jaye toh fayda kya? You have wasted four years with a person you don’t even like.

Finally, Ram Lakhan which starred Anil and Jackie is being remade. If you had to remake Parinda today who would cast in place of these two actors?
VVC: Varun Dhawan and Hrithik Roshan. In fact, tell them if they want to do it I would be ready to direct them. Hrithik is a damn good actor. He would be great in Jackie’s part and Varun would suit the role that Anil played.

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