Rajkumar Hirani’s ‘PK’ has won Bollywood’s both fronts – box office and critics – with an overwhelming performance. Counting over 330 crores so far, and with rave reviews from most critics, the film has found many people buying an expensive multiplex ticket twice and thrice over. The filmmaker though, has his feet firmly on the ground (no surprises there!). Here he speaks about creating ‘PK’ , writing films that people simply love to keep watching and his take on Indian audiences.
‘PK’ has made over 300 crores, in very little time. What strikes me as interesting is that you rarely tend to chase numbers with your films, you set up new records with your films each time. Were you surprised with the numbers?
No I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction in terms of numbers at least. If you ask me I think ‘3 Idiots’ was a more fun film, and had more in it for audiences to find identification with. I felt people would say, aah this film is talking about us- chase your dreams and be what you want to be.
‘PK’ on the other hand is not chasing popular sentiment. It is saying that we as a human race are one. Love the other community equally. We’ve not grown up hearing that and we don’t want to hear that. It’s something quite unpopular to say! But I wanted to say it anyway through this film.
So the film’s success had come as a pleasant surprise and that people are going to watch it again and again. Such numbers can happen only when people repeat a film.
You’ve created a new record with the film of highest repeat viewing. And it has broken the record of ‘3 Idiots’ when it comes to individual admission record. However, repeat viewing rarely happens these days.Most films bank on a big weekend to rake in moolah. Why is that?
First of all, I am not a good judge of how box office works, or why audiences tend to watch a film more than once. I completely work on the basis of my intuition. I don’t think I premeditate a success formula. There is no formula to make a successful film.
If I have to sit back and analyze this trend, then we get to see the same kind of story again and again. So any story that is not the same- and is saying something different becomes a clutter breaker of sorts. And we are saying it with honesty, with good intentions. I guess somewhere that is going across to the audience. That’s my belief and I could be completely wrong about it!
That’s a different point of view from the standard assumption that a mainstream commercial film needs to be reduced to the lowest common denominator to appeal to everyone. You don’t do that. Your heroes are usually common people, unlikely heroes too. How do you still make your films/ scripts universal?
First of all, that belief itself is wrong that you are talking to a dumb audience. Audience is very intelligent. Who is the audience? People like you and me! Why should we dumb down? We actually should give them something that is intelligent.
Things like this actually reiterate the belief that the audience is smart. When you show them Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence in a film like ‘Lago Raho Munnabhai’, and they connect to it. They actually step out and protest like actors in the film do. Clearly, we are talking to an intelligent audience. Assuming audiences to be dumb, that’s a big fallacy.
In ‘PK’ you tackle superstition. You also tackled it somewhat in ‘3 Idiots’ with Raju’s transformation. Have you ever faced superstition in your personal life?
My argument against superstition is personal. Both Abhijat Joshi (co writer of ‘PK’ and ‘3 Idiots’) and I grew up in homes where rationality prevailed. Our fathers didn’t believe in any superstition. For both of us decided to tackle this. I find it completely irrational when people believe that wearing a ring will change their lives. For instance, the way ‘vastu’ is interpreted currently. I was looking at a house today, where somebody indicated to a door and said, ‘Its built as per Vastu’. I laughed at him, and asked him not to show me any of these ‘Vastu’ aspects. There are many stupidities that we live with in society. We grew up without those, and that reflected in ‘PK’.
A question that will be on everyone’s mind- is yours and Abhijat’s writing process. Obviously, ‘PK’ took longer as you had to adapt the script after the release of ‘Oh My God’. But usually too, you take time to write a film. How do you both work together as a team?
Once we identify a subject, or a theme that inspires us, then we don’t start writing immediately. For a month or so, we just talk about it. We record our conversations. We talk about our experiences about the subject.
I will explain with the example of ‘PK’. I would recall anecdotes from my life about religion, God and my beliefs. Similarly, Abhijaat would do that. So we will collect a lot of material. Then we will research; we will go on the Internet. We spend a couple of months; we will just read and research all this material.
Then we will start building a story around it. This film started with the belief that it has to say something about our beliefs around religion. But then the worry was how do we say this in a way that is not offensive to people. How do we say it where it’s interesting, and yet not preachy? So we built many characters. The first character we built was a guy who lives in a village and is a rationalist. But that was becoming an aggressive character. Then we wrote about a character that was born in a jungle and then he got left behind in the jungle. He is not really connected to the world, and therefore, has no concept of God. So we stumbled around this part for sometime. Then we thought what if he was an alien who looks like us and comes to this planet. How would he view belief around God? Then it becomes non-offensive.
There’s no particular way we write. It’s quite an open house. We keep writing, we keep falling and then we keep re writing. So it’s a process. It’s like a seed and we keep writing till we reach a stage where we don’t even finish! We just abandon it. Film is releasing so we just abandon it.
Many would agree that this is Aamir Khan’s best performance ever. How did you manage to get him in this groove? How much of it is collaboration?
Filmmaking is a very collaborative art. Unlike a painting that an artist paints sitting by himself, as a director, you have to work with a team. In filmmaking we collaborate with everyone on the team from the DOP, to the sound recordist to the actors. You have one vision, and you need to take the team together to achieve this vision.
Aamir’s contribution is great in terms of devising his look for the film. We wanted PK to look human, but also look slightly different. It’s not an alien with 6 hands or something. So we considered pushing his ears out a bit more, and to make his eyes look bigger. There were things we did to make him look slightly diferent. Bhojpuri was Aamir’s decision. I wanted him to speak Rajasthani. I like playing with languages and dialects as we have so many in India. Adding a dialect just makes the dialogues more colorful. So Aamir said what if we were to make him speak Bhojpuri.
The other interesting thing is that Aamir was great for this role, is that he believed in the material. What the film was trying to say, about God and religion, is something Aamir also believed in. I think that conviction showed onscreen too.
Final question- you’ve begun work on the Sanjay Dutt biopic starring Ranbir Kapoor. Could you tell us about it? Are you also writing another film?
That’s one film that we have started some work on. Any given moment, you work with a couple of ideas. I am still toying with a few ideas here and there. But the moment you commit to an idea, and then it’s a journey. Then you need to develop a seed for one year or one and half year to develop into a film. I take a little time to commit to an idea.
On the Sanju film, we have enough material to excite us. But there are one or two other ideas that I would like to explore too. I haven’t decided on any yet.
When it does, we’re sure it will be another new chapter in Bollywood.