Nine years seem to have gone by in a flash. It was January 2012 when your film, Agneepath, opened at the box office.
Agneepath has been so special in so many ways. It’s my first film and it has given me everything that I have today. When I look back, I feel it has given me a career, a standing in the business and a lot of respect. And yeah, Agneepath is a piece of my heart, printed on celluloid. I took the project personally and was deeply invested while making it. It will always be my first love that turned my life around.
The film was also criticised, right from the time it went into production, on numerous accounts, including the cast you chose, and the very fact that you were remaking a cult film. How did you deal with it at that time?
I didn’t have to deal with it. And I wouldn’t say it was criticism. It was public apprehension, it was reservation that they had. It all reached me almost around the time when the film released. I had no clue what was going on when I was making the film. After release, Agneepath spoke for itself. The original Agneepath is a classic. I would have had the same reservations and apprehensions that others had if I was not making the film. The thing is, I was never competing with the original; I know I could never have. Neither was I trying to better the Amitabh Bachchan film. That Agneepath has made a mark for itself, I am a fan of that film and of Mukul Anand’s direction. While trying to remake, I was trying to concentrate on the core of the story, justify that and enjoy the process.
Do you remember the single most difficult thing you had to do for Agneepath?
It gave me nightmares. I can never forget how much I struggled with the dialogue: Naam Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, Maa ka naam Suhasini… that entire line. I didn’t know how and where to place it. In fact, I almost didn’t place it in the film. It was my wife Ekta Pathak-Malhotra who was part of the writing and production teams of the film, who suggested where I should place it. I did but it gave me nightmares till the film’s release. I had almost decided I will not use it because that dialogue has far too huge a fan-following. Fortunately, my wife’s suggestion worked. I was scared that mereko joote padenge iss ek dialogue ke liye but she was convinced that Hrithik would pull it off and it would work where we had decided to place it.
We lost Rishi Kapoor in 2020. He was an important part of your Agneepath as Rauf Lala. What did it take for you to convince him?
It’s funny, but, again, it was my wife who first felt he could be our Rauf Lala. It was our wedding reception. There was a queue of relatives and close friends waiting to wish us. Rishi sir was in that queue and he was grumpy because he had to wait. My wife nudged me when she saw his face. She whispered in my ears, “Rauf Lala…” From that day, we knew it had to be him and we somehow cajoled him to do it.
Sanjay Dutt is a part of your next film and had played Kancha in Agneepath. Besides him, you also worked with Hrithik and Priyanka. How would you say your equation shaped up with them over the years?
My equation is honest and straightforward with all my actors. I never saw them try to act self-centred. I was lucky to get a cast that was more experienced than me, and yet, they followed what I said. Our equation was professional in a personal way. We had a lot of fun working on Agneepath. We would dance, sing, listen to music and have fun on the sets of the film. My equation with Sanjay sir is better than what it was while making Agneepath. He’s someone who gets the pulse of what I am saying so correctly. He takes it so many notches higher. He knows my instinct and he nurtures it. I’ve always tried to explain myself well to him. Sometimes, I have even enacted things for him. He amplifies what I have in mind. Hrithik had done the same thing. He enjoyed working on Agneepath because we were thinking differently. He enjoyed the intrigue and the difference in our thoughts.
Sanjay was recently detected with a serious illness. When he moved into recuperation mode, he resumed shooting for your upcoming film. How was that phase for both of you?
You know, I don’t think he needs to evolve anymore because he is fully evolved as an artiste. He is all there. In Agneepath, and in this new film of ours, he is the same. He has the same regard for his characters. He is as involved, excited, and glamorous. People would feel crushed under the pressure that he has been through in recent times. But Sanjay sir is just as passionate and as present in every moment. He wants to be around on the set, he is involved with the scenes and he was there even when it was not his shot. Normally, the journey, which he took on his road to recovery, would have dampened a person’s spirits and made him or her miserable, but nothing could dampen his spirit. He stood firm. He continues to be involved and completely out there with all the work he does.
In a decade, how far do you think have you come as a filmmaker?
Look, I continue to work without a plan in place. The films that I have made so far have somehow found their way to me. I work with my instinct and the love for this work that I do. I don’t know if I have improved as a filmmaker but I am enriched as a human being in this decade. I am a lot calmer. I have learnt that success or failure, nothing should deter you from continuing to work.