A Minute With: Rajkumar Hirani

December 17, 2014

A Minute With: Rajkumar HiraniKaran Johar calls him a legend and a genius, the only filmmaker in the country who is capable of achieving the perfect blend of commercial and meaningful cinema. But a laughing Rajkumar Hirani shrugs it all off. The 52-year-old, who is as big a brand as some of Bollywood’s A-list actors, is also one of the highest paid in the industry.

From dealing with the relevance of Gandhism to the state of India’s education system, Hirani has managed to turn social themes into blockbuster movies. His upcoming film “PK” is probably the most anticipated movie release this year, and features Aamir Khan in outlandish costumes, wiggling ears and a robotic walk.

In an interview to India Insight, Hirani spoke about making films based on social issues, why he says his writers are paid well, and the Sanjay Dutt biopic he is working on – almost everything but “PK”.

Q: You are on a promotional tour for “PK”. Isn’t this the first time you are travelling for this purpose?

A: For “3 Idiots”, we didn’t travel, but Aamir did a whole trip around India. This is the first time we are travelling. We haven’t done much in terms of publicity, if you notice. We have not really gone all-out to promote the film. I feel sometimes you do excess. Sometimes you don’t really need to push. Going to television shows etc doesn’t really increase the desire to watch the film. What prompts people to watch the film is content.

Q: Aamir Khan said earlier this year that “PK” wouldn’t need much publicity because the visual element in the film would be so strong that it would lead to a lot of curiosity about the film.

A: When you make a film you make a film. You don’t think about how it will be marketed. But the visual element of “PK” was completely determined by the script. What happened was that, as we kept shooting we realized that there were various looks of Aamir that were emerging, and we thought this could be the campaign. We played with the poster campaign. Eventually you are striving to grab attention in this whole clutter of madness. You are also striving to be true to the film. People should not say that we have done one thing in the film and depicted something else in the poster.

Q: So what is “PK” about?

A: We haven’t really been talking about the film. I don’t know how to describe it well, but Aamir describes it as a high-concept film. “Lage Raho Munna Bhai” for example, was a high-concept film. I haven’t seen a film like this which has a fictional character interacting with a historical figure. Then you are talking about concepts like non-violence etc. in an entertaining way.

As for “3 Idiots”, which people liked much more than my earlier films, to me it wasn’t a new concept. It was a student film, which has been done 10,000 times. It was the same thing, packaged in a different way, maybe. “PK”, again, is a different story. We are trying to shake some pre-conceived notions, trying to look at things differently.

Q: Is it an Indian “Forrest Gump”?

A: (Laughs) That’s a battle we are always fighting whenever we cut trailers or promos for films. We always wonder how much to say, and every filmmaker wants to say the minimum. You don’t want to reveal your film and ruin the viewing experience. We did the same thing for “Lage Raho Munna Bhai” – we didn’t reveal that there was Gandhiji in the film. It’s the same thing here. The viewing experience will be much better (if we don’t reveal the plot).

Q: Do you always deliberately include social issues or a message in your films?

A: It has never been important. I don’t know why it happens. We have tried to analyse that, (co-writer) Abhijat (Joshi) and me. Abhijat says we are digging from our life, our stories. Whatever we were worked up about, whatever our angst was about, manifests itself in our films.

Everything I have been through, all the films I have made, nothing has been more stressful than my 12th standard board exams. I would wake up wondering what would happen. In the process of writing (“3 Idiots”), they emerged.

Q: What do you want to say with “PK”?A Minute With: Rajkumar Hirani
A: “PK” was the only film which began from a desire to say something. I can’t say what that thing is (laughs). The battle was the other way round – how do you say such a serious thing in an entertaining way? For many years, we were struggling, until we finally found a way, where it will be entertaining, won’t be offensive – will hit the right notes, basically.

Q: You deal with subjects like Gandhism and its relevance; or the faults in our education system. Do you have to dumb down these rather serious subjects for a mass audience?

A: I think audiences are very intelligent. We can’t say we are superior and someone else is not. But we possibly give them stuff which is not good enough and they still go and see it, so we believe that is what they want. I don’t think we are dumbing it down.

We are trying to make it simple so that it reaches as many people as possible, because in India you are talking about literacy levels which are from 0 to a 100. So how do you simplify things, and make them universal? You have to sugarcoat it. Trust me, the most difficult thing is to make it simple. When you are doing it in a commercial format, where you have to make money and make sure your film recovers money… it’s an expensive hobby.
Q: It is rumoured that you make sure you and co-writer Abhijat Joshi get most of your films’ profits. That is rare in an industry that doesn’t always respect writers. How did you manage that?

A: Writers should be respected. I make sure that they will be paid a hundred times more than what anybody pays. It’s the foundation. I am not here to chase money at all. If I was doing that, I would have made “Munna Bhai” now. “Munna Bhai” sells. I haven’t made another “Munna Bhai” film because I couldn’t write a better script than the earlier ones.

I spent five years after “3 Idiots” making my next film. I didn’t see a single penny in those five years. Yes, you want to protect your interests, but you can’t sell your soul to make that money.

Q: Why was there a five-year gap?

A: People think I was holidaying for a couple of years and then I started work. But trust me, I was working every single day. This was a very difficult script to write. I get very scared to get on the sets when I have something substandard.

Q: Has that ever happened?

A: Yes it has happened. It is such an ongoing process that some scenes you will constantly remain unsatisfied with. Sometimes I have re-shot it. When I look back at my older films I feel like I could have corrected some things, like that love song in “Munna Bhai”, I could have done without. It just doesn’t go with his character – him standing on that little rock and singing. I cringe when I see it, even today.

Q: Could you talk about the Sanjay Dutt biopic that you are working on?

A: That just happened, it fell in my lap. One day Sanju (Sanjay Dutt) started telling me his life story. That evening went on to become 25 days of going to his house every day to hear that story. It is not about glorifying him in any way. He has lived such a life that it makes you wonder. I was always on the lookout for a true story, because I wanted to make such a film. I have spoken to Ranbir (Kapoor) and he has agreed to do the film. It looks like that will be my next film.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan and David Lalmalsawma. Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay, Robert @bobbymacReports and David @davidlms25 | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission.)

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