What made you make this remake of a South film?We were looking at quite a few ideas. We heard some scripts and we watched a couple of other films that were up for a remake. Then, Ratan Arora, the writer, suggested that Sajid and I should watch this film. And the moment we saw it, we just fell for it. Literally, in 24 hours, Sajid bought the rights. It’s just such a different film, the intensity, the emotion, the twists, the drama is so unlike a debut film. It is so up my street, I needed to find something that I would be excited to do apart from just a debut vehicle. I wanted a strong film. I wanted to change the norms of how an actor is launched and this film had it all. It’s actually a very mature film in its drama. It’s not a very light-hearted feel kind of a film. So, it made the challenge harder, but more interesting. I knew that when this film is promoted and when it’s released, people will get a new experience. They’re used to watching only a certain kind of debut, but this is totally different.
Also, this film is related to someone’s personal life down South. How difficult was it to showcase it onscreen?
No, we actually followed the original. We didn’t go beyond that. We just followed the way the writers and directors of the original had written their screenplay and we adapted from there. We felt their emotional instincts were very strong and correct and so we didn’t change too much. We changed a little bit for the pan India audience but, we have stayed very true to the story.
What made you cast Ahaan Shetty in the film?
Actually, it was the other way around; I think they cast me in the film. Sajid and Ahaan had decided to work together and they were looking for a director. I was a little surprised that they thought of me because this was something I had not thought would be a part of my life. I have huge regard for Sajid, as a producer; he’s one of the finest in the business and I trust his instincts a lot. He’s very commercial like me and he’s very cinematic. So he told me about this boy and I had seen his pictures on Instagram, but I wanted to meet him. I got a good vibe when I met him. I tested him a few times. I wanted to make sure that he would be able to carry off this performance and he surprised me with his intensity, passion, and discipline. He’s very grounded in life, very sensible, straightforward. I just said that let’s just do it, it’s something I’ve never done before, that’s a good enough reason to do it. And why not do a film with someone new for a change. It might bring a different kind of freshness in my mind, in my approach. How would I mould this boy? How would I present him to the world’? How would I make his journey smooth and interesting. I like challenges like that. I like to do things that I have never done before.
This is the first time you’re remaking a film. What made you go for a remake?
As I said, the original story is very interesting and good stories are hard to come by, when you see one, you have to grab it. When I shot the film, I kept the original at the back of my mind, it was there, I kept it there, but then I went with my instinct and shot the way I wanted to shoot. I knew that the script had followed the original, so I didn’t have to worry about that and I just went with the flow. It was fun because there was a lot of learning happening from the actors and they were getting better and better with each day of the shoot. Initial nerves were there, but they settled down.
You have extensively worked with senior actors like Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, Emraan Hashmi. Now, you’re working with all these raw actors who don’t have experience doing such films…
It’s a process of giving a lot of yourself to them. Whatever you’ve learned, whatever you’ve imbibed, teaching them the craft in a way, though I don’t think they needed much teaching as both of them are very talented. But just the tricks of the trade, telling them about the anecdotes of how we made bigger films with senior actors and how we always relaxed and had a good time, played pranks, played cricket and sat around the bonfire, laughed on the jokes so that the stress level comes down. We encouraged them to come out with us in the evenings for dinners, had lunches together. My guys would play PlayStation with Ahan, the whole night. So we just relaxed the atmosphere. We had musical evenings, we celebrated Tara’s birthday, I just made the experience fun for them. For me, it was interesting to see that it’s different and yet the same. It’s different because the kind of conversations you had with your other actors who are dear friends and you’ve worked with them over and over again are very different from the conversation you have with youngsters. They’re a little more respectful. They keep to themselves a little bit. And I kept telling them don’t do that, come talk to me, tell me, did you sleep well? What did you have for breakfast? Where are you going on a holiday? I tried to make them feel comfortable but as I said, it’s not the same, it’s a little different. So one has to keep in mind that they will keep that respect in their mind all the time but yet, a lot of affection all around.
This project has waited for so long. Did you always want it to be a theatrical release and not an OTT release?
Yeah, from the time we wrote the first word or took the first shot of the film, we wanted a lavish big-screen experience. So the DNA of the product is like that, it’s what the trailer shows you that it’s a big canvas film. In fact when I saw the film, I told Sajid that I didn’t know that I was making such a big film Sajid was like,’ I know you’re making such a big film, how did you not know?’ The whole pulse would have been lost if it’s not a theatrical experience and it’s to the Producer’s credit that they could hold on through the pandemic and not succumb to the pressure of releasing the film. Pressures must have been many and sitting here today is easy but even three months ago we didn’t know that things will open up and the virus would go down and it could have been December, January, March, or it could have been April next year, nobody knew. So those days were more difficult for the Producers and the actors than for me. It was difficult for me as well, there was anxiety because you’ve done all your work and you don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m glad we waited. I’m glad that I had the support of my Producers and I think their trust will pay off.
Ahan Shetty doesn’t look like he’s making a debut. The way he’s there in the trailer, it’s looking like he has already worked in the industry. So how was it working with him?
Yes, you’re right. Many people have told me that it looks like it’s his third or fourth film and that’s a very big achievement because many new actors are very raw in their first film. Ahan has worked really hard before he came on set. He did a lot of workshops and even we did a lot of workshops with various people for him. He’s an instinctive actor and he prepares hard, but he trusts his director completely. He goes with what you want, listens very attentively and he has got a very quick grasp, once you show him something, you don’t have to show it to him again, he’ll catch it in the first go. So that made it very easy for me. He’s a quiet boy, he’s very grounded and he has no hangover of his parents or anything like that. He’s a very dedicated and a very hardworking actor, which is nice because you don’t want a spoilt child who you’re going to try to discipline while shooting a film. Here was a boy who was completely focused on his job, and nothing else. He’ll work, he’ll go rest in his room, sometimes play his PS 5, sometimes he’ll take the boys out for a meal, he’d go out with my team and treat them for dinner and stuff like that. But he’s a very nice and gentle guy. Tough as he looks, he’s a very soft-hearted guy. He keeps quiet, does his own things. It’s a very interesting and layered character and he has pulled it off really well.
The quality of action has changed in Bollywood, we get to see a lot of efforts that the actors make. It makes even filmmakers put in a lot of efforts to show it in such a way that it looks real. What are your thoughts on that?
Well yes, it has evolved. Action is not only about hitting and falling down and banging into things. Action is an attitude. It’s the attitude of the actor, the film, or the filmmaker. We’ve had a wonderful crew, we’ve had a German crew led by Stefan Richter who has composed the action and the Indian counterpart was led by Vikram Dahiya, both are very talented action directors. Ahan himself is very good in action. He’s a great boxer, a very good athlete. He jumps very well, his fist fights are very interesting, he maintains the intensity on his face. So yes, it has evolved but as I said, it’s an attitude, some have it and some don’t.
Lastly, what is that one tadap you have that you want to fulfill?
I think right now, I want this film to get its due. I think we’ve worked very hard. It’s been an emotionally difficult ride, yet a very satisfying one. And I want these young actors to do very well.
Do gangster roles attract you?
It’s not like that. It’s much more about the heroes that I like. I don’t do sweet stuff. I like grey characters, I like dark characters, I like action characters, that’s what attracts me, not really the gangster world.