With films like Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 idiots and PK under his belt, Rajkumar Hirani has emerged as a champion in filmmaking over the years. His films have not only made a strong cultural impact but have also raked in a lot of moolah at the box office. He is one of the most sought after filmmakers in India today, and in spite of that, he remains humble and simple. In an exclusive interview with Nation Next, Rajkumar Hirani spoke about his idea of filmmaking, his role as a producer and his brotherly relationship with writer Abhijat Joshi.
After directing four major blockbusters of Bollywood, you produced the R Madhavan starrer Saala Khadoos. What’s the difference between Rajkumar Hirani – the producer and Rajkumar Hirani – the director?
It was the first time I produced a film and did not direct it. I think a producer’s role is a bit easier than that of a director. Being a director, you’ve to work really hard. As a producer, your job is to make sure that the film gets a good release and people come to watch it. Sudha Kongara directed Saala Khadoos and I didn’t go for the shooting at all but I was creatively involved in the scripting and later at the editing stage.
Did you feel burdened a bit more as a producer because money was at stake?
You have to be very careful when you’re producing a film. If you can control your budget and can make a film in a particular budget, then there’s no worry. If I make a film like Saala Khadoos in 100 crores, that will be idiotic. If I make it with a recoverable investment, then I’m sure, I’m financially safe. Having said that, we didn’t compromise on quality. When we felt that we had to re-shoot a particular scene, we re-shot it.
All your films have conveyed social messages. While Lage Raho Munnabhai taught us Gandhigiri, 3 Idiots taught us how important it is to follow your passion in life. Your idea of filmmaking seems to bring about a social change.
I never really stepped out keeping in mind that I had to make a film, which gives a social message. I think the primary task of every film is to entertain people and when I started making films, my primary task was to make films, which make people laugh and make them happy. But also, as a filmmaker one should realise that though your job is to entertain, you should not sell your soul to entertain. Whenever I write a film, my belief goes into my writing. I see God and religion in a particular way and that belief reflected in PK. With Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., I just wanted to make a fun film with a gangster studying at a medical college but while I was writing it, I thought that a doctor should be compassionate, and that belief reflected in my writing.
People you work with are a constant fixture in your films. Apart from junior actors you have also repeated big actors like Aamir Khan, Sanjay Dutt, R Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Boman Irani and Jimmy Sheirgill in your films…
The cast of a film completely depends on what the script demands. I worked with Sanjay because he looked like Munna Bhai. I always felt that Aamir has a very innocent face and he could look like an alien with his ears out, so I worked with him in PK. When Madhavan came to me with the script of Saala Khadoos, I loved the script but my immediate worry was that Madhavan did not look like a coach as required by the script. I told Madhavan that he was the wrong choice for the film. He told me to give him a couple of months to prove that he could be the right choice. He went to the US and worked with a trainer for six months, grew his hair and beard. When he came back, I couldn’t recognise him. He had big biceps and he looked like a mountain! Then I got inspired to cast him. Madhavan worked hard to suit the character of the coach. I feel that Saala Khadoos is Madhavan’s best performance ever.
You and Abhijat Joshi have co-written brilliant films like Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots and PK. When two creative people work together, creative differences are natural. What kind of rapport do you share with Abhijat?
I consider myself very lucky that I found somebody like Abhijat Joshi in my life. Vidhu Vinod Chopra saw a play in London, written by Abhijat, and left his card for him. Abhijat contacted Vinod when he came back to India and worked with Vinod on films like Kareeb and Mission Kashmir. I met Abhijat for the first time at Vinod’s house when I went there to narrate the script of Lage Raho Munnabhai to him. Abhijat was also present there and he got very excited after hearing the script. As he’s from Ahmedabad, he knew a lot about Gandhiji; so he also wanted to work with me on the script. I was very reluctant initially as I knew that Abhijat stayed in the US and I thought we wouldn’t be able to work together. He went to the US and he wrote something on his own and sent it to me and gradually we started exchanging our writings via emails. That’s then when I thought, ‘Yaar yeh toh bahut kamaal ka soch raha hain. Jaisa main chahta hun waisa he soch raha hain!’ It happens very rarely. I feel very fortunate that I found a brother in Abhijat who thinks like me. I have no memories of fighting with him in last 10 years. If there are creative differences, two things happen: If I disagree with what he has written, he actually gives it a thought. He never defends his work. And if he feels very strongly about something then he convinces me.