Dinesh Vijan talks about working with Saif Ali Khan

He has made various kinds of cinema — dark comedy, spy thriller, cute romances and complex relationships. His cinematic sensibility is cut from a different cloth, often not tailored for the usual Bollywood design. Yet, he makes the cut with subjects that are spiked with a heady mix of characters. Producer Dinesh Vijan, who has backed films like ‘Being Cyrus’, ‘Finding Fanny’, ‘Love Aaj Kal’, ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Badlapur’, turns director with the upcoming ‘Raabta’, starring Sushant Singh Rajput and Kriti Sanon. In a chat with BT, he tells us about his school of cinema, pushing boundaries and how his mistakes made him a better filmmaker. Read on…
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For years you have donned the producer’s hat with success, but it took you long the take on the director’s baton…
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In the time that I directed ‘Raabta’, I could have produced two-three films, but for some reason, this story wasn’t leaving me. I don’t know if I was creative 15 years ago or if I am creative now. All I know is that you need something to drive you and this story did that. It chose me. I never believed that I know it all and all these years have been a learning process. The day I think I know it all, I will stop learning. If I look back at myself 10 years ago and feel that I was a big idiot, that’s fine. But if I think of myself the same way even today, it means that I haven’t grown up.
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Earlier, Homi Adajania was supposed to direct ‘Raabta’ with you. You seem to prefer working with a few chosen directors like Homi and Sriram Raghavan. Do similar creative sensibilities keep you all together?
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When we were developing the content and writing it, there was no director on board. Halfway through it, I had this feeling that I didn’t want to let it go. Homi was the first person to tell me, ‘You should tell this story’. I think that while making films, you should have only one perspective, you can’t have a shared perspective. I believe that there are two kinds of filmmakers; one, who studies cinema, like Quentin Tarantino and Sriram Raghavan. Their knowledge is so deep that they can give you a reference of a film that released 30 years ago. Then, there are filmmakers like Imtiaz Ali and Homi who study life, take experiences from it and capture it on screen. I am more from the second school of cinema. I don’t come with any pre-set notion that films are supposed to be a certain type; otherwise, I wouldn’t have backed films like ‘Finding Fanny’, ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Badlapur’. I like to have four-five strong equations in my life; I don’t think that we have the capacity for more than that. With Homi and Sriram, I have that and there is a common keenness to be productive together. I don’t hobnob much with people from the industry, and in the last two years, I haven’t watched too many movies. I feel that if I see something too beautiful, I will get too inspired; I want my stories to be more or less original. Like we say, there are only eight stories but a million moments. The moments in every film should be original.
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When you are producing films like ‘Go Goa Gone’, ‘Finding Fanny’ and ‘Being Cyrus’, which are in a very different zone and un-Bollywood like, right at the onset you are aware that the risks are high. How do you still take the plunge in an industry that usually tends to play it painfully safe?
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As a filmmaker, you have to understand how many people the story will appeal to. If Badlapur was made at a colossal budget, it wouldn’t have made money. Today, the actors have also become sensible. ‘Finding Fanny’ had such a stellar cast, and it fetched us decent numbers, quite surprising for an English film made here. If I had made it at the price of ‘Cocktail’, we would have been screwed. I believe that the story should choose the budget and not the actors. Ultimately, your partners (co-producers) need to be commercially safe; otherwise there will be no studios. Agar aap roz bank lootenge toh kuch bachega nahin. Sometimes, the films that look the safest on the table are the riskiest. I have seen a lot of people in this business getting ahead of themselves. As a producer, I have always given my directors a lot of confidence, as they are like children who need to be nurtured. So, while directing ‘Raabta’, I missed myself. If I had me, I would have been more confident (laughs!). We take producers lightly; in fact, they are the ones who keep the ship intact. If the film goes down, it is the producer’s fault; after all, it is their decision to invest so much money into a story.
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Well, it is interesting you said this, because generally, people don’t remember who produced the film, but they damn well remember who directed it. In that way, the onus of the film largely rests on the director’s shoulders, doesn’t it?

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As a producer, the onus of the failure is mine, because the decision to green-light a film is also mine. A director gets totally consumed while making a film and is not capable of disconnecting from it. So maybe, for a director, the heartache is more. My dad taught me one thing: When you put your head on the pillow, you should get good sleep. Lot of us give that up, but for what? We are constantly looking at other people to tell us how good we are. But how good is that at the end of the day? I take responsibility for all my films, but I don’t want my life to be just about films. If I am constantly looking for validation, then what’s the point of it all? If I am telling you that I am making films about experiences, then I have to go get the experiences, right? If I stop doing that, I won’t have anything to say. I like to go home by 9 pm, and I need to take time off and disconnect. After ‘Cocktail’, everyone said that I should quickly make two-three films, but I tuned off and went traveling, and that’s when the story of ‘Raabta’ came to me.

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What happens when a dream project like ‘Agent Vinod’ fails to hit the bull’s eye? Does it make you rethink your choices or regret them?
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You can never predict if a film will work or not, we can only focus on trying to achieve what we have set out to. I have never worked harder on a logistical level than I worked on ‘Agent Vinod’. It was Saif’s (Ali Khan) dream and I haven’t met a more honest filmmaker than Sriram Raghavan. I guess sometimes, you can’t analyse a film while it happens, you will know only once the dust has settled. So, you can never blame anyone for it. What do you gain by blaming anyone, anyway? My point of view on that film was that as producers, we wanted to make something like James Bond, and as a director, Sriram’s strength was Jason Bourne (the Bourne franchise). And we felt that the most unique thing was that we got both worlds into one. I think if we had made it tighter, without songs in the Bourne-zone, it would have been ahead of its times. As a producer, by making Agent Vinod, I learnt how to make Badlapur. Even for the latter, I told Sriram, ‘I’ll make it, but you can’t hold back your punches, you have to go all out’. He did that and it worked. Well, I’m not that lucky, because if I make a so-so film, it’s never done well. There are times when dishonest films work, but in my case, they don’t work. At the same time, I think that if I had made no mistakes in the last 10 years, I would have learnt nothing.
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As a filmmaker, while you are pushing boundaries, our actors need to follow suit, too, right? They often get caught in the loop — like how much screen time they have, what age they are playing, et al…
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I think the attitude among the younger lot is changing. Deepika (Padukone) drove ‘Finding Fanny’; in fact, she called up and told me that she wanted to do the film. In ‘Badlapur’, Varun (Dhawan) who was two films old, played a father. In ‘Go Goa Gone’, Saif did a small part. The youngsters are picking films that are edgy and different. Cinema has been changing for the last 10 years, and since a few years, even our audience has changed, but we were not willing to accept it. Now, we are accepting it. The audience is ahead of us. We need to make cinema that will resonate with them years from now. A really good film might not work today, but in five years, it will not lose value. Films like ‘Johnny Gaddar’ and ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ might not have been blockbusters, but they are films that we talk about way more than other films. Of course, there are those `200-300 crore spectacles which you also need, but I want to make films that survive time, and films that build value.

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