Interview - Vindhu Vinod Chopra

Published On: 2013-08-28

Author: Kanchana Suggu

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Vidhu Vinod Chopra is ecstatic.


Mission Kashmir has induced a lathi charge. Apparently, when advance booking plans opened at a theatre in Raipur, people thronged the place in such large numbers that a lathi charge had to be called in order to restore order. His last release, the immensely forgettable Kareeb, was a major setback for the director. You wouldn't know it, though. Because, today, Chopra is confidence personified. "I always tell my stories from my heart. Some work, some don't," he says emphatically.


As the release date of Mission Kashmir draws closer, Chopra has his diary full of appointments. What with subtitling, a special screening for the President of India, a premiere in Piccadily Circus and one in Times Square, London, he has no time even to buy himself a decent pair of shoes. Or trousers, for that matter!


Referring to people's assumption that this is a film about Hrithik Roshan's revenge against Sanjay Dutt, he quickly clarifies, "It's a film about what has been happening in Kashmir for the last 10 years. About five characters who are caught in the conflict." Any similarity between Hrithik's characters in Fiza and Mission Kashmir? "Look, that's is like comparing Dharavi with Beverly Hills, like comparing a rat with a dinosaur. I am telling you my story. Of course, some rats have also told their story," he retorts.


That's Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Candid, forthright, outspoken. Much is expected of Mission Kashmir. Chopra is very sure his film will live up to those expectations.

And no, this has nothing to do with superstar Hrithik Roshan's presence in it. "Aaj Hrithik Roshan ka naam ban gaya. to ismein Mission Kashmir ka kya taaluk? (If Hrithik Roshan is famous, what has that got to do with Mission Kashmir?)

"If you notice, in my publicity stills, there is no full-length image of Hrithik. There are just two pairs of eyes -- Hrithik's and Sanjay's. That is Mission Kashmir."

Kanchana Suggu finds out more. Excerpts:



Do you think the hype surrounding Hrithik Roshan is justified?


I am really glad this is not Hrithik Roshan's second film. At least all the hype is over. But, you know, it is really difficult to answer that.

There is a lathi charge in Raipur. And I'm shocked to hear that (laughs). No one knows why and how these things happen. Take 1942, A Love Story. People said it was over-hyped. I didn't do anything. I haven't even met the press for two years. After this (Mission Kashmir), I will meet the press only two years later, when my next film releases. I don't seek cover stories. I only make movies. I think everybody is making only proposals and throwing parties. Nobody makes films. I think the only reason people find me different is because I make films. What more can I say now? I have not thrown press parties. I am not saying have a drink and write good things about me. I have just made a film, which I would like you guys to see. That's it.



A lot of people will watch the film only because of Hrithik Roshan. What do you feel about that?


Very good. In Mission Kashmir, Hrithik plays a character that comes only in the 43rd minute, in reel five. He doesn't come in reel one and start doing his jig. He has done nothing in the film that will make you feel he is Hrithik Roshan. The other day, he and his girlfriend (Suzanne Khan) saw the film. In the end, she was in tears. She said that all she was seeing was Altaaf, Hrithik's character. Even she could not see Hrithik Roshan. Others, I assure you, will not see Hrithik. If they do, I have failed. But I have a feeling that Altaaf will take over completely. I think the story in itself is so powerful that I don't have to use crutches. Some people, as you are well aware, have done that in recent times. But we don't need any such things. I had signed him (Hrithik) much before the success of Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai.



What about Hrithik Roshan impresses you the most?


Number one: he is an honest guy. He is a good man. And number two: he is a good actor. To me, first and foremost, when I am spending two years of my life with a human being, I need to know if he is a good person. Is he a good human being? Is he easy to get along with? These things are very important. Whether it's my cameraman (Binod Pradhan), Sanjay (Dutt), Jackie (Shroff), Sonali (Kulkarni), Preity (Zinta), anybody... After that, I need to know whether the person is a good actor or a good technician. For me, Hrithik Roshan is a damn good actor, but he's a better human being. And I hope for him -- because he is a young kid and this whole stardom has struck him -- that he stays that way. That is really the difficult part. Being good when you are down-and-out is very easy. But what is important is whether you are able to retain the simplicity even when you hit big time. That is the reason I can give you a whole list of people in the industry I can never work with. What is important for me -- and I have done it very effectively in my many years in Bombay -- is that I have isolated myself from what is happening outside. I live in isolation. And I think I have retained the kid that I was in Kashmir to a great extent.



In writing a film about Kashmir -- an issue that is so sensitive and intense -- what kind of emotions did you go through?


This is one of my most difficult films to date. First of all, I had the good fortune of having some exceptional collaboration in this film. I had four scriptwriters. Vikram (Chandra), Suketu (Mehta), Abhijat (Joshi) and myself. Then Atul (Tiwari) joined us. We were a team. Atul knows more about movies than I do. He is more coherent than I am. I tend to digress and go anywhere. He kind of guides and directs me. This is the most difficult script I have written. It was very close to my heart. I am a Kashmiri. It is my homeland I'm talking about, the home that I have lost. More than writing, it was the making of the film. We risked the lives of over 220 people in Kashmir for more than one month. No one does these things.



Is it true that Sanjay Dutt and Hrithik Roshan contributed in the writing of the script as well?


Many people tell me the end of this film is just brilliant. But I hold my view. I was on the sets and that scene was not working out. My style is that I never tell my actors what to do. They just do what they want to do. You will be surprised to see that the original manuscript has many scenes written by Sanjay Dutt and Hrithik Roshan. It is actually in their handwriting. I have not even written many scenes in the film and these are some of the best scenes in the film.

In fact, the whole scene where Sanjay Dutt's wife dies and he is thinking of her has been conceived by him. Even the spectacles he is wearing were bought by him. That is the level of contribution by the actors. Hrithik wrote his own entry. I told him that I want Altaaf to appear like God and he wrote the script.



How long have you wanted to make a film set in Kashmir, since it's been so close to your heart?


I guess since I was born, because there are films that are just there in your system.



Then why has it taken you so long to make it?


It didn't take long. It has just came out at the right moment. My films also reflect my life. When I made Parinda, I was at a very violent stage in my life. I used to be a very violent man and that violence came out on the screen. 1942, A Love Story was my attempt at an epic which, thanks to the FMC creating problems for me in the second half, didn't succeed. During Kareeb, I was in love with the woman I married. It was a film that I made for her. It is the kind of film she loves. She hates violence and gunfire. So I made a lovely film about my own childhood for her. But the fact that Kareeb did not doing too well made me very angry all over again. All that anger has been channelised into Mission Kashmir. That is my life. I'm happy now. My next film will be a popcorn movie. I will write it when I am in London or New York for the premiere (of Mission Kashmir).



What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Mission Kashmir? What, in your eyes, is the film all about?


Mission Kashmir was originally to be called Mission Kashmiriyat. Let me tell you what Kashmiriyat is. In 1942, Mahatma Gandhi said that Hindustaniyat should be based on Kashmiriyat. And that Hindustan should learn how to live in harmony from Kashmir. There is a book by Christopher Thomas called Faultline Kashmir. It has just come out and it talks of the same things that Mission Kashmir talks about. Unfortunately, the book was published just three months ago. Had it come earlier, it would have helped me in my research. Let me explain what Kashmiriyat is. It is the fact that my name is Vinod Chopra and I have prayed as much at Hazrat Bal as I have at Shankaracharya. Altaaf, played by Hrithik, prays in both these places without really knowing the difference. That is Kashmiriyat. You know, people entered my house in Kashmir to burn it and found a huge kaba in my pooja room. And, next to that, a darbarsaahab, as also a picture of Jesus Christ. But the reason my house was not burnt was that there was a kaba in my pooja room.

When I went to Kashmir for my research four years ago, I went to see my house. I had police protection with me, so I wasn't scared when I saw that someone had occupied my house. I went into the pooja room -- it was neat and clean.

The rest of my house was dirty. But this one room was really clean. Then, somebody shouted from a distance saying that a man named Bashira would go to the pooja room every day since he performed namaaz five times a day. Now look at the whole situation. Muslim families did not enter a Hindu pooja house. But a man who does namaaz five times a day goes and cleans a pooja room. That is Kashmiriyat. And that, actually, is Mission Kashmir.

Now if I called it Mission Kashmiriyat, nobody would understand it. So I decided on Mission Kashmir. We have only made it entertaining -- with great music and sound -- so that people pay money and enjoy themselves.



The sound was mixed in London's Shepperton Studios?


Yes. I have just come from Shepperton Studios, where I was mixing the film. Our bill at the studio totals Rs 7,200,000 lakh. I could have bought this facility for Rs 5,00,000 in India. In fact, my chartered accountant looked at the accounts and called me a fool. I have actually spent Rs 1 crore-plus each on Bumbhro, Rind posh maal and Jheelon ka shahar. The sets are enormous. And it is all my money. I don't need to inform or seek permission from any financier. So I don't have to exaggerate figures because there is nobody else who is listening. When I was in Shepperton, we were paying something like 385 pounds an hour. I was working round the clock for three weeks. And you will hear sound in this film that you have never heard in any other Hindi film -- I can tell you that straightaway. Mike Dawson, who mixes all Ridley Scott and the late Stanley Kubrick films, has done mixed the sound of Mission Kashmir. He actually said one day, "My most intense experience was working with Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket. This (Mission Kashmir) is a close second." That is a compliment I will cherish. I was shocked to hear that. The film is definitely entertaining. It is not a preachy and boring film. It is not even pro or anti any nation. I am not running down any nation. I don't think patriotism means to running down another nation. I think it means to actually take care of our own.

That 220 people went to Kashmir for a month, risking their lives, is nothing less than patriotic. Forget me, my entire crew was in Kashmir. I told them that this is a film very close to my heart. And they came. They knew the risks. Besides, they were all insured. Each and every member of the crew signed documents before going. Each and every member of the crew! I paid a lot of money for insurance. Except for the main stars, everybody was insured.



This film is being touted as the best film of your career. What do you think?


You know, I tend to agree with that. I'll tell you why. I thought the best film of my career was Khamosh. Deciding between Mission Kashmir and Khamosh is tough. But I think Mission Kashmir is my best film till date. It definitely is better than Parinda and Parinda was exceptional.



Why do you say that?


It is better than my other films in what I am saying and the way I have said it. You see, I also think somewhere that the failure of Kareeb really got me going. I was really pissed off and my anger was channelised into Mission K.

It is just a gut level feeling that it is my the best. All said and done, Khamosh was a whodunit. But Mission Kashmir is very very noble in its endeavour of trying to sell Kashmiriyat. On a Diwali day, I am selling hope. I am trying to tell people, "See this film and take a bit of Kashmiriyat back home," which I think is really the hope for this country. I think that it is time we realise this. There is a line in the film which goes like this:

Yeh kisne aag daal di hai narm narm ghaas par
Likha hua hai zindagi yahaan har ek laash par
Yeh takht ki ladaai hai, yeh kursiyon ki jang hai
Yeh begunaah khoon bhi siyaasaton ka rang hai...

If you analyse what has been happening in Kashmir -- from Jawaharlal Nehru's time to Rajiv Gandhi's -- it boils down to politics. It has ruined the paradise that was Kashmir. They are actually ruining the whole country by politicking, but I think Kashmir is the biggest example. Paradise was destroyed!

I am not trying to offer a solution. I am only hoping and praying that the future of Kashmir should be like the past of Kashmir. That is all I am asking for.

I also end the film with a dedication to children. It says: May the children of conflict dream without fear. The main character, Altaaf, lives through a nightmare for 10 years of his life. And, finally, at the end of the film, he has a dream. To me, the film ends with a dream. I hope that our dreams for Kashmir and for our nation come true.



What kind of research has gone into Mission Kashmir?


A hell of a lot. Vikram Chandra, Suketu Mehta and the others kept going to Kashmir. You need to see the film more than once to notice the small details that you probably won't see the first time. For example, when Inaayat Khan (Sanjay Dutt) is playing cricket with young Altaaf, everything looks very beautiful. But just behind him is a man with a gun. It takes you a while to notice that. Then, there's a scene where Inaayat Khan is interrogating Sufi (Preity Zinta). If you notice, the walls of the cell are tilted. They are like that because I wanted Sanjay Dutt to look larger-than-life. So the camera is tilting up while the wall is tilting down and this man looks like God. Another detail. There is a massacre scene in the beginning where Altaaf's family gets killed. But all you will see is torchlight, smoke and crackers. There is not a dot of blood on anybody. I didn't want the sequence to look gory. I am just conceptually talking about violence. It is cinematic liberty. That is because I said to myself that I don't want to sell gore. I wanted to convey the violence of that moment, which goes on to become Altaaf's nightmare. And I can say that we have done a good job. There's yet another interesting sequence when he's watching television and the nightmare and what's happening on television mingle.



Tell us something about Jackie Shroff and Sanjay Dutt's performances.


You know, I was about to say amazing... but I don't want to say it. That is because I shouldn't be saying anything. I can just tell you that you would have never seen the Sanjay Dutt that you will see in this film. You would have never seen the Jackie Shroff that you will see in this film.

See, with Jackie, I have a history. No one saw him the way they did in Parinda or in 1942, A Love Story. I gave him all his awards and he has a little slot vacant for Mission Kashmir. But Sanjay is the big surprise. He will surprise everyone. You might have seen him in 200 films. Here, you will see him like never before. You like him, you don't like him, you decide. But I can say that you've never seen him like this. Let me tell you something. Once, when we were shooting in Kashmir, Sanjay Dutt's boy came up to me and said, "Thank you." When I asked him why, he told me that in the last 20 years that he has been with Sanjay Dutt, he never saw Baba, as they call him, getting up at 4.30 am and reporting on the sets at 4.45 am. He told me he was seeing a new Baba. In fact, most of the editing cuts were suggested by Hrithik and Sanjay. Preity, too, has done some major editing.



What about Preity Zinta?


Preity Zinta has never looked so beautiful. In Bumbhro, we lit her face through the water. See, she's a wonderful woman. The amazing thing about her is that she is so easy to get along with. She has this pahaadi quality in her. She is very honest. Forthright. You know, my actors sometimes tell me that this is shit. That is important to me. They can walk up to me and say this is rubbish.



Finally, how will the release of Mohabbatein on the same day affect Mission Kashmir?


It is perfectly fine. I was working towards a Diwali release and so was he. I will go for his (Aditya Chopra) premiere. He will come for mine.

You will probably find me at Liberty where his film is releasing and him at Metro!