Nithya Ramani in Mumbai
With Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt coming together in his new film Aladin, director Sujoy Ghosh does not expect to go wrong. Adding to the cast is the hilarious Ritesh Deshmukh and Miss Sri Lanka Jacqueline Fernandez.
Sujoy tells Nithya Ramani why he's confident that Aladin will be a hit like his first film Jhankaar Beats.
What is Aladin about?
It is my take on the old story. I would call it a smart take because I want to tell people that we have talent in India and we need to use it to the maximum to be on par with Hollywood films.
Aladin has been made on an epic scale, set within a world that the audience haven't seen. A lot of homework and pre-production has gone into this. In my films like Jhankaar Beats and Home Delivery, I could afford to be creative on the sets but not with a film like Aladin. Everything was well planned and we knew what exactly we wanted and how.
The protagonist of the film happens to go by the name of Aladin. He's so frustrated with his name that he starts hating lamps because his peers constantly tease him. But one fine day, he decides to get a lamp and out comes a genie. It's hard for him to believe that this can happen.
'Ritesh has great comic timing'
Why Aladin's story?
It's like old wine in a new bottle. It is the visual medium and the way you tell a love story.
I was fascinated by the story and wanted to do something that was simple yet effective. It is the usual boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love kind of story. Ritesh and I were very eager to do a film on Aladin.
How did you think of casting Ritesh?
It's not like I went up to him with the script and then decided to cast him. He was there right from the inception. I wanted to work with him, we sat together and thought of making a film and that is how Aladin happened. So it wasn't Aladin and then Ritesh, it was Ritesh and then Aladin.
I had watched his film Masti and loved him in it. He has great comic timing and is a very talented actor. He is extremely dedicated.
How about your heroine Jacqueline Fernandez?
She is a product of screen tests. You know, some people are meant to become actresses. Jack is that kind of an actress. The character demanded her and she was perfect to the T. When I saw her during the auditions, I fell in love with her.
'I couldn't think of anyone but Sanjay Dutt who could take on Amitabh Bachchan'
How is she as an actor?
She was wonderful -- very natural and a great actor. She would take two takes at the most to okay a scene. It was great working with her.
You are making the film on a grand scale. Why?
Because the film demanded so. The story of Aladin is so dreamy that the world we set it in needed to be dreamy as well.
There is a scene where people are practicing karate. I could have shot this anywhere but the magnitude of the film is so big that it required a mansion sort of place. The scenes will be larger than life and out of this world.
How did you manage to rope in big stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt?
It is a myth that it is difficult to get stars. But you cannot get them with a bad script. I wanted to do another film with Bachchansaab but that didn't work out. So I went to him with Aladin. Bachchansaab wanted me to tweet the script a bit. I did that, went back to him and he was on board.
For Duttsaab, the film demanded him. There was no one to take on Bachchansaab. I couldn't think of anyone else but Sanjay Dutt who could take on him.
Ritesh and I decided that if we are making the film, it had to have Bachchansaab as Genius and Duttsaab as Ringmaster. I was very sure that Ritesh, Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt would be the core cast of the film. If any of them had dropped out, we wouldn't have made the film.
'Sanjay Dutt would always stand when Bachchansaab was around'
How was it working with the cast?
Great! Bachchansaab comes on the sets with tremendous energy. He is very mischievous. He comes up with funny Bengali one-liners. He comes with such great dynamity and stature that anybody would be intimidated.
I was intimidated too. Though I knew I had to get what I wanted, I had to be careful not to cross any line. Even Sanju wouldn't think of crossing the line in front of Bachchansaab. He would always stand when Bachchansaab was around. And it is not that Bachchansaab demanded it -- it came automatically to Sanju.
I am here only because of Bachchansaab. I grew up watching Bachchansaab's films. That's why I wanted to get into films.
Sanju is fun on the sets. Ritesh is very witty. He is exactly the same in real life as you see him on screen. All of us would party everyday. I remember our art director Sabu Cyril told me that usually, people are ready to stab each other at the end of a long schedule. But this was the first time that everybody was partying so much and enjoying themselves.
What look have you given the characters? Didn't you want to retain the original Arabian look?
No. This is my modern take on the story. All the looks were especially designed.
It was my idea to give Ritesh an 'A' on his red sweater. He always wears a sweater above his shirt and carries a worn-out brown school bag. He suggested that he use a sachel to look cool. But my protagonist is not cool. He is dumb and doesn't do anything that is cool.
And the 'A' on his sweater does not stand for Aladin. You will know what it stands for when you watch the film.
Bachchansaab's Genius is almost retiring when Aladin calls him from the lamp. He just wants to grant Aladin his three wishes and retire. He is 16 at heart with the kind of mischief he does. We gave him a cool look.
I had planned a mustache for Sanju. It was his idea to add on a gelled and pointed beard.
'If I had it my way, I would want Juhi in all my films'
What do you think went wrong with Home Delivery?
I think it was the narrative. People didn't understand the way I said the story. There's no point thinking about it. Hits and flops keep happening. I can't let these things bog me down. So what if my second film was a flop? My first was a hit and hopefully, my third will be one too.
There were reports that you were going to sign on Ayesha Takia.
Yes, that was a long time ago. I was supposed to get her for Jasmine's role but she didn't have dates and it didn't work out.
And Juhi too...
If I had it my way, I would want Juhi is all my films.