Abhay Chopra made his directorial debut with last week’s thriller Ittefaq. He tells Suranjana Biswas why these are good times we’re living in
How does it feel to be acknowledged for your first film?
I wrote this film many years ago and it took quite a while for it to see the light of day. It is really heartwarming and overwhelming how the audience is appreciating it the way they are. This film is very special to me because I saw my granddad make this film and a lot of memories are attached to it. This was the first film my dad worked on as an assistant director.
Why did you think of remaking this cult classic? Why not another film?
First, it is my favourite film. I did not attempt to copy the original; this film is my re-telling of the story. It is a new way to tell the story and that is exciting. I have never tried to compete with the original. It’s like a fan being inspired by the original version, wanting to make a remake.
The original Ittefaq was quite a huge hit. Did you feel any pressure to live up to that success?
I tried to stay away from thoughts like that. I had a lot to carry on my shoulders as it is, for the original is a cult film and a successful one too. Also, the names associated with it are all legends today. I kind of zoned out from that and tried to stick to the film and the story that I was trying to tell. I think everybody who has worked on this film, from Shah Rukh, to Karan, to Junu, knew what the film was. In fact, it is one of Shah Rukh’s favourite films. If I had been constantly aware of the success of the original, I would never have been able to make this film.
Do you feel the thriller genre should be explored a little more in India? Which genre are you personally fond of?
There is a lot of fun making a murder mystery. My granddad made films like Kanoon, Dhund, etc and I am very fond of them. I am also fond of other genres and would like to explore all of them. Today, the audience is accepting all kinds of genres, which is evident from the appreciation this film has received. These are good times, where the audience is receptive to good content. As filmmakers, it is our responsibility to give them good content.
Coming from a film family, is it easy to secure a platform to launch yourself?
I know I have a big last name but I am also aware that my first name is very small. All of us have to strive to make our own name count in this industry and in this life! I am very grateful for my lineage which has given me a foot in the door. But, eventually, my work will have to speak for me.
Sure, my lineage makes it easier to meet people, but people will work with you not because of your last name; they will work with you only if they are interested in your work.
But, sure, I have to also live up to my last name. Hence it is double the pressure. Whenever I walk up the office stairs, I see all the great films made by my family, framed on the wall. I feel I have to make something really good to have my film framed on that wall too.
Did you always have Sidharth Malhotra and Sonakshi Sinha in mind for this film and what was it like to work with Akshaye Khanna?
I already said that I had approached Sidharth Malhotra for this film a couple of years ago. It did not work out then as he was shooting for something else. It was very important for me to get him on board because I felt he suited the character perfectly. He has such a wonderful face and innocence in his eyes. It was the same with Sonakshi. She can play the girl next door as well as a temptress equally well.
The first time I sat with Akshaye to narrate the story, I knew he was the guy from the way he looked at me. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. He has done such a lot of good work. He respects people’s time and is a pleasure to work with. Sid and Sona… I know them as friends too and so we were very comfortable with each other.
You shot your first short film with Ranbir Kapoor! Tell us about it.
We have known each other since kindergarten. That was actually my thesis film and he was assisting Sanjay Leela Bhansali for Black. I just asked him do it and he said yes. It was fun.