Filmmaking is very instinctive for me and I follow the style that seems right for that time, for that content. All my films are completely different from each other. Masoom is massively different from Mr India, which is again very different from Bandit Queen and then Elizabeth. I find it very exciting to explore something new and go where I have not been before. Otherwise, if you keep doing the same thing, you will not learn anything new and the style becomes repetitive and boring. This is also not good for your audience. I like challenging myself.
Did you change your way of directing films for Hollywood?
No! What happened is that every film dominates its own form. Even in India, you will find the style of direction of Masoom, and the style of direction of Mr India, and that of Bandit Queen are completely different. It’s the content of the film that decides the form.
I didn’t change my style because I went overseas; I changed the style of the film because that’s the kind of film I was making. And therefore the form was dictated by the kind of content of the film just as in India. You know, here too, I am keep changing the stuff. Paani would have been a different film. Paani is a completely different style.
You have never assisted a filmmaker. What was your experience while making your first film, Masoom?
I had never even been to an editing room before I made Masoom. The first time I saw the inside of an editing room was when I finished the shoot of Masoom. I didn’t know the difference between the sound negative or the sound positive. I learnt all of this afterwards. But what I did learn from Masoom was how to tell a good story visually. And so everything I did in Masoom was dominated by the story visually.
I had never learnt filmmaking before that. I didn’t even give the editors much choice. I shot the film 3:1. So they didn’t have that many choices. Of course, I have learnt more over the years and I have become more sophisticated but I am not sure if that is a great thing. A certain amount of naivety and innocence is always important in filmmaking.
I start every film with the idea that I have never made a film before. You have to start to learn again. If I have to discover the best way to make a certain story, I have to start from the beginning again. If you have to climb another mountain, you have to climb down from one mountain to climb the other. So I climb down and rediscover filmmaking for that story. That’s why my films look different. Because I forget filmmaking and then start again each time.
So with each film you make, you are a debutant director?
Yes… there is no other way. I always start all over again as if I don’t know anything. The three most creative words that I know are, ‘I don’t know!’ I have to start with that.
Is it true that you decided not to make movies in India because you are unhappy with the way…
(Cuts in) No… No… No… I am desperate to work in India. I am desperate to do a film in India but I have one ambition – I want to do a film in India that is an Indian film funded out of India, done with Indian talent that becomes a worldwide winner. That is an unfulfilled ambition. That one movie that is for the Indian audience and it becomes relevant for the rest of the world as well, so that the world looks back to us and says, ‘Wow, India can do this!’ And that’s what I am hoping to do with Paani. This is because I know Paani will do very well in India, but its design and its form are that of a world-beating film. It has been my ambition to make a film like this for a very long time. China has done it, Korea has done it, Japan has done it… Can’t we do it!?
Is it easy working in Hollywood?
NO! It is not easy working on a film anywhere in the world. But you just have to fight your way through. Yes, the script is very important, but it has to be one singular vision that leads it. That’s what makes a great movie. Every collaboration of the movie, writer, technicians… are really important to a film. I can’t take Salim-Javed out of Mr India. they tare really important to the film. I can’t take Anil Kapoor out of Mr India, he is really important to the film. I think everybody collaborates to make a great movie but it still has to be one person’s vision. And I don’t see how it can be anybody else’s apart from the director’s.
When you made Mr India, other filmmakers were making family films or love stories or revenge dramas. Why did you make a film like Mr India?
Mr India wasn’t my idea. It was a Salim-Javed script and we worked on it together. And then I took off on it! It wouldn’t have been made if not for Boney’s and Anil’s passion for it. But, like I said earlier, it has to be one person’s vision.
And what about Bandit Queen?
Again, the writer wanted to make this film and didn’t have the budget for it. Initially, they wanted to make a docu-drama. I didn’t know how to make that, so I asked if I could make a feature film. They said, ‘If you can make a feature film in the same budget, go ahead.’ So I went ahead with it.
Do you become the audience when you are writing a script or making a film?
Yes… and I have to believe that what moves me will move the audience too. So all the other things are the things I have to negotiate and hold on to that one vision. It is a difficult task, for sure. I may look very gentle now to you right now but when I am making a film, I am not gentle. I hold on to my vision and I fight for it.
It is possible that I am not right and it is possible that I can go wrong. Of course, every filmmaker can go wrong. But there is no other way. You have to take that risk and somebody has to back you in taking that risk. That’s how Titanic was made and that’s how Jungle Book was made. That’s how most of the big films were made.
What is preventing Indian films from making an international impact in world cinema?
We need to tell stories in a way that people relate to them, internationally. One of the things that has happened is this weekend business. Someone came to me and said, ‘Make Mr India 2,’ and they said ‘We guarantee you that the first three weeks will be completely full’ and that I would make a collection of over Rs.300 crore. And I said, ‘You know what? Mr India has lasted 30 years, not three weeks. Thirty years later, people are still watching it. And you are asking me to make Mr India 2 and saying that first three weeks will go full.’ This is what I don’t understand. That’s not a good trend. First three weeks mein sab aajayega.
So here money trumps creativity!
No, it is not money trumping creativity. It is the limitation of your own expectations of your own product. Imagine the same conversation for a film like Mughal-e-Azam or Mother India… teen hafte full jayegi. Would they have made Mughal-e-Azam or Mother India in that case? These conversations did not exist in those times. And it is these conversations that are changing the way cinema is made right now. We should make films that last generations. That should be the desire that no matter what the generation, but they are watching your film. This weekend business bothers me sometimes.