Is there any director whom you feel is moving in the right direction in India?
A lot of them are. I like Rajkumar Hirani a lot. Anurag Kashyap and the whole team of filmmakers around him are also good. There is a lot of talent there. It just takes one or two films to set the pace. Honestly, after Elizabeth, I thought a lot of filmmakers would come and try and make films overseas. But that didn’t happen! Even for me, it wasn’t like I just made Elizabeth. It wasn’t like, oh, I made Bandit Queen and so I made Elizabeth. Doesn’t happen like that… you have to take a risk.
After Bandit Queen, I could have made any film in India that I wanted to make. Every star was willing to make a film with me but I realised that I wanted to make films internationally. And so I went off to Los Angeles. I stayed there for a year till I ran out of money. I took the risk and I have taken the risk many times in my life. When I was a CA, I left everything and turned up in India… I took a risk. At the height of my career in India, I gave up everything and went off to LA. And it wasn’t as easy as, accha. ab toh yeh Hollywood chala gaya.
I worked hard there. I had to convince people that I could speak English, I had to convince people that I could tell stories. I could have failed, but I took that risk of failure. But I knew that now I have to go beyond borders. So some successful director here has to take that risk, na! I am a huge risk taker.
Do you sense fear in your counterparts here in India, to take that risk?
It is not insecurity or fear. It is just that they are not risk takers. I am a huge risk taker, that’s why I do what I do. Each time I do it, it is fearful and scary. But I don’t know what else to do. Of course, it is very scary. It was scary when I decided to leave the country after Bandit Queen, stayed in LA till my money ran out. But I promised myself that I would not come back till I make a film there.
It took me 12 years to make Masoom. I sat here… waited and waited till I made Masoom. I am a risk taker… I’m a stubborn, idiotic, risk taker. I will risk everything to do what I believe in. That’s why I say that I know Paani will get made, because I am a risk taker. And they are right when they say Shekhar is crazy. They are completely right… I am crazy. They are right when they say, ‘Pagal hai woh!’ The best assessment of me is Pagal hai woh. These are the actions of a mad man.
Quite honestly, when somebody must have thought that Narendra Modi would become the PM of this country, someone must have said, ‘Pagal ho gaya hai yeh’. But Modi didn’t give up. He went there without even being a part of a big family or background. It takes a certain kind of madness to be able to do this. I don’t recommend it to other people… because there are times when you get up in the morning thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ I hope my daughter doesn’t have it. It is not a normal, secure way of leading your life.
Initially, your family wanted you to stay away from the film industry. Is that true?
I was a good, middle-class Indian boy who studied abroad and became a chartered accountant. I think every family is afraid when you say you are going into the movie business. But what changed for me was my desire to be in the creative arts. I just wanted the feel of it.
In life, you can either have a job that you just do or you can spend your life with something you are very, very passionate about. I chose the second. I couldn’t understand the meaning of just having a job. Otherwise you always lead two separate lives. Who you are and what you do are generally two separate things. I had this terrible need for both these things to be the same.
What are you working on these days?
Lots of things. I am going to plan another film in India. I am planning to make one film in China. I will talk about them closer to their finality. I am still going to make Paani. It is a very, very good script with a brilliant design. But, right now, I am working on Will and my next TV series will be Cleopatra. I am a filmmaker without borders.
Thank you for this interview. Hopefully, the next time we meet, it will be for your next Indian project!
I hope so too! And I hope that is soon.