There are only two things in my life that have taken five years to achieve – my graduation and the making of RA.One, both life-changing experiences. The first transformed me in to a man from a boy; the second did it all over again, only this time as a filmmaker.
It was just a two-page story and I had no idea that it would turn in to the biggest film in the career of the biggest star in the business. But, honestly, more than the star, I needed a visionary who could see the potential in those two pages that we would later call RA.One.
I was hopping between studios when Shah Rukh Khan was travelling between three cities a day to tell the country about the film. I was absolutely unaware of the frenzy that he was creating about the film that was being made in those studios where I was spending 48 hours at a stretch.
The release of the film was beyond what I could have ever dreamed, imagined or wished for in my career. Five premieres across three continents in five nights. We were constantly in a Rolls Royce, either on four wheels or moving with two wings. I was euphoric, ecstatic, nervous, overawed, intimidated, anxious and a lot more, at the same time. Phone calls indicated some unprecedented numbers, and text messages and BBMs ranged from witty
The final premiere was in Los Angeles and we were waiting for Monday box office reports to start coming in. I remember sharing the stage with SRK for the Q&A. The general buzz was that people had loved the film there. They were amazed at the ‘Bollywoodisation’ of the superhero genre. They found it exotic. LA was the only place I was nervous to screen RA.One because this was the land that turned superheroes into household names all across the globe. I discovered in the American newspapers the next morning that they had approved of the film.
But before that, we had dinner with some friends, more notably Leslie Holleran, a legendary producer from New York, and her editor-husband Andrew Mondshein. They wouldn’t stop raving about the film. It took me a while before I believed that it wasn’t just their love for me but they thought highly of the film.
The next morning brought mixed reports back home and some fabulous reviews outside the country. I should have expected that. But when you make a film, you tend to believe (and you had better believe!) that everyone will love it. The fact was that the audience was polarised. There were people who LOVED it and there were people who thought it did not have a soul. Nevertheless, I am told, the film grossed over ` 240 crore worldwide, and it remains one of the five highest-grossers of all time.
I cannot help but mention the lack of celebration within the business for these numbers. Perhaps, I will understand when I am a little more ‘industry literate’.
It is one thing to finance a film and be called a ‘producer’. In this case, the producer identifies a project he feels is financially viable, finds the funds for it, hires a production team to execute it and sells it. Then there is serious producing. You find a story you love, you find a director who is perfect to tell that story (not necessarily in that order), you believe in the director and, in turn, believe in the film, and you help the director with the resources he needs to tell that story. I had always wanted to be the latter type of producer.
I was fortunate to have seen a dream as impossible as RA.One and have people believe in me as a producer. In our business, money may come easy but faith doesn’t. That’s what life after RA.One has given me. The result has been Benaras Mediaworks Pvt Ltd, my new company, which is shooting three films in its first year. WARNING in 3D is our first franchise, which finished shooting in Fiji at the end of July.
As a director, things got way tougher. After you direct such a large film expectations from the trade, audience and yourself are way higher. The most important question from all three quarters is: ‘What are you directing next?’ It would have to be BIG and unique. I believe all films are the same size when they are being made. They become big or small after release. I was a much happier person when I made my first film, Tum Bin. No one cared about the film, thankfully!
Now, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t remind me of RA.One. That is big. When you embark on an endeavor, you invest yourself in it. RA.One was so massive, it took almost everything out of me. It left me exhausted.
Now, I am breathing easy and stumbling on some exciting ideas. I have finished writing three scripts and am on to the fourth but I am undecided on which one I want to direct next. A director must be able to answer, ‘why this one?’ before he takes the plunge and I have been struggling with this question for some time. I am waiting for the answer that must come from within – ‘because this story makes me restless enough to tell it’. I am waiting for this answer to come from within, regardless of what is expected of you.
With RA.One, I went through the most intense process of making a movie with the best resources a director in India can have. I invested five years of my life in RA.One. A year after RA.One, I am a busy producer and a director with choices. I am very fortunate. And, more than anything else, I got to know the most unique man I know and treasure to have him as a friend – Shah Rukh Khan. Thank you, Shah Rukh for this unbelievable journey.