A decade ago, I was a journalist covering current affairs. I lived in Delhi then and later got into ad films and documentaries that required me to visit Mumbai frequently. I had a few friends in the city, Soojit Sarcar being one of them. I began working with him as an assistant director. Thus, the seeds of filmmaking were sown.
I was ready to do anything to make my dream come true. I decided to produce my first film called Salaam India. It was a small-budget, Rs 1.5-crore film. I mobilised half the money and found someone who would invest the other half.
When you make your first film, you have hunky-dory ideas about the industry, like someone or the other will buy the film. Alas, the reality is completely different. My notion that we would make money was shattered.
Worse, India lost to Sri Lanka and was out of the Cricket World Cup, and my film hit cinemas just after that. Our release date went horribly wrong. One of the reviewers even wondered why the film was released that week.
I realised that one’s dream may be fulfilled but it may still disappoint you. I fulfilled my ambition by starting my film, completing it and showing it to every crew member. I also took it to the audience. Sadly, things remained incomplete because it bombed badly at the box office.
It was a rude awakening for my partners and me. Every producer lost money on it. After I got over it, I started work on my next film. I guess this is the way the industry works. You deliver a flop but you move on to your next venture as if nothing had happened.
But my ordeal was not over yet. I thought I would be able to start my next film within a few months of Salaam India’s release. Again, how wrong I was! The few months turned into years. I learnt my second lesson.
I realised that if your first film has flopped and there’s no buzz about you, people will become very reluctant to take notice of what you do. Producers listen to you but with a lot of ifs and buts, with lots of doubts and apprehensions. Then I asked myself what I had to do to gain people’s confidence, that I would be able to deliver on my promises.
Established film producers refused to work with me. I started looking out for a producer who had no connection with the film industry and was eager to be part of it and gain a foothold here.
During this interim period, I wrote three scripts. Producers never said they were bad. In fact, I met Shah Rukh Khan and he loved my script of Jolly LLB. That is when I met Ashok Pandey. He produced Phas Gaya Re Obama for me. When I met him, I saw a little of myself in him.
I also went through a phase of self-doubt. I started doubting my talent as a scriptwriter. I started wondering whether I had it in me or not. I thought, “Have I taken the right decision of leaving Delhi and coming to Mumbai? Was I really passionate about cinema or was it just my imagination?”
I think of Mumbai as a factory where you have to work like a machine. It makes you realise that whether it is Amitabh Bachchan or Nasseruddin Shah, everyone has to struggle.
Then came a phase when I became so desperate that I was willing to accept any offer that came my way. The only one who supported me was my wife, Dimple.
Besides that, the one thing that helped me was a meeting with Shah Rukh Khan. I was given just 30 minutes but we ended up speaking for nearly three hours. One meeting with SRK prepared me to struggle and give myself another year in the film industry. After the success of Phas Gaya Re Obama, I am here for good.