What is your much-speculated film, Madras Cafe, all about?
Madras Cafe is about an intelligence officer from the Army who is appointed by the RAW to do some operations in Jaffna, which is reeling under civil war. There, he discovers a bigger controversy. So, you could say this is conspiracy espionage in the backdrop of the Lankan war. The crux of the story is how it affects the officer’s life.
You’ve known John Abraham as producer of Vicky Donor. How is he as an actor?
In Madras Café, John is more a character than hero. He had to lose a lot of weight and tone himself down. We made him wear many full-sleeved shirts so his physique doesn’t stand out in a crowd. John knew about the subject and was politically aware, too. There is a lot of scope for him to perform in the film. He has been criticised for not being able to act, but he has performed really well in Madras Cafe. You will see a new John in the film.
In Rockstar, Nargis was praised for her looks but not her acting skills. And you have cast her as a journalist in your film...
I was looking for somebody to fit the look of a foreign war correspondent — an Indian girl who works abroad and has an accent. I have already worked with her in a commercial much before Rockstar. Imtiaz Ali took her in his film after watching that commercial. When I met her and told her about this role, she was sceptical and asked me whether I was sure of casting her. I think half the work is done if the casting is right. After this film, I don’t think there will be any comparison with her work in Rockstar.
You often say that content is king. Do you feel today’s cinema lacks content?
No, in fact in the last two or three years, Indian cinema has evolved. Most films concentrate more on content. Last year, people thronged to theatres to watch
films such as Paan Singh Tomar, Gangs of Wasseypur, Vicky Donor, Barfi! and Kahaani. Apart from potboilers, people are watching content-driven films, too.
Even actors are slowly coming to terms with the fact that faffing around in films cannot work anymore. Finally, it’s the content that speaks.
You’ve worked with Amitabh Bachchan in Shoebite and are now making a documentary on him. Tell us about that.
Yes, I have spent a lot of time with him. It is not really a documentary, but more like a memoir. I will showcase my time spent with him. It will take a long time to make it into a potential film-cum-memoir.
Before making Madras Cafe, you made Shoebite with Amitabh Bachchan but it’s still lying in the cans. Does that still bother you?
Yes, that will always bother me because that’s my child, too. I feel that the producers have disrespected me and my artistes, especially Bachchan. For us, making films is not just about money, but also about emotions and hard work.
You’ve repeatedly worked with John, Bachchan and writer Juhi Chaturvedi. Do you prefer associating with people and taking them ahead?
Yes, I do. I don’t think of myself as a Bollywood guy, as I still don’t know too many people in Mumbai. I’m not inside any circle. I’m still an outsider. I love to be with my small team of friends. In a place like Bollywood, it’s difficult to find friends because it’s such an ambitious place.