As Aankhen completed 21 years recently, director Vipul Shah spoke to Midday Online about the reception to the film, the negative buzz around it, the alternate climax, and working with Akshay Kumar
L-Vipul Shah; R- Still from Aankhen
Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s debut Hindi directorial ‘Aankhen’ completed 21 years of release on April 5. The film was the biggest hit of 2002. The heist thriller starred Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Arjun Rampal, Paresh Rawal, and Sushmita Sen in pivotal roles. It narrated the story of three blind men who rob a bank after being trained by Sushmita Sen, under the mastermind that is Amitabh Bachchan’s character.
As the film completed 21 years, director Vipul Shah spoke to Midday Online about the reception to the film, the negative buzz around it, the alternate climax, and working with Akshay Kumar.
For the early 2000s, the plot of Aankhen was unique. How did you come up with the idea and was it difficult to convince people to get on board?
‘Aankhen’ was based on a Gujarati play that we had done. That was my first play as a director, called ‘Andhalo Pato’, which means blindfold. Aatish Kapadia and I had done the play and the same team did ‘Aankhen’. The play was a huge success… we used to joke when we were doing the play that one day we will make this as our first film and that is how that happened. So the idea came from the fact that I had seen a film called ‘The Doberman Gang’ and I thought how unique is the plot and what can we do which can be even more unique and that's how the idea was developed.
How did the lead actors react to the script?
The reaction to the script was surprisingly fantastic. When I met Akshay, I didn't know how he would react because he didn’t have a heroine in the film, and when I met Amit ji I was not sure if he would want to play a negative character or a gray character. Paresh, I was very sure that he would love the character and he had seen the play also. When I called him, he said that you are doing your first film, I am on board and rest we can discuss later. With Amit ji and Akshay we had one full night of narration each. They both loved the idea and script and the same night after the narration of the film they agreed to do it. When I met Sushmita, she was on board immediately, and same with Arjun. They were all the first choice and came on board the same day they heard the script.
Also Read: Akshay Kumar: I'm not a race horse
Aankhen was your debut Hindi directorial and became the biggest film of 2002. What did the success of the film teach you?
When ‘Aankhen’ was being made, there were bets in the industry that this film would not work. There were too many things against this film. One, Amitabh Bachchan, the biggest star of India, was playing a negative character. All the heroes were blind. Akshay Kumar did not have a romantic track in the film. Three blind guys robbing a bank; who will watch this film in the interiors of India? So, there were a lot of bets and a lot of people discouraged the actors from doing the film. But when the film succeeded… actually no one knows what works. It is only the audience who knows and they are ready for everything that is new and unusual. It's only our fears and theories that we make in our mind. The audience does not look at any film through the lens of theory. If they like a film, they go out and tell others; when they like something they make it a success.
What made you question the original ending of the film despite there being several new aspects to the film?
We had one trial, I won’t be able to name where it was held. In that trial, there were some very intelligent people with whom I had long arguments the whole night, where they all felt that the film itself was so new and unusual, and on top of that an open ending is not a good idea. Eventually, the whole team discussed and at 6 in the morning decided that overseas we will keep the open ending and in India we will end the film where they find the jewellery in the harmonium owned by Paresh Rawal. That is how we went ahead with it. The only person who was against this decision with me was Abhishek Bachchan. AB never wanted it to be changed and after the release we all regretted doing it. But AB was the only one who found the ending brilliant and said, ‘Don’t change’. But a lot of people convinced us otherwise.
The original ending hinted at a sequel. Have you ever considered going ahead with it?
We did consider a sequel but the idea did not go beyond that point, at least for me. The film was well received. Hollywood had shown interest in remaking it but the deal did not materialise for some reason. But there was a genuine interest from Hollywood in remaking the film. But I was not the producer of the film. I regret it as we missed a great opportunity.
What was the most memorable part of shooting this film for you? Something that stays with you even after 2 decades?
There was a sequence in the film where we wanted to shoot in the middle of thousands of people and we shot it on one of the streets of Goregaon where Amit ji is supposed to beat up a bank staff for being dishonest. We wanted a shoot where you can't see the road, only see people and amongst all of that Amit ji is beating that guy up. We had done a lot of planning for that. We literally filmed that entire sequence in 2 hours. We started at 9.30 and by 11.30 we were done. Amit ji did it in one take. We had a three-camera setup, we changed the lenses and got another cut and were done in 2 hours. There was so much crowd and for Amit ji to do it in one shot was absolutely stunning and amazing. After the shoot was over, Amit ji was very happy and he took us to an impromptu lunch at his house.
Was it difficult to rope in such a cast back then?
When I started the film, I did not understand the workings of the Hindi film industry. I did not know how multiple-star cast films are done. I was just going ahead with the script that I had. It is my surprise today that in those days actors were very happy to work in a multi-starrer film. Today, it seems to be a big issue. It was wonderful to get so many actors in every film. At that point of time we could write those scripts. Today, it is very difficult to get two heroes to work in a film. Things have changed now, but in those days it was not so.
Majority of your films have starred Akshay Kumar. How is it working with him?
Akshay and I have a great working relationship. We made so many successful films together. We made ‘Aankhen’, then ‘Waqt’, ‘Namaste London’, ‘Singh is Kingg’, ‘Action Replayy’ - which did not do so well - then ‘Holiday’. So, it's been a terrific working relationship, and I have enjoyed every moment of it. He is a very fun-loving actor on set. He wants the sets to be very happy and pleasant and he works hard to keep it that way. Over the years he has emerged as a huge superstar and a complete actor who can do any genre with complete ease.
Many films are struggling to get people to the theatres. As someone who has many successful films to his credit, what, in your opinion, could be the reason?
Right now, the industry is facing challenges to get the audiences to the theater but ‘Pathaan’ got a lot of people to the theaters, and ‘Drishyam 2’, got a lot of people in theaters. It's not that all is lost sand, I believe this is a phase and we will, with better content, better marketing and better-mounted films, be able to get the audience back. Today, I believe that audiences want to see a tremendous subject or a hugely mounted extravaganza for them to go to the theatre. So if the film has any of these qualifications, it will attract a lot of people.