Nikhil Advani speaks to Subhash K Jha about the success of `Kal Ho Naa Ho`.
So whoís the real hero of Kal Ho Naa Ho, Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar or you?
If you ask me, the real hero is Karanís father Mr Yash Johar. He held the entire project together. What he has gone through during the making of the film is truly heroic. Iíll always make films for Yash Johar as long as he wants me to.
Lots of credit for the filmís success has gone to your producer Karan Johar.
And Iím not the least unhappy about it. Karan has devoted two years of his life to Kal Ho Naa Ho, just like I have. He gave me this project to direct on a silver platter with a dream cast to go with it. Itís his baby as much as mine. And then he allowed me to try out a sensibility totally different from whatís expected from a Karan Johar film and which people are now talking about. KHNH is an amalgamation of Karan and my vision. If you pin me down Iíd attribute 50 percent of the filmís vision to Karan. Even during Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and K3G Karan used to publicly acknowledge my contribution. Iím not the least insecure about credit going to him. Iím just happy people are coming to see KHNH. Iíve executed his tightly-bound script. Whether it was Preity Zintaís glasses or Shah Rukhís smile, it was all on paper. Unfortunately we couldnít get the change of New Yorkís season from winter to summer on film because of Shah Rukhís back problem. Cinematographer Anil Mehta was very keen to get the change on film to reflect Preity Zintaís transformation.
The filmís peculiar narrative format couldíve gone against its success?
I never thought of that. I had learnt editing from the great(and late) Renu Saluja. I did what was required in the film. In the original screenplay every character was painstakingly introduced. Youíll see all of that when the DVD comes out. We edited it out for the large screen because Shah Rukhís entry was getting delayed. It wouldíve killed the audiencesí interests.
Was it difficult to direct such a huge cast?
Not really. You must remember Iíve been working with Karan for years. Shah Rukh has known me for four years. During Mohabbatein he suggested I direct my own film. When Preity and Saif saw how much Shah Rukh and Jayaji trusted me they surrendered completely. After the whole controversy of Kareena Kapoor backing out of KHNH the only thing Preity asked for was a narration of the script. She never questioned who the director was. She knew if Karan can trust me, so can she.
Was Shah Rukhís back a problem?
He wouldnít let it be a problem. When we started our first schedule and he was unable to go on he offered to back out from the film. But it wasnít possible to make KHNH without Shah Rukh. He personally called up all the artistes and readjusted their dates according to his own. Who does that for anyone? I donít think he did it for Karan, but for the Joharsí production house Dharma Productions.
Donít you get upset when people say KHNH is Karan Johar film?
On the contrary, Iíd get upset when people said Karan was hogging the limelight. The schedule was so packed I had no time to "hog the limelight" personally. We came back from New York on August 30, 2002 and I immediately began shooting two songs in Mumbai. Then I plunged into post-production. I believe a very major part of the film took shape at the post-production stage. Karan had written a fantastic screenplay. He incorporated all my ideas including the split-screen narration. I didnít want to let the post-production work suffer in favour of my own exposure to the media.
Family audiences have objected to the gay jokes between Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan in KHNH.
Itís one of the tracks in the film. I feel itís time for mainstream cinema to grow up. None of the jokes is vulgar. Our aesthetics at Dharma Productions donít allow us to be vulgar. Karan and I come from the same school of filmmaking. We cringe at the very mention of vulgarity. I feel two male friends do sit and talk like Shah Rukh and Saif. People might find their talk about the character played by Lilette Dubey vulgar. But her behavior provokes such talk. Boys will be boys. Thatís how I talk with my friends.
Was it tough directing such a huge cast?
Youíre forgetting I was the associate director on K3G. Our aim was to release the film in just over a year. Comparatively making KHNH was a cakewalk. The only time we were under tension was after Shah Rukhís back injury. After the main cast was in place we had to deal with the whole ensemble cast. Their roles were so beautifully written by Karan! The fact that characters artistes were given such funny lines made them realize the importance of doing this film. Thatís the essence of KHNH. Everyone knew we were doing a bit of pathbreaking work here. I felt the same vibes from the crew that I during in K3G.
Is starting with a film as huge as KHNH an advantage or a disadvantage?
Both. Which debutant director gets such a fantastic set-up? However the pressure to deliver with my next film is that much more. Iím scared about my next film. I just need to keep doing what I believe in. Iíll make a film thatís completely different from KHNH. Itíll a very small film and made as fast as possible. Iíll of course continue to assist Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra on their projects.
Will you cast Shah Rukh again?
If heĎd want to work with me, Iíd be delighted to keep working with him.
A songless film next?
Why? I love Bollywoodís traditional song-and-dance formula. Iíd never want to get away from it. Right now Iím down with a viral fever. I need to go on a holiday. Who knows about tomorrow. Kal Ho Naa Ho!