What are your apprehensions about Omkara?
I feel a very positive nervousness. I'm overwhelmed by the curiosity the film has created. But I'm also scared by it. I just want the film to make enough money to let me make another film again the way I want to. People are expecting a lot from Omkara . The publicity by my producer Kumar Mangat is beyond anything I had expected. It's so important for a quality product to be pitched in the right way. The promos and the music have done well. The music was released late.
We mixed the songs in London . After we finished recording all the tracks, they wanted one more track . The Rahat Fateh Ali Khan number was added at the last minute….I was tired and so tied up with post-production. In the middle of it all , I had to compose a new song. We had decided to keep it in the album only. But later I decided to incorporate it into the film.
Gulzar Saab thinks Omkara is your best music score since Maachis.
I agree. The sales better prove it. You know, I had to record six songs in two months. I bought myself a cellphone . While hunting locations I recorded the songs on the phone. I recorded all the songs while travelling…in dhabas sipping tea and lassi, with a hundred things on my mind. I enjoyed the experience. I made a very conscious effort to create mass-friendly songs. When I was writing the script of Omkara I made sure that all the songs were written into the script. I wanted to bounce back as a music director. I wanted to put two item numbers . But I wanted them put so intelligently that they wouldn't look like items within the narration. The story continues during Bipasha's item songs. Interestingly all the songs except Bipasha's are in the background.
The love ballad O saathi re is haunting.
That's because of the male singer(Vishal sings it himself). Gulzar Saab never writes more than two songs a month. For Omkara he wrote six months in 45 days. For the Bidi song I told him I wanted an item song bigger than Paan khayo saiyyan hamar and Jhuma gira re. These were massy songs but so classy. Only Gulzar saab could do it. Remember how he used the word chumma(kiss) in the song Dhanno ki aankhon mein ? I told him I want a hit song. I was ready to be thrashed by him for making such a ridiculous demand. But the very next day he came up with the opening lines of the Bidi song and recited it to me on the phone in the character Langa Tyagi's accent and voice.
There was a beautiful love scene between Irrfan and Tabu in Maqbool . Now Ajay and Kareena have done one of the best love scenes ever in Omkara.
I'll have to agree with you. The love scene is very aesthetically done. It's like watching a painting. When we were all set to picturize it we felt very awkward. After all Kareena was the youngest member of the team. So I found a way out. I rehearsed the love scenes with Ajay and Kareena with their clothes on . That not only made them comfortable with each other it also made the whole exercise more technical and cinematic . I had read this technique in a book on cinema . A director should always rehearse love scenes with their clothes on.
Gulzar Saab thinks that the two actors' physicality should be forgotten in a good love scene.
That's precisely what we tried to do. And Kareena supported me completely. For a man to take off his clothes is easy. But for an actress it becomes very uncomfortable unless she's made to feel at home. What's more, Kareena had to do a bare-back shot. Obviously she hadn't done it before. But Kareena trusted me completely. Though she was a little nervous….But after the first shot she got up wore her gown and went to the monitor. And she exclaimed, 'My God! This looks like a painting in motion!' Let's do more' .
Kareena says she wants to be in all of your films.
I'm shocked by her level of commitment. Just the other day after the final prints came I thought some of her dialogues weren't right. I called her in the evening. She left everything , drove down all the way from town just to dub those two lines. And then she said , 'If you need me tomorrow morning just call. Don't be embarrassed.' If I didn't get this kind of commitment from my actors it wouldn't have been possible for me to make Omkara. We all worked towards the same dream.
Have you worked with a totally new crew?
I wanted technicians who could give me all of themselves. The editor Meghna Manchanda and the cameraman Tassaduq Hussain had never done a feature film. I realized how talented these two were through just a bit of their work. I saw Tassaduq's show reel and decided to take him on. Kumar Mangat and Ajay Devgan warned me . 'Be sure you want him. This is a 20-crore film.' I wanted the first-time energy. Omkara is like a debut for me.
How confident are you of Omkara?
I didn't do anything for fame or money. All I was worried about was my creativity. Omkara was made completely without compromises. I got everything I wanted for the film.
But some would say working with big stars after Maqbool is a compromise.
Not at all. As you know I've even approached Akshay Kumar and Anil Kapoor for my earlier films. I always wanted to work with the right actors. And Saif Ali Khan , Kareena or Ajay are no less actors than Pankaj, Irrfan or Tabu whom I worked with in Maqbool.
Did you change the stars' body language?
One of the things I did was to get the same costume designer for all the actors. Eventhough some actors wanted their own dress designers(as they usually get) I was adamant. Then I put them through acting workshops, showed them their mannerisms. I tried to make them non-filmy as possible.
How much have you deviated from the original Shakespeare in Omkara?
I've followed the original plot very closely though the characterizations are very different. And yes, there's a twist at the end that would make Shakespeare sit up.
Are you taking Omkara to your home town Meerut where Omkara is set?
(laughs) It's being released there. I guess they'll feel happy to see their town being depicted realistically.
What international plans for Omkara?
I'm a little disillusioned with the international film festivals. Maqbool got a standing ovation at Berlin and Toronto, but couldn't be released internationally. I'd rather focus on audiences at home. We're releasing more than 600 prints. Omkara will reach out to literate audiences abroad. After all this is Shakespeare.
When are you doing the third Shakespearean film?
Later. But first something else. I thought I'd make Mr Mehta & Mrs Singh after Omkara . Now I just want to sleep a week after the release of Omkara .