Director Rajkumar Hirani, 52, on turning producer with his upcoming release PK, letting his mother go through all his scripts and why women characters have little to do in his films
How did you rope in Aamir Khan to play an engineering student in 3 Idiots, and then again for PK?
Aamir came in by accident (to 3 Idiots). Once, when he bumped into Vidhu Vinod Chopra, he asked if I had managed to find the cast. Later, he asked for a narration and offered to play Rancho. He was confident that he could look young.
For PK, we had Aamir in mind from the beginning. Given his height, elf-like ears and boyish innocence, he seemed perfect for the character, who is childlike .
What elements do you consider crucial to your storytelling?
I like to watch and make human interest stories and feel-good films the most. I aim to tell a unique story or one that has a unique spin to it. For instance, a gangster in a medical college or a fictional character like Munnabhai meeting a real-life hero, Mahatma Gandhi. We have attempted something similar with PK.
You have mostly worked with stars. Is that by choice?
I have got lucky with the cast. We look for actors on the basis of the script. For Munnabhai MBBS, we were looking for a slightly older actor, and my first choice was Anil Kapoor. However, that did not work out and Sanjay Dutt stepped in. For 3 Idiots, I wanted to work with new actors and hunted for them with little success. Young actors like Imran Khan and Ranveer Singh had not made their mark then. When we finally zeroed in on three young actors, they did not look nice together.
In your films, women characters have very little to do. Will PK be any different?
We are aware of this and have tried to rectify it in PK. Had the Munnabhai movies or 3 Idiots been love stories, the women characters would have been stronger. For instance, while writing Lage Raho Munnabhai, we had more scenes for Vidya Balan but realised that those were not adding value to the movie. But that’s how things are. For instance, the Charlie Chaplin films don’t have great women characters. They wouldn’t be the same otherwise.
Does your mother still go through your scripts?
While I was growing up, my mother told me a lot of stories that have stayed with me. She might not be able to put it in words, but she has good judgement and knows what will click. She points out what’s wrong in a song or a story. That apart, we narrate our scripts to a lot of people and improvise on the basis of their reactions.
What about your wife and son? Do they give their inputs too?
Manjeet (wife, who is a pilot) is not very clued into the ways of the film industry. But she watches more movies than I manage to do. My son Vir, who is 16 and still in school, takes active interest in movie-making. He has also made a short film called Return Gift. During his school vacation, he came for 10 days to PK’s shoot in Rajasthan and worked as a clapper boy.
Do you really lock yourself in while editing a movie?
Unlike many others, I don’t edit a film while it is being shot. After the shoot is over, I lock myself in the editing room and no one comes in during that time. For PK, I took nearly four months to finish editing. When one round of editing is over, I call people to watch it. If they keep pointing out the same problem, we rectify or re-shoot it.
What prompted you to turn producer with this film?
It’s a natural progression. It doesn’t mean that I have run away from my friends. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who has produced my earlier films, is still a part of PK and is presenting it. He is not a hands-on producer — he used to put a certain amount in the bank and give me the cheque book. I have produced my earlier films too, though my name did not appear in the credits.
You joined the editing course at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. Did you get interested in direction there?
I applied for the direction course at FTII, but I was not selected. Someone suggested that I should try for the editing course as fewer candidates opt for it. I had no idea what editing meant. Today, I believe studying editing was a blessing in disguise. It taught me so much. A film is made on the writing and editing tables. One can cut a film in 10 different ways. As an editor, I did a lot of non-fiction work and that helped me a lot. When I see a film, I experience the sounds independent of the images and look at the expression of actors separately. That way, I can play around with these elements and use a different sound with that expression.
So is there any film that you would have edited differently now?
Once a movie is edited, you can’t say whether it was shot well or edited well. Editing is not tangible, unlike cinematography or music where you can figure out the quality of the work. For editing, you can make that assessment only if you have seen the base material. When we showed Lage Raho Munnabhai, no one liked the climax. After much deliberation, I reduced the sequence by 18 seconds. And the same bunch of people loved it. A good editor decides how much to tell the audience and when.
You had once mentioned that you would like to do a children’s movie. Any other genre you would like to try your hand at?
I would like to do a children’s film some day. Since I write my movies, I work with the stories that come from within. For some time now, I have been looking for interesting scripts. Tomorrow, if I get a story which gets me hooked, I would like to direct it.