While he has been a part of Salman Khan’s family for a long time, Atul Agnihotri’s last production ‘Bodyguard’ saw a grand success owing to his brother-in-law Salman’s power packed performance and some great music. And now, Atul plans to experiment some more with his recent film ‘O Teri’, which is a satire with a political backdrop. Considering the fact that Atul had previously worked with A-listers, this time around he works with newbies. In this interview, Atul reveals about working with young rising stars, on the current political scenario in India and much more.
‘Bodyguard’ was more of action while ‘O Teri’ is more of satire… why this shift?
‘O Teri’ has elements of action but yes, it is not an out and out action film. That is because when you make a film with bhai (Salman), there are a lot of ‘larger than life’ factors according to his audience’s expectations. Here, we are making a film with a newer cast and with a youth oriented thought! So we realize that we will have to try harder to entertain and will have to up our level of humour, the songs and make it quick and pacy. So we were striving to be over-efficient so that we can get acceptance. ‘O Teri’ is also a film with a heart. Mostly, humour is associated with senseless comedy but here; the movie takes you somewhere and is very relevant in today’s times. Today, we have a thinking audience who are aware of world events and we wanted to get their attention by putting in current issues.
After a massive success with superstars Kareena and Salman, was there a reason why you selected newbies Pulkit and Bilal for this film?
The reason is that because there was a different ‘superstar’ in this film and that’s the script! As rightly said by my father-in-law Salim Khan, ‘The examiner will never give marks for handwriting, it will always be for content.’ Here the ‘examiner’ is the audience and they will always be content-hungry. Time and again, we have known that if we give them something new and interesting, they will surely come. Good content should sell, otherwise, as an industry…we have no hope. And the reason why I thought that Pulkit and Bilal would fit the roles perfectly was because I wanted a young Aamir and Salman for this ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ kind of funny bone film! They had to be the representatives of the youth, who, later, become heroes. As the plot moves on, they realize that press folks have courage and realize the responsibility of being the moral police of the second largest population in the world.
You have known the boys Pulkit and Bilal for long…. So how was it working with them professionally?
I don’t like to get professional in my attitude towards work because this is something I do with all my heart. It’s great when I work in a comfort zone, where there is a personal equation because, then, the communication becomes easier and more effective. I always try to build a personal rapport as a producer or a director or an actor, as I believe it does not have to be professional at all! Because, none of us are doing a regular job, we are in a fine art medium. It’s all about extracting work from each other.
Why did you choose Sarah Jane Dias as ‘Monsoon’ in this film?
We needed somebody who is authoritative! Sarah plays the role of their channel head and her command, body language is very important. And, as a model, she carries the stature of the role properly. We had screen tested her along with many other actors and when she came in, she just looked the part. In this film, we have tried to cast actors who can be true to the requirement.
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Are the rumours about the film being based on CWG scam and that the Sarah’s character drawing inspiration from Barkha Dutt true?
The film is not based on any one or any particular scam! We are just talking about what the generation is witnessing in general! Having said that, the fact is one scam covers another and it’s like a big joke happening! We are just compiling some real incidents that we have even forgotten about and presenting it in a satirical manner. We have not raised a particular scam or topic because that is not the purpose of the film. We just want the audience to know that if you want to see a change in your generation then you should be the change!
Have you faced any difficulties while shooting this film and do you fear any controversies considering that ‘O Teri’ talks about real scams?
We have not offended anyone in this film. In fact, we are bringing out the reality in a very jovial manner and that’s the best way! I think we are, instead, voicing the opinion of the nation as a whole. Also, I believe that many will extend their support to the film as this is our humble endeavor to generate that feeling in you. As far as difficulties are concerned, we haven’t faced anything unusual. It’s been a smooth ride and we had enough time to plan!
Salman Khan has been your lucky mascot. Are you planning to make another film with him soon?
I would love to work with him! That will always be on top of my wish list. I am constantly looking for a script for him. I may not be necessarily be a part of it, but since he is the flagship and pride of the family, if I strongly believe that if there is a film that I would want him to do, I divert it to him. Like when I saw the Malayalam film, I thought he was apt for ‘Bodyguard’ as it suited his aura and personality. It allowed me to take him back to the university, to do a youngish and innocent love story and give a matured ending at the same time making the whole casting seem perfect! I can make films otherwise, as I wouldn’t want to exploit him to keep myself busy. Yes, if I get an opportunity and if I can convert that into a success, then that is a greater achievement for me, because I am genuinely doing it out of love and because I want to be a contributing member even in his professional life.