During the shoot of Being Cyrus in 2004, the film’s director and producer didn’t quite get along. It was Homi Adajania’s directorial debut and producer Dinesh Vijan too was dabbling in the movie business for the first time. They were both stubborn, and while the former didn’t know how to direct, the latter, all of 23, had no experience of producing. Clashes were inevitable. “We rose above that because our intent was common — we wanted to make a good film,” recounts Vijan.
Eight years on, the two are thick, have established themselves in their respective professions, and September will see the release of their third film together, Finding Fanny Fernandes. One half of Illuminati Films — Saif Ali Khan being the other — Vijan, now 32, is nostalgic as he speaks of his “short but successful journey” in the industry.
“My grandfather moved to India after Partition and started a transport company. My father took it over and aided its growth. It was understood that I would follow suit,” says Vijan, seated in the tiny room where he is overseeing the edit of Adajania’s film. He got himself a management degree but decided to turn entrepreneur. “An opportunity arose when a friend asked me if I’d like to co-produce films with him. Homi’s script came by and we signed him on,” he says.
If Being Cyrus got Vijan a lifelong friend in Adajania, it also was instrumental in him finding a like-minded collaborator in Khan. The lead character of the film, Khan proposed they together start a production house. Illuminati was launched in 2008. A “boutique production house”, it has since made four films. Another four are currently at various stages of production. “We back eclectic scripts and experiment with genres,” says Vijan, referring to the zomcom Go Goa Gone, espionage thriller Agent Vinod, a zany road film in Finding Fanny… and a revenge drama in Sriram Raghavan’s next, Badlapur.
Love stories are perhaps Illuminati’s strength although none, adds Vijan, which they have made in this genre — Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal, Adajania’s Cocktail, debutant Arif Ali’s upcoming Lekar Hum Deewana Dil and Raj Nidimoru-Krishna DK’s Happy Endings — subscribe to the formulae. Happy Endings is a comedy that tries to cock a snook at love stories but finally ends up being one itself. “We aim to keep love stories contemporary to connect with the audience,” he says.
The most important criterion, he says, is to like the films they make. “A few years ago, we had an opportunity to expand and become a studio. But we felt that somehow, the intent of making a film gets diluted in the studio system. We’re not driven by money; we’d rather make fewer movies and stand by them,” he says. With each film, Vijan too, has grown. A management graduate brought on board to handle the execution of a film, he is now creatively involved in each of their productions. It wasn’t easy early on, he admits.
His age and lack of experience would sometimes come in way of being taken seriously. “I was the youngest on the sets of Being Cyrus,” he says. Agent Vinod onwards, he has been responsible for choosing the music for Illuminati’s films — the songs of the Raghavan film as well as Cocktail and Go Goa Gone have been liked — apart from being part of brainstorming sessions at the script level.
Last year, these recent creative involvements also spurred in Vijan the germ of a love story. Encouraged by his peers, Vijan decided to develop it. Now, the script is ready and he has signed on Khan alongside Parineeti Chopra for his directorial debut. “The film attempts to look at the lives of people who, at a certain age, think they know everything about relationships. What happens a few years later? It’s a simple love story with lots of coffee and conversation,” he says.