Rachana Dubey (BOMBAY TIMES; January 22, 2017)

It's only a matter of days before the first box-office clash of 2017. Hrithik Roshan's Kaabil and Shah Rukh Khan's Raees will slug it out at the ticket counters to draw eyeballs. Kaabil's director, Sanjay Gupta, in his bid to meet his deadlines, has barely managed time to celebrate his daughter and wife's birthdays this month. The filmmaker has been shuttling between the producer's office and his kids' school to make time for both his priorities. Sanjay has plenty to speak about the big clash, his buddy Sanjay Dutt and what's in store for him this year:

With less than a week to go for Kaabil's release, you look more nervous than ever before. Why?
We're still doing post-production. There's the famous Roshans' quest for perfection, which is new to me. However, I'm enjoying it. Hrithik (Roshan) is completely hands-on, wants perfection in every frame and likes to personally supervise everything. That makes me more responsible because I can't let his effort go to waste. I want this film to work for my team and for Hrithik and Rakeshji (producer Rakesh Roshan).

Hrithik's previous two releases didn't do as well at the box office as expected. Does that bother you?
Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Hrithik are beyond the boxoffice syndrome. Their stardom has transcended that. Yes, box office matters to everyone, but their audience and fan base won't take a hit if one of their films don't do well. These actors have gone beyond the Friday fears where a hit decides their prospects. Somewhere, as a filmmaker, I feel, in all humility, I am past my Friday meter too. My next job is not decided by a Friday anymore.

Bollywood will see a big clash on January 25 when Kaabil and Raees open simultaneously in the morning...
(Cuts in) I wasn't involved in the decision-making process and I don't know what transpired in the meetings between Ritesh Sidhwani, Shah Rukh and Rakeshji. I'm not aware of what led them to release on the same day as us. The box office is a limited space and both films will eat into each other's businesses. It's unfortunate. I wouldn't say let the best man win. Let's hope this works for both films.

Haven't the box-office games become murkier?
It's only natural that these games are played. Human tendency, right? But at the same time, we shouldn't forget that films that release together can also make history, like Love Story (1981) and Kranti (1981) did. A good film is like a river that finds its audience. On the other hand, a bad film won't get to the finishing line even if it races alone.

Back to Kaabil; how did you prepare Hrithik to play a visually impaired guy?
I didn't take him through any prep. I just told him what I wanted and how I planned to shoot. The rest is his doing. He locked himself up for days, met people, did his research and when he came on the set, he was the character he plays in the film. I was in awe of him. His performance is the best thing about the film. Over the last two months, we've seen it more than a hundred times over. He amazes me with some of his scenes. Unlike most actors, he does 500 rehearsals but just two takes.

Why have you consciously moved away from the gangster genre?
I was planning something else after Jazbaa, but Kaabil came my way and it was way too compelling. I still have those gangster scripts and stories in my bank, which I want to make. I might not direct all or any of them anytime soon. I might back them as a producer because some part of me has moved on.

Was Jazbaa's failure difficult for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and you to deal with, since it was her comeback film?
Marketing and promotions play a crucial role today, and that's where we slipped. We could see it coming. The film started off with great buzz, which fizzled out in no time. There was only so much even Aishwarya could do to salvage the film. She was very disappointed that Jazbaa didn't get its due. Despite that, we all stand by it because we didn't compromise on any aspect. Abhishek Bachchan had helped me get the film together. He's not even brought it up with me. Jazbaa is not part of our conversations anymore.

Finding the perfect heroine for Hrithik in Kaabil was difficult given how demanding the part is. We believe two top heroines had turned down the role because of that...
(Cuts in) Thank god for that! Yami Gautam has shocked us with her performance; she's fabulous.

After Jazbaa, one expected you to direct Sanjay Dutt's comeback film. Why did that not happen?
It's unfortunate that I am not directing his comeback film, but that's okay. When I make a film with him, it will be his comeback (laughs). I will bring the Sanju that I know back to the screen. But to be honest, I am not thinking about a comeback film for him or another movie with Hrithik. I'm thinking of stories that will keep me relevant when my kids grow up. I don't want to be a has-been.

You've been quoted as saying that you didn't want the Dutt biopic made. Why?
I meant it. Biopics are made when people are written off or that part of their life is over. Milkha Singh has stopped running. Mary Kom continues to pursue boxing, but she has now gone way past the high point of her life shown in the biopic. Sanjay is not even remotely over. He will be flying high again. He's just in his mid-50s. There was no need for the biopic to be made just now. Yes, it's a fascinating story. It will be amazing what they do with it. I don't think anyone other than Ranbir Kapoor can, especially, play the young Sanju better. Raju Hirani is the perfect narrator for this biopic, but kahaani khatam nahin hui hai na.

Would you have liked to direct it?
I don't want it made, then why would I direct it? I'd spoken to Sanju about a three-part biography instead. Phase one would feature his life as a child of superstar parents, addiction and rehab. Phase two would have him returning and becoming a star, ending with the guns episode. And the last part would be the eventual court case and his life today. It'd make the most fascinating read. There is only so much you can show in a two-hour movie as against a book that can capture so much more.