The filmmaker takes us through almost three decades of movie magic
Roshmila Bhattacharya (MUMBAI MIRROR; May 6, 2017)

SARKAR 1, SARKAR RAJ, SARKAR 3 (2005, 2008, 2017)
Strangely during all the films I have done with Amitabh Bachchan over the years, including the Sarkar series, only once have we had a difference of opinion. It was over a scene in the original Sarkar, where he throws his son Vishnu out of the house. I wanted him to play it cold-bloodedly, without emotion, as if the son he was chucking out were an insect. But he thought that given that they were father and son, he show some anger. I argued that when you take a decision like this, it means you have given up all hope so there should be no reason to rage. He disagreed and finally we did the scene his way. But that night, around 11 pm, he called me to say, "Ramu, I've been thinking about this scene and I feel now that you were right. Let's reshoot it tomorrow."

This is not to say that I am always right or that he accepts my suggestions every time. Sometimes, he does, sometimes he convinces me about his interpretation. In this case, we did the scene again and he made it unforgettable with his famous hand gesture while showing Kay Kay Menon the door. That's Amitabh Bachchan, constantly thinking of his character.

I see Subhash Nagre aka Sarkar as a realistic Superman, who people can look up to and depend upon to solve their problems when the establishment fails them. For me, he is a graphic comic book character who does not age, who I conceived for Bachchan, whom I, as a film watcher, had studied over the years. It was a culmination of the cumulative effect he had on me since Zanjeer. As the principal protagonist, Sarkar is integral to the franchise and I can't imagine any other actor playing the role. Sarkar has become synonymous with Amitabh Bachchan, just like doodh and milk.

BHOOT (2003)
I love to scare people. As a child, I used to hide behind the door and say, "Boo!" Now, I make horror fantasies even though I don't believe in ghosts. Yet, one night, after wrapping up the shooting of Bhoot at around 2 am, I returned to my apartment, where I live alone and in my L-shaped bedroom, I was lying on the bed when suddenly I got the feeling that the ghost from the film, Manjeet Khosla, was standing behind the wall.

I kept staring at the wall, but couldn't muster the courage to get up and check. I tried to laugh off my irrational fears, but the eerie feeling wouldn't go away. I turned my back to the wall and tried to will myself to nod off. But sleep wouldn't and I found myself turning to look at the wall again, this time calling out softly, "Manjeet? Manjeet?" I was greeted by silence and chuckling over how foolishly I was behaving, I turned again and shut my eyes resolutely.

Moments later, I heard the sound of footsteps and felt someone get into the bed with me. The soft sigh of someone breathing creeped me out. I turned, to be confronted by... nothing!

This time, I jumped up and, rushing to the phone, placing a call to Barkha Madan, the actress playing Manjeet whose ghost haunts the apartment. Only after speaking with her was I reassured that neither she nor her bhoot had entered my apartment.

COMPANY (2002)
I chanced to meet a gentleman who was very close to the D-Company, not a criminal really but more of a business associate. In the course of our conversation, he told me that in the fight between Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan a number of people had got killed, yet the two guys still had so much love for each other. "Even today, if Dawood bhai calls, Chhota Rajan will stub out his cigarette instantly. They hate each other because they love each other so much," he told me. The last sentence caught my fancy and was the genesis of Company.

The premise of a mentor and his protege whose relationship slowly sours over ego issues is true of any company. The only difference is that in a normal company, a person gets fired if he doesn't do his job well or falls out of favour with the boss. In D-Company, they get fired, literally. The gentleman, who was my muse, was shot dead just months after I met him.

SATYA (1998)
I was sitting with someone when we got the news that Gulshan Kumar had been killed. I had met Gulshanji a couple of times and was shocked. The gentleman I was with knew him well and had spoken to him just that morning at 7 am. He mentioned that he had called him back an hour later. We have this habit of recounting details when a violent death occurs. And listening to him, a thought flashed through my mind. If Gulshanji woke up at 7 am, then when did his killer jump out of bed, I wondered. Before or after killing him, did he have breakfast? I know that these questions may sound strange, even funny, but they are relevant even though we only think of assassins when they kill or when they are killed. But between the two acts, they are people like any of us leading normal lives. They could be walking on the street, sitting beside you in the bus or the movie theatre and none the wiser. To see a guy like this in his world is what sowed the seeds of Satya.

The film made Manoj Bajpayee synonymous with Bhiku Mhatre. He had caught my attention in a small role in Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen after which I cast him in a brief appearance in Daud. I was impressed by his focus and intensity, both as an actor and a person, and ended up giving him this iconic role in Satya.

I have five favourite films—The Exorcist, Mackenna's Gold, The Godfather, Dr Strangelove and The Sound of Music. Rangeela was my The Sound of Music where every character is lovable; it's the situations that create conflict. A R Rahman was new back then and to visually interpret his music on screen was a challenge.

I didn't think there was anything special about Aamir Khan (who played the lovable Munna) as an actor, but when I met him I was impressed with his dedication, focus and earnestness. I had not seen another actor who was more sincere, which is why I cast him as the street-smart orphan who makes a living selling movie tickets in black.

Why Urmila Matondkar? Well, I had gone to sign Madhuri Dixit for a film titled Drohi. She was not available, so we signed Urmila instead. I loved her spirit, her expressive face and her happy feet. I remember once when the choreographer couldn't make it to the set on time as he had missed his train, I told her to do the song herself. I was mesmerised by the way she danced and when Rangeela came up, she was my choice to play Mili, the movie extra who aspires to be a star and ends up with two men in love with her.

RAAT (1992)
Raat was the first film I wanted to make, even before Shiva. It was a really special film in terms of camerawork, the six-track stereophonic sound, the music and Revathy's performance. But back in the '90s, when our audience was still watching Ramsay horror flicks, it was perhaps a little too subtle and sophisticated for their liking, maybe even too cerebral.

Raat aficionados have grown over the last decade. Today, I have young girls aged 17 and 18 coming up and telling me that their favourite horror film is Raat, which they have seen on TV. When I hear that it surprises me. I wonder how the film on whose technicalities we lavished so much time and attention, can work on television? I don't know if I'd want to remake Raat, but I am working on another horror film. And today, I think I have finally understood the core of this genre.