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In the second part of this three-part interview series, Rajkumar Hirani speaks on how he convinced Boman Irani to play the part of the dean of a medical college in the cult classic Munnabhai MBBS
Moneylife: Was it your decision to get Boman Irani into films? Tell us about it.
Rajkumar Hirani: When Shah Rukh was to do the film, we had gone to Amrish Puriji for the role. It didn’t work out. Then we went to Paresh Rawal, but that also didn't happen. I had a very tight budget. Vinod was doing a film for the first time with someone else, so he had put some money in a bank, given me a cheque-book and said that I had to complete it in that budget. So, I had to be very careful. But, thinking back, it is a good way to make a film because it makes you think. You should not have the luxury to splurge. I am very cost-conscious even today. I must tell you about Munnabhai MBBS. At the end of that movie, we have these snapshots about what happened to the main characters. So there was a still of Munna at his wedding with his friends. We had to get a backdrop for the still and they said it would cost Rs10,000. Then they said, you need a costume and that was to be another Rs10,000. So I said, just hire the costume. Sanjay threw a fit about wearing a hired costume, but I convinced him that we would dry-clean it and it was only for an hour.
We were shooting at Pune near the agricultural college and there was a wedding hall on the way, where I used to see wedding receptions happening everyday. So I sent one of my assistants to go there and find out if we could take a shot after all the guests had left. They agreed, and were very excited that Sanjay Dutt was coming. The only problem was that Sanjay had packed up at 8pm, gone back to his van and was drinking. He was also getting restless and wanted to go back to the hotel and we couldn't tell him that we were waiting for the guests to leave.
Finally, at 11.15pm, we were told that you can come; the guests are leaving. So it was literally when the bride and the groom were leaving that Sanjay Dutt dressed as a bridegroom walks in. Before they could think or react, we clicked five or six stills of a drunk Sanju standing there and joking away, put them in a car and drove away.
ML: You were telling us about Boman Irani.
RH: Ram Madhvani, who worked with Vinod in Mission Kashmir, had done a film called Let’s Talk with Boman which we had seen. He was extraordinary in that film. Then, I went and saw his play, "I Am Not Bajirao"; it was an amazing performance. We asked him if he would do our film and, surprisingly, he didn't want to. He had some bad experiences with Hindi films and was clear that he didn’t want to do Hindi cinema. It took a lot of convincing to get him to agree.
Finally, Ram told him to at least listen to the script and then make up his mind. He came to the office and I narrated the script to him. I love to do that. Even today, when the script is done, I do 40 or 50 narrations, because that is the best way to communicate. Boman heard the script and, being a very emotional guy, he was laughing, crying… he sobs at the drop of a hat. He liked it and agreed to do it, but he said, ‘My biggest problem is that I don't know Hindi’. So we said, we will modify it, we will make it Hinglish and make him a little Western. Then he got involved and there were some things he didn’t like. For instance, this laughter trait that he had—when he got angry in the film, he had to laugh. He found that very unconvincing. While rehearsing he made a little expression of pain when he laughed. So we said, if you use this, it will be convincing, because it will show that you do not feel like laughing but are making an effort because you think your blood pressure goes down by doing it. So, suddenly it became very convincing.
Then again, after the first day, he wanted to walk out. On day one, he had a shot with Dutt-sa’ab. It was the first day for Sunil Dutt after 16 years, and it was the first day for Boman in Hindi cinema. And, I guess, our attention went to Dutt-sa’ab, because he was so senior and I was trying to make him comfortable. By then, Boman had become a good friend. After the shoot ended, we were standing in the parking lot and he asked me, “How did it go?” I said it was okay, but you could have done better. I didn't see the magic that I see in the plays. He heard me.
The next day, he comes to office, closes the door and says, “You take somebody else, I don’t think I can work in this film.” He kept telling us all the reasons why he can’t do the film and even as he was talking, he started crying; then he became aggressive and then he accused me. ”A director is like a mother, you have to make me comfortable; you have to encourage me. If you say I haven't done well, when you know I have a problem with Hindi, how will it work?” Finally, I realised that this is a baby. So I got up and said, ”Come on Boman, let me give you a jaadu ki jhhapi.” I then convinced him that he had to do the film and we would work on his Hindi.
I went to each location where he was to shoot and described the scene to him. I gave him the gist and told him to say it in his own words, instead of giving him the lines. And then I would record it and rewrite his lines to make him comfortable. He added a lot too. For instance, he added the bit about how doctors should not be compassionate towards patients because, if they are, they won't be objective. ”If I have to operate on my daughter, my hand will shake and I won't be able to do it,” he said. I had a big debate with him on it and said you have a valid point, but if you have such a valid point, my hero will look stupid. He said, ”That is your problem. I should have my point of view.”
That has stayed with me. Now, whenever I make a film, I say that the antagonist must have a point of view that is believable. If he does not have a point of view, it does not work. So even in 3 Idiots, Boman has a point that life is about competition and nature has made you like that. And after the rewriting, his confidence came back. Now, we have become great friends. In fact, I have some close friends in the industry and I consider Boman one of them. I can talk to him about anything; I can share things with him. He is a great guy.
(For the complete the interview, please pick up the next issue of Moneylife to hit the stands on Friday)