Nikhil Advani’s body of work is a mixed bag, just like the box-office receipts and critical receptions of his films. If Kal Ho Na Ho (2003) was a blockbuster, his very expensive Chandni Chowk to China (2009) was universally panned. Then he followed up the indie-flavoured acclaimed thriller D-Day (2013) with last week’s Hero, which one critic described as “a colossal bore”.
In a recent interview with tabloid!, Advani says in Katti Batti he has the charms of Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan, and a great story, and hopes to make it a success. Here are some excerpts:
Parallels are being drawn between Katti Batti and your first film, Kal Ho Na Ho, starring Shah Rukh Khan, which was a massive hit in 2003.
When [producers] UTV brought the film to me, my first reaction was whether or not I wanted to do a film that was the same space as Kal Ho Na Ho. Although it was 12 years ago, I did wonder if people would compare it to that.
But the script was so refreshing, in terms of the screenplay, the dialogues... I was convinced. I think it’s similar to Kal Ho Na Ho in the sense that the theme is aspirational but very real at the same time. In Katti Batti, for instance, you had a couple arguing about how to use the toilet. These are real conversations people have. So I think there is that connection.
You’ve done very different films, from the romantic Kal Ho Na Ho to the sports drama Patiala House and to the espionage thriller D-Day.
I think I’m enjoying that… keeping people guessing, not expecting what I’m going to make next. When I made D-Day they said it’s from the guy who made Kal Ho Na Ho. So I like to surprise people.
Do you think Katti Batti would have worked 12 years ago?
I would have wanted to make it but whether it would have been backed is a different story. I’ve always wanted to walk the path less travelled. So it’s heartening to see that studios like UTV are allowing directors to push the envelope when it comes to narrative stories.
So full marks to directors such as Shoojit Sircar (Madras Cafe, Piku), Sujoy Ghosh (Jhankaar Beats, Kahaani) who have helped us get to a place where we can see these kind of films.
When I saw Shuddh Desi Romance, I was so happy to know that it was backed by a studio whose films had previously only perpetuated the idea of arranged marriages: Yas Raj Films. And now they are making films about live-in relationships. How cool is that!
Does that mean the audience is also evolving?
The audience will watch any film that is good. It’s presumptuous for any filmmaker to say they know what the audience wants. All audiences are saying is ‘Give us good stuff and we will take it’.
Yes, the big budget films will always work, it’s the same thing in Hollywood with superhero and sci-fi films, but what’s heartening is that there is a huge market for content-driven films. And that’s where Katti Batti falls into.
So how did you end up with Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan?
When UTV sent me the script, I was very clear that I would not do it without Imran. And that was that. Kangana, I needed a few minutes to narrate it to her. But she was really receptive. It was just after Queen and she could have done the whole ‘let me read it and come back to you’. But something in it appealed to her and she started to talk like the character a few minutes into the narration.
Kangana had always been on top of my list, even before Queen. I’ve been telling people to use her since Gangster. When I saw her in Life in a… Metro, I couldn’t believe it was the same actor doing the films. So I’ve always wanted to work with her.
Would you say Bollywood is headed in the right direction?
Yes, of course. Look at the films that’s been doing well, from Barfi! to English Vinglish to Queen. It’s only content that’s driving their success. I’m so happy there is a huge movement towards content and that is very heartening.
Even big commercial stars are also picking different roles these days.
Yes, they have to change eventually too. Someone like Varun Dhawan did a film called Badlapur, that’s so different from his first two films and then did ABCD 2... it’s working brilliantly for him. The young guys are taking risks and that’s a good thing.
Even Salman [Khan] is doing Bajrangi Bhaijaan, where the focus is not entirely on him, and Shah Rukh [Khan] is doing films like Fan and Raees. So I say full credit to the moment.
What can we look forward to in Katti Batti?
You can look forward to an emotional ride. You’ll be a laughing and crying a lot and come out with tears in eyes in the end and believe that love conquers all.
So just like you did to us in Kal Ho Na Ho?
Yes, just like in Kal Ho Na Ho.
Don’t miss it!
Katti Batti will release in the UAE on September 17.