Was it always your dream to be a director?
I confess that I had joined the industry as Mansoor Khan’s assistant in direction on the sets of his film Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander only to learn the ropes of the trade as a director, almost a decade ago. However every evening, I used to ask all the dancers to practice the steps that I had devised, to know in what way the dances were different from the ones choreographed by Saroj Khan. One evening, director Mansoor noticed the session.
How did you bag your first assignment?
I shot to fame as a choreographer with the slow motion number Pehla Nasha thanks to Saroj Khan by default. It so happened, that Saroj had left Mansoor’s unit high and dry one day and flown down South to do choreography for a South Indian film, leaving Mansoor Khan with no other alternative but to ask me to step in and rescue him by taking up the choreography for his film. A choreographer was born that day.
Is it true that your mother had acted as Salman Khan‘s father Salim Khan’s heroine?
Yes. Not many are aware of the fact that my mother had actually acted as the heroine opposite Salman Khan’s father Salim Khan four decades ago. In fact I, Sajid Khan and Salman Khan had almost grown up together during our childhood and our families have known each other for donkey’s years.
Why do you say that it would be tough for you to direct a film for any other producer after working with King Khan?
I feel that Shah Rukh is the best. After working with an actor like Shah Rukh Khan, it is very difficult for me to work with any other actor. Just imagine I had to take a three second shot and I had told Shah Rukh Khan that I’d require 98 cameras for it. Shah Rukh spent 20 lakhs and got those 90 cameras flown in from London. Though I had told him not to splurge unnecessarily as we could easily do away with it, Shah Rukh told me that he did not believe in compromising on quality.
Is it true that Main Hoon Na was titled The Outsider initially?
Yes. It is interesting to note that the working title of Main Hoon Na before it went on the floors was actually The Outsider, for almost two years. I had written the script in English and every time there was any untoward incident on the sets, Shah Rukh would say Just Trust me. When Abbas Tyrewala started translating the dialogues, there was this line Main Hoon Na coming up in the place of Just Trust Me.
When I told Sajid that the title of my film would be Main Hoon Na he told me that it sounded like a Sudhir Mishra film. Karan said that Main Hoon Na was a horrible title while Shah Rukh told me bahut kharab title hai. However I insisted on the title since I wasn’t into K titles like Karan and Ekta Kapoor. My gamble paid off and every one agreed that Main Hoon Na was the apt title after I went ahead and recorded the title song with Anu Malik as the composer.
What do you think about the actresses of today?
Frankly I feel that the actresses of today do not have the poise and the dignity which the girls in 70’s have had. In Om Shanti Om, Deepika fitted the role well, like Hemaji in the 70’s. To prepare Deepika for the role, we gave her voice training and dance classes, besides the three month training in acting course with Anupam Kher.
How tough was it for you to get Shah Rukh Khan to shed his excess weight and get into his six pack abs for Om Shanti Om?
Shah Rukh asked me to give him three months and he worked hard and told me that if he did not get at least six packs he would not remove his shirt in front of the camera, though I felt that at least once he should do an item song. I think it is a great change- over at the age of 42 when others become too old. I shot Shah Rukh like Ramgopal Varma shoots his heroines.
What do you like the best about being a director?
I enjoy being a director the most because as a director, I get to decide each and everything connected with the film, including recording only the songs which I want. I feel that direction is the most fulfilling job. The worst job is writing for the simple reason that it does not come easy to me.
Which episode of Tere Mere Beach Mein touched you the most?
The best thing about Tere Mere Beach Mein was that nothing in the show was actually scripted. After we decided on the theme of each episode, I asked questions randomly
I was touched by the episode on Hrithik. There is this comfort factor with each of my guests which I think will not come if they do not have a personal equation with you. Trust factor works a lot in a talk show like this. If they feel that they are uncomfortable answering any particular question, I readily offer to edit it out, because the idea is that the audiences should identify with what the stars had gone through in their lives and have a connect.
Tell me about your kids!
I have two daughters and one son. I have named my son Czar. Czar means an emperor. I have named my two daughters Diva and Anya. Diva is an Italian word for prima Donna, the main singer in the opera. Anya means inexhaustible in Sanskrit and graceful in Russian. Diva and Czar are similar looking but not identical. Its is said that one in two million triples are identical My daughters are maa ki laadlis and are chipkoos whereas my son is dad’s laadla. He is elder by two minutes.