Apoorva Lakhia: We haven’t remade Zanjeer to ridicule the original!

In an exclusive chat, the Shootout At Lokhandwala director agrees that comparisons between the original 1973 Prakash Mehra directed action drama Zanjeer and his version are inevitable, but he’s not worried – his Ram Charan Teja-Priyanka Chopra-Sanjay Dutt starrer is strikingly different, with more commercial elements

After doing a filmmaking course in New York almost a decade ago, Apoorva Lakhia assisted celebrated filmmakers from Bollywood and Hollywood like Mira Nair, Woody Allen and Ang Lee… till he decided to direct his own film. He started with Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost with Abhishek Bachchan and Lara Dutta. Lakhia later made Ek Ajnabee with Amitabh Bachchan and Arjun Rampal; it failed miserably. But the filmmaker bounced back two years later with an effective recreation of a real-life daylight encounter in Shootout At Lokhandwala, which won him critical acclaim and audience appreciation.

While he is best remembered for SAL, his next multi-starrer Mission Istanbul was a dud. Once again, the action genre specialist preferred to wait for the right time and the right script to make a newly powerful impact at the box office. A remake of Zanjeer was his choice. In an exclusive chat with BollywoodLife, Lakhia discusses his reformed version of the now-classic story, how he is coping with high expectations, why he zeroed in on Ram Charan Teja to reprise Big B’s role, controversies surrounding his film, his favourites the Bachchans and much more….

After Mission Istanbul you went into self-imposed exile, only to return with the Zanjeer remake four years later. It is indeed a long time…

Yes, but I had no option, since the offers that came my way weren’t good and were taking me a step down. So I decided to go slow. After Mission Istanbul I produced Hide N Seek. In Bollywood, people forget you very easily if your films flop. I’m a very patient filmmaker and my record is one film in two years. So I just waited for the right script and Zanjeer came my way.

The remake must’ve been a tough nut to crack. Now that it’s all set for release, are you feeling the pressure?

To an extent, yes, because we had attempted to remake an iconic Amitabh Bachchan film in two languages simultaneously. But at the same time it’s also the biggest advantage, coz it’s a double-edge sword. When you remake a film like Zanjeer, you stay in the spotlight for the right as well as wrong reasons. So I’m living with that!

Why Zanjeer? Why not any other Amitabh Bachchan film?

Well, this was the only remake offer! Suresh Nair and Chetan Gandhi have come up with a superb script. It’s got less to do with the original film and more to do with the contemporary time – the oil mafia, for instance – and deals with Sonavane and journalist J Dey’s killing and incidents like those. A lot of research was done on how the oil mafia works. The characters have the same names, but they aren’t similar at all. It was really good fun making Zanjeer, because the film has a big canvas. I like doing big action films and this was totally up my alley.

Do you think the audience will accept Ram Charan as B-town’s new angry young man? Was he nervous about reprising the popular character Vijay as played by Mr Bachchan more than three decades ago?

It’s not right to compare. Ram wasn’t nervous at all. It took some time to convince him – he told me the only reason he would not do the film is not because he was scared of stepping into Zanjeer, but he had to like the script.

So you’re releasing the film on September 6?

Did someone tell you any other date?

Javed Akhtar (the co-writer of the original 1973 hit) said the remake cannot be released unless the copyright matter is resolved…

I think you need to ask my producers about this, because I’m not involved in it at all. I was told we are releasing the film on September 6, so I’m here talking to you, promoting my film.

But what would you say about the whole controversy surrounding your film?

I’m avoiding it.

You’re very close to the Bachchans. What did they have to say about the remake?

Amitji congratulated me and blessed me. I also spoke to Jayaji. They all were happy.

You would certainly want them to see the film and give their reactions….

Of course! I also want Salim Javed and everyone associated with the original to see my film, because we have not made Zanjeer to ridicule them. It’s a mark of our respect.

Besides Amitabh Bachchan’s brooding young man avatar, the original was also known for its asardaar dialogue, the Vijay-Sher Khan friendship and the larger than life villain portrayed by the legendary Ajit. Have you retained anything from the original?

Only the police station dialogue – ‘Jab tak baithne ko na kahaa jaaye, sharafat se khade raho… yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahin’. But we have changed it a bit.

Any plans of attempting more remakes?

I’ll take it easy with remakes (grins), because this one has been very challenging and from day one we have been in the news, often for not the right reasons. I don’t really need that kind of pressure, because eventually I’m just a filmmaker and I associate myself with films I’m comfortable making. I don’t get too many film offers outside the action genre. I make films in a very short period of time. For example, Zanjeer was made in 71 days in two languages – 35 days for each. I’m well planned.

What’s next?

A holiday! It’s been one and half years that I’ve been slogging my ass off!