Tigmanshu Dhulia: If I made Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster today, I would cast Kareena Kapoor

Actor-director-writer Tigmanshu Dhulia chatted with us about his new film, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns

With a stack of books neatly arranged on shelves, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s office looks more like a library than a place where people brainstorm to make films. In this highly creative workplace, Dhulia has created a small space for himself where he can light up his cigarette and galvanise his grey cells into action. And by no means does he want to create the impression that he is one of those pseudo intellectual filmmakers. He believes in only one mantra – make films that are simple to understand.

Do you think the sequel to Saheb Biwi Air Gangster will have the same impact as the original?

When we were making the first part, we had no idea about the film’s performance at the box office, but I personally believed that since we are making it in such a small budget, I will recover the money somehow. And I knew that women are going to love the film.  I had put the germ of the sequel into the first part already. I am still in the same space, but this time I am slightly more opulent. I couldn’t incorporate those elements in the first part ‘coz of budget constraints. The elements I couldn’t explore in the first part are there in this one, from polo matches to ballroom dancing – everything’s super royal!

What matters to you more – critical acclaim or commercial success?

Filmmaking is a combination of both. It’s a very tricky art. It’s a bit of both.  I have never been an indulgent filmmaker. I have never made films that go over your head. I have made films that you may not like, but that you will understand. I make simple films. Haasil was a love story – it was packaged with whatever’s essential to make a commercial film. I can’t make a Housefull or a Karan Johar kind of film. It’s not that I look down upon these, it’s just that I can’t do it. I can’t do unnecessary things; even if I try my hand at making larger than life films, I will fail miserably. Similarly, those people can’t make a Paan Singh Tomar.

Do offbeat concepts work with people?

These are good times. Twenty years ago one would have thought twice before making a Paan Singh Tomar, English Vinglish or Oh My God.

Jimmy’s character in the first part was more powerful; this time he is wheelchair bound….

He is actually more dangerous this time. It happens, you know; you should be more careful of a disabled man, he can be more vicious because he is unable to let out his pent up anger. I am not talking against them; I am just saying that’s a possibility. In the first part he was a bit ruthless and also in love. Now in this part he is in a wheelchair, he can’t move, he can’t make love – so that helplessness converts into something very unpleasant. He is more manipulative and abrasive.

You have cast Soha Ali Khan in the film. Is it because she belongs to a royal family that you thought she could do justice to the role?

It helps. Whenever I get a chance to cast someone who has lived the character somewhere, it becomes easier for the actor and it becomes pleasant to the eyes. The performance becomes effortless. I did that when I made my first film (Haasil), and I cast Ashutosh Rana. I wanted to portray a very ‘right wing BJP kind of character’, and since Rana’s Hindi is so fluent, he portrayed the role amazingly.

What is it about Mahi Gill that made you give her the lead role?

Honestly, I didn’t have many options. I just wanted to make films with friends without giving them any money. She was the only one I had!

If not Mahi, whom would you cast?

If today I had to make Saheb  Biwi Aur Gangster with someone else, then I would love to have Kareena Kapoor.

Neil Nitin Mukesh was initially cast in the film and then you replaced him with Irrfan – why?

When all this happened, I didn’t have a script, I was simply toying with the idea of making a sequel. Neil liked the first part and he wanted to work with me. But after the script was in place, I realised I needed someone more mature. Neil was too young for the role.

Your next film Bullet Raja is a gangster thriller – why Saif?

Saif is one of the stars who is also an actor. Most of the stars are less able. They are stars in their own right, very charismatic and people love them, but Saif knows how to act. We have been wanting to work with each other, and since he wanted to do a rustic film for a long time now, it wasn’t difficult to convince him.

Every director is known for doing justice to a specific genre – Karan to larger-than-life, Sajid Khan to slapstick. What do you want to be known for?

I want to be versatile. I am quite inspired by Vijay Anand. He made Guide when he was 25. He made all sorts of films. His body of work was amazing – from Jewel Thief  to Tere Ghar Ke Saamne.