Interview: Vijay Krishna Acharya

Vijay Krishna Acharya, the writer-director of Dhoom 3, is looking to make a mark after the failure of Tashan

Tashan, when it came out in 2008, had everything going for it – a star-studded cast comprising Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Anil Kapoor, a couple of chartbusters (“Dil Dance Maare” is still a playlist must at drunken house parties), and great pre-release buzz. Yet, it ended up being among the most trashed films of recent times. Critics tore it apart and the box office was unforgiving. Many deemed it an empty show of flamboyance by production house Yash Raj Films, and a bizarre flight of fancy by first-time director Vijay Krishna Acharya. It was a rather strange film, combining elements of the Western with desi characters, zany humour and outrageous action scenes – well-intentioned but not quite steady.

Acharya – or Victor, as he’s called by industry-folk and friends – is back with his second film, Dhoom 3, which trumps Tashan in terms of scale and expectations. The earlier Dhoom films have made pots of money for Yash Raj, the film’s trailers promise grandeur, and Aamir Khan getting attached to the franchise has helped create quite a buzz. For the second time in five years, Acharya finds himself in the saddle of the year’s biggest film, and this time he’s hopeful about the outcome being different. “I felt violated after Tashan,” the director said, a couple of days before heading out to Los Angeles where the Imax print of Dhoom 3 was being readied. “For some reason, I was flagellating myself. I would read everything and take everyone’s opinion [on the film] seriously. It was a Raging Bull moment for me. I knew I had to get up.”

Getting back in the director’s seat for a franchise he scripted and gave shape to along with producer Aditya Chopra and Sanjay Gadhvi [who directed the first two films] seemed like a safe bet. Acharya wrote the first Dhoom in 2003, a straight-up cops-and-robbers film on the lines of Hollywood action movies like Biker Boyz and The Fast and the Furious. “Dhoom came about with the idea [of making a movie] that did not lean on any Hindi film pillars – emotions, drama, mother, love story, etc. I had a blast writing it.”

The film’s success took many by surprise. All three leads – Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra and John Abraham – weren’t exactly safe box office bets and the two film-old Gadhvi hadn’t created any ripples either. The film came without much fanfare [although a music video featuring Thai-American pop star Tata Young was fairly popular] but did well. “Dhoom was a very thin film – it was driven by screenplay rather than story, which wasn’t considered to be the norm in our industry. Its success gave me immense confidence as a writer.”

Acharya hadn’t given writing a thought when he arrived in Mumbai in 1992, and wanted to get into the director’s chair soon. “Growing up in the ’80s, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Govind Nihalani were the stars. Then, Martin Scorsese happened, and you ended up watching The Godfather II 200 times for some sheer joy. I was a firm believer of the auteur theory. I thought director was king.” He, however, realised later that while the director was truly king, he still had to wait for a writer to get half the job done. “We make narrative films. We are an industry where everyone keeps waiting for the writer, who comes in late and with incomplete work,” said Acharya and grinned, like it was an inside joke between Hindi film directors.

Acharya’s first job came in the form of an opportunity to assist Kundan Shah, who was directing Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa then. Shah, known in the industry to be a gregarious even if slightly eccentric filmmaker, gave his assistants complete freedom, and when Acharya suggested some changes in a couple of scenes, Shah asked him to write them on a lark. “When you are 24, you think you can do anything. I wrote two scenes, and Kundan retained them both in the film. That gave me a leg up, and I started taking writing seriously.”

After the Kabhi Haan stint, Acharya took to writing for television – first Just Mohabbat, and then Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin. All of these were sugar-coated, heartwarming stories, a far cry from the action films Acharya came to be associated with later. “I always thought of myself as the bittersweet [film] kinda guy. But there’s a boy in all of us, an adolescent who comes out buzzed with action films.” The challenge with Dhoom 3, said Acharya, was to make the action seem real – larger-than-life but believable. “I wanted to keep the action old-school. Largely, the stunts have all been performed, without relying on CG (computer graphics). You go up against the wall, you drop the bike, you crash the car – there is a certain visceral quality to it. The retro-fit is the better fit sometimes.”

With Dhoom 3, the stakes have been raised high. The expensive film has been shot almost entirely in Chicago, and this time not just the plot, but the canvas too resembles that of a Hollywood film. It’s set to be India’s first film to be released in the Imax format, and with only four Imax screens in the country – two in Mumbai, one in Bangalore and one in Hyderabad – the revenue is expected to largely come from traditional screens. The Imax version stands a better chance in the overseas market, where the business of Hindi films seems to be growing, and where Yash Raj has a strong distribution network in place. “We are hoping that a certain kind of audience that does not watch Hindi films will venture in for the Imax format.”

Acharya admits the opportunity of directing India’s first Imax film is a huge kick – “the wide shot looks massive” – but the technology didn’t affect his approach to filmmaking. “Every filmmaker goes for a big shot instinctively. That it translates well in Imax is something you probably reflect on a little later,” he said.

The trailers hint at a full-blown masala film, with romance and drama thrown in for good measure, unlike the first Dhoom. “When you are dealing with a bigger canvas, some Hindi film elements come back in. Dhoom 2 had a love story, which seemed like a new thing then. Dhoom 3 is driven more by story than screenplay, which again is novel for the franchise.” The anti-hero [the “thief”], meanwhile, seems to gain a little bit more precedence than the two protagonists Jai and Ali [the “cops”], played by Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra respectively, with every film. “As a writer, I enjoyed writing Ali in each part. He’s the rooted guy, the man from the streets. But the series has taken shape in a certain way, where the antagonist drives the narrative.”

Known more for his writing abilities [he’s also written Mani Ratnam’s Guru and Raavan] than his directorial skills, Acharya hopes he can achieve acceptance as a director too. “Between the script and the final product, Dhoom 3’s journey has been closer than Tashan’s. There are a few things that can make a film generic, and as a director I need to fight that. You can’t always escape that in a franchise film, but the effort is to try and do as many new things possible within that space.”

Dhoom 3 opens Fri Dec 20.

Read the Dhoom 3 review.

By Aniruddha Guha on December 18 2013
Photos by Anurag Banerjee

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