Says Nikkhil Advani, admitting that he erred with his last two films but is stilll in the race, producing three films and directing two more.
Nikkhil Advani is honest to a fault and admits that he should have been honest with his last film, Katti Batti. He should have revealed that Kangana Ranaut's character, Payal, went away because she had cancer.
"My friend Rahul Nanda showed me a poster he'd designed of a bald Kangana saying it should have been the first poster. I shouldn't have let people believe it was a rom-com. We underestimated Kangana's power. Tanu Weds Manu had made her a Rs 160-crore star, people were expecting her to be dhasu in every film. A bald Payal after Dattu would have brought them in with different expectations," he reasons, recalling how Dia Mirza told him after watching the preview show that the last 20 minutes had made her cry but what about the first one hour 40 minutes.
He admits he might have sunk into a quagmire after Katti Batti failed, had it not been for Airlift, his first production which does not have him as director. Slated for the Republic Day weekend, the Akshay Kumar-starrer has just come out with a two-minute-eight-second showcase to enlighten viewers that it is not on the Kandahar hijacking nor an espionage thriller like Baby but a true story of 1,70,000 Indians evacuated from Kuwait in 1990.
"The response is so overwhelming that even Raja (director Raja Menon), who has been filming in stealth the last year, is taken aback. Some wonder if this really happened, others endorse it did with them, their dads and uncles and we're wondering how to sustain the expectations. But one thing's for sure, I'm never going to spin a story again," asserts Nikkhil. "I was honest with D-Day and the animation film, Delhi Safari, was probably my most honest film. There was nothing to manipulate, it was about four animals teaching humans humanity."
Quiz him on where he fell short with the Hero remake and he reveals that he had wanted to make it like a dark Satya with the boy in a chawl. But then he realised they were launching two debutants, Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty, and needed to make a commercial film. "So I tried not to change anything as whenever I did, it was going all over the place," he says.
How badly have these two films affected his market, you wonder, and Nikkhil, who was without work for three years after Kal Ho Naa Ho, quips, "My phone calls are still being answered so I think I'm still relevant. Earlier, I didn't have the confidence to make calls and would only invent work for myself and Dia's filmmaker husband, Sahil Sangha, who was my assistant then."
This time his partners, wife Suparna, friends and the 300 people who worked with him on both films pulled him out, saying, "Galti hoti hai, chalo aur ek picture banate hain." His next, Bazaar, revolves around two men with the stock market in the background. It is about ambition, money, power and the underbelly of the city. "And by underbelly I don't mean Dharavi and the mafia. The real debauchery happens on the 50th floor of high-rises where Rs 100 crore business deals are struck," he explains. "I'm learning about all this as also stocks and dividends."
The other is a thriller on the Indian Mujahideen, a script D-Day writer Ritesh Shah gave him when he was busy with Hero and Katti Batti. "I read it after they released in my introspective phase and immediately called Ritesh to ask if he'd given it away. He was waiting for me," Nikkhil smiles.
Next year, he'll give two of his assistants a break. Gaurav Chawla is directing a slice-of-life film about two friends who discover the value of dosti during a wedding. "It sounds cliched but it's fun," he promises, adding that Ranjeet Tiwari's film is inspired by a true story of convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the Lucknow Central Jail. "They start a band and discover pride, self confidence, a reason to wake up every morning."