Milan Luthria made his directorial debut in 1999 with the action thriller Kachche Dhaage (1999), starring Ajay Devgn and Saif Ali Khan. Since then, he has made nine films, working predominantly in the action and gangster genres. Luthria’s most successful films till date are Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010), loosely based on the lives of Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim, and The Dirty Picture (2011), unofficially inspired by the life of Southern actor Silk Smitha.
Luthria’s latest film Baadshaho will be released on September 1. Starring Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Esha Gupta, Ileana D’Cruz, Sanjay Mishra and Vidyut Jammwal, the adventure-heist film is set during the Emergency and involves “six badasses”, an “elite army” and a truck carrying gold. Luthria spoke to Scroll.in about Baadshaho, his filmography and the box office failure of his previous film.
What was the genesis of ‘Baadshaho’?
When I was shooting Kachche Dhaage in Rajasthan, my distributor friend met me on the sets and told me stories about royal families getting plundered during the Emergency. A lot of these families did not declare their wealth when privy purses were abolished in 1971. Using the draconian COFEPOSA and MISA acts, these families were put behind bars and their palaces were looted.
It is unclear to this date who these plunderers were. This story remained in a corner of my mind for a long, and, now, the time was right for the film to be made.
Do you have any memories of the Emergency?
I was eight or nine at the time. I don’t remember much. I remember people talking about hiding cash. I would hear snatches about sterilisation, the press being gagged, Jayaprakash Narayan. I remember articles would be missing from the newspaper. It was a dramatic time.
Like ‘Indu Sarkar’, do you expect your film to run into trouble considering it is set during the Emergency?
We haven’t made a political film. Our film is an entertainer. So we don’t expect any trouble.
As for stories surrounding the Ajay-Ileana scenes being cut, they are unsubstantiated rumours. How can someone with no access to our footage cook up stories like these?
A noise is being drummed up about Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan singing for your film.
An entire film of mine, Kachche Dhaage, was composed by a Pakistani, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in 1999. I don’t see any problem with what we have done.
Your films such as ‘Kachche Dhaage’, ‘Deewaar’ and now ‘Baadshaho’ often deal with Army officers and cross-border tension. Are you fascinated by such stories?
It depends from genre to genre. With Deewaar (2004), the story was set around Indian and Pakistani soldiers, so the cross border angle came up. With Kachche Dhaage, the villains smuggled weapons across the Indo-Pak border in Rajasthan.
The genre decides the elements. Personally, I feel such action-driven films make for very rugged elements like, say, the look of an army Jeep.
Any all-time favourites from this genre?
The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Rififi (1955). They are classics. From recent times, Inglourious Basterds (2009) and The Hateful Eight (2015). There are so many. It’s difficult to recall.
You have worked with writer Rajat Aroraa in six films so far. What is your working partnership like?
The best working partnerships don’t depend on how much you work together but how much one can work independently of the other. With Rajat, I know that if I narrate him an idea, he will go and do the best job that he can. And after he gives me the script, he has the faith in me to do it justice on the big screen. We trust each other a lot and respect each other’s individuality. Rajat, as a writer, has a sense of drama that is not placid or boring or slow or arty. His inherent approach is entertaining, dramatic and pacy which I like.
You are working with Ajay Devgn for the fourth time and Emraan Hashmi for the second. How different are the two?
They are very different in temperament. Emraan is an actor who likes to prepare. During shooting, he keeps a lot to himself, listens to music or reads a book. Ajay does not prepare much. He is more instinctive. He trusts the director and once he catches your vibe, he does his thing. Emraan is very conscious about his me time. There are days when Emraan can tell you that he wants to be by himself. But Ajay is always game for catching up and hanging out.
After two back-to-back superhits came ‘Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaara!’, which didn’t work as well. What went wrong?
The release date is to be blamed. We were supposed to release our film on Eid. But another superstar was releasing his film [Chennai Express, 2013] on that date so we pushed our release date. The theatres that were promised to us were not available. People were calling me and asking, “Where is your film running? We don’t know where to get tickets.”
Don’t you think the much-criticised casting of Imran Khan as a gangster had a role to play?
Imran getting miscast is a matter of opinion. We knew that the casting would invite a certain amount of debate what with Akshay Kumar stepping into Emraan’s shoes. It was not easy to do, but that was what we wanted to do and everybody gave their hundred per cent.