What was it about Ghajini that made you want to do it?
I found the Tamil version to be extremely engaging and entertaining. It intrigued me but I made up my mind when I met the director, AR Murugadoss. Frankly, I was completely taken in by his infectious positive energy and childlike excitement.
Regarding the eight packs, has Ghajini been your physically most demanding film -more than Mangal Pandey or Lagaan?
[an error occurred while processing this directive]Every film has its own demands but yes, Ghajini was physically daunting because I had to train very hard. I had to keep at it and not lose patience. I had an athletic body but the director wanted me to bulk up with eight packs which was a challenge because I didn't know if I could achieve it. So, in a way, Ghajini made me resilient.
Post 26/11, do you think the timing of its release was unfavorable, especially keeping in view its violent content?
Personally, the attack is far greater and serious an issue for me than the release of my film. That said I was very clear that if the film is good, it'll work. The collections prove it.
Do Ghajini's thumping collections make you feel powerful?
Power doesn't figure in my hierarchy of needs. I won't use the word powerful; rather I'd say it makes me feel happy and blessed. When Taare Zameen Par (TZP) reaches so many people and changes so many lives, I don't feel powerful but gratified.
When did you last feel powerful?
(Thinks hard) I guess when I did my last set of bench press!
If TZP gets you an Oscar, maybe then you'd feel powerful?
(Shrugs) I'm not thinking of the Oscar. Right now, I'm focused on Ghajini and 3 Idiots. If we make it to the final five nominations which will be announced on January 22, then I'll think of the Oscar. I'll let you know what I feel then. (Laughs)
Over the last five years, you've become this monstrous marketing god; can you tell us how and when do you start planning the marketing strategy?
(Laughs) When I plan the marketing strategy, I try to understand the core values of the film. Each film has a unique marketing demand. I have about nine people in my marketing team. We brainstorm together. Our guiding principle is that cinema is a form of mass communication and we have to tell the audience the core values of our film. Once the film is complete, we see it and plan the strategy as to how to prepare the people for this particular film. Today, marketing is an important part of filmmaking. You need to make the audience excited about the film; you need to create the right atmosphere.
But don't you think sometimes you go overboard, like giving the Ghajini haircut to the ushers the day Shahrukh Khan's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi released?
(Shrugs) It was a part of our marketing strategy. We were going to do that two weeks before the release of Ghajini irrespective of the film that was playing. We had initially planned to release Ghajini on October 2 but pushed it back after my leg injury. We would have done the same thing then too. There are two principles that I follow when I market my films: we should honestly represent the film to not mislead the audience and we shouldn't do anything negative. I'm very clear that while I do my best, I should not harm anyone else. As for giving the ushers the Ghajini haircut, we wanted it to be like a trailer. At the end of it, you can do as much publicity as you want but ultimately it's the film that matters.
But there is some undercurrent with SRK, isn't it? You two have been taking digs at each other.
We have high regard for each other. If you look at his interviews, you will see that Shahrukh only talks about himself, makes digs at others and puts others down. He talks really big but he's a charming guy. I have no hesitation in saying that I'm charmed by SRK. It's just that media takes an extreme stand; it pits us as either enemies or as best friends. As for all our back-and-forth talks, it just shows that both of us have a good sense of humour.
Aren't you and Salman Khan ganging up on SRK, especially with Salman painting your Ghajini look and you sporting his charitable organization's (Being Human) tee at a media event?
(Smiles) We're not ganging up. Both Salman and Shah Rukh are my friends. I didn't ask Salman to paint me; he did it on his own. As for me wearing his tee, if Salman is doing something noble in starting an organization that'll help needy people, I'm happy to support him.
Do you agree you're a control freak?
I'm not a control freak. I'm realistic about my limits. When I act in a film, it's the director who is the boss. It's not my responsibility to control the film. But I'm always there if the director wants any help or suggestion. I just go with the flow.
In the 20 years that you've been here, has there been any shift in your guiding principle of making movies?
Not at all. I've always done films I believe in. I've always had an emotional approach to my work. This is my life so I only want to do those films that I really want to be a part of. I've gone wrong quite a few times especially in the first six months of my career after Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak when I signed every film offered to me. But they were all my decisions. I've learnt quickly from my failures.
How badly does a flop affect you?
I'm very emotionally involved with my films. If ever I have to face a failure, I'd like to take full responsibility for it. Even the failure is mine, I like to value my flops and hold them close to me. I like to mourn my failure and try to learn from it.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I'm very ambitious. I'd like to do work of the level people haven't seen before. I want to raise the bar as an actor, producer and director. I'd like to do films that would live on much after I'm no longer there. Even if someone sees Lagaan 200 years later, he should say, "Who's that guy, yaar?"
Is there any role you haven't done and are dying to attempt?
I really find Mahabharata fascinating. I would love to play Karan, who was 6 '3 and a born warrior. So, I don't think I fit the part physically but emotionally I do. I think the part I suit the best would be that of Krishna. When I was in KG, I had these really chubby cheeks. Girls would find me cute and surround me. I also used to eat makhan all the time so my mom would call me Krishna and the girls my gopis.