Umesh Shukla is better known as the director of OMG: Oh My God (2012) starring Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal, which was based on his blockbuster play Kanjee Viruddha Kanjee. However, not many people know that he began his Bollywood innings as an actor and was seen in movies such as Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996) and Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (1998).
While acting in films, he’d get tired waiting in the van to be called for his shots. “So I’d hang around the set, observe big directors and learn from them as I couldn’t go to a filmmaking institute,” says Umesh. To learn more about the craft, he started assisting late writer-director Neeraj Vora on the scripts of Virasat (1997), Baadshah (1999), Hera Pheri (2000) and Josh (2000).
Now, the director is gearing up for the release of 102 Not Out, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, which is also based on his hit play by the same name. He tells After Hrs how he managed to wrap up the film within 39 days, thanks to both the legends and why OMG’s sequel needs to be better than the first part. Excerpts…
What made you cast Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor as father and son?
While working on the play, I felt it had the potential to be made into a film. That’s when I thought to myself, why not cast Bachchan sir and Chintuji as father and son? When I proposed this idea to the former, he found it exciting and said we could shoot within a month. I met Chintuji and 10 minutes after the narration, he agreed.
Did you insist that they watch the play before shooting for the film?
I wanted to show them the play, but they didn’t want to be influenced in any way. So, both of them asked me to let them create their own characters and I could guide them whether it was right or wrong.
By showing that the father wants to put his son in an old-age home, did you want to give out an important message to people and make them change their minds?
The plot is humorous. Bachchan sir’s character wants to break the record of being the longest- living individual, a 118-year-old Chinese. While researching on him, he finds that the Chinese man didn’t allow any negativity or boring people around him. He thinks that he’s living with the most boring person in the world, his son. So he proposes the idea to the latter, who is shocked.
As for making people change their minds, that’s the purpose. I wouldn’t make a film if it didn’t convey a message. The point that life is a celebration and you have to live it to the fullest must come across. You have a choice; either live like an 85-year-old when you’re 25 or live like a 25-year-old when you’re 85. As Gujaratis say, ‘You need to always have ascharya (amazement).’ Till you have that in your eyes, you can’t grow old. You grow old because you leave things and start living in nostalgia.
How was it to collaborate with Mr Bachchan for the first time?
Bachchan sir did his homework before coming to the set. I didn’t have to worry about whether he would get the Gujarati accent right. When in doubt, he would call at 3 am to ask what a particular thing is called in Gujarati, and whether he could speak the line in that language. In fact, it’s his and Chintuji’s greatness that they made me feel comfortable. We were so clear about what we were going to do that we wrapped up the shoot in 39 days.
After OMG, All Is Well and now 102, you seem to have found your calling of making movies that are socially relevant and also have a message.
The idea is not to preach. I’m a film buff who enjoys watching all kinds of movies, but when it comes to making them, I have some responsibility as a filmmaker. Besides entertaining the audience, I should also give them something to take home. I love the way Rajkumar Hirani makes his films. He conveys a message with humour, without being preachy. Such films are always longer lasting than just entertainers, though there is nothing bad about the latter, too.
Mr Bachchan came up with the idea of the Badumbaaa song…
Yes. We were shooting on a terrace on the last day of the shoot and it started raining. While we were waiting for the skies to clear, Bachchan sir said he and Rishiji had many songs like Lambuji, Tinguji (Coolie), Chal Mere Bhai (Amar Akbar Anthony), so why can’t they have a track in 102 Not Out? I told him there wasn’t any scope as the screenplay was tight. When he said he would love to compose something, who can say no to Amitabh Bachchan? (smiles). He was clear about what he wanted, so he composed it, arranged the recording and even sang it. He wanted Rishiji to sing it too and convinced him.
You’ve spoken about having the idea for the sequel to OMG…
We’re working on a script that’s better than the first film. There has to be an important scam that needs to be conveyed to the people. Only then can it work. At the same time, we also need to have a solution to it, come up with strong arguments and see things from the other perspective.