November 12, 2002 
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Aishwarya Rai
'Ash said yes on the spot!'
Debutant director Samir Karnik enjoyed a stint in international politics before zeroing in on films

He roped in Om Puri, Rati Agnihotri, Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai, and the terrific musical trio Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy for his very first film, Kyon! Ho Gaya Na Pyar.

Samir Karnik, former assistant director to Vidhu Vinod Chopra, has a lot to be proud of. And if all goes to plan, Amitabh Bachchan will also act in the film.

He started as a student of International Relations and International Politics in the US for four years, besides being a state-level tennis champion.

This newcomer speaks to Vickey Lalwani about his forthcoming film.

How did get into filmmaking?

It's a long story. In the final year of my International Relations and International Politics course in America, I took some classes in cinema as a hobby. I found it interesting and pursued some more classes. After I graduated, I did not want to work with the World Bank or the United Nations.

I came back to India and started an Internet business. At the time, there were very few Internet users in India. I approached some companies to set up their websites. I set up an employment site where I approached unemployed people to post their resumes. People laughed at me saying that the business would flop. Eventually, I had to shut shop.

And then?

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I met [director] Vidhu Vinod Chopra (1942 -- A Love Story, Khamoshi, Mission Kashmir) for a job. That's how I became his assistant for Kareeb (Bobby Deol, Neha), the film he was shooting for then. I learnt a lot from him.

Then I got married and went to Africa. That is where I wrote my first script. Ever since Kareeb, I toyed with the idea of making my own film. When we returned to India, I wanted to convert this script into a Bollywood film.

How did you think of writing the script yourself?

While I was in Africa, I was working with a company affiliated to the CNN. I was the station manager then, did some programmes and even penned several stories. I also did a lot of ad films. So I was comfortable when it came to scriptwriting. I took two years to write the script of Kyon! Ho Gaya Na Pyar.

How did you zero in on Vivek Oberoi?

Vivek Oberoi in Company I needed a good performer. I had once gone to meet [cinematographer] Anil Mehta on the sets of Saathiya. I noticed my school friend Vivek Oberoi there, he was a year junior to me.

I asked him what was he doing there. He said, 'Man, I'm the hero of this flick'. I was surprised. I had just returned to India; I didn't know Vivek Oberoi was a hero.

He said Ram Gopal Varma's Company was just round the corner. I could sense from his body language that he was a great performer. We then went to Goa together. There, I narrated the script of my film to him. He agreed. Vivek fits the role to a T. I wanted a naughty chap, full of surprises.

What about Aishwarya Rai?

I started collecting my crew. I roped in Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy (music), Javed Akhtar (lyrics), Sameer Chanda (art direction), Lucky Narula (creative style) and Sudeep Chatterjee (cinematography). Then, I decided to approach Aishwarya. I wanted the best.

A lead pair like this is always a distant dream for any new director. It was a long shot. I never thought it would materialise. Luckily, she gave me an appointment. She heard the script and agreed.

On the spot?

Yes! (laughs). That was a big, big achievement. I still can't forget that day.

And Amitabh Bachchan too...

He has not committed to working in the film yet. He has a lot of commitments and has not been able to give me dates. But I am keen to cast him.

Aishwarya Rai Where does Om Puri fit in?

He plays Vivek's father.

And Bachchan?

(smiles) He is an individual in his own right. He does not play anybody's father.

What is the film about?

It's a romantic comedy, a fun film.

When do you start shooting?

November 11, in Mumbai. It will be a long schedule. We want to complete 30 per cent of the film. Sometime later, we plan to shoot a schedule in Bastar in Chattisgarh and Coorg.

I don't think I need to go abroad. We have so many beautiful spots in our own country.

Are you nervous about jumping into filmmaking at a time when nothing is going right for any filmmaker?

Yes. But what can I do? I have to pursue a career at this point in my life. Nothing interests me beyond filmmaking.

Who is producing the film?

I am producing it. Since I'm new in the industry, I can't expect a queue of producers to back me. I plan to release the film August 15, 2003. Did you know Sholay was released August 15, 1975?


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