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July 3, 2000


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'Abhishek has the presence... Kareena knows herself as a performer'

Refugee His much awaited film, Refugee, has been released to a mixed response. Besides being the next venture by the maker of the hugely-successful Border, it was also a launch pad for the two new starkids, Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor. And JP Dutta, the film-maker, couldn't have been very easy with the pressure -- knowing that all eyeballs were turned towards him to see if he could appropriately present the Bachchan kid and deliver another hit. Now that the hype has died down, the bearded director sat with Lata Khubchandani to review his latest baby.

You had two newcomers in the film but these were not the usual kind of newcomers -- in fact, they are bigger celebrities than already established actors. What made you cast them?

We had been working on a film for Abhishek which was to be produced by ABCL earlier. When that didn't happen and I walked up to them to cast Abhishek, they already knew my body of work. The Bachchans, too, were not looking at the usual masala film to launch their son. That's why there was a mutual respect when we decided to work together.

I needed faces which were without the shadow of any other image they had built up earlier. I did not have a reference point for this subject, so I needed totally new faces. The story did not come from a book or magazine or anything -- it was a story that emanated from that village I saw way back in the seventies when I was making my first film.

J P Dutta I went back to the border, spoke to the people there, heard about their lives before the 1965, 1971 wars. That interaction excited me and this film was born.

Your locales have always been intriguing and out-of-the-ordinary. Yes, I wanted to capture the majesty of the Rann of Kutch and I chose this location because that's where the story is based. I've always believed that a film should be visually beautiful. I've grown up on such films --those of David Lean and other masters. The location of Refugee is where the film belongs.

I always feel that if, in my lifetime, I can cover one per cent of the beauty of this country, I'll be a happy man. I can't understand why people feel the need to go abroad to shoot. The Rann -- this white sheet of salt -- is so beautiful; you can't get your eyes off it. Kilometres and kilometres of nothingness... You can't move your eyes away, there's something so majestic about it. It reminds you of the Creator. It's awesome. You want to go back to it. And the story belongs there because it deals with people who cross over from there. And it's an overnight journey across the border from the Rann.

When you cast these two new kids, did you think they'd require a lot of training?

Not really. They both come from film families and, since I myself come from a film background, I know one becomes part of the industry by just being a kid from the industry. Both these kids were well-broken into the film industry and its ways. I remember, when I started shooting way back in 1977 for my first film, on the first day itself I felt that I'd been here for years. There was no big deal about it.

J P Dutta with Abhishek and Kareena at the Refugee premiere Did you realise you would be watched so closely because Abhishek was being launched?

(Laughs) When we started shooting, there wasn't much hype. And then, we were away from Bombay, so we didn't hear anything. But when we returned, people really woke up to the fact that Abhishek was being launched. I was lying low, but then I normally do so. I think it's because of Hrithik, because he's become so big, that people wanted someone to compare him with.

And did he come up to your expectations?

Absolutely, there's no question about it. The boy's a natural. He has sincerity, he has maturity, he has the presence.

Doesn't he have too well-fed a look to portray this role convincingly?

No, he can look hungry when required. He can look lean. He doesn't have a style to talk of at the moment, he has no mannerisms, nothing. He's just like the boy next door... he's so natural. He's intense and can look very endearing -- the way he speaks, the way he smiles -- you feel like holding him in your arms and saying, 'God bless you!' All big stars seem to share this quality. You want to protect them. They have this vulnerable look. Right now, he is very endearing.

Does he have a chip on his shoulder about being the Bachchan kid?

J P Dutta, Jaya and Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor at the Refugee music launch No, not at all. I think it's something to do with his upbringing. Maa-baap ke sanskar acche hain and that shows. That's the bottomline. The boy is absolutely level-headed. Knows how to respect his seniors.

Kareena, on the other hand, is her own person. She has a mind of her own and shows it. Like Abhishek would be very careful about what he does and speaks because that would reflect upon his parents, but Kareena had no such inhibitions. She doesn't care; she does things the way she feels.

I appreciate them both for what they are. Kareena is a person who knows herself as a performer and as a person. Off the camera, you'd feel she couldn't make it. But once the camera was on, she's transformed into somebody else.

How much did you have to monitor them?

Not too much.

Why have they been so careful about speaking to the press?

See, it's frustrating for them to be asked grilling questions before you've seen their work. What can they say? That's why they've been playing hide-and-seek.

Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor at the music launch of Refugee I believe it was very difficult to shoot in the Rann, where you had to travel hundreds of miles each day?

There was no alternative. So we had to spend those couple of hours each day, lugging everything from the hotel. We used to do the 100 kilometres each day.

What made you take a new cinematographer for such a big film?

Bashir was doing Zooni with Muzzafar Ali and I had seen his work. I was impressed. I did ask him to do Border. But that didn't work out so, we decided to work together another time. Border needed specifics and I needed someone I knew really closely so that we didn't have to get to know each other during the course of the film. So I took Ishwar Bidri. This time, Bidri was committed elsewhere and had no dates for me. So I called Bashir Ali.

What inspires you to make the kind of films you do?

I, very consciously, gave up reading fiction, novels, etc at an early age. Now I read the papers and watch television but don't bring in any other input on my mind. That's because I'd decided, very early in life, that I wanted to be a film-maker and I was very sure I didn't want any influence on my mind other than my own. So whatever films I've made are on subjects that've touched me. The stories are all my own.

Your father has been in films too.

Abhishek, J P Dutta and Kareena at the Refugee music launch Yes, though he wasn't very successful. I learnt everything from him. He's an MA in English literature and he's a fine writer. He writes the dialogues of all my films and you can see a dignity in the language he writes, which, unfortunately, is absent today. My grandfather was a Shastri in Sanskrit and he taught in the Arya Samaj, so it is a very illustrious family. To me, even at that age, the whole idea of speaking to so many people at one time and making them listen to you was very fascinating.

Related features
A boy called Abhishek
The Kareena Kapoor interview
The Bashir Ali interview
The Ashish Vidyarthi 5 Questions
The Sunil Shetty 5 Questions
The Refugee music review

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