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|April 10, 2001||
If producer Vijay Galani had harboured any doubts about the saleability of his new film, Ajnabee, he must be relieved now.
Galani's past record hasn't exactly been awe-inspiring -- he has given two duds (the Salman Khan starrer Suryavanshi and the Govinda-Manisha Koirala starrer Achanak). Right now, though, he is enjoying a positive distributor response for his Ajnabee.
"The overseas rights have already been sold," says the beaming producer, now reassured that his combination of director duo Abbas Mustan, Akshay Kumar and Bobby Deol has worked. He adds, "As far as domestic circuits are concerned, we closed most of them soon after we signed Kareena Kapoor."
Now busy wrapping up the shooting of the film, Galani intends to release Ajnabee some time in June this year.
One last song remains to be shot. And we find ourselves at Kamal Amrohi Studios, Bombay. It is being picturised on Akshay Kumar and Bipasha Basu under choreographer Ganesh.
Step into the sets and you can almost smell the sea. The set designed by R Varman is a replica of one of many restaurants aboard the cruiseliner Ocean Majesty, in which some parts of the film has been shot. Galani reveals, "Actually, we wanted to shoot this song aboard the Ocean Majesty as well, but we couldn't get the permission. So we asked R Varman to recreate the ship. The restaurant is just one part of it."
The stage has a glass floor with water flowing under it. Foot-tapping strains of the song, Mehbooba mehbooba, rendered by the current pop sensation, Adnan Sami, and Sunidhi Chauhan, boom across the sets.
Ganesh Acharya, all charged up as usual, shows takes Akshay and Bipasha (and 50 other dancers) through their paces. While the actress takes some time getting her steps right, Akshay is raring to go with his movements.
Ajnabee has been shot entirely on foreign locations -- Mauritius, Singapore and Switzerland -- with the climax having been shot on Ocean Majesty. The four lead characters -- Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Kareena Kapoor and Bipasha Basu -- are all NRIs in the film.
The unit, of course, is tight-lipped about the story. When asked, director Abbas quips, "Ajnabee ko ajnabee hi rehne do, (Let a stranger remain a stranger)!"
Akshay is more forthcoming: "Ajnabee is an out-and-out suspense thriller." He elaborates that the message in the film is, "Never love a stranger; never talk to a stranger and never follow a stranger." He reposes a lot of faith in the film which, according to him, has "a lot of thrills and edge-of-the-seat action".
He is quite optimistic about his films on hand. He plays the lead in Dharmesh Darshan's Haan... Maine Pyaar Kiya, Suneel Darshan's Ek Rishtaa -- The Bond Of Love and Vipul Shah's All The Best, which are all at different stages of production at present.
As for working with the Big B, Akshay smiles, "It was a great pleasure working with him. In the beginning, I would rehearse my lines twice more than I usually did, so that I performed perfectly in front of him.
"I was nervous because I was in such awe of him. I knew that competing with him is a near-impossible task. Later, of course, I realised that the key to working with Amitabh Bachchan is to just be yourself. Once I figured that out, everything was cool."
Bipasha is obviously excited about Ajnabee. The well-known model makes her acting debut with this film. Bipasha is also working in Vikram Bhatt's Raaz, Priyadarshan's next, yet untitled, film; Raman Kumar's next film and a few films down South.
Talking about her role in Ajnabee, she gushes, "I play a confident and ambitious girl in the film -- a character quite close to how I am in real life. I play one of the leads. What more can I ask for in my first film?"
Vijay Galani was extremely careful in picking the right subject before finalising Ajnabee. He says, "I heard out several subjects before zeroing in on story ideas by four different scriptwriters -- Neeraj Vora, Shyam Duggal, Sanjeev Duggal and Robin Bhatt."
A case of too many cooks spoiling the broth? Pat comes the reply, "I don't agree at all. In fact, the coming together of four brilliant ideas is what Ajnabee is all about. Abbas Mustan and I never had any difficulty in listening to four storylines. We had a separate sitting with each writer before working as a team to interweave the stories into one tight script."
While the screenplay was being readied, Galani signed the lead pairs -- Akshay-Bipasha and Bobby-Kareena. Galani recounts the experience: "The moment we began discussing the cast, we knew Akshay was the perfect choice to play one of the lead roles. If you remember, Abbas Mustan had given Akshay his first hit in Khiladi. The duo had also given a hit with Bobby Deol in Soldier.
So we thought, why not combine Khiladi and Soldier this time?! The idea appealed to everyone and we signed Bobby.
"Then we wanted a sweet, innocent and beautiful girl opposite Bobby. Kareena Kapoor, who had only Refugee to her credit at the time, seemed a good choice. In fact, she has put in a spirited performance in Ajnabee.
"Finally, we took Bipasha, who plays a tall, dusky and seductive heroine opposite Akshay."
Vijay Galani has also signed Bobby Deol for his next two ventures, to be directed by Mahesh Manjrekar and Priyadarshan. The latter costars Anil Kapoor.
Good music has always been the hallmark of Abbas Mustan's films, be it Baazigar, Soldier or the recent Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. Abbas reveals the key to their success, "The script is always a highlight in our film apart from music, which always hits the jackpot.
"After we finalise the script, we try to insert songs depending on the situation, only if it demands it. The music of Ajnabee, too, is situational."
He concludes, "No matter what, the Adnan-Sunidhi number along with the title track will be one of the best heard songs of 2001."
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