It’s been a dispiriting year for Hindi commercial cinema this year. Although Uunchai (2022) defied expectations to become a hit, there have been few blockbusters and even fewer have had an extended run in the theatre. This week, Uunchai will face off against the much-anticipated Drishyam 2, helmed by Ajay Devgn and Akshaye Khanna (along with glimpses of Tabu). While Drishyam was directed by Nishikant Kamat, his passing in 2020 sees long-time producer Abhishek Pathak taking on the directorial role. Pathak’s directorial debut, Ujda Chaman (2019), was the official remake of the Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe and received a tepid reception at the box office. However, the director is confident of this remake. Here are edited excerpts from his interview:
Drishyam 2 has been seeing a lot of advance bookings and there’s much buzz around it. How are you feeling?
I’m very excited right now. That’s what all of us in the industry look forward to, right? Advance bookings and the audience being excited to come to the theatres finally. It’s a really good sign for the industry, I think. We need these kinds of films where people want to come to the theater and watch them. Our film and some of the following films look good, so I think it’s a good time for Bollywood.
As the director of Drishyam 2, you are filling in the extremely competent shoes of Nishikant Kamat (director of Drishyam) and even Jeethu Joseph (director of the Malayalam original). Did your role come with a lot of pressure?
It’s not easy for us to say yes to a film which has already set a benchmark. A cult following has already been created for the first part. Jeethu Joseph sir has written a beautiful film, made a beautiful film. Nishi sir did a great job with the first part. So, part 2 is obviously a big responsibility, I would say. … It’s a tough one, but it’s something that I believe in and I love the genre – I love the whole world of the film. I think I’ve done a pretty good job. When people watch it, they will talk about it.
You’ve adapted the screenplay with Aamil Keeyan Khan, who is also a relatively new writer. What was it like for the two of you to work together on the screenplay?
To make Drishyam in Hindi, we needed to really cater to the Hindi-speaking audience. We made sure we get the nuance of the Hindi belt, what people like, and the milieu of it. The kind of energy required to cater to our Hindi-belt audience. So I think Aamil and me spent a lot of time – I think six to 10 months – on the writing process of the film. That’s something that we’re happy about, that we got that kind of time to spend on the Hindi version. And I think that’s very important too. When you do a remake, I think giving time for its rewriting is a very important part of the film. Otherwise, it becomes almost similar to what people have already experienced and there is nothing new to offer them. We want to bring the tone of the Malayalam version, but at the same time give a different experience to the audience who have watched the original.
Can we anticipate a lot of changes in the screenplay?
There are changes. There are a lot of new sequences and new scenes that are not there in the original one. And also we got a new character, a fictional character, which is there in the original one, but it’s a really different take in our film. The whole investigation here is treated differently by this character. We also got Gaitonde back. The main crux of the film is similar, but there’s a change in treatment; there’s a sequence we’ve changed and made it a little different from what they’ve done in the Malayalam version.
Akshaye Khanna’s character seems to have a meatier role than the one in the original. Is that true?
Yes, it is. People are going to love that role and performance. They’re going to get really inspired that a whole new character has been created, and the way he’s done it is fabulous.
You took on the role of the director because of Mr. Kamat’s passing, but also because you got a lot of encouragement from people around you. Do you think that you’ll take up directing more often now?
Yeah, absolutely. I was writing something else at that point, but it was taking me a while to start. And when we got the rights [for Drishyam 2], there was the question of who will direct the film. More than acquiring the rights or acquiring a producer, this was more important, as Nishi sir is not here with us, unfortunately. So dad (producer Kumar Mangat) asked me, “Why don’t you think about it?” And I said I can, but it’s not an easy task to say yes to a film which is, first of all, a cult film and has been created by someone else. And then you have to take it ahead and make sure that the whole franchise value just goes up and doesn't decrease by even one percent. It was a big challenge for me to take up the film. But I decided to make it differently and my own. So that was the whole idea.
Your first feature film as a director, Ujda Chaman, was also a remake. Do you feel like there’s a certain safety in playing with a set world as compared to something original?
It depends. In fact, I think making remakes is more difficult than making originals, because there is no reference point [for the original]. When you make an original film there is no reference point to compare it to. But when you make a remake of a superhit film, there’s always [that]. And to go beyond that [benchmark] is something which is more challenging and difficult I think. Because people have already loved it, there’s a lot of fan following for the brand, and then when it comes out, people start comparing. If you do not pass the test of making it differently, then it becomes a little fight to fight for, it’s quite defensive. So I think it’s both ways. Originals are also sometimes very difficult to make, and remakes become more challenging because one has to create that world differently.
You’ve been a producer for a long time. Is there a difference in how you would pick a film as a producer versus a director?
I think everything depends on the content eventually. Being a producer and a director, what convinces me to make the film is more important. If I’m going to [want to] watch the film in theatres, then obviously I will either be producing or directing it. I don't pick films which I myself will not want to watch in theatres. The idea itself should sound convincing to me in two minutes, if it doesn't convince me in two minutes I don't pick up any film. That’s how I choose films. The audience also chooses this way. They watch a trailer, they decide if they want to watch it or not. After that, eventually, you have to write a great screenplay to get them to come beyond Sunday.
Ujda Chaman was a few years ago. Did you see an evolution in yourself as a director?
I think you evolve with every film. You learn from your last one. I think Drishyam 2 is by far the best one I’ve done. I’ll move to the next one and say, “I could have done a little better than what was done”. So every film I’m going to evolve, everything we do, we learn from the past film regardless of whether it’s a good film, a bad film, we always learn from it. So I think it’s just going to keep on evolving, it’s going to keep changing the way we look at things, the way we make them. If we get stuck on one thing it’s not going to work.
And what did you learn from Ujda Chaman that you brought to Drishyam 2?
I mean it’s a different genre altogether. [In Ujda Chaman], there was a lot more humour, which was more important in the film. Here, the focus was more on treatment. [You need to] really make people restless when they watch the film. So, the writing was brilliant. We wanted to take it a notch up. That’s something we really spent a lot of time on. Even though we had a [story] bible, which is the Malayalam Drishyam 2, we wanted to take it to a next level. So I think I’ve learnt that writing is something that you have to spend a lot of time on. That’s the thing which you should never rush. That’s what I believe, and that’s what I think is the learning I have from whatever work I’ve done in my life.