Happy with response, don’t make films with box office in mind: Rajkumar Hirani on ‘Dunki’ | Bollywood

‘Dunki’, helmed by Shah Rukh Khan, is based on the illegal migration of people who travel through the dangerous ‘donkey road’ in search of a better life.

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The much-talked about film comes after Shahrukh’s blockbusters ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Jawan’, both high-octane action thrillers that intersect 1,000 crore each at the box office. Dunki, which also stars Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal and Boman Irani, is a gentler film and made 300 crore – a success but not on par with the other two films.

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“Of course, commercial success matters to me, but I try not to focus on it at all, because the moment you start focusing on it, you start to color the kind of film you want to make…” Hirani told PTI in a Zoom interview.

His last film was Sanju in 2018.

“It takes me three or four years to make a film. This time it took me five years to make history. It should be like… let me make this movie, whatever the fate of the movie. Sometimes you’ll get a universal audience, sometimes you’ll have an audience with smaller pockets. India is a huge country and there will be all kinds of audiences who like all kinds of films,” Hirani said.

The 61-year-old is known for his unique brand of cinema that focuses on human stories with a touch of comedy and commercialism. His earlier films include the super hits ‘Munnabhai’ and ‘3 Idiots’ as well as ‘PK’ and ‘Sanju’.

Hirani said that he was not afraid at all while making ‘Dunki’.

“This is an Indian story that no one in Hindi cinema thinks about. I am happy with the response. Sometimes it will be massive, sometimes it will be different. It is a successful movie and people like it and people like it .. I don’t think one should worry about box office numbers. If the attention is there, then it’s a big trap.”

What scares him, he said, is the audience’s expectation.

“I’m afraid… people are expecting this ‘jo pehle banaya tha wohi humko dekna hai’ (We want something similar to what we saw earlier). With every film, I always jump genres and try to do something different – – from ‘Munnabhai’ to ‘3 Idiots’ to ‘PK’, ‘Sanju’ and this,” he added.

As a storyteller, Hirani said his goal is to look for unique themes and that is the most difficult task.

“It’s been 100 years of cinema and now people are exposed to world cinema and watch all kinds of movies, so it’s always hard to find a subject that’s not covered.”

“Dunki” refers to rural homes in Punjab whose roofs have concrete slabs.

“At first I saw an airplane on top of a house and I thought, ‘why are they doing these airplanes on top of the house?’ Then I discovered that it’s a kind of status symbol for people whose children are abroad, then I dove into it.” he said.

Home is an emotion for Nagpur-based Hirani, and he said he can understand the urge to relocate for better job opportunities.

“Dunki” for him is also a homecoming story.

“Most of these people leave their homes eventually to return, no one leaves a home thinking they are going to settle there permanently.” They’ll say, “We’ll go there, make money and come back and retire in our own country,” but most don’t. So for me, home is a great emotion and this was more inspiring,” said the director.

During his research for Dunki, Hirani discovered that there are many English language classes in Punjab where students learn the language to fulfill their dream of getting a visa.

It’s an interesting world, the director said, adding that he met many people who followed the path of the donkey and even attended English classes in disguise.

“During COVID-19, I went to Punjab and sat in all these English classes. I would put on a mask and go over there and visit him and say, “I want to do a trial class.” I went to these villages and many of them are empty because there are only old people living there and no young people. I met a lot of people there, families, children and I saw those planes on top of the houses,” he added.

Working with Shah Rukh Khan, who was his first choice for his 2003 directorial debut Munna Bhai MBBS and 2009 hit 3 Idiots, was a long-cherished dream.

More than him, his mother was happy to finally collaborate with the superstar.

“After my last film Sanju, we started seeing each other more often. During COVID-19, when he didn’t have much work, he asked me, “What are you working on?” I said, “I have these two or three ideas.” I told him all the ideas and he was fascinated by this one and said if this one pans out let’s do it.

“So it happened organically. All I can say is that it was an absolute joy to work with him. As Abhijat (Joshi, writer) describes Shah Rukh, he says, “This man is pure love.” I had the very fortunate experience of working with him not only as an actor but also as a human being.

According to Hirani, playing Hardy, who does not speak English, was a challenge for Shahrukh.

“This role comes naturally to other actors like Taapsee (Pannu) is a sardarni, most of the other actors are Punjabi, they lived in Punjab like Balli (Anil Grover), Buggu (Vikram Kochhar), Vicky (Kaushal). Shah Rukh was the only actor who is a city person and has (played) city roles (before) and he was like, ‘How would you make the world believe that I can’t speak English in the film?’

“For him, it’s the most challenging thing and I’ve seen him go that extra mile and work very hard. My phone is full of videos he sent me of him rehearsing every day before the shoot. He left no stone unturned,” Hirani said.

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