When did you leave India? And how many years did you
spend in the US?
At a stretch I spent nine years, before I came back to
make Hyderabad Blues.
I keep going back. The last couple of years it has been
four or five months there.
You have to maintain your Green Card?
No, I am a US citizen.
Did the kids enjoy the process? Did they prefer Shah
Rukh or Salman?
This guy Chhotu (the younger brother) loves Salman. He
likes Shah Rukh also, but he’s a bigger Salman fan.
Hetal’s loyalty is towards Shah Rukh. What you saw on
the screen was literally what was going on off screen. It
was actually shocking how much they become brother
and sister. He constantly bugged her through the shoot.
He would go on ‘Pari, Pari.’
Was he deliberately trying to irritate her?
No he’s just a kid, so he would constantly try to ask her
How old is he?
something or the other. Sometimes they were miked and I
was listening to them before the shot was ready. He would
say things like, ‘I told you your acting isn’t good and Sir is
angry at you.’ And she would say ‘Don’t lie.’ Random stuff.
He’s eight and she is 12.
How much did you make them walk in Rajasthan? Was
There were a few days when the temperature was 53ºC
(127.4ºF). We shot in July.
Why didn’t you shoot in December when it is a cooler?
I can’t wait once I decide I start my work.
So you got the money from Manish Mundra and…
I met Manish end of April 2014 and July 1 we were shooting. I was ready. I have never made a film faster. I was introduced to Manish by a journalist friend Sudhish Kamath…
Oh yes, Sudhish co-directed X, which Manish financed.
We met casually and I had another project in mind.
Manish came into films looking for me. But when he
couldn’t find me he funded Ankhon Dekhi.
We were having Chai. He agreed to my other project.
But on the way out I asked him if he was from Rajasthan
since his last name is Mundra. I told him about my sweet
little idea of a boy and girl walking across the desert. And
he said, ‘ Yeh karte hai’ (let’s do this).
The next day he invited me to see Ankhon Dekhi and it
was one of the impulsive things. He was
about to catch a flight. In less than 20
hours since I first met him I agreed to
work on the Rajasthan story that become
Manish is essentially a financier not a
producer right? You and Elahe Hiptoola
actual produce the film right?
Yes. But the good part is Manish gives
money with no strings attached. There is
the passion to promote good cinema and
not just to release it and recoup the
So, he had followed your work?
Yes, obviously he connected with Dor
since that was also set in Rajasthan.
Hyderabad Blues was released in 1997.
How many films have you made?
This is my 14th film.
How have you evolved as a filmmaker
and as a person? You have done some
strong films that have won awards and
done good business at the box office.
When I am asked this question, just
by the fact that I am alive is an
achievement. So far we haven’t found
a way to reverse time.
You will be alive because Nagesh Kukunoor was the first
to launch the indie film movement in India with
What I am happy about is that I haven’t still lost the
madness for telling a story. It hasn’t diluted one iota. I
still shoot films at a maniacal crazy pace. This was shot in
33 days with 47 locations across Rajasthan. Lakshmi was
shot in 22 days.
As a filmmaker, like everything else in life, you never
stop learning. Each film brings its own set of challenges.
But I never come to films with an agenda. I have also
come to a film with a story. When the story excites me I
go bonkers. The film could turn out to be crap, but the joy
of filmmaking for me is what drives me. The day my film
is done, when the first print is out, I am done.
Is there something you could have done differently? Or is
there a film you may not have wanted to make?
There is not a single film that I had not wanted to make,
because every film was initiated by me. Even the ones that
absolutely didn’t work were initiated by me. When film-
makers say this differently, I want to smack them. No one
puts a gun to your head. It takes a year and a half to make
a film. Shekhar (Kapur) has walked out of half a dozen
films because he knew he didn’t want to make them.
What I am saying is 100 percent that there is nothing I
Coming to a festival like Berlinale must be fun, with all
can change in any film, because when I was doing it, I
There is one film I could have shot better and that is
Hyderabad Blues 2. Other than that I have no regrets. I
can say I wish that person was a better actor, but when I
was auditioning and casting I went with my gut instinct,
which has served me well 80, 90 percent well.
these children responding so positively to your film.
Oh this is gorgeous.
Have you gone to similar kind of festivals with screenings
with kids before?
I have never been to any of the festivals. I am an idiot.
Even today, when the song started in the end
For me all of this is torturous. It’s only with Lakshmi
that I made the concerted effort to start attending festi-
vals and enjoying the moment. Otherwise I
would be on set right now, shooting the next
film. But this is a new feeling for me standing
in front of people after you have made a film
and they are clapping…
and the kids were clapping with it.
The same thing happened yesterday. They
clapped, then it stopped and then again picked
up. When we walked out we felt like rock stars.
It was beautiful. And my sound designer is
here, he was overwhelmed so he started crying.
What are you other plans, especially to
release Dhanak in India?
I am planning an Indian cut with three more
songs. Not lip synch songs, but in the background.
You don’t think those songs would have
They are fun uplifting songs. What happens
when you subtitle a film, you have to also subtitle the songs. It breaks the moment. You can do
the song for a short while, but a full song has to
be subtitled. I have kept the music and that
helps the emotions. But I have to do a completely different Indian music mix. It will be more in
your face. I started doing that with Lakshmi. n
From left composer Tapas Relia, filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor, head of the Berlinale Generation section Maryanne Redpath, and producer Elahé Hiptoola at the film festival after Dhanak won the Grand Prize for the Best Feature in the Generation KPlus section for children, and a Special Mention by a children’s jury.
Riding the rainbow
BOLLYWOOD M12 THE MAGAZINE
India Abroad February 27, 2015
Kukunoor in post-screening interactions with the audience at Berlinale. TWITTER.COM/NKUKUNOOR