Director Abhiraj Minawala is gearing up for the release of his debut film, LoveYatri produced by Salman Khan, which stars Aayush Sharma and Warina Hussain in lead. Abhiraj learnt the process of film-making having worked as an assistant director in films like Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Sultan to name a few. Being a Gujarati, the director has made a conscious effort to not stereotype the characters in his debut film and is confident that the audience who watch LoveYatri will leave the cinema hall with a smile.
In an exclusive interaction with KOIMOI, the director spoke about LoveYatri, Ali Abbas Zafar, Salman Khan and a lot more. Excerpts:
What was your first reaction when Salman Khan asked you to direct a film for his production house?
I was an assistant director on Sultan and by the time we finished shooting for the film, Salman Khan told me that he has something in mind for me. We met on the sets of Tiger Zinda Hai in Yash Raj to discuss LoveYatri. He asked me to hear the script. Getting an offer from Salman Khan or rather, Salman Khan keeping something in mind for such a long time is a big thing. The feeling was surreal because I am such a big Salman Khan fan and working with him in Sultan itself was such a great opportunity. It couldn’t get better than him being the producer of my debut film.
Did you ever ask Salman Khan as to what made him launch you as a director with LoveYatri?
From whatever I have heard from others, Salman Khan was very impressed by my work in Sultan. It was a very tough film for all of us to pull off given the time frame and the way scheduling was. He was very happy with the way I was managing stuff on the film sets and that’s what gave him the confidence of backing me.
Do you feel an additional pressure of launching two debutants?
For me it is a nice fun challenge that I have taken up because having new talent gives you the scope to mould them into a new character. Having said that, there is a lot of pressure because apart from my career, I am responsible for two new careers.
Was there a conscious attempt on your part to not stereotype the Gujarati’s in the film?
There have been lot of films where people have gone ahead and shown Gujarati’s in a very caricaturist way wherein they are shown talking about food or suddenly start doing Garba. As Gujarati, we do love food but we don’t talk like the way it is shown in the film and this is the reason why I made an attempt to stay away from all the clichés. If you see Band Baaja Baaraat and Bareily Ki Barfi, they represented that section of India in a different way and changed the perception about North.
Do you think it is safer to make a debut with a romantic comedy as compared to other genres?
Every film is a tough film. Handling emotions is as difficult as setting up an action sequences. You need to make sure that people connect to the emotions. I think we purely went ahead with LoveYatri because we connected with the script instantly. I don’t want to be restricted to one genre as I believe in entertainment. I can entertain the audience with a romantic comedy or an action comedy or just a comedy. For me, it is not a genre, it is the film as a whole.
What kind of cinema have you grown up watching?
I have grown up watching Manmohan Desai and Yash Chopra films and those are the kind of films that I would love to make. The movies I loved watching are Amar Akhbar Anthony, Deewaar, Kaala Pathar, Maine Pyaar Kiya, DDLJ and these exactly the kind of films I would love to make. When people went to watch Manmohan Desai film in theatre, they would just forget about the outside world and that is what films are meant to be for me.
It is every directors dream to direct Salman Khan. Hypothetically, what is one genre that you would love to direct Salman Khan in?
Of course, it is a dream to direct Salman Khan. I would personally love to make a superhero film with Salman Khan. I don’t know how would you react to this answer, but I think he is a superhero.
What is that one thing you learnt from Ali Abbas Zafar?
One thing I learned from Ali Abbas Zafar is that he has the entire film running in his mind. He is someone who is able to edit the film on the spot depending on the situation at that point of time, or rather he is a master at it. This is something I have picked up from him.
How easy/difficult has been your journey from Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year to LoveYatri?
I was an intern with Nagesh Kukunoor on two films following which I joined Yash Raj Films. The first film I did for YRF was Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year. I would say, it has been a beautiful journey and I have been working to direct a film for more than 10 years. Yash Raj is my film school as I learnt everything about film-making over there. All the directors I worked under have been like my teacher. This has been an important journey and all the films taught me something new.
How much do Box-Office numbers matter to you?
We want to make sure that we have made a good film, and we are confident that we achieved that with LoveYatri. Talking about numbers, they do matter to me because the producer has shown a lot of faith by putting in money and I hope that the movie performs beyond everyone’s expectations. Realistically, it is very tough to say – Yes, the music has done well but end of the day it is a film with new comers. I am confident about one thing is that the people who come to watch the film will leave the cinema hall with a smile. I don’t know how many people will come in, but whoever comes in will get entertained. I think, the word of mouth will definitely help the film.
What next after LoveYatri?
I have discussed a couple of ideas with Salman Khan for his production house, but there is nothing concrete about the same. It is only after LoveYatri that we shall have a clear idea.