After a long hiatus I am back with my Chai With Shai series and what better way to start it again with one of my favorite people from the industry. He is one of the most promising directors to hit the tinsel town and he has made one of the biggest hits with Akshay Kumar – Khiladi 786. And if I have to describe Ashish R Mohan in one word then I would say he is a ‘Dreamer’. Here is an excerpt from our interesting chat we had recently over the customary ‘Chai’ and cookies for a change (winks).
How did your affair with Bollywood begin (winks)?
Affair! Nice way to put it (laughs). Okay, so it all started when I was a kid. I come from a small town Shimla and had no connections in the Mumbai film industry. My grandmother did her Masters in Music and Hindi and my dad was also an artist – he use to paint. One of my first teachers in school was also a great musician and French national. I was his favourite student. In short, I had a lot of creative influences around me during my childhood.
(continues…) My dad used to take me for movies whenever there was a new release in theatre. I remember watching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Guide when I was a kid. All these influences made me grow up with an intent to join movies and pursue it passionately (smiles). My family was not too financially strong to support me when I decided to move to Mumbai. Moreover, I was too young according to my parents to live on my own. I was 18 when I left for Mumbai. My family did their best to support me. After two months of struggling for work and visiting few sets as a junior artist, I finally got to meet Mr. Anil Devgan, after I got rejected by one of the junior artist supplier for some small part as a background artist. Mr. Devgan was making Blackmail then. I met him few times and kept on pestering him to hire me as an assistant and one day he did hire me (smiles).
So persistence pays (smiles)
Yes, it did pay (laughs). After Blackmail got over I got a chance to join Mr. Rohit Shetty whom I knew since Zameen days. Rohit was very fond of me and knew I would never let him down. I worked with him for 7 years and finally got my first movie Khiladi 786. There’s a lot more in between which I would love to pen down as a biopic someday (laughs).
Please do hire me as your writer to pen your Biography (laughs)
Sure why not (joins laughing).
Khiladi 786 was one of the biggest hits of 2012. With a superstar like Akshay Kumar as the leading man and a big hit under your belt, these are dreams that most of the non-filmy debutants wish for. How did you manage that feat?
It was my writing team and Mr. Himesh Reshammiya who made it possible for me. I had approached many actors for another script which was a heist film based in the late sixties. But none of the actors I approached were ready to trust a newcomer. And when I met Mr. Reshammiya finally, he told me to come up with something that would be fit for a big star. I had no idea whom he was talking about and once we had the final dialogue draft ready, he made us meet Akshay sir.
Wow!!! Tell me all about the first meeting with Akshay?
You won’t believe it was one of the biggest high in my life to sit next to Akshay sir and narrate him my first script and imagine I was narrating him the script on his private plane (gushes). I was not too sure whether he would agree to work with me but he loved the script and had no insecurities working with a newcomer. He said ‘yes’ for the film at an altitude of 15000 feet in his plane flying back to Mumbai. He probably is one of the finest gentleman and the most secure star we have around (smiles).
Now this will definitely make an exciting chapter for your Biography (smiles).
I bet (smiles back).
Ashish, normally every director who works with Akshay Kumar repeats him for his next movie but you went for a Jackky Bhagnani to star in your second movie Welcome 2 Karachi. What is the story behind it?
I so wish I had a chance to direct him again after Khiladi 786. However, Welcome 2 Karachi script didn’t suit his image of an action superstar. I was making a movie with Mr. Irrfan Khan and if I would have taken few matured and professional decisions I would have ended up making a great film (frowns). I got carried away emotionally. But I don’t have any regrets as this experience taught me a lot more than what I learnt from the success of Khiladi 786.
You have seen super success with your first movie and disaster with your second, what has these two experiences taught you?
Rise and fall is just a state of mind.
Sounds very Zen like (laughs).
How was it working with Akshay Kumar?
I could not ask for more. I got to learn a lot from him. What makes him a huge star is his humble approach towards everyone on the sets and he creates a very positive atmosphere around him. I learnt a lot from him in terms of discipline and professionalism. I look up to him.
It was heard that the movie you scripted and planned (Welcome 2 Karachi), and the one that actually got made are as different as chalk and cheese. What is the truth behind this rumour?
That’s true but I would hold myself responsible for taking few wrong decisions and making wrong choices (frowns).
How did your family support your decision to become a director?
They always supported me with whatever I decided in life. All they wanted was to see me doing good for myself and people around me.
What are your future plans?
Currently I am working on a production from Costa Rica which is a Spanish language film with a lot of Bollywood influence. Simultaneously writing a script for a big star back in India.
Advice to your fans?
Keep watching movies in the theatre, say no to piracy. Enjoy every moment, live life entertained.
Okay Ashish, now is that part of my series where I would ask you few questions and expect you to reply in one word.
Okay… but be good to me…
What do you mean ‘Good to me’?
I have read your previous interactions and the questions… I am already squirming in my seat (laughs)
I never knew my fun questions can make people nervous (winks and laughs). Okay fine! As the Holiday season is just round the corner, I am going to be good with you… going with the mood of the season (winks)
Akshay Kumar or Jackky Bhagnani?
Got it (winks) Himesh Reshammiya or Vashu Bhagnani?
Himesh Reshammiya without any second thought.
Asin or Lauren the better actress?
The most underrated actor in Bollywood?
The most overrated actor in Bollywood?
Ouch! If given a chance which movie you want to remake other than Welcome 2 Karachi (winks)?
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron
The sexiest actress in Bollywood?
Romantic dinners or long drives?
Name one person whom you want to be marooned with in an isolated island?
Nice… you have answered every question so quick… so all the nervousness was just a facade huh? Let me ask you some really tough ones now…
No… Spare me (laughs) I think I have already ended up in trouble with few of the answers (laughs full throatedly)
(Joins in laughter) Okay Ashish, it was fun catching up with you and I wish you all the best for your future endeavours.
Thanks Shaiju… It was a pleasure…