‘Jawan is my love letter to Shah Rukh Khan’

‘A director should be gifted with the right couple to show a love scene.’
‘I was very lucky to have Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone in the love scene.’
‘Just placing them in a frame together, it was something else.’

Known for helming Raja Rani (2013), Theri (2016), Mersal (2017), Bigil (2019), and now Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan, Atlee is one of the most talked about film-makers in the country.

After establishing himself as a star film-maker in Tamil cinema, his unique taste for engrossing storytelling, well-rounded characters and incredible spectacles has been unearthed for a pan-India audience in his current blockbuster Jawan.

And Atlee cannot stop thanking Shah Rukh Khan for believing in him and giving him an opportunity to present him in a never-seen-before avatar.

“He was my backbone. He is the man behind Jawan, for sure,” Atlee says as Rediff.com Contributor Mohnish Singh listens in.

How do you react to this tsunami of love that Jawan has been receiving from the audience?

I want to say in one word what Jawan is to me.

The day I met Shah Rukh Khan and we aligned to a decision that we were going to come to together for a film, I took a white sheet.

When we were in our teenage, we used to write love letters.

Jawan is my love letter to Shah Rukh Khan.

How did you create that love scene between SRK and Deepika that everyone is talking about?

A director should be gifted with the right couple to show (a love scene). You don’t have to write a good scene; you just have to show them together.

I was very lucky to have both Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone in the love scene.

Just placing them in a frame together, it was something else.

There was a love scene that I did not know where I would keep it.

I went to Shah Rukh Khan and I said, ‘Sir, you have to lie down on the bed and she has to speak.’

I would say in Tamil and he would convert it into Hindi and then call Sumeet Arora (dialogue writer).

That day, Sumeet was not available, so only we made the scene.

Then we went to Deepika and I said, ‘Ma’am, one more dress change in a bed.’

She said, ‘Okay.’

We did not know where to keep that scene, so we used it towards the climax.

‘Now you will have a good sleep, Rathore. Love you baby, love you baby.’ That’s all we made.

When you see them together, you get an aura. It’s a difficult thing (to explain).

One thing that really stands out in your films is the way you are able to strike a balance between commercial success and critical acclaim.

See, basically I am a fan (of cinema).

I am not a writer.

I am not a director at heart.

I am a fan.

Whatever attracts me, I feel ‘wow’. Then I also want to create that ‘wow’ for the world and show it as cinema.

I don’t have a formula. Whatever feels right, I make it.

Whatever I love, whatever I have learnt in life, whatever I see, I use it.

For an instance, I take things from my wife, my mother, my sister, my fellow beings…

I replicate that in the form of writing in cinema.

So that is my secret.

I think it is working because I go with the basics.

When we read about Jawan and its ensemble cast, we knew that this was going to be a success. But at what point during making the film, did you realise you had a blockbuster in your hands?

God is so kind to me.

I have done only five films and all of them are, by God’s blessings, blockbusters.

The day I met Shah Rukh Khan, I knew I could give something good. But I was a little worried because he is mass of mass.

So even Vijay (Thalapathy) sir and I had a conversation at that point of time.

He asked me, ‘What are you going to do?’

I said, ‘I don’t know, but I am going to give my life to that film.’

So the day when (Shah Rukh) sir said ‘yes’, I knew it would be a blockbuster.

But where can I take it? I have to take this film to a certain extent.

Sir said one thing to me the day when we met.

He messaged me, saying, ‘Sir, I am doing this film and the reason is that the entire world should know what kind of director you are. I know the film will work. The film will be a blockbuster. I want you to succeed the most.’

I don’t know why he said that to me. It became, not a pressure, but a big love to me.

I felt I had to do something great.

Fortunately, he was my producer too.

Gaurav Khanna (CEO, Red Chillies Entertainment) and me had a private talk but I want to reveal it here.

He told me, ‘Sir, your vision is here. Mr Khan’s vision is here. But the problem is you both think very big, but I am in the middle, I am getting stuck. So I have to make (this film) within this, within that.’

But he never stopped me. When I asked for Sethu (Vijay Sethupathi) anna, he said ‘okay’. When I asked for Deepika ma’am, he said ‘okay’.

One more surprise I’d like to reveal. I narrated this film on a Zoom call.

During COVID times, theatrical footfalls were down and people were not ready to greenlight even a Rs 30 crore-Rs 40 crore (Rs 300 million-Rs 400 million) film.

But sir greenlighted a Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) film. And we didn’t finish at Rs 300 crore, we went for more (laughs).

To answer your question, I think we made a blockbuster in three days. Now we are just flying!

How did you want to portray him on the big screen?

The first thing I felt is that we should show him in a manner the audience had not seen before.

I think, from school (days), we used to go to the salon and ask for ‘Shah Rukh Khan cut’.

So the first thing I wanted to do was make Shah Rukh Khan bald.

‘Sir, in 30 years, no one has seen you as bald, so can we do that?’ I asked him.

We had a discussion and the idea came from him only.

‘Sir, should I go bald?’ he said.

I could have easily confused him, saying, ‘No, sir!’

But I said, ‘Yes’.

I am always good at writing father roles. Basically, I love my father very much.

So I narrated the entire script and sir said, ‘I love Azad, Sir’.

I said, ‘You going to be be wrong. The entire world is going to love Vikram Rathore.’

That time, as a joke, he said, ‘Sir, I am class, you are mass. Let’s see who’s going to love whom.’

Finally, after seeing the edit, he said, ‘Sir, everyone is saying Vikram Rathore. I am wrong.’

But he knows the craft more than anybody in the world because he believes in the director.

Why he is so big, you know? He doesn’t see age. He treats everyone equally.

When I did Vikram Rathore’s first shot, with the smoke coming out of the cigar, I felt a new Shah Rukh Khan sir.

Whatever he did for Vikram Rathore is purely for me. I genuinely think, in the 30 years of Shah Rukh Khan’s films — and I love all his films — my biggest love was towards Vikram Rathore.

Also, he loves other actors too. He was very particular with Vijay Sethupathi sir’s role.

‘The villain should be very strong. Do something, sir. Increase his (screen time),’ he called me up specifically to say this.

For Deepika ma’am, for Nayanthara ma’am, for every particular actor, he used to run to the mixing studio.

He would say, ‘Sir, can I see that scene alone to know how it has been done it? Has that come out really well?’

He was my backbone. He is the man behind Jawan, for sure.

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