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'Aashiqui had women's emancipation at its core'
Like your other early works, Aashiqui too was autobiographical. How did it occur to you to make a film on your romance with Lorraine Bright or Kiran, who is now your wife?
Like Arth, Janam or Zakhm, Aashiqui was sourced from one's life-burns. Because Aashiqui is a love story with nine songs, people haven't noticed that at the heart of it is an autobiographical component - my first love story, with Pooja's (Bhatt) mother, Kiran. Her name was Lorraine Bright. She was a beautiful Anglo-Indian girl who I used to see across the fence in a fortress called the Bombay Scottish Orphanage School near Shivaji Park. I used to stay by the beach. One day while taking a stroll I saw her divine face. We just gazed at each other. Later, I would scale the wall to meet her during recess and supper. Our neighbourhood tailor from a shop called Supreme would take my letters to Lorraine. Mushtaq Khan played the tailor in the film. Then, the character of Pallu played by Deepak (Tijori) was based on my dear friend Pallu Hathiwali. There was also a demonic, Scottish warden who protected Lorraine from the evil gaze of wanderers like me. (Laughs) Of course, the warden was exaggerated and demonised further by Tom Alter. The scene where Rahul (Roy) burns Anu's (Agarwal) name on his hand to prove his love for her - all that happened. Lorraine was eventually thrown out of the school. I put her up at the YWCA in Bombay Central and got her trained as a stenographer. But she was lucky enough to get modelling offers while I joined Raj Khosla on Mera Gaon Mera Desh. Lorraine's beauty and the fact that she would be more successful than me made me insecure. I felt I would lose her and that was the first time I discovered the desire to solemnise that relationship.
You gave the hero Rahul Roy roughly your background. For instance, he has a troubled relationship with his father.
The father's presence is almost nonexistent there. That single parent home is the reality of my life where the mother is a solitary figure and a symbol of wisdom and practical worldly sense.
The film makes a point about female autonomy. Anu is portrayed as a careeroriented woman. In fact, when Rahul's mother meets Anu for the first time, she urges her not to quit her job.
Because she is a working mother, abandoned by a man. There is the scene in which she asks her son to take away all her husband's remaining stuff - even the mangalsutra - because she wants to end this endless game of waiting. The next morning, she tells him not to talk about his father anymore. Similarly, when her son gets involved with a woman, that woman, too, has the integrity and dignity to say, "Look, now that I am out of the orphanage, I don't want to latch on to you and say, 'Marry me'. " And he doesn't become her crutch either - he gives her legs to stand on independently. In the end, there is also a point about a man's ego when the mother tells him, "You could do whatever you wanted for her. But if she did it once for you, you f*** ing couldn't deal with it. " It is rather sad that the so-called purists did not see that at the heart of a very commercial film was a narrative of female emancipation.
Aashiqui's soundtrack went on to define the 1990s. Was there a special focus on music?
The emotional quotient of Aashiqui is articulated by its music. I had seen The Young Ones and Summer Holiday (both starring singer Cliff Richard) at an impressionable age. But Aashiqui's music was born in the true sense when I met Gulshan Kumar. One day at a shooting, I was distracted by a radiant, baby-like smile in the crowd. He turned out to be a pleasant and chubby man who said, 'You are Mahesh? I am a worshipper of Lord Shiva. A voice in my heart tells me that if you make a musical with eight, nine songs I can take the music to every Indian home. ' The man was Gulshan Kumar and the way he did it only he could do it. Give me a thousand MBA graduates and give me one street-smart Gulshan Kumar. He telecast the songs repeatedly on Doordarshan. When the Pakistani cricket team came to India, they were humming Aashiqui songs in the dressing room. Clearly, Nadeem-Shravan (music directors) were the men of the match.
Can you talk about Avtar Gill's character, the good-hearted cop? He seems like an angelic figure straight out of a Frank Capra scenario.
(Laughs) We all have in our lives experienced magic. I was hauled up by the cops for loitering around Lorraine's hostel and taken to the police station. This cop, when he heard my story, said to his colleague, 'Zau dya, zau dya, hee love story aahe' (Let him go, it's a love story). After that incident, the cops didn't bother me. They realised I wasn't a thug but a boy from a good family.
How long it did it take to shoot?
It took 45 days. We shot in Bombay - in Bandra, at Centaur Hotel in Juhu Andheri Sports Complex, on rooftops and in Wilson College - because we wanted a Bombay Scottish-like school. We also filmed in Ooty to give the story a break.
If you were to make Aashiqui again, what is the one thing you would change about it?
I won't change anything but I would have more scenes like the one where Rahul is sitting on the street with lit candles, declaring his love for the girl. I would bring more magic into it - and certainly, more madness.
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