Denying reports of differences with Tanushree Dutta, the leading lady in his directorial debut "Chocolate", Vivek Agnihotri says they are "absolutely ridiculous".
"It's absolutely ridiculous. Tanushree is like a young member of my family. I have given her the first break. My wife Pallavi has groomed her. I feel very protective towards Tanushree," Agnihotri told.
Tanushree, a former Miss India, took up "Aashiq Banaya Aapne" despite Agnihotri suggesting her not to sign any film before the release of his film. Significantly, "Aasiq Banaya Aapne" was completed and released even before "Chocolate".
"She has a mind-blowing role in 'Chocolate'. Any newcomer would kill for it. Arshad Warsi kept saying throughout the shooting that he would undergo a sex-change operation if he could have Tanushree's role," he said.
However, Agnihotri said "Aashiq Banaya Aapne" might cause harm to Tanushree. "By doing 'Aashiq Banaya Aapne', she has spoilt things a bit - not for me but for herself. Both Sushma Reddy and Tanushree had been constantly seeking my advice. Then suddenly Tanushree has done this."
"I come from the ad world. I understand imaging. I think 'Aashiq Banaya...' has given her the kind of image that she would find hard to erase. I suggested her to wait until the release of 'Chocolate' before signing other films. I wanted to position her as a top-league heroine."
As "Ashiq Banaya Aapne" hit the theatres even before "Chocolate", does Agnihotri think the film was rush-released to beat his film?
"My conscience doesn't allow me to say anything about this. But yes, I would never ever do anything like this. That's my value system speaking. What I will say is, my film's executive producer Asif was the co-producer of that film. That can't be a co-incidence," he said.
Agnihotri seems pretty kicked by "Chocolate". "Nothing like this has been seen before. It defines a genre. Someone had to bring this genre to India. I am glad I have done it. Believe me, it will skyrocket after the second week. There is an inherent brilliance to 'Chocolate'. That can't go unnoticed."
Agnihotri took years to do his first feature film. "I was quite happy doing my ads and television serials. My background in advertising helped me get into television where I devised, designed and did 'Saturday Suspense' on Zee. I guess that's where I got my training in doing suspense thrillers."
Agnihotri, who made a telefilm called "Chocolate" some years ago with Kumar Gaurav, Nikki Aneja in the lead, says his new film is different from that.
"Yes, the seeds for my film were in that telefilm. But it has been completely turned around. 'Chocolate' is a hundred percent pure thriller. Basically I have always been heavily influenced by Kurosawa's 'Roshomon'. Mine is a multi-layered thriller with a multiplicity of perceptions."
"Chocolate" has a strange ensemble cast. "It was a challenging task to work with such a range of actors. I mean two actors can't get any more different than Irfaan Khan and Emraan Hashmi. All my actors from Anil Kapoor to Arshad Warsi come from very different schools."
He went on to add, "The whole film's concept, format and cinematography allowed me to be totally liberated from the requirements of mainstream cinema. If I had been 24, I might have played it safe. But at my age, I feel the need to be creatively free. I am no longer hungry for bread and butter and fame."
"I picked the most difficult genre - suspense - for my first feature film and also selected a theme that is inspired by the most complex thrillers like 'The Usual Suspects'. The audience can get confused by the plot. But the whole idea is to take them away from the comfort of the familiar. There is one kind of cinema like 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham', which evokes basic emotions. My film challenges the audiences' intellect."
Dismissing competition with "James", Agnihotri claimed, his film is not like any other thriller. "No no no...Our quality is on a par with any international film. 2005 is the year of Good Cinema. Everyone knew Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Black' was going to be appreciated. But to this extent! After 'Chocolate', making thrillers would become easier in Bollywood."
So, is the thriller Agnihotri stick to thrill for his next ventures? "Not necessarily. My next film is going to en emotional biopic about five characters and their journey through the Indian socio-economic scenario during the last 30 years. I have already finalised Vivek Oberoi and Anil Kapoor for my second film.
"I don't want to do thrillers all my life. My first film was a thriller because being from advertising, it was what was expected from me. Now I am doing what comes completely naturally to me."