Interview Hindi

Anees Bazmee: I didn’t offer Welcome to Akshay Kumar, he offered me the film


As the comedy completes 10 years (21 December), co-writer and director Anees Bazmee shares his Welcome journey in an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com.

Mayur Lookhar

In the winter of December 2007, writer-director Anees Bazmee sent out an invitation to a grand wedding on celluloid. This would be no ordinary wedding, for the bride-to-be hailed from a family of gangsters. Set in a gangster’s paradise, Bazmee’s Welcome was a rare comedy coming from Hindi cinema. 

The audience welcomed Welcome with open arms. The film enabled Akshay Kumar to move away from his action hero tag and even gave Katrina Kaif her third hit that year. Welcome competed with the fancied Taare Zameen Par (2007), directed by Aamir Khan, and emerged as the first choice of cinegoers during the Christmas week.

The film showed the funny side of a gangster family, often perceived as cold-blooded murderers. Brothers Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) are unable to find a suitable, non-criminal groom for sister Sanjana (Kaif). Before going into the theatre, one must have had apprehensions about watching such a 'family drama'. However, most audiences came out laughing, amused by the witty characters and the situational, slapstick humour.

Welcome completes 10 years today (21 December). Speaking exclusively to Cinestaan.com, Bazmee spoke of how Akshay Kumar’s desire to work with him led to the birth of Welcome, how he convinced an unrelenting Feroz Khan to play Ranvir Dhanraj Xaka (RDX), and more. Excerpts:

Anees Bazmee

A hallmark of a good comedy is not just its box-office numbers, but its recall value. Even today, Welcome is one of the more popular films on TV.  I guess therein lies its success. How proud do you feel?

There are very few films that have recall value. There are films which you enjoy from wherever you switch into it. You never get bored seeing it. There are hardly a few such films. I would like to believe that Welcome and No Entry (2005) are such films. Till date, I receive calls from friends, family, and fans across the world who sing praises of the film. It feels as if your film has only been released a few days back. Once I got a call from a fan who said that five of my films, Welcome, No Entry, Singh Is Kinng (2008), Deewana Mastana (1997) and Raja Babu (1994), were being shown on television. I had written Deewana Mastana and Raja Babu and directed the other three. Naturally, you feel nice about it.

Welcome completes 10 years on 21 December. Are there any plans for a celebration?

Unfortunately, there are [no plans]. We may greet each other on social media though.

Every film has its story. What was the story behind the concept of Welcome? How did the story develop from the initial idea?

The story was born from the simple thought of a feared don, whose sister is not getting married because her brother is a don. It’s a tragedy, but if you look at it from a different point of view, then it is a comedy. It’s a problem for the don, but it’s humour for other people.

When we first got to making the film, the idea was to have just a don, a hero and a heroine. Gradually, we created more ideas, more characters were added. Anil Kapoor, Feroz Khan came on board later.

Akshay Kumar had four comedies in 2007. Before that he had done few comic roles and was largely a romantic-action hero.  Namastey London (2007), Heyy Babyy (2007), and Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007) had not yet been released when Akshay Kumar shot for Welcome. What convinced you that he could pull off Welcome?

A still from Welcome

It was Akshay’s call to do this film actually. I didn’t offer Welcome to him, he offered it to me. He called me one day asking for a meeting. He said he really liked my film Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (1998) and wanted us to work together. He got producer Firoz Nadiadwala on board. We had no story then, but we had our hero. 

I have always felt that Akshay is a complete star. He can do action, comedy, emotion. I didn’t even have 1% doubt that he will be able to do it.

Katrina Kaif had a tough beginning. Were there any apprehensions in casting her?

The film has many characters. We needed all those people who would be able to give us their dates. Katrina hadn’t done too many films then, but she was a beautiful-looking girl.

As one who came from London and with no background in acting, she did struggle with Hindi. Was that ever a consideration?

No, that wasn’t. She fit the role perfectly. We were quite confident that we will be able to get the job done from her. I thought she did a fine job. There was also Mallika Sherawat, who did a fine job too.

While Akshay Kumar was good, perhaps it was the supporting cast, with the characters of Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Feroz Khan, and Paresh Rawal, who injected humour into the plot. Can you share how you cast these characters?

Nana Patekar, Anil Kapoor and Feroz Khan in Welcome

Anil Kapoor was picked because he had worked with me before in No Entry. So I had to take him. As for Nana Patekar, I always thought he could do any role. He is a great actor. He didn’t sound upbeat at the prospect of doing a comedy.  But he really liked the script and his character. Earlier children were scared of him (for his angry bursts on screen). After [Welcome], he said, "Now kids want to play in my lap. This is a miracle." Paresh Rawal, too, was a natural choice.

However, I had to convince Feroz Khan. I was always a huge fan of him. I thought if there is anyone who could play the big boss to Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor, it was Feroz Khan saheb. However, he didn’t want to do the film. I reckon he was not in great health then.

I had forged a friendship with the Khans after I made No Entry with his son Fardeen. One day, he called me at 2am, saying he liked Fardeen’s work in No Entry, and expressed a desire to meet me. I was adamant that he do the film. I went to his house 10-15 times, and every time he politely refused.

I believe he didn’t want to leave us stranded if his health went down. Every day, he offered different excuses for turning down the film. But I always told him that he is the man for the job. One day, he said, "This role goes against my image." I told him, "Sir, I am your biggest fan. This film only adds to your image."

He finally agreed to join, but two days before we were supposed to leave for Dubai, he refused. My unit had left for Dubai. I told him that I will call everyone back if he didn’t agree. He then asked how many days it will take. He finally had a change of heart and landed in Dubai. He had shot his portion in Mumbai too. I don’t think I had written any great character, but his presence was required to create the desired impact. I cannot take the credit for the role, it was the brilliant acting of Feroz Khan that did the trick.

It’s hard to recollect a Hindi comedy film that largely revolves around a gangster family. Indian audiences usually don’t warm up to gangster paradises. What, according to you, clicked for Welcome?

It’s not difficult to make films on normal gangster characters, but when you make a comedy from it, then that is a difficult task. While the real gangsters always evoke fear and terror, I always thought there is a humour to them too. Had I made a normal gangster drama, it would have worked for a few and not appeased some.

Welcome, though, was an altogether different piece of art. It all boils down to how you shape your characters, how you create the humorous sequences. You need to present an abnormal character in an abnormal way. I believe Welcome and No Entry were both well-written films.

Were you pleasantly surprised that Welcome was accepted as a family entertainer?

Look, we had always projected this as a comedy film. A filmmaker gains a reputation after making 4-5 films. Despite the gangster setting, people were aware that this is going to be a family film, there won’t be innuendo or cheap dialogues. So, I was not surprised by its success.

Years later, it may sound vague, but we had planned this success. While writing itself, I knew this will be a big hit, one that will remembered for years to come. The belief only got stronger when we shot it. The first edit came out well, and I laughed and wanted to watch it over and over again. So, I knew people will watch this film.

The film competed with Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par and fared better than it. Before the release, were you worried about competing with Aamir Khan?

No, that was a totally different film, a different genre. Ours was an out-and-out comedy and a commercial film. Besides, we always have more than one release during the festive season. There was never really any competition.

Mallika Sherawat and Nana Patekar in a scene from Welcome

Can you share some fond memories?

Phew! There are so many, but the one that will always remain special is the climax scene where 25-30 actors are locked inside a house that’s rocking (at the edge of a cliff).

Earlier, I thought we would have a set and use camera tricks. We thought we would place watermelons under the property and pull it with ropes, but that would have looked artificial. Then we decided to build a set that is based on hydraulics [risers]. It moved 45° each to the left and right. It was placed at Film City, Mumbai. The objects in the house kept moving left to right and vice-versa. The actors were left with a headache. [After the shoot] Paresh Rawal complained that he felt his body was moving [even while] he was sleeping at night. It was a memorable experience for all.

The second film, Welcome Back (2015), perhaps didn’t have the same magic as the first film. Was there unreasonable expectation from it?

No, I wouldn’t see it that way. Sometimes, you are hurt by the environment around you. Welcome Back took 3-4 years to make. It gets difficult for a writer-director to keep that interest alive for that long a period.

Welcome Back did make money, but if you talk about recall value, then Welcome Back perhaps lags behind Welcome. That is not to suggest that Welcome Back didn’t have a few recall-value scenes. There are various things that needs to fall in place for a film to succeed. The second film was made under a lot of duress. We also couldn’t get the special effects done as per the desired standards.