If you had to rewind 15 years back and reminisce how Rock On!! was conceptualised…
I had made a movie before Rock On!!, and it had not done well. But I put in a lot of years of struggle into that movie, it was called ‘Aryan: Unbreakable’ and I had one of my best friends in that movie, Sohail Khan. And just, for so many reasons, that movie could not do well. But when it was released, I was so happy and exhilarated that I actually got a chance to put a movie in the theatre. Back in the day in 2005 and 2006, it was a big deal to write a film, produce, direct it, and then eventually release it. It was equally difficult so ‘Aryan’ was an achievement. At least I thought it was an achievement back then. And I remember very distinctly that I was by the poolside. And I had this new iPod with access to so many bands, Dave Matthews, U2. And I was listening to all of that music and that’s when the idea for the story hit me then. Like why not have music like this, we don’t have to have English lyrics. We could do it in Hindi also and tell the story about the band
How did you bring Farhan Akhtar on board for this project?
Actually when I was making this film, I had another producer. But when I told him that I wanted to make the film as authentic as possible, like, the music is very important for this movie. And the music that the band makes has to sound like the band’s music. For that, the actor should sing his own songs. And I think they thought I was a little out of my mind to think of that kind of stuff, because back then, it was just unthinkable. And so that was kind of falling apart. But for some reason, I was listening to a lot of Dave Matthews band and Coldplay, there’s a quality texture to Chris Martin’s voice, there’s a huskiness to it. And I’ve known Farhan since we were kids, and I remember his voice very distinctly. I don’t know why and what I thought, but I just felt that he would just be able to carry it off. So there was a chance meeting that I had with him at a bar, and I went to him and I spoke to him about it. And I said, why don’t you come and just kind of record your voice with me, and I’ll share the script with you. So he read the script and he loved it. When we went to the studio, as luck would have it, all the songs that I had as references, he knew all the songs and he also knew how to play guitar. So I think over the years, he had learned to do all of that. And it was just like fate bringing this story and the two of us together to make this film.
With Rock On!! you brought together an exceptional cast. Did you always have Farhan, Arjun, Luke and Kunal in mind?
It was not an easy film to cast, because when you want to make a film about four friends, you want all the friends to look like friends, not like one hero and baki sab pappus. And it is very difficult to convince actors today that they don’t have to feel threatened by the other actor. So it’s very rare that you’ll find a bunch of good actors, established actors who will come in there and do it. So initially I did face some problem casting the actors I thought I should take. In fact, Arjun was not on top of my mind because the kind of character he plays, Joe, is a down and out kind of guy and you have to feel sorry for him. When I see Arjun Rampal, it’s tough to feel sorry for his good looks, I mean, he’s so smashing looking that it’s such a risk to cast him in that part. But he read the script and he just loved it. And I was so impressed by him as an actor. I think Arjun is one of the finest actors that we have in this country today. I think he’s far underutilised than what his real potential is. He’s a very, very good actor. He’s got a great voice, and a fabulous personality. And then Purab and Luke, Shahana, Prachi, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and then Javed Saab, I got together a great team. So those days that we spent in the recording studio are so memorable and I think all of us who were there in that room will remember it till we’re around.
Would you name the actors you offered Rock On!! to before the final cast was decided?
It would just not be right to mention now because so much has happened. There are some actors. But it is nothing new, actors are always considered, there are so many possibilities. If you don’t get one actor, it’s not like the movie’s not going to be made. I’m most excited about telling stories and I will do anything to get my story across.
How does it feel to have launched a talented actor like Farhan Akhtar? As a filmmaker himself, how was it work with him?
Farhan is from the film industry, he knows the business really well. And I just feel very lucky that I have got to work with so many new actors and people have trusted me with their money and their careers. Over the years, I have worked with many new actors, but back then with Farhan, he was a confident man. He is a filmmaker and was very professional. At that time, their production house had not worked with another director other than Farhan, so it was his set but he never interfered and he never gave the impression to the crew that they should look at him because my level of experience was also from one film. And there was a lot of respect, I respected him as an actor from day one. You know, just because he’s doing his first film, it doesn’t mean you don’t respect someone. There’s so much more to him than just acting, right? When you’re making a movie, emotions run quite rampant because we’re dealing in emotions all the time. So you’ll notice when people are sometimes less logical and more emotional, you know? But with Farhan, he just comes back to that point, he was that great. He was so professional, he was too good. And so was everyone, every single member of that film.
If you had to pick one memory from the movie that has stayed with you till now, what would that be?
I have so many memories, but one of them would be of taking Farhan to the studio and getting him to do an audition. And him coming in with the guitar and singing those songs. I have a video of it somewhere, but I don’t know where it is. But I’m going to find it.
The climax of Rock On!! was very emotionally charged.. were emotions running high on the sets too?
When you write a film, at least when I do, I write the story, but then I need to know what my end is. I wanted to say in the end that Joe would leave everything because there is no other way for him to survive. He will die if he doesn’t play music, if he’s not on stage performing because that’s what he’s meant to do. And it was great because, you know, Farhan had sung the songs, these guys had rehearsed on all their instruments, Purab had rehearsed on the drums, Luke Kenney is a musician, Arjun had also learned to play the guitar, so they had rehearsed so well that when we were filming it, we had like five or seven cameras rolling. We choreographed it a little bit, but they were like one full blown takes. There were no cuts in the middle. So it was a real rock concert that we created and a real rock concert that we shot.
If you had to remake this movie in present day, would you? And who would you cast?
Let me give it a thought. Thank you for putting that thought in my head, I’’m going to think about it.
Lastly, Rock On!! won a lot of critical acclaim and was a box office hit too. How important are the financial metrics for you?
It’s very, very important. Box office is like the final answer, because box office success means that so many people paid money to come and see your film. So that means a lot.