20 years ago, Bollywood mainstream films rarely used to consist of risqué content. However, Ajnabee, starring Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Kareena Kapoor and Bipasha Basu, proved to be an exception. This Abbas-Mustan suspense thriller touched on the topic wife-swapping, a concept that many were not even aware of. Yet, the gamble paid off. The film was a commercial success and what many are not aware of is that at that point, it was the biggest opener in the history of Hindi cinema!
As Ajnabee completes 20 years, producer Vijay Galani exclusively spoke to Bollywood Hungama about how the film was conceptualized, the casting, its box office run, the ‘Everything is planned’ dialogue and a lot more.
Could you tell how the film was conceptualized and how the casting was locked?
Neeraj Vora narrated the subject to me. It was inspired by an English film (Consenting Adults; 1992). I liked it and I immediately called Abbas-Mustan. I was already planning a film with them. Even they liked the subject and they said that we should develop it further. Woh bound script ka zamana nahi tha. And this was a time when Abbas-Mustan were busy with the mixing of their film Soldier (1998). They told me that “Aap Bobby Deol ko sign kar lo” and I agreed. Then Akshay Kumar also came on board.
We had decided that we’ll go for new actresses. This is because established heroines ki zarurat nahi thi film mein. The shoot of Kareena Kapoor’s debut film Refugee (2000) was going on at that time. We had not even seen her work and neither had the audience. Ajnabee was the second film that she signed. Finally, we got Bipasha Basu on board; this was her first film.
In a Bollywood Hungama exclusive interview last year, Bobby Deol revealed that he was initially offered Akshay Kumar’s part…
Yes, Bobby was offered Akshay’s part initially. Discussion mein woh baat aayi thi. Later, Abbas-Mustan decided to give the negative part to Akshay. Both Akshay and Bobby agreed.
The film had as many as 4 writers. Why was that?
Neeraj Vora gave the story idea to us. While working on the script, he said that he needs more writers. I was good friends with Robin Bhatt and I got him involved in the writing. He was working with Sanjeev Duggal then and so Sanjeev also became a part of the writing team. Finally, Shyam Goel was signed to write the dialogues
Ajnabee was extensively shot in Switzerland. How was the experience of the film there and in other countries?
Our first outdoor schedule was in Switzerland and it went on for 40 days. This was one of the rare films which were shot in as many as 7 countries. Additionally, the climax was set on a cruise. Total 8 actors shot in Switzerland. Apart from the 4 main actors, Johny Lever, Narendra Bedi, Amita Nangia and Sheela Sharma also flew to Switzerland. I also told all 4 writers to accompany me to Switzerland for the first schedule. This is because the shooting date was approaching and Abbas-Mustan felt that writers ka thoda sa kaam abhi bhi baaki hai. Actually, climax ko leke thodi clarity nahi aa rahi thi ki kaise karna hai aur kya karna hai. So a debate was going on among us.
Even Saroj Khan was with us for 40 days. We told her “Aap hamare saath 40 days wahan rahoge. Aur jab bhi humein gaana shoot karna hoga, aap choreograph karoge”. Normally, the dance director travels to an outdoor location for 4-5 days, when the songs are being filmed. However, we asked her to stay throughout the schedule. So we were all together aur hum ne haste-khelte schedule complete kiya.
How many days did the shooting go on?
The shooting lasted for 150 days. It was a very expensive film but I knew the result would be good. Also, mujhe shauk bhi tha. I wanted to make a big film. Before Ajnabee, I had only made 2 films – Suryavanshi (1992), starring Salman Khan and Achanak (1998), starring Govinda. Ajnabee was an interesting experience and I had a lot of fun.
Artists also used to co-operate a lot. There was not a lot of pressure of dates. Dates manage ho jaati thi. Unlike present times, the shoot used to spread out and would not be done in a start-to-finish schedule.
Ajnabee had a very bold subject for that time. Did that make you apprehensive?
Yes, we did discuss and wondered if we are choosing a very risky subject. But Abbas-Mustan and I wanted to do something new and shocking. Also, the film is not entirely on wife-swapping. It serves as the base and it’s due to the wife-swapping element that the story moves forward. Also, in the end, we showed that wife-swapping never actually happened. Nevertheless, it was shocking and ahead of its time. Some actors refused to do the film. I won’t name them but they told me “Yeh kaisi picture bana rahe ho tum? Mat banao.”
Did Akshay Kumar have any qualms about the wife-swapping topic?
Not at all. He even won his first Filmfare Award, for Best Villain, for Ajnabee. We even showed the wife swapping bit in the trailer. Akshay Kumar jo karta hai, ussi se film ko value mili, film ko appreciation mila, film ka business hua aur ussi se film hit hui.”
The music was the film’s strong USP. ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ is popular even today. It was Adnan Sami’s first Hindi film song. How did he come on board?
It was Anu Malik who suggested his name. Abbas-Mustan and I felt a bit odd about this suggestion. But Anu insisted that we should get him to sing the song and then told us to take a call. We all loved Adnan’s rendition. I immediately went to meet Akshay. He was shooting at Filmistan. Tab cassette ka zamana tha. So I transferred the song on a cassette and played it for Akshay in his car. He got excited and told me ‘Zabardast gaana hai’!
We had sold the rights of the music to Tips. They were happy with the sales.
There were reports that Kareena Kapoor and Bipasha Basu fought the sets. Was that true?
Vikram Phadnis was the dress designer. We had taken him as well to Switzerland. He was working on the costumes of both Kareena and Bipasha. Ab jab ek hi dress designer ho aur woh dono artists ke kapde pe kaam kar raha ho, toh thodi dekha-dekhi ho jaati hai. It was nothing major but the media made it breaking news. However, it didn’t affect our shoot. Bas kapdo ko leke choti moti baatein hoti thi. Isliye naarazgi hoti thi. But main aur Abbas-Mustan manage kar lete the. Also, unka aapas mein koi (argument) ho jaata tha but hamare saamne mostly nahi aati thi yeh baatein.”
Ajnabee had a comic track, featuring Johny Lever and others and it added to the fun. This was a popular trend then and it has died down totally in today’s times…
The pattern has changed. Nowadays, viewers went very few songs and don’t want a separate comic track. People are not so patient anymore. They are watching content from all over the world on OTT and world cinema films don’t usually have songs. So it’s difficult to make a film that is more than 2 ½ hours and has a comic track. Haan, comedy film ho toh alag baat hai.
Many are not aware that Ajnabee was a record opener. It collected Rs. 1.65 crore on Day 1, and thereby broke the record of highest opening day that was earlier held by Mission Kashmir (2000) that had collected Rs. 1.64 crore on Day 1. It was also the second record opener for Kareena Kapoor after Refugee. By the time 2001 ended, Kareena had 3 record openers in her kitty as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) opened at a huge Rs. 2.38 crore…
Yes, the opening was huge as it was a two-hero film. And Rahul Nanda had designed the promotional material very well. The poster featured a blue background with the four actors posing in sleeveless clothes. It helped in generating hype. The trailer also intrigued viewers. The music had also worked. So the opening was very, very big. Its overall business was also great.
The film was shot on a huge scale and mounted very well. Action directors (Kaushal-Moses) were from India but we also hired one from abroad. This was unlike the trend in those days.
While the audiences loved the film, I believe the critics weren’t happy with the film…
Critics wanted a standard, formula film. Ajnabee was hatke and bold. So maybe the critics would not have appreciated it. But I remember that no critic panned the film. Unke liye bhi film shocking rahi hogi.
The ‘Everything Is Planned’ scene is a subject of a lot of memes, especially how the password is displayed without an asterisk and with space between the three words.
Yeah I know and I guess that’s fine. It was a new thing then – putting your password on a computer and accessing your account. People then didn’t know you can transfer money through the internet. We used to frequently travel abroad and hence, we knew about it.
Did you remember that Ajnabee was completing 20 years?
Yes. In fact, I even remember every single day of the shoot. It was a lot of fun. Bobby aur Akshay ke saath hum log cards khelte the. There was no stress. We were all like one big family working together. So I can recollect the shooting locations, who all were present, the clothes we had got.
It is said that Akshay Kumar is a big prankster. Did he play any pranks on Ajnabee’s sets?
Oh yes, he did. Woh aaj bhi waise hi hai. Unke pranks toh aaj bhi chalte rehte hai!
Are there any plans of making a sequel of Ajnabee?
Not really. I have spoken to Abbas-Mustan but they are not keen. They have told me that whenever they go for a social gathering, a lot of people tell them that Ajnabee 2 should be made. But to get the correct subject is difficult and equally difficult is to make a two-hero film. Also, Abbas-Mustan doesn’t believe in sequels. They have made so many hit films but except for Race 2 (2013), they have never ventured into this territory.
More Pages: Ajnabee Box Office Collection , Ajnabee Movie Review
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