20 years ago, on August 11, 2000, the memorable film Dhadkan released in cinemas. And the rest is history. The film is popular today because of its performances of Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, Shilpa Shetty and Mahima Chaudhry, direction and of course the memorable music by Nadeem-Shravan. But it was not a runaway success from Day 1. The songs of the film, which we are listening to even after 2 decades, hadn’t worked initially! Slowly and gradually, both the film and the music picked up and how! This and a lot more is revealed by its director Dharmesh Darshan in an exclusive interview to Bollywood Hungama. He also reveals some unknown, exciting trivia about the movie which shouldn’t be missed at any cost!
Talking about the casting, I believe Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty and Shilpa Shetty were not the original choices. Is that correct?
Well, they were my original choices. I had two huge successes in the form of Raja Hindustani and Lootere behind me. Raja Hindustani is still the fifth biggest Hindi film of all time. So every major actor wanted to be a part of my next project, which was Dhadkan. However, I have always taken chances. I had in my mind Akshay Kumar ji. I felt he had this awesome and wholesome quality which fit well for the character of Ram. The character was a dream man and quite idealistic. At that time, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan were considered romantic heroes. I had already worked with Aamir in a similar space in Raja Hindustani. Actors go through ups and down but Akshay ji was at an all-time low then. All his films had failed, around 13-14 of them. Honestly, I had no idea about all this and I learnt it from the market when I expressed my desire to cast him. So my decision was opposed. But since I had just delivered a gigantic blockbuster, the market could not veto my decision. It was risky as he was not related to me nor was he my protégé. He was not even a newcomer and had worked for ten years already by then.
Then there was Dev, who was a cult character; a kind of an obsessive lover which was successfully played well by actors like Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan etc. Now that Akshay Kumar was on board and considering the character, I had two actors in my mind – Ajay Devgn and Suniel Shetty. Ajay, again, is a much underrated actor. I didn’t want any obvious casting that was available to me. Most directors, after directing a blockbuster like Raja Hindustani, would play safe and would cast even bigger stars. But I didn’t want to do that. Looking back, I realize that it was a daring move on my part and it could have destroyed my career. I convinced my producer Mr Ratan Jain and he met Ajay Devgn’s secretary, Kumar Mangat. However, we were told that Ajay would commit only a certain number of days. However, that didn’t work for me as I was already taking chances. I didn’t know how many retakes they might have to do. So there couldn’t be any compromise in the film.
The next choice I had in my mind was Suniel Shetty. Now Akshay ji and Suniel had a major problem, probably after working in Mohra (1994). Nevertheless, I was fixated with Suniel Shetty. I saw him as Dev. In between, I also decided to sign Shilpa Shetty. Even she was at an all-time career low. Like Akshay, she had also worked for many years. Her first film Baazigar was released in 1993. She was slated to be a top heroine but something, somewhere went wrong. And for heroines, it is even trickier as they might not have a long career. She was a beautiful girl and a terrific dancer, though I didn’t make her dance in Dhadkan at all! Mr Ratan Jain, incidentally, had given her a break in Baazigar. Thankfully, he was also keen that we cast her as she was his protégé. Both Akshay and Shilpa, however, had already done five films before but those movies were in a different zone altogether.
So this is how the casting was decided. There were a lot of pressures but I fought for it and stuck to my choices. The image of an ideal Indian hero portrayed by Akshay is still working even today which is a daring move on my part to change, especially since he had the ‘Khiladi’ image. It also proved that he is a very good actor. The success of Dhadkan also took him to a very big market that was emerging in the new millennium. Dhadkan didn’t just release pan-India, it also was screened in places like Canada, London, Dubai, USA etc. Meanwhile, Suniel Shetty went on to win his first ever Filmfare Award and it was perhaps his only Filmfare win.
Suniel Shetty, while accepting the Filmfare Award, said that the victory is special for him as he has been called ‘wooden’ by critics…
Yeah, he was humble enough to say that. I used to give both of them himmat and told them, “Look, nobody is wooden.” A few years back, it so happened that Dhadkan 2 was offered to me but I was not able to do it. At that point, Suniel was asked to comment and he said, “Dhadkan 2 cannot be made without Dharmesh Darshan. It can be made without Akshay Kumar or me but not Dharmesh!” Even in the case of Shilpa, any TV show that she is a part of, Dhadkan is always talked about and the song 'Tum Dil Ki' is sung or performed on. Talking of Mahima, my father Darshan Sabharwal had launched Mumtaz ji and cast her opposite Dara Singh. In an interview to Filmfare, Mumtaz ji said that she loved Mahima’s performance in Dhadkan and it reminded her of her much appreciated part in Yash Chopra’s Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969).
Mahima Chaudhry told us in an exclusive interview that she was initially not interested to do the film but changed her mind when she saw the rushes…
Actually, Mahima was very keen to do the film. But Shilpa Shetty was the female lead and hence she requested me to see the rushes. It was an extended special appearance for her but a very solid one. But once she saw the rushes, she came on board. And I wanted her to see the rushes so that there’s no confusion about her part. I then asked her why she wanted to do the film. I wanted to know if she’s singing Dhadkan because I was at the peak then. She gave a very beautiful reply, “I need a film for shelf life. It’s a film I’d like to show my children and grandchildren”!
Dhadkan also had a significant cameo of Sharmila Tagore ji…
Sharmila Tagore had worked in a memorable film with my father, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966). It came out just before I was born and 35 years later, I worked with her. And she did this two-scene role just for me. I have never seen her do something like that. Later, I met her in London and she told me how proud she’s to be a part of Dhadkan.
Another cameo that stood out was that of Kader Khan…
Yes, I did 'Dulhe Ka Sehra' with Kader Khan, which is probably Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s biggest Bollywood song. Nusrat saab was supposed to act but he didn’t have time. And Kader bhai was also a friend of my father. He did it for me. Again, he was known for villainous and comic roles. And I used him as a qawwali singer performing not in some religious place but in an upmarket marriage!
Mahima Chaudhry in an exclusive interview revealed to us that as per the original ending, Suniel Shetty’s character Dev was to die. What made you change the climax?
The original ending was beautiful. Dev was supposed to have an emotional stroke and pass away. He comes to terms with the reality and then he dies. So the last scene had Anjali asking, “What happened?” And Ram is holding Dev’s hand and says, “Iski Dhadkan ruk gayi!” It was a beautiful line. However, I was not happy with it as the truth of life is to live on and move on. Akshay ji told me, “Dharmesh ji, this is such a beautiful end. Why are you changing?” Shilpa cried on knowing my plans. But I stuck to my ground and I convinced them. I was of the belief that let’s give hope to the new generation. Let’s show a lover who doesn’t get crucified.
Why did it take so long to be made? I believe the film went on floors in 1997…
Yes, it took three long years. Post Raja Hindustani in 1997, Aamir Khan asked me to make Mela (2000). I am very selective as a filmmaker but during Raja Hindustani, he had co-operated so much that I couldn’t say no. Aamir wanted a film urgently for his brother Faisal as the latter’s career had gone haywire. Now Mela was a huge, demanding film with so many characters. In other words, it was not my type of a film. It was a letdown for me but it went to become a hit in the heartlands, contrary to the perception. On satellite too, it is doing very well. As for Dhadkan, I had shot that film in between. It’s not like I didn’t shoot. But I had to be in the correct frame of mind to shoot Dhadkan. So I committed to Mela. In between, I also told Dhadkan makers, “If you feel like it, you can throw me out.” Then one day, Akshay came to my house at 1 AM. He said, “Dharmesh ji, I need you at this point. Don’t do this.” The next morning, I told Aamir and Ratan Jain that I am resuming Dhadkan.
August 11 is also the birthday of Suniel Shetty…
I know that. And my father’s birthday was on August 8. That was a sacred date for me. But as August 8 was a Tuesday, we brought Dhadkan on Friday, August 11.
Dhadkan was, I believe, also a rare film to be shot in Italy and Germany at that point…
Do you know that the first version of the song 'Dil Ne Yeh Kaha Hai', which comes in the first half, is shot over six countries! I shot it in Delhi, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy etc. I used to take the actors in the bus everywhere. And at the end of the song, you see a field which is like the ‘sarso ka khet’. Many, including Shekhar Kapur, had asked me where this place was. That field is actually in France. I found it in my recce. I remember taking my actors there. The bus doesn’t go till there and they were wondering where the hell I was taking them! Imagine, that song was ten minutes long that too in the year 2000! Please also understand that the image of these actors was not in sync with the song, unlike the image of say Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan. So, I had to change that image, too, after these actors had worked in many, many films over a period of 8 to 10 years. That was dangerous.
My personal favourite is the other version of 'Dil Ne Yeh Kaha Hai' where Dev imagines Ram and Anjali romancing and feeling hopeless. To see something like this 20 years ago was path-breaking…
That was the last song of the shoot. First I finished the set part – the part where Dev imagines Ram and Anjali together in the mansion. It was very novel to attempt something like this. Even my choreographer was wondering what exactly I was doing! Dev, in this song, kind of becomes schizophrenic. He’s not actually schizophrenic or he’s not unwell in any way. He’s just a passionate person. I was not in favour of showing me as a dangerous, mad guy who goes and terrorizes people.
So after shooting the part in the set, we went abroad for 4 days. I took all 3 of them. The scene where Dev has worn a trench coat and he’s at a height, observing Ram and Anjali, you know, it was minus 30 degrees at that time! I was down with fever. I still went ahead and shot for the song. Lastly, the part where the peppy music is played when Dev spots Ram and Anjali in the train, that music was actually a song we used to sing in my school, Bombay Scottish! The name of the song is 'The Gospel Train' and is originally a hymn from the Bible. So, I adapted it and used it in the song!
How was your experience releasing the film and the music?
The whole experience was frightening! It came in August 2000 and was surrounded by big films. A week before Dhadkan, on August 4, Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega released starring Salman Khan, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta along with a cameo by Shah Rukh Khan. With Dhadkan, another film released, Deewane. It also had Mahima along with Ajay Devgn and Urmila Matondkar. On August 18, it was Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya which was released, which was Abhishek Bachchan’s second film. And a week after that, on August 25, came Anil Kapoor-Aishwarya Rai Bachchan starrer Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai. Imagine an unconventional film like Dhadkan released in the midst of all these conventional, commercial movies. Dhadkan didn’t get an opening but later, probably did more than all these movies.
How much time did you take to get the music right?
It took around three years. I work on all my music myself.
Your next film after Dhadkan, Bewafaa (2005), also had a similar storyline…
Akshay Kumar ji was quite taken by Suniel Shetty’s performance in Dhadkan. He told me, “Dharmesh, now do this with me.” So for his part, I merged Raja of Raja Hindustani and Dev of Dhadkan. There was no hangover of Dhadkan as such. But certain things that went right for Dhadkan didn’t happen in case of Bewafaa. But it didn’t go very wrong either. So basically, I did it for Akshay ji. I worked only twice with him and in both the films, he delivered breakthrough performances. It also enhanced his stardom and his reach among the NRI audiences.
Talks of Dhadkan’s sequel have been going around since a few years. But hypothetically, if a remake of Dhadkan is to be made whom from the current crop of actors would you like to cast?
I don’t think Dhadkan can be remade. But at this point and hypothetically, I’d like to do it with encouraging new people. I have no problem with stars. I have worked with them. However, I have not really worked with newcomers. There are so many good people who are struggling to make it. At the same time, it could be those who have been working in cinema but haven’t got their due, just like how I did with Dhadkan. That is, if I may make it!
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