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A Minute With: Vikramaditya Motwane on O. Henry in Bollywood

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Vikramaditya Motwane first caught the attention of Bollywood in 2010 when his debut film - a small-budget tale of teenage angst - made it to competition at the Cannes Film Festival in the category for emerging directors.

Three years after the success of that movie, "Udaan", or "Flight", Motwane is back with a big-ticket period romance inspired by "The Last Leaf", a short story by U.S. writer O. Henry in which a leaf painted on a wall saves the life of an ill young woman.

"Lootera", or "Thief", opened in Indian cinemas on Friday, going head-to-head with "Policegiri", the last completed film by jailed Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt.

Motwane spoke to Reuters about "Lootera" and the difficulties of adapting a four-page short story first published in 1907 into a full-fledged Bollywood movie.

Q: What is "Lootera" about?

A: It is a love story, it's part thriller, mystery. At its core, it is a love story - it is about falling in love, about betrayal, redemption and a lot of things. It is also about friendship and life, and just a little bit more.

Q: Did you set out to make a love story?

A: Kind of. It is inspired from "The Last Leaf" which is a very strange love story, if it is a love story at all ... So me and Bhavani (Iyer), who is my co-writer, took it up as a challenge and said let us see what we can do with this adaptation. Also, we were struggling writers with nothing to do, so we said let's just do this. We bounced ideas off each other and built it up and then realized that this was serious. We could actually make a film out of this.

Q: What about "The Last Leaf" made you want to adapt it?

A: Many things. The fact that it is tragic but leaves you with a smile on your face. The sense of doing something selfless for somebody who doesn't even know about it - that was really interesting. It was the human element that was magic.

Q: How do you adapt a short story to an Indian setting?

A: The easy thing is that it is a four-page short story so you are not encumbered with details. Adapting a book is the most difficult thing because half the time you are wondering what to remove. Here, we had to add to it and work on a complete backstory. I tried to do a modern-day adaptation but it didn't work. You are talking of two people who come together and are then forced apart and in today's day and age with cellphones and Facebook, how far apart can you actually be?

Q: Was it easier to make your second film after the success of "Udaan"?

A: I had written this script before "Udaan" was made and part of the angst of getting that first film made and finding that it wasn't getting done, worked itself into this. This was a big-budget film, which is difficult to make as a first film. And that wasn't a good time; it is much easier today. It was a question of throwing both balls in the air and seeing which one would be caught - either "Udaan" or "Lootera".

It has become easier in the sense that doors opened quicker - getting access to the stars and the money has been easier. But it hasn't been an easy film to make. It is much bigger in terms of scale and production. But that was the intention. We set out to make a big film because I don't want to be stuck with being slotted as making films that are small. Because I have ideas that I know are going to take a lot of money to make. Not a lot of money, but some money. You have to give the industry confidence that you can handle that kind of money and budget.

Q: Do you think of your audience while making a film?

A: Of course, you have to think of the audience. You cannot make an obtuse film that only appeals to a small niche section of the audience. You have to be honest about what kind of films you want to make. If it is in your blood to make those kind of films, go ahead and make them. If it is not … and I have seen a lot of filmmakers do that, they make films that they don't believe in, and it doesn't work.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Elaine Lies)

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