Mumbai, May 29 (PTI) "Dushman", a psychological revenge thriller, came out in 1998, an era when films with female protagonists were few and women directors hardly existed, says filmmaker Tanuja Chandra on the movie's 25th anniversary on Monday.
Chandra, who made her directorial debut with the feature, credits the producers Pooja Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt, her actors Kajol, Ashutosh Rana and Sanjay Dutt as well as "highly receptive audiences" of the time for helping the film achieve a cult status.
"Even though there were very few female filmmakers at that time, I remember a certain purity of intent and love for cinema with fondness.
"I cherish the memories deeply... of having wonderful producers, passionate actors, legendary heads of department, a fantastic team, and highly receptive audiences," the filmmaker told PTI in an interview.
Chandra said the film came as a surprise to the industry insiders who thought women were more likely to make "love stories or pure emotional dramas".
"Many distributors and film industry officials could hardly believe I had directed this film! I was quite small in size and this wasn't a soft film, so for a woman to direct it came as a surprise to people," the director recalled.
"Dushman" revolved around twin sisters -- Sonia and Naina played by Kajol -- and a psychopath postman (Ashutosh) who sexually assaults and kills women. The film also featured Sanjay Dutt, Jas Arora, Tanvi Azmi and Pramod Muthu in important roles.
Chandra said Mahesh Bhatt was the creative producer on one of the shows she directed on television. Before directing "Dushman", she collaborated with the ace filmmaker, his banner and daughter Pooja Bhatt on films such as "Tamanna" and "Zakhm".
The film, which had a screenplay by Mahesh Bhatt, was an organic shift to feature format, she said, crediting the veteran filmmaker for helping her land some of the biggest names in film industry for her debut.
Chandra said she always had an "abiding love" for stories revolving around women and "Dushman" was an organic choice.
"I've always enjoyed dramas and thrillers and my abiding love for the female genre began right at the start of my career. So, I guess it was only natural that I would veer toward this kind of story. It excited me and the producers on board as well as the actors who decided to feature in it, made it happen."
Apart from being a perfect launchpad for Chandra, "Dushman" marked a shift in Kajol's career, established Rana as a formidable actor and gave Dutt's on screen action hero image a makeover.
Chandra said as a director her superpower is to be able to recognise an actor of depth, something that has worked in her favour since the beginning.
"Kajol was always the actor I had in mind for 'Dushman'. I knew we'd do something special together. I'm glad she said yes. She is very talented, but what sets her apart is that she acts from deep within herself... She is capable of unnerving honesty and that's such an amazing quality for an actor to have," she said.
Walking down the memory lane, Kajol called "Dushman" one of the scariest films she has ever acted in or watched.
The Bollywood star thanked Pooja Bhatt, Chandra and the team for making her feel comfortable on the sets of the movie in a social media post.
"One of the scariest films I have ever said yes to or even watched for that matter. #AshutoshRana scared the crap out of me on screen and I'm sure out of all of you guys as well.
"And a big thanks till today to #PoojaBhatt and #TanujaChandra for making me so comfortable with such an uncomfortable topic. It is still such an uncomfortable film for me to watch!" she wrote on Twitter.
Much like Kajol, Chandra said, she was sure about casting Rana in the role of Gokul Pandit. The director, who later collaborated with Rana in "Sangharsh", said the actor captured every bit of his character's "frightening essence".
"Ashutosh grabbed the role of a depraved rapist and murderer with both arms and embraced it in every bit of its frightening and horrifying essence. For me, it was clear - Gokul Pandit was an absolute criminal who operated under the cover of a postman - a tribe most people inherently trust," she added.
Rana said it was his good fortune that he got to work with Kajol, Chandra and Pooja Bhatt so early on in his career.
"It is my good fortune that early on in my career I got the opportunity to do a film with such a great actress like you. #Pooja #Tanuja and thank you from the bottom of my heart," he posted in response to Kajol's tweet.
Pooja Bhatt also praised Chandra for choosing a daring subject like "Dushman" for her debut.
"Thank you for your trust Kajol #Dushman could never have been made without you & @ranaashutosh10. Salutations #TanujaChandra for choosing to debut with a film that dealt with the heinous act of Rape & violence against women. No easy feat in male dominated Bollywood 25 yrs ago," she tweeted.
Chandra said most of the A-list actors she approached weren't keen on playing a part that was smaller than the female protagonist.
"Keeping in mind, the character of the major appears on screen at half-way point for the first time. So it was a difficult one to cast. Sanjay Dutt is adventurous and enjoys taking these kinds of risks.
"Mr Bhatt had a close relationship with him and he approached him along with me... It wasn't a role that he had done before and he readily agreed to come on board," she said.
"Dushman" was the seventh highest grosser of the year 1998 and earned Rana the best villain Filmfare Award. Kajol was nominated in the best actress category for the thriller, but won the award for her role of Anjali in Karan Johar's directorial debut "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" that year.