Akhtar is back to where he started out in Bollywood -- as a director -- and his latest film, a sequel to his 2006 "Don" is one of the most anticipated releases of the year.
Starring Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra, the film opens in cinemas on December 23.
Akhtar spoke to Reuters about "Don 2", action films in India and why he decided to make a sequel to a remake.
Q: What are the ingredients to make a slick, good-looking Bollywood action thriller?
A: "Well, there are two things -- the look is one thing -- and storywise, what is happening, is another. And I feel with ‘Don 2' I got an opportunity to do a very good action with the kind of pace that I would like an action film to have. Because more often than not, when we write action movies, we have the hero and the villain, but we also have romance and comedy, emotional drama and other things going on. I wanted to do away with the frills and focus just on the action and the action moving the story forward. The ‘love' angle in this movie is also interesting because it's between two characters who hate each other.
"As far as the look is concerned, it's choosing the right locations, deciding what you want the look of your film to be like, your colour palette, how contemporary you want the costumes and the hair, and then shooting it in a way that makes for dynamic, interesting framing. I would not for example treat ‘Lakshya' the way I treated ‘Don'. So when you have the opportunity to show off a bit with the camera, you do it (smiles)."
Q: So there are no frills in this one then?
A: "Yeah, this film, from the word go, is just moving towards one thing and to me that kind of action movie is always interesting. There is no straying, he (Don) is moving towards a target and there are people and things getting in his way, and you want to know whether he'll get there or kill everyone on the way."
Q: What do you think of the action genre in Bollywood and are you influenced by it?
A: "To me, action has to come from the plot. To me ‘Qurbani' was a good action film -- it was fast, had one plot and moved along at a pace and it didn't really divert attention. And apart from that there are many, but none that spring to mind immediately.
"Our action movies are slightly more wholesome, but on the other hand, that may be what audiences are looking for -- I don't want to second guess them. Hopefully they'll like what I make too."
Q: What about Western influences?
A: "Well, the first time I re-discovered the joy of watching an action movie was when I saw ‘Die Hard'. It was a completely simple plot -- a guy goes to meet his wife and the building gets taken over by terrorists -- but I was completely blown away. Great characters and it moved along really fast."
Q: Was a sequel always on the cards after you made the first film?
A: "No, it wasn't. I was very content with the way the first film ended. I felt that I said what I set out to say -- which is that it is impossible to catch this guy. Not only did he fool everyone in the film, but he fooled the audience as well. But the sequel really happened from inadvertently beginning to think about it because everywhere I went; people would ask me ‘why aren't you doing a sequel'.
"It's not that you are thinking about it but it's already in your head. So I started thinking about it and I met two writers who had some interesting ideas, so we all had a brainstorming session. So there were a lot of challenges in writing."
Q: We don't have a successful film franchise in India -- along the lines of a Superman or a Batman. Do you envisage ‘Don' to be that way?
A: "I think ‘Don' already has a fan following. It's amazing how it has a cult following. I know that people love the film. It depends. Thinking about a series isn't as important as thinking about that film. You cannot create a franchise just for the sake of it -- it's an insult to the character."
Q: Why 3D?
A: "Interesting question. The only way to answer that is ‘why not?' It hasn't been shot in 3D but now that I have seen the results, I am convinced that it gives a great effect. You should have the time to allow the conversion to happen and can think of how you want the 3D to happen, it can become an interesting way to watch the film.
"Again, it's a select audience who wants to watch it in 3D, but for those people who enjoy it, it's worth the investment."
Q: One thing we've had a lot of this year is Shah Rukh Khan, thanks to ‘Ra.One'. Are you worried that your main star has been over-exposed?
A: "I think Indians love their stars and they will come out to watch them no matter what. If there was that feeling, then the interest in ‘Don', both among the average cinegoer and the media wouldn't be as much. We wouldn't be getting as many calls for his time and interviews as we are. It's an entirely different film, and he's doing completely different things, so I don't think it matters."
Q: Initially, ‘Don' was a remake of a film and now it's a sequel to that remake. There was a copyright issue there, right?
"Yes, but the matter is in court."