Sincere renditions

making of a hit
Last Updated 22 March 2014, 14:43 IST

Having made cult films in the 1980s & launched many Bollywood biggies, Subhash Ghai rightfully earned the title of ‘showman’.  Rajiv Vijayakar speaks to the ace director about his next film ‘Kaanchi’, and his hunt for new faces...

He’s the Showman of our times. Actor-writer-producer-director-editor, and in a film each, lyricist and singer too! Subhash Ghai’s chequered yet distinguished career began in 1967 with a small role in Rajshri Productions’ melodrama Taqdeer.

From here to becoming a Film & Television Institute-trained actor who starred (as lead or otherwise) in some insignificant films (barring Aradhana in a small role as Rajesh Khanna’s friend) and then discovering his true forte as a writer-director, has been a tangy journey. The late ‘hit’-man producer N N Sippy was so impressed by Ghai’s narration of the story of Kalicharan (1976) that he told him that he would buy it only if Ghai directed it himself.

And so was born a living legend who gave us Vishwanath, Gautam Govinda, Karz (with which he launched his banner of Mukta Arts, an institution by itself), Vidhaata, Hero, Meri Jung, Karma, Ram Lakhan, Saudagar, Khal-Nayak, Pardes and Taal, a hit-streak that lasted till 1999.When times changed, so did Ghai’s luck, and his last four films did not do well, including the off-beat Black-And-White that however received critical appreciation. As Mukta Arts went corporate, it made a series of successes with outside directors, including Aitraaz and Apna Sapna Money Money and the offbeat Jogger’s Park and Iqbal. But the blockbuster, associated with him for over two decades, has eluded him.

In this phase, Ghai launched his biggest baby, Whistling Woods International (WWI), a multi-disciplinary film school that is now adjudged as one of the 10 best in the world.

In the midst of this, Ghai returned to direction with a film right up his street, a love story laced with drama and loads of music — Kaanchi: The Unbreakable. He says simply, “I do subjects that excite me at the time. My forte is drama and human relationships. So even if I make a love story, I will keep drama intact. I was fascinated by how the lowest denominator of sorts — a young, rural girl from Uttarakhand — would look at women empowerment. In her naiveté, she thinks love is only about happiness, till she is shaken out of her dreams after encountering money-power and tragedy. And when the whole village refuses to fight, she takes on the mission.”

New facesGhai, as usual, made news by casting Mishti, till then a small-time actress in Bengali films, as the protagonist. The man who has discovered Jackie Shroff and famous heroines named with the letter “M” — Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Mahima Chowdhary — besides Isha Sharvani, declares that he likes to work with newcomers.

“They follow your script and the script does not have to follow them or their images,” he points out. “And it does not have to be first-time actors, but even relative newcomers like Sanjay Dutt in Vidhaata, Tina Munim in Karz, Anil Kapoor in Meri Jung, Shah Rukh Khan in Pardes or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Taal. These new actors are hungry to work with me and have complete faith in me. Stars do not really suit my scripts in that sense. On the other hand, Devaa, that I launched with Amitabh Bachchan, could not be made at all!”

He goes on, almost introspectively, “As a writer, I have to be honest to my script. And that often becomes difficult with stars. Also, I belong to a generation that believed that the director was the captain of the ship and a star in his own right, a man who also controlled all departments of his film. And if you have noticed, every actor or actress has given some of their career-best performances in my films.”

In this world of corporate business and a paradigm shift in approach compared to when his last film, Yuvvraaj, released in 2008, Ghai says that the Mukta Arts machinery is geared to handle the marketing and promotion of his new film in sync with times.

“But now, it is a three-day story for a new film, and my only fear is what audiences expect from me. If I do something that has been my forte all along, they will complain that Subhash Ghai has not evolved. If I do something fresh, and it does not work, they will see that Ghai cannot make hits anymore. It is a case of heads they win, tails I lose. In any case, the media has liked my films only after they get to criticise my next one.”

Critics’ choiceExplains the filmmaker, “They like to say that Taal lacked the good qualities of Pardes, which was also panned when it released because it did not have some good qualities of Khal-Nayak — and so on. Now many tell me that since my ‘un-Ghai-like’ Black-And-White and Yuvvraaj did not work, I should return to high-voltage drama with bigness and grandeur, and I think I have done that with Kaanchi. I would call it a sincere film.”

Ghai is grateful, however, to that section of the media that has been fair to him. He is also happy that he has stepped up his regional films and is now making a Kannada film, Nimbehuli, after adopting a Bengali film and producing the National award-winning Marathi movie, Samhita. “I am also producing the Punjabi Double Di Trouble, starring Dharmendra in his first lead in their common mother-tongue, that too in a double role.

Coming back to Mishti, Ghai says that he has ensured a factor associated with him — great music. “My film has nine songs penned by the brilliant Irshad Kamil. Seven are composed by Ismail Darbar. However, two songs that come when Kaanchi comes to Mumbai and have a modern flavour are composed by Salim-Sulaiman.”

Rishi Kapoor, with whom he worked in Karz, and Mithun Chakraborty, who did a small role in Yuvvraaj, represent “money-power and corruption” in his film, he lets on. “My three male leads are played by Kartik, Rishabh Sinha from television, and Chandan Roy Sanyal.”

Finally, how does he assess a newcomer’s potential? “I spent days interacting with Mishti and the three boys, getting to know them till their natures were clear. I need honesty in their faces and approach and above all, the emotions they display as people. For the girls, like for Kaanchi, there must be innocence and the divinity of a Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. Then I, as a trained actor and an experienced director, can mould them according to their strengths and limitations.”

So how did Mishti measure up? “When you watch the film, you will see. She amazed me with her dramatic performance. She is learning dance, so I did not burden her with dances in the film. It is my prerogative to present her well while doing justice to my script.”

(Published 22 March 2014, 14:43 IST)

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