On a roll breaking norms

On a roll breaking norms

Having helmed a series of hit movies, Indra Kumar tells Rajiv Vijayakar that the trick is to break the guard of the viewer and bring him into your fold.

SAVVY Indra Kumar

He is acting legend Aruna Irani's brother, and made his debut as producer with the 1985 hit Mohabbat. The 1990 blockbuster Dil saw Indra Kumar’s debut as director. Three decades after he began shooting for that film, the director has hit bull’s-eye with Total Dhamaal in February 2019.

Indra Kumar emerges as one of the only six directors in contemporary cinema who have stayed relevant for over 20 years — the others being Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Karan Johar, Rakesh Roshan, David Dhawan and Anees Bazmee.

He has had an interesting track-record: more blockbusters in Beta and Grand Masti, hits like Raja, Ishq and Total Dhamaal and successes like Masti, Dhamaal and Double Dhamaal.

The director has been a pioneer ever since shifting to comedy in 2004 with Masti — India’s first risqué adult comedy in the A-grade circuit. Then came Dhamaal, which was the first film without a single female character, and then Grand Masti, Hindi cinema’s first A-grade outright sex comedy. Even the Great Grand Masti is a first in the horror comedy genre.

Smiles the director, “During Dhamaal, people said that I was mad to even think of a film without a heroine or a female character. Today, every time it is seen on television, I get at least one congratulatory message. There are also people who have watched it 20 times, 30 times.”

He almost muses, “After making four hits in a row in Dil, Beta, Raja and Ishq in the ‘90s, two of my films flopped. I knew then that the traditional way of filmmaking had to change. But after I made Double Dhamaal with a completely different story from Dhamaal and it did not connect with the people, I decided to fix it with the third film in the installment—Total Dhamaal. Again, in the real sense, this film too had no heroine, and there were only characters, and animals too. I am trying to break the norm every time.”

In the last 15 years, therefore, Indra Kumar has been best known for his diversity in comedy, and he wryly says that people still look down upon those who write, direct and act in them.

“You must have a funny bone within you to make people laugh,” he declares. “If you enjoy making a funny film, only then can you expect the audience to enjoy it. But comedy directors, writers and actors are looked down upon. ‘Oh! You direct comedies!’ say people dismissively.”

He goes on, “But comedy has no backing, like drama or action. You have to break the guard of the viewer and bring him into your fold. You are naked, and often there is not even music to back you, unlike in a tragic scene in which someone is lying dead and a violin is playing in the background with someone else crying on screen!”

Passionately, he continues: “An actor too is backed by a story in a serious film, whereas in a comedy, out of necessity there is no story, only a wafer-thin plot. Isn’t that a bigger challenge? I would have looked much younger now if I had been making only serious films!” he concludes with a wry smile.

What about his films having certain tropes again and again? There was the 'lucky tree' around which he shot in Ooty, for example. Indra Kumar laughs and answers, “One day, after Ishq, I went to Ooty again, and found someone had cut the tree off! Then Mann came and we all know what happened!

What about the villainous parents in his first four films, and a dying Prem Chopra revealing the secret of a hidden treasure in Dhamaal and Manoj Pahwa doing the same thing in Total Dhamaal? In his reply, he just grins broadly!

We mention the immortal scene in Dhamaal between Vinay Apte, Arshad Warsi and Jaaved Jafferi in the cab. How was that sequence conceptualised and shot?

“I give full credit for that to Paritosh Painter, Balvinder Singh Suri and Bunty Rathore, my writers. The late Vinay-saab was a stage actor and that made it easy for him to memorise and speak his entire lines of South Indian names without a slip. He was too good and did not need more than two hours to learn the lines by heart though they were, according to us, too tough!”

How does he now look at the challenge of being entrusted to direct Hera Pheri 3? “The process is on, and I will take it up if it comes off well,” he says evasively.