Rakesh Roshan, without question, is one of the most noteworthy filmmakers in Bollywood today. And as the actor-turned-producer/director completes 50 landmark years in the Hindi film industry this month, Shweta Kulkarni catches up with him to talk about his journey and the passion that still drives him
You’ve completed 50 years in the industry….congratulations!
There is nothing to congratulate me for, because I am still working. I have not finished anything, my career is still going strong, but yes, it’s a big achievement. I thank the Almighty, my audience, my fraternity, that they have been with me for such a long period. I still feel that I have just joined the industry, and it’s already been 50 years – time flies! But I am still in the learning process; I still get scared when I go for my film’s shooting. I still take time to make a movie because I am not very sure if it could work or not. Even today, before making a film, I narrate the subject to 50-60 of my friends and take their opinions. I ask them if it’s okay. If they say yes, then I move ahead. When my movie is ready, I show it to 100-200 people and take their opinion about whether it’s working or not. So after making so many films, I still feel jittery.
50 years is a very long time. What is that one driving force that keeps you going?
That driving force is that I explore new subjects. I hear a lot of scripts; anybody who calls me up saying, ‘I have a script’, I tell, ‘Come’. Pata nahin kiske paas kya niklega. But 90 per cent of them come up with the usual stories. Nobody thinks out of the box. And I always try to make a film that is out of the box and then I package it as a commercial film. That is most important for me. So whenever I take up a film, it becomes very challenging for me. And then it gives me sleepless nights. My every film is like the start of a new career for me, and that keeps me going.
How did your journey actually start?
I started as an assistant director. I began with Mr HS Rawail, who was making a film called Sunghursh (1968) with Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala – I started my journey as an assistant on that film. Then I assisted director Mohan Kumar for two films, Aanjaana with Rajendra Kumar and Babita, and Aap Aye Bahaar Ayee featuring Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana. Interestingly, in my very first film I joined as a fifth assistant, but by the end of the shoot I was the first assistant. I always wanted to be something.
You always wanted to be part of the film industry?
Yes, always. My father, Roshan, was a music director. He was a great music director and he was a respected man, so whichever producer’s door I would go to, they would call me inside and stand up and talk to me. That respect my father left behind. My father died at a very young age; he was 49 when he passed away and because he was a music director, there was no business at home to carry forward after his death. So for me, it was a new beginning. I earned `200 a month and that’s how I started my career. But yes, since I was young I always wanted to be a big hero. Which I couldn’t become, but God had His own plans – he changed my course and made me a producer and a director.
Does it bother you that the industry never gave you your due as an actor?
I never got my due because maybe I was not capable. Because there has to be some shortfall…
Interestingly, as a producer and a director, be it the 80s, 90s, or the 21st century, you have managed to understand the pulse of the audience and have delivered films that usually did fairly good business…
Like I mentioned earlier, I take subjects which challenge me, which give me sleepless nights. And the audience likes different stories. So if you look at my work, I have not made just one-genre films. I have made different kinds of films. I made Kaamchor, then I made Khudgarz – after the success of that film I made a drastically different film called Khoon Bhari Maang, which was followed by Kishen Kanhaiya. Then I made King Uncle with Jackie Shroff and a young girl, followed by Karan Arjun with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. Then came Koyla, and later a romantic film, Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai. I made Koi… Mil Gaya after that, then the Krrish series and now Kaabil. So if you see, God has been very kind; my success rate is about 90-95 per cent and that is only because I don’t have much traffic in mind. I do one film in two or two-and-a-half years’ time. I take my own time to make a film, but when I start a project I see to it that it is budgeted well. That is the most important thing. I ensure that the script is done well, there are no unnecessary expenses, no overshoots… All that I keep in mind and then I make a film.
True, today you are known in the industry for your sharp budgeting acumen. Were you always this wary of a film’s budget, or is it something that you learned over the years?
Yes, always. Because when I joined as an assistant director – and I was an assistant director for four years – I was also helping production managers on the sets. When the sets were being made, I used to keep a tab on even the smallest things like – how much are the nails costing? What is the cost of those sticks? How much is that going to cost? I would do all that accounting. And subconsciously I was learning throughout that process. Then I became an actor, not a very successful one though. Some films did see success, but as an actor I didn’t move ahead, so I stepped aside. But with everything I was doing, I was subconsciously learning and all that helped me. Then straightaway I didn’t jump into direction and production together; I first started producing films.
Yes, at a time when not many actors were heading in that direction…
Actually, the reason behind that was that as an actor I asked myself, ‘Who makes the film?’ And at that point I believed that it was a producer. So I was like, let me become a producer. I founded Filmkraft Productions and made Aap Ke Deewane, Kaamchor, Jaag Utha Insan and Bhagwan Dada. After producing a series of films, I realised no, it’s not the producer but the director who actually makes the film. So then I decided to turn director and made Khudgarz. But those initial four films, I learned about production there.
Of the many films that you have done, which was the one that you would say was the turning point for you?
I think it was Khudgarz. That was the last nail I had to hit. Because even as a producer, though my films like Aap Ke Deewane and others did well, they were not great successes. As an actor, I had no films at that time. So as an actor I was not successful, as a producer I was low and as a director, Khudgarz was my debut film. It was my last chance. So when me, my wife (Pinky), Hrithik and my daughter (Sunaina) were in the car going for the premiere of the film at Metro, I told my wife, ‘This is the last chance I have. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what I am going to do.’ And when the movie screening got over, there was a standing ovation in the theatre and I had tears in my eyes. I said, ‘Yes, God has heard my prayers.’
Going back in time, is there something that you would like to change? Maybe something that you think you could have done better?
No, I don’t think so, because I think that part was necessary to go through to achieve something. So the first ten years of my career were not very successful. I have faced a lot of struggle in those days, but the ten years taught me a lot of things.
10 years is a long time, and it takes a lot to stick by something for so long. Never felt like giving it up and pursing something else…?
Yes, it a very long time. But I stood at the bus stop and I never went home. I always believed that at least some bus would take me. Most of the people give up. But I said no, I won’t. Let it rain, let it storm, let there be a hurricane, but I will stand here. Someday, some bus will take me, and it did.
As a filmmaker, are there any hurdles or challenges that you face today?
No, there are no hurdles as such. But the challenge I would say, is to find a good subject. And that is a big problem. That’s why I am not in a hurry to make a film. People today are in a hurry to make films. They are making four to five films, but that is not the correct way. A lot of thought goes into a film. It is not only about money; one needs to understand that their name also goes with the film. Money you can earn, and just one film can even take away all that money. But the name is very important; you can’t associate your name with a shoddy product. And most of the time, I see people don’t work on the scripts. All are in a hurry to make a film.
I always had my scripts in place. But today everyone is in a hurry. After I finished Krissh 3, I waited for 18 months for the VFX. Tell me, which producer today will wait for 18 months? In 18 months, they will make five films. But then I waited; I said, ‘All my special effects should be absolutely correct because people are going to gauge my film and compare it with Hollywood standards, so I should not fall short on anything.’ Even before starting the film, I worked six months on the VFX, then I completed shooting and then I waited for 18 months. Picture ka chalna ya nahi chalna is not in our hands, but you have to give a good product to the audience.
Anything else about the industry that annoys you?
No, I think everything is fine. Everything is good, all good actors are coming, and newcomers are coming – they are very talented, the new talented directors are coming… So everything is fine, my only thing is that don’t be in a hurry. You have the talent, utilise it well. Don’t waste it.
When you meet younger filmmakers, while they are eager to learn from you, what are your learnings from them?
Yes, I learn a lot from them because I have my eyes open, I have my ears open and I listen to everybody. Even when I am editing a film, if any of my assistant would say, ‘Sir, should we do it this way?’ I would not tell him ‘No no, keep quiet.’ I will try to do it. On the sets also, if somebody comes and tells me that ‘If you take the shot this way, it will be nice’, I will have an open mind and listen to them. Because I always think, why has he said this? So you are constantly learning. Even when I am making a film, I try to take a lot of youngsters in my team. I am experienced, but to be with today’s generation, to be in sync with their thought process, you have to become like them. If you are not, then you will become old school. So I am constantly learning and also simultaneously using my experience.
Any one particular anecdote from the past, from your struggling period that has remained with you…
That way there are plenty, but I remember this one particular incident when I got a call from Hrishikesh Mukherjee. My nick name is Guddu and he called me, ‘Guddu tum ghar aao.’ Because I used to call him saying, ‘Dada aap itni picture bana rahe ho mujhe bhi chance dijiye.’ So he called me one fine day and said, ‘Hum abhi picture banata hai, aur aisa kahani hai, aur tum kam karega iss picture main.’ He was a Bengali, so his Hindi was like that. I asked Dada who is the heroine and he said it is Rekha. I said, ‘Please ask Rekhaji if she will work with me or no.’ Because lots of heroines had said no for working with me. So he was like, ‘Nahi nahi I have asked and she has agreed.’ So I was very thankful to Rekha. Most of the heroines didn’t want to work with me because I was not successful; it was not their fault. And I took it that way. Why should somebody work with someone who is not successful? But then Rekha agreed.
So when are you directing your next film?
I am scripting something. I will soon start the project.
Yes, of course, I will look like a fool to go outside. I have a good actor and a good son.