He needs no introduction. He’s Rakesh Roshan. After a hugely successful career as a director, Roshan celebrates a glorious silver jubilee this week. Here’s the man in conversation with Vajir Singh
Since your first release as a director with Khudgarz in 1987, it’s been a long journey of 25 years. How does it feel?
(Pauses) Twenty-five years as a director but more than four decades in this industry. I joined the industry when I was 17 when my father passed away. I had the option of going to Wadia College in Pune, staying in Mumbai and working as an assistant director, or joining the Pune Institute. So I stayed with the family and learnt the ropes of filmmaking. I started assisting H S Rawail, who was making Sunghursh with Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. After that, I joined Mohan Kumar and worked on two films with him, Anjaana and Aap Aye Bahaar Ayee.
Then I got my first break as an actor in Man Mandir and Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani.As an actor, I wasn’t getting my dream roles or a chance to work in good films with good directors. I had a few chances but they were mostly heroine-oriented films and these films weren’t doing well either. This affected my career. But I didn’t give up.
Then I started doing negative roles too. I wanted to stick around, and I always had a vision to make my own films. So I started my own production house with films like Aap Ke Deewane and Kaamchor. But luck wasn’t smiling on me. Kaamchor was a big success but Jaya Prada shot to the limelight and I didn’t get any films after that. Though Kaamchorwas a hero-centric film, I didn’t get a single offer thereafter.
It must have had shaken you.
I decided to turn producer as I thought I would have a better chance to prove myself as an actor in my own films. I made Aap Ke Deewane and signed Rishi Kapoor, a dear friend and a saleable actor, and the film did quite well. Then,Kaamchor, which worked for Jaya Prada. My third film as a producer was Jaag Utha Insan with Mithun (Chakraborty) and Sridevi but we were all miscast. Mithun was known as a disco dancer but I cast him as a harijan. I cast Sridevi as a goddess but the audience saw her differently. I had just done a commercial success, Kaamchor, and here, I was playing a pundit. So we were all miscast. Then I made Bhagwaan Dada, with me, Sridevi and Rajnikant. The film did all right. By that time, my acting career was not going anywhere so I thought I would try my hand at direction.
And you have had a successful stint as a director. Don’t you think that before you took up direction, your journey was a learning experience?
As an actor, I was always around on the sets. Even when I wasn’t shooting, I used to be on the sets to watch the directors as I planned on becoming a director. So the actor Rakesh Roshan gave way to the producer and then the director Rakesh Roshan. While making these films, I took keen interest in everything, from storytelling to direction to editing. But I was still apprehensive about Khudgarz, my first film as a director. My family and I were driving to the premiere, and when I saw the hoardings outside Metro cinema, I told my wife that this was my last chance. If I fail with this film, my career was over. Luckily, things turned around. Maybe I was destined to be a director from the very beginning.
And there was no looking back.
It is said that you have a high success ratio because you kept mixing it up. How could a director make a heroine-oriented film, Khoon Bhari Maang, after delivering a big success in a male-dominated film likeKhudgarz?
When you make different genres, you get sleepless nights and that is very challenging. I always believe in doing that. It keeps me alive and my brain working all the time. Making a family film doesn’t take time but choosing different genres keeps me on my toes. I have to work on the screenplay and make the film commercial too. It should cater to all types of audience.
Is that how you earned a reputation as the best commercial director?
Perhaps. Every film is a new film for me. Even with Krrish 3, I felt I had started afresh. Hrithik (Roshan) tells me, “Papa, once you start the film, you will be all right.” I used to tell him that I would not be able to make it as I am not young any more. But then once I’m on the sets, things start falling into place as I had done a lot of preparation before the film went on the floors.
You’re calling yourself old…
(Cuts in with a smile) I am not at all old! It’s just my age. I am a very young person. (Laughs)
Despite your age, all your films appeal to the youth. You have brought in such a lot of variety that your films are ahead of your time.
I have a young team of assistants and writers. Of course, Hrithik is a big help to me. He helps me keep the freshness alive. The team is young and I listen to everyone. Even if a new, 20-year-old assistant has something to say, I listento him.
During the last 25 years, has anything changed in you as a director?
I am still the same. I’m still a nervous man, when I am shooting. My hands were cold when I went on the sets of Krrish 3, because everything I tried was new and I didn’t know how things would pan out. I breathe a sigh of relief only when a film is complete. But with the next film, I get nervous again. Every schedule of Krrish 3 was tougher and tougher. It was the same with Koi… Mil Gaya or Krrish, when I had to create an alien or Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai, where I cast new actors in the lead.
Even when you started your career, your films were about relationships. How did you think of showcasing the relationship between a man and an alien?
I had made different movies centering on human relationships… Khudgarz, Khoon Bhari Maang, Kishen Kanhaiya and Karan Arjun. Then I made Koyla, a love story between a mute boy and a girl, and then I made Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai. After this, I wanted to try something new again. So I thought of making a sci-fi film, keeping the human relationship in mind.
It is said that, to date, all your films have been risk-taking propositions, at least when you announce them. But your films are always fruitful after they release.
(Smiles) When I was making Karan Arjun, 90 per cent of my own crew was not convinced about the film. But I knew it would work as playing on emotions never fails. Sometimes emotions make unconvincing plots convincing. So I went with my heart.
The same thing happened with Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai. They told me that for a double role to work, we needed actors who were related, like brothers. But I didn’t want to do that. We could find people who looked alike. It was my conviction that worked in that film. If you don’t have conviction, you cannot succeed.
Directors learn from their previous films. Do you make your films and move on or do you take something away from your earlier films?
No. I don’t take anything from my previous films. I just go with the story and what the story demands at that time.
As a director, what used to grab you?Has that changed?
I basically play on emotions. It doesn’t mean your character should cry or make your audience cry. There is a subtle and invisible thread called emotion, which binds the audience to the film, without them realising it. In Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai, in Hrithik’s introductory scene, his hair was all messed up as he had just woken up from sleep. No one does that. Every hero’s introductory scene shows them jumping 30 storeys or riding a horse or a bike. I showed him as a simple boy who had just woken up from his sleep. I connected the audience with the character, so that when the character dies, the audience feels for him. I feel every film I make should be enjoyed by everyone, not only the niche audience. So I take a non-commercial plot and weave it into a commercial screenplay, which is quite difficult.
When you started your career, there were only single-screens. But today, your films are successful across multiplexes and single-screens. How do you manage to do that?
That’s what I am saying; you take a new plot which will appeal to the literate audience and add something commercial to it. I don’t mean add action or an item number. The screenplay has to be commercial so that the audience enjoys it. Emotions play a key role in the success of a film. If there is no emotion in a sci-fi film, no one will understand it. And I make one film at a time. And there is a specific gap between films.I don’t feel like making another film for three months after a film of mine releases. After three months, new ideas start flowing. I need to clear my mind before I start a film. I don’t know how some directors can work on so many projects simultaneously.
And that’s the mantra of your successful stint of 25 years?
Success brings confidence and that has played a big part in my career. You feel you have to prove yourself with every successive film. If you feel you’re a success with one film, you’re not successful at all. Even with ten successful films behind you, people will always remember only your last film. And in 25 years of delivering so many hits – Khudgarz, Khoon Bhari Maang, Kishen Kanhiaya, Karan Arjun, Koyla, Kaho Naa… Koi Mil Gaya, Krrish – it’s not a joke. If I have made so many films, eight out of ten films have worked wonders. There is a big responsibility as expectations keep growing. So I have to take a new subject.
That’s how you’ve nurtured a loyal audience across the world?
I think so. See, a man’s success is only gauged when he is announcing his next film. If there are ten distributors lined up outside your door, you know you have done some good work. Distributors and exhibitors come to a director only when they know that the audience will come to watch their films.When I was making Krrish, I asked my Mysore distributor to pay Rs 70 lakh for his territory. In those days, films were selling for Rs 35 – 40 lakh. He got a little angry and asked me whether I was planning to make him bankrupt. When I told him the film was big and it needed a big budget, he just said, “Aap sambhal lena.” That was his faith in me my product. But the day Krrish was released, it was the cheapest release of the time as the other films that released then sold for Rs 80 – 90 lakh.
You didn’t raise the price?
No, I never do that. What is sold is sold.
And you did the same thing with Krrish 3?
We have already sold that film but I know people are now selling their films for a much higher price. But I am not going to hike the price.
Why didn’t you sell it to a corporate house?
I have worked with corporate houses but they don’t have their offices everywhere. They also sell a film to other distributors. So, I thought I should do it on my own as I have my own set of distributors across the world. I called my distributors and they came immediately.
You said you pre-sold Krrish and suffered a loss on the selling price. Why did you repeat that with Krrish 3?
I always feel that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. If I know that my film will cost Rs 8, I sell it for Rs 10. I have no financial worries. If my film does well, my distributors will give me the surplus.
It’s relationships that matter in this industry?
Are these the same distributors you have worked with since the beginning of your career?
This interview would be incomplete without asking you why your next film is called Krrish 3 and not Krrish 2?
Because Koi… Mil Gaya was the first part, Krrish was the second and Krrish 3 is the third film. The storylines of each film follows the previous one. If I had called it Krrish 2, then Koi… Mil Gaya would have been irrelevant. So it’s a continuation of the characters. This film is the only one that actually takes the story forward. All the other sequels have the same heroes but the storylines of the prequels and sequels do not connect. So mine is a real sequel.