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Corporatisation of films makes economic sense!

He was groomed in an industry that played it by ear. But he feels the corporatisation of Hindi films has introduced some method into the madness. Having just completed his latest, Aarakshan, here’s Amitabh Bachchan in conversation with Vajir Singh

 

A few weeks ago, we were discussing Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap, and this time, it is Aarakshan. How difficult is it to make the transition from one role to another?

As an actor, this is part of your job, part of your craft. You need to keep switching and getting into different roles. I know many people wonder how we do it so rapidly but I think this is something that all of us as professionals are involved in.

In the West and even in our industry, artists are taking a lot of time to concentrate on a film, which is very good. But I started my career in a system where we were used to doing three different films on the same day in three different shifts. I think if you know your craft well enough, it should not be such a big issue.

Fortunately, we finished Aarakshan first early this year, and only after it was over, we went into Bbuddah… So there was no overlapping of characters or looks.

What was it like, shooting different characters on the same day?

(Sighs) Yes, it was ridiculous, absolutely. But in those days, it was looked upon as a great achievement. It is also because I was playing the lead role and the role did not vary much.

Or the look…

Yes or the look… It wasn’t a problem. But, now, if I were to work on a film like Paa and a Bbuddah… and Aarakshan, where the roles are as different as the corners of a triangle, it would have been almost impossible.

Do you think quantity mattered earlier whereas, today, it’s about quality?

Yes, that has got to do with economics. Earlier, there was no institutionalised finance. There were no corporate companies that guaranteed the money for you and virtually underwrote the money.

You knew that there was an account from where the money came and that you could get the money whenever you needed it. You would prepare the budget and you got the budget sanctioned and you planned your schedule accordingly… this is how I am going to do it, this is the day I will start…  finish… release.

This is how people function these days… They not only narrate the story but also show me the publicity. That this is the way they are planning to do it and the release date, and then they move backwards. Which is fantastic.

Earlier, there were no ready finances. So an individual producer would sign a star, pay him the signing amount, shoot for six or seven days, do a song, shoot an action sequence as that was important, and show these parts to the financers from whom he had borrowed parts of the money. The idea was to get him excited and then ask him to pay some more money. Or show it to three or four other financers or show it to distributors and ask if the product could fetch more money.

Please continue…

Now this process of waiting for the money to come in, sometimes took a year or two. But how can one stay without work for two years? So we took on several projects at the same time. We needed to keep ourselves occupied and keep our kitchens running. So we did several films and would keep getting paid at every schedule. That’s how the system worked. Now that the corporates have come in, there are institutionalised finances with proper planning… contracts are made and you are guaranteed a certain sum when you are done with a schedule. It’s a wonderful system.

But in the old days, this is how it would happen. We would never compromise on quality and, for some strange reason, it worked. I was shooting for Deewar and Sholay on the same day in two different cities. I used to shoot the climax of Deewar at night (Ballard Pier) till six in the morning. At seven o’ clock, I used to board a flight to Bangalore, reach there by nine o’ clock and report on the sets of Sholay at 10. Then, shoot the whole day and take the evening flight back to Bombay. We did this for seven to eight days continuously. That’s how we worked but we never compromised on the quality of our work. Maybe that was the energy of youth.

You just said today’s filmmakers work backwards. Is it all about grabbing eyeballs or is it about attracting the audience?

(Cuts in) It’s a bit of both. When you have a story, you have to keep in mind that there are people who have invested a certain amount of money and have to think about whether it is going to come back or not. So you work backwards as you want to follow a certain routine and management practice, which is economical and good.

We finished Bbuddah… in a month and a half, which is absolutely fantastic. And we had decided that we were going to stick to a budget of Rs 10 crore and we did that. We decided that we would wrap up the film in five months. For Aarakshan, Prakash Jha said he would start shooting in January and our last day of shooting would be mid-March. We finished the schedule three days before schedule. So if things are pre-planned, everything falls in place. So we went to Bhopal, and when you stay there for so many days living around the story and the film, you finish the work with a greater commitment.

How different is your role in Aarakshan from the roles in your previous films?

I think as an actor, when you move on to your next role, one of the added responsibilities is monitoring what is going on, not allowing it to affect creativity too much.

Do you think when a big sum of money is at stake, one sometimes ends up compromising on content?

That is an individual decision. Fortunately, we have not faced such a situation but there may have been times when we start off with a budget and then find that we need to spend more money.

Were you happy with the way Bbuddah… was made?

Oh, yes, we are happy.

With the film’s business too?

Sure.

Don’t you think it could have been better?

Yeah! But I feel that for a company (A B Corp) that was written off and is now slowly trying to crawl its way back, we are very satisfied by the way we have progressed. At the moment, we are looking only at Abhishek and my creative inputs in a film. But if we are to take on more saleable stars, then budgets will be different.

Back to Aarakshan…  the dialogue is heavy. But this is the short texting generation. Do you think the youth will mind?

If you have something interesting, the youth will be hooked. And why are you assuming that there will be long and heavy dialogue in the film? It is like any other normal film, there are many dialogue.

What was it like working with Prakash Jha?

We’ve had been talking about working together for a few years. Then he came up with this subject. And we were, like, this is something, we must work together.

What’s your take on his decision to release Aarakshan during Ramzan?

This is something you need to ask Prakash Jha and not me. As an actor, my job is to follow the director. About when to release a film and which period is best for its release is entirely the producer’s decision.

Do you think today’s youth know what ‘Aarakshan’ means?

I am sure they’re aware of the word ‘aarakshan’ and what it means. And if they don’t, we will tell them. (Smiles)

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