‘Total transparency’ is the mantra of his success. Having delivered hits one after another, he’s the only producer who’s not only survived the winds of change but is also a reference point for those who want to take the plunge into film production. Sajid Nadiadwala, fondly known as Sajid-bhai, is now going ahead with not one but five biggies, something even the big corporate daddies cannot pull off. Here’s the man, who’s also the hottest topic of discussion in the trade, in conversation with Vajir Singh
Five in one go… Phew!
(Smiles) You know me well, right? I have always made one film at a time but this time, it just happened. We planned to make the Housefull sequel in 2012 but we secured Akshay’s (Kumar) dates and the Housefull team was charged up. When we secured John’s (Abraham) dates as well, we decided to go ahead and start shooting. Alternatively, we were to start shooting Kick at the end of last year but got delayed. Now this film will go on the floors in September.
Also, we’ve been working on one script (based on the book, Two States) but neither I nor Saif (Ali Khan), who was to play the lead, was happy with the way it was shaping up. One fine day, I got a call from Vishal Bhardwaj and he expressed a desire to make this film with Shah Rukh Khan.
Interesting! Please continue…
Imtiaz Ali was to start his next with me but it got delayed. After he’s done with Rockstar, he will start his next with me after a small break. And then there’s Sabir Khan’s next film after Kambakht Ishq. Everything just happened to fall in place and soon we will be shooting all five movies.
Since you’ve always made one movie at a time, how will you cope with five films?
I am working day in and out. Pre-prod ho raha hai. Ek ka toh main writer hun (Housefull 2) toh uski toh writing abhi chal rahi hai.
Will you be part of the screenplay team of Housefull 2?
I only write story and additional screenplay. We have a lot of people involved with the screenplay. Like, Kick is being written by Rajat Arora of Once Upon a Time… Sabir, with his team, is working on Heer Ranjha and Vishal will take care of the Two States adaptation. As for Imtiaz, once he’s done with Rockstar, we will start work on his project.
You and Sajid Khan are repeating Akshay and Riteish but not the third hero. Fardeen Khan starred in Heyy Babyy but he was replaced by Arjun Rampal in Housefull and this time, John has replaced Rampal.
You’ve seen Housefull? Could Arjun’s role be played by Fardeen? Similarly, John and these guys are different and there was no role for Arjun. The character decides an actor, not vice versa.
Apart from making five films in one go, you’re in the news because you will be working with both Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan at the same time, though in different films. How are you going to do that?
They are both professionals. Unka jo bhi chalta hai, it’s between them. Let me make one thing clear. I always run everything past Salman, including every major decision in my life.
Will you be a solo producer or will Shah Rukh’s production company be involved in the adaptation of Two States?
I had the rights of Two States. Vishal showed a keen interest to make this film. He had a word with SRK. This is level one and now it’s time for level two. I also know that SRK has told the media that he met Vishal and he’s doing the film. So did Vishal. But for me as a producer, there is a certain protocol. I believe in papers and contracts. Level 1 hota hai ki they like the idea, Level 2 is about terms and conditions. That is, how the companies will join hands, what are the percentages?
(Pauses) Though we’re yet to sit together and decide on the product, the media, as always, has gone and reported that SRK will keep 90 per cent of it. When a reporter called me, I told him, “Why are you keeping only ten per cent for me?” This is absurd.
As of now, nothing is finalised. Everyone knows that Vishal was busy with 7 Khoon Maaf and SRK is very busy with the shoot of Don 2 and post-production of Ra.One. Where’s the time for the three of us to sit together and take the project to the next level?
Do you also believe in actors taking a percentage of the profits?
I’ve had more than two decades’ experience in filmdom and I feel the more transparent you are, the more transparent they (the actors) become. People say Akshay (Kumar) takes a lot of money from me apart from his share. Had this been true, I wouldn’t be doing one film after another with him. If you open your books of accounts to them, they will work with you. I give them the minutest details about the money I’ve spent on the movie. That’s why they trust me.
Is this the mantra of your success?
I have worked with 95 per cent of the industry. So whether with Amitabh-sir or Anil Kapoor, today I am working with everybody from Salman to Akshay, Imtiaz Ali and Vishal. The reason I enjoy myself is I am a people’s guy. I haven’t had problems with anyone in 22 years. During the shoot of Jaan-e-Mann, the media had claimed I had fought with Shirish Kunder. There are always arguments during scripting but that does not mean there is a problem. He is my brother-in-law. Humne usko apne ghar ki beti (Farah Khan) dee hai. How can I’ve issues with him?
There was also news that Shirish Kunder had a problem with Salman Khan. But, again, you brought them together in your next Kick.
Shirish is a very work-centric guy while Salman has a different attitude. He works on his own terms, take it or leave it. Some directors take it sportingly and some don’t. It wasn’t as big as it was made out to be. There were arguments; nothing more.
Also, there was news about your fallout with Sajid Khan and the latter doing his next with Vashu Bhagnani?
How can anyone ever have a problem with Sajid Khan? When he’s not working, he’s always laughing or making you laugh. As for his film with Vashu, Sajid told me about it when I was holidaying abroad. I even got a call from Vashuji, who said he wanted to hand over a signing cheque to Sajid through me once I got back.
News in the trade is that you’ve decided not to co-produce films with Eros International in future.
Let the news die a natural death. I have had a fabulous relationship with Kishore and Sunil Lulla (of Eros). Like I said, I am a people’s guy. My staff, including my driver, have been with me for 20 years. The same applies to my professional life. That doesn’t mean I don’t make changes. Like I am making Housefull 2 and Kick on my own.
Why have you decided to go solo after such a long time?
One needs to. There are so many people who have worked with me in 25 years, my personal distributors. Unka ek personal grief hai ki humko kabhi picture milti nahi hai.
It is believed that corporate houses cannot exploit a film the way a veteran distributor can. Since you have worked with both, how do you decide whom to choose?
This is a very debatable question. Many filmmakers rely only on corporates. Everyone has their own business ethics and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I can also say that as an individual, I make better films. But it’s wrong to believe that corporates cannot make films. They are doing a good job too. It’s due to them that the industry has become streamlined.
But many solo producers are now idle because of corporate production houses. And you’re doing very well despite the odds.
(Pauses) Among producers, there are always a few like the Tauranis but they have the music company. Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Farah Khan and Shirish Kunder, Rakesh Roshan and Excel Entertainment, these are all directors. Yes you are right, sirf producers mein bahut kam hai.
How do you manage to work with the best despite being one of the few solo producers left in the trade?
My style of working hasn’t changed. My governance has become better like my books of account. Except Jaan-e-Mann, all my films have worked in the last 14 years. Whether Jeet, Waqt Hamara Hai, Judwaa or Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. Thanks to the corporates, I am more diligent and my governance is more streamlined.
Do you believe that maintaining a good rapport with everyone is the key to your success?
Often, an actor may perform well in one film but may not perform well in another. Ek producer ki ek actor ke saath regular hit aati hai so it’s about how you inspire your technicians. You cannot be rude and expect them to meet your expectations. Don’t work with people you don’t get along with. If you want to get good work out of people, you must have a positive attitude. That is why I am successful 95 per cent of the time. (Smiles)
What happens when filmmakers deliver two successful films and become over-confident?
(Cuts in) Yes, many people become complacent after delivering one or two hits. Filmmaking is just like a game of cricket. You have to be as good as your last game and even better. Similarly, if you score a duck in your last match, it doesn’t mean you will perform badly in your next match too. The quality of your work and the way you transact business makes your brand.
You believe in giving your director a free hand, right?
Yes, but I am involved at the scripting stage. Sometimes, I am learning and sometimes, I am teaching. For instance, Sajid Khan started with me and I was there to guide him as I had more experience, whereas from people like Vishal and Imtiaz, I get to learn.
Finally, you have either made comedy or action (total entertainers) films but have never attempted hard-hitting films. Why?
Since I am an individual producer, I make whatever I like. When I want to make 12 films a year like a corporate house does, then I may try other subjects. It is very difficult for a vegetarian to open a non-vegetarian restaurant. I make what I prefer to watch. I feel I have so much pain that I like to make films to make people laugh.