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“In our industry there are permanent friends and temporary enemies”

Guest Editor Sajid Nadiadwala in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Apart from Dharma Productions and your company, not many solo producers have survived.

Sajid Nadiadwala (SN): It’s quite difficult. Some are lucky, some were dedicated. I can only speak for myself. I worked non-stop for 27 years, just like Salman Khan. Holidays are when you’re shooting overseas. Like, Housefull ke liye, abroad gaye toh chhutti mana li or Anjaana Anjaani ke liye, USA gaye toh its like vacation. And now we are shooting in Corsica for Tamasha. So when we go there for work, we take some time to sightsee. We were dedicated and were also lucky, and luckily, the right things happened to us.

BOI: Is it also because you’ve maintained a good rapport with everyone?

SN: In the ’80s, a good rapport meant you knew an actor and drank with them late into the night. In the ’90s, the concept changed to a producer who was loaded with money paying the actor what they demanded. Things have since changed – you should give money, you should also have a relationship with the person and have a good track record of not only making good cinema but successful cinemas. I might say I am not talented when it comes to production but people might see some talent in me. Koi hoga jo bolega nahi talent hai. Eventually, it’s a blend of luck and talent, relationship se kuch nahi hota.

BOI: Was it easy to make movies as Sajid Nadiadwala earlier or is it easier today?

SN: That’s very difficult to say… because we have been doing nothing but working and God has been very kind. Koi achchi film hit nahi huyi toh taklif hoti hai… In between, we faced some problems getting visas for London during the shoot of Kick but we cannot complain because it wasn’t a big issue. People say it’s difficult to make projects but all I have been doing is working. One day, I decided to not make a film. That was after Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega. After that film, I felt very tired and I thought I should take a break of two to three years. I felt I should settle down, so I got married and had children. Then I felt like making another film and I made Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. Then I thought I should make one film a year. Four years ago, good talent started coming in to the industry, with filmmakers like Imtiaz Ali and Kabir Khan. So I didn’t have the luxury to make only one film a year.

There may be a time when I don’t feel like making any more films, which is fine because I don’t have any corporate staff working for me. I don’t have a turnover; it’s a small family. I have only two kids. There is no hard and fast rule that I should release films every quarter, that I should make a certain number of films in a specified period of time. This year, I had four releases – Highway, 2 States, Heropanti and now Kick. Actually, there was a fifth, Phantom, which we postponed to next year because my staff is working 18-20 hours a day.

I decided mazdoori karke fayeda nahi hai. So Phantom is releasing on April 3, 2015. So, once again, next year, we will have four films – Phantom, Tamasha, one with Tiger Shroff and Housefull 3. And I am planning another film with Kabir Khan. But there could be a year when we don’t have a single release at all.

BOI: Three hits in your kitty already and now there’s Kick. Do you think this has been the best year of your career?

SN: I hope this is not the best year of my life. This year should be the worst year like arey, sirf chaar hi hit hai yaar. Yeh toh sabse bura saal hai! (Laughs)

BOI: Speaking of being a solo producer… while many big production houses are shutting down, yours is getting bigger and bigger. How have you kept up with the changing times?

SN: We have been thinking guys, my team and I are always thinking. Every morning we discuss what we can do that’s new. If we watched a film the previous night, we wonder whether we can make a film on similar lines. Can we design a film like that? America mein yeh film hit huyi hai, aisa kuch karein? There are some films made by creators like Imtiaz Ali and Kabir Khan, and we can help them design a project. For instance, we designed Highway. We thought even if the film earns around Rs 15 crore, we will make a profit because it’s a small-budget film made on a budget of only Rs 8 crore. It earned Rs 30 crore. So I apply my mind to how we can make this film an international product. Similarly with Kabir’s film. I learn from people and then teach my team.

So, whatever I learnt from Imtiaz or Kabir and all the big directors I have worked with, I convey that to Sabbir Khan. Then I discuss it with my team and see whether we can make it work, like how we make a wonderful combination with Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan and Riteish Deshmukh. That’s a funny combination. We think cinema 24X7 and we adapt a lot of stuff from other people.

BOI: Speaking of maintaining relationships… you did a couple of films with David Dhawan and a couple of films with Raj Kanwar..

SN: (Cuts in) My grandfather did three films with Amitabh Bachchan, Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra.

BOI: Aapko log chhodke kyun nahi jaate?

SN: You should ask them, not me. My colour of money is the same colour as everyone else’s. In fact, I pay 10 per cent less than others do. It’s just that since I am also a creative producer, I take away all the excess trouble a director is usually burdened with, like waiting outside the vanity van of an actor. All my directors never have to struggle with actors. Creatively, I never sit behind the monitor but the only thing I insist on is that I have a say in the final cut. Corporate agreements stipulate that a film should not exceed 2 hours, 20 minutes. But we have oral it when Sabbir made Heropanti or (Sajid) Khan made Housefull 1 and 2.

BOI: Sabbir Khan gave you Kambakkht Ishq, which didn’t work very well at the ticket counter but you still believed in him and he made Heropanti, that too with new actors.

SN: More than work, talent and luck, there is the human element. You’re also growing older. I started working at 22 and am 48 now. During my entire career, I have had only one film that flopped. Whether Andolan or Waqt Hamara Hai, we have made money from all our films. There was only one flop, Jaan-E-Mann. But that’s my favorite film and the critics gave it four and a half stars.

So I don’t believe in hard-and-fast rules. Like, Salim (Khan) uncle always tells me ‘Taqdir paise laati hai, akkal gawati hai’. If I write an autobiography one day, it will tell all these stories. 99 per cent of what I think is intelligent, never shapes up like if I had planned. I planned a few films with various actors whom I don’t want to name but they didn’t materialise...and thank God they did not! And while making some other films, I would say it to myself, ‘Yeh main kya kar raha hoon?’ And those films became money spinners! There are films I have made with my third choice of cast and these have always become blockbusters. There are so many talented people out there but nothing is happening to them. Van ke bahar hi unki zindagi khatam ho jaati hai, gate se van tak life khatam.

I’ve had the same team with me for 22 years. They may not be very savvy but they are hardworking and loyal. I have also never done any PR for my films. The first film for which I did any PR was Jaan-E-Mann and... game over! We didn’t do any PR during Judwaa, Jeet, Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega. There used to be this old guy like a peon, Ramesh (Kerur), who used to come with a bag. If even one picture would get published in Mayapuri magazine, we used to be happy.

BOI: Kick is all set for release but we just have to ask… Why did you decide to direct a film after all these years?

SN: That happened by default. There was this joke about a Sardaar ‘Woh Sardaar ek bachche ko well se bacha ke laata hai, sab bolte hai Sardaar kya kaam kiya tune… and he turns around and says, ‘Woh toh theek hai dhakka kisne maara?’ That’s what happened with me too. We were talking to some people about direction but nothing was shaping up. Dates jaa rahe thhe Salman ke and I was worried.

One day, I asked him ‘what to do?’ and he said, ‘Why don’t you direct it?’ I nodded for one second, kya boloon, kya karoon? By then, he had tweeted ‘Grandson has become a director.’ I returned home and told my mother, ‘Mummy, main director ban gaya.’ She was shocked. Then we got the right team together and we faced a visa hassle during the first schedule itself. So we started shooting from January 27 and then I developed a back problem. So I used to lie down while shooting. Salman apna shot deke aake haal chaal pooch ke jaata tha. Bed chalta tha mere saath.

Then it was time to release the trailer and we were not happy with the cut. So my editor and I cut the trailer together. We started getting reactions and people like Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan tweeted about it. My editor and I looked at each other and thought, ‘Yeh toh achcha kaam ho gaya!’ We were just doing our work but now we can take all the credit. Like, that train scene in the trailer which everyone is talking about. It will go down in history even though it happened by default. We were not getting a train to shoot and suddenly we got one. According to the scene, the cycle was to cross the tracks before the train did. Suddenly Salman said, ‘Let’s do it like this… I leave the cycle and I walk.’ Everyone disagreed because the light was falling and we had little time. No one wanted to change it at the last minute but he insisted that he would abandon the cycle and cross the rest of the tracks on foot. I told him, ‘It’s a train and you have to be scared.’ But when he delivered that shot, we gaped at each other, speechless. It was FANTASTIC. We couldn’t have taken another take anyway. It all happened organically.

Now we are wondering how we can match the film with the trailer. Trailer toh nikal gaya, khush bhi ho gaye log aur soch rahe hai trailer se kamaal hogi film. We are wondering whether the film will live up to the trailer! When Salman suggested that I direct the film, I had no choice. I started working just as I used to with other directors, except that this time, I was sitting behind the monitor. Earlier, I used to visit the sets at lunch time but, during this film, I used to reach at six in the morning.

That’s the difference, my people helped me. If I had any doubts, I used to ask Imtiaz. During the sound mixing, I used to ask Kabir to look at it. During the poster designing, Sabbir helped me. My DoP, Ayanka Bose, was very nice. So everyone rallied. I knew the basic work because I have delivered 17 to 19 super hit films. I figured there must have been a reason. That reason came into play while making Kick. But aisa response aayega socha nahi tha.

BOI: Right now, you’re working with corporate companies but there was a time when you used to announce a movie and then simply call up distributors from all over India. Do you miss doing that?

SN: Nahi… because they are still there, the same Vijay Kher, BH Basha and Hyderabad wale (Dilip) Tandonji hain. It’s just that business has increased. What has increased are the actors’ remuneration, promotion and marketing. Becharo ki kamar toot jaati thi. Earlier, they used to carry money in a packet. A distributor from Nepal used to acquire films for
Rs 1 lakh and he would come with the Rs 25,000 signing amount. Jisne bhi diya paisa, picture uski ho gayi. Vijay and my other distributor friends called me up to ask if they could buy it and I was, like, ‘You want to buy it?’

The ratio is very huge today and that means you are telling me to tell you that I am going to make the biggest film in Indian history. Toh main aapko bolta hoon aap bindas le lo, le lo. Which means I am giving you a film that is even bigger than Dhoom 3. But as a debutant, it is not fair on my part.

Through Box Office India, I want to say one thing… When I decided to make this film as a director and as a producer, I thought my aim should be Rs 180-190 crore. If I can cross that figure, it will be a first for Salman and a first for me. Jacqueline Fernandes has not been a part of the Rs 200-crore club; Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Randeep Hooda have not been part of such a club. We should aim for this figure. But when people talk about Rs 250-260 crore, then log meri waat laga rahe hain because even if the film touches Rs 249 crore, they will say mazaa nahi aaya. Woh sochke film nahi banayi. But we didn’t write this film keeping a figure like that in mind. So my only agenda is to make it clear through this interview that I would be very happy with a business of Rs 199-200 crore. No debutant director has achieved that mark. None of the big films lined up for the second half of this year has a debutant director. Even next year, the line-up has established directors. So I would hold this record for at least two years.

This is not vacation period; it’s not Christmas vacation. So I will have a very bad first day and I will have a very bad Monday. I mean, the film would have crossed Rs 40 crore if released on a holiday. Trade toh watt lagane wali hai. They will say mazaa nahi aaya, Monday gir gaya film. They will shout again on Tuesday. I will be holding my breath from Friday to Tuesday. Jab tak Tuesday aayega, they will say ab mazaa aayega. It is not easy to hit the Rs 200-crore mark. Earning Rs 23-25 crore on the first day is a very good figure, keeping in mind that it’s a Friday. As a Muslim, I don’t go out on Friday and my television set is switched off at home. My family will not watch the film till Eid, including my wife. My kids will watch it quietly. Muslims will not watch the film on a Friday. Non-Muslims will come but since Friday is a working day, even they will prefer watching it on Sunday or Tuesday, which is a holiday.

So Monday is a very scary day for me. Earlier, we were wondering whether we should release on a Tuesday or a Sunday. If I say ‘best Friday’ or ‘best Tuesday’, those are like T-20 matches; it’s not a Test match. If I had released the film on a weekday, the economics would have got very complicated. If I would have released it on a Sunday or a Tuesday, I would have got Rs 45 crore on day one. We eventually decided to release it organically and let it grow.

BOI: Do you think we are giving too much importance to these record numbers… day one, highest weekend etc?

SN: No, there is transparency. Earlier, people used to make very tall claims. Now this is not possible because the numbers are in the public domain thanks to a magazine and website like yours and a few others. So, when there is so much transparency, why shouldn’t we have these numbers? Everything has a target, whether Jhalak... Dikhla Jaa, the Olympics or the World Cup.

Why do we say ‘top five films’, why don’t we say ‘top seven films’? Because a mark has been set. Creativity is very difficult to measure. And you can’t argue with numbers. Log bolte hai feeding kiya, abhi bunglow bik jayenge feeding karne jao toh. So I believe there has to be a benchmark for everything. Rs 1,700 crore was Titanic’s benchmark, which James Cameron broke with his next Avatar. Now it’s Rs 2,700 crore. How can we evaluate without a mark?

So many film advertisements have these stars on them… four stars and five stars. Then, there is a magazine like yours which is a pioneer along with two or three other websites that are not corrupted. People like you are setting a finishing line to the race.

A producer never says ‘I will get four and a half stars for my film’. He wants to get the maximum number of cinema halls, screens and shows and for everyone to know that his film is releasing on a specific date. That’s his target.

A director perceives his film through people’s reactions. He watches everybody and every reviewer. I feel that every critic should like my film because they are part of the numbers. They have been my friends and they have always given me two and a half or three stars because of the kind of films I make, which cannot go beyond three stars. But now that I am directing a film, I am becoming a little hungry and selfish for them to like it. If they don’t, it’s going to upset me.

They are friends like you (Vajir Singh) ab agar tu bolega ke film second half mein thodi boring thi, I will never call you about it but when I will read your review, I will feel I should have pleased you and made the film better. So as a director, I have nothing to do with commerce. Like Imtiaz used to tell me, you discuss business and I will discuss creativity.

BOI: When you are making a film like Kick, how do you know when to be the director and when to be the producer? For instance, when taking a shot, do you worry about the next day’s shoot permissions?

SN: No, I have a good team, and I have also been an assistant director and have survived many a yelling. I think like a director and always know what a director goes through on an early morning shoot if his requirements are not met.

I have never ever made a budget to date, not even for my upcoming films, whether Phantom or Tamasha. Directors ask me that kitne ki picture banegi and I say, pata nahi. I figure out a rough amount as I have studied chartered accountancy. For example, I knew Heropanti would cost Rs 20 crore and could not go beyond that, give or take a little. There was no budget for Sylvester Stallone, we never thought, hamare budget mein nahin aayega toh Arnold Schwarzenegger ko le lenge. Aisa kuch tha nahi.

I wanted to shoot at the Kodak theatre, where they have the Oscar ceremony every year. So we went to LA and we shot there. It was 10 times more expensive but we shot there. This child like attitude in me has helped us survive. Woh bachpana hai abhi hamaari company mein. From me, to my production house to my directors, if we don’t like something we redo it without thinking about the budget. And I think ye bachpana jab tak hai, we will survive.

BOI: This year’s films – from Highway, to 2 States to Heropanti and now Kick – are all very different from each other. What makes you green-light a project?

SN: I didn’t green-light Highway, Imtiaz did. He was like, tu producer ban ja. Other than that, I wanted to make these films. Like with 2 States, I am less of a reader and more a movie watcher. So I read the book and tried my luck with getting the rights and I got them. So I went to Shah Rukh (Khan), he really liked it but we had a meeting and I felt tense. Then I met Ranbir (Kapoor)… we hugged and the film was green-lit. Everyone kept green-lighting the film and one day, I realised that the film was stalling. Nobody was doing it to me organically but maybe that was the nature of the film, kisi ki jholi mein girna tha. Toh Arjun (Kapoor) ki jholi mein gir gaya.

Shah Rukh had said yes, Ranbir had said yes, tweeting ho rahi thi. Then Karan (Johar) said one of his directors had written this script and he was planning to buy the rights but I had them. I said, ‘You take it.’ I was very close to Yash (Johar) uncle. He said, ‘No, I don’t want to take it like this so I said let’s make it together.’ I said Ranbir would take time so who could do it? And he said ‘Arjun’. Imagine Shah Rukh se Arjun tak. I said ‘Arjun?’ and almost fell off my chair. But Karan was very confident. Director Abhishek Varman is the son of one of my art directors R Varman. Varman dada has worked with us and Arjun has grown up in front of me. He is a sweet child. So I said, ‘Okay, let’s go ahead.’

And look at the result. Now I have more feathers in my cap because of Arjun. It was interesting when the film crossed Rs 100 crore. Even when Heropanti was happening, Sabbir (Khan) felt the baggage from Kambakkht Ishq. Actors were scared to be a part of Heropanti and then Tiger (Shroff) walked in.

This film was more for Sabbir and you have to back talent as failure is a part of everyone’s life. If I back people based only on success, then nobody will work with me. That applies to everyone I have worked with, including Akshay Kumar, and Salman Khan with Judwaa and Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! had not released it at the time. It was the same with Preity (Zinta), Rani (Mukerji) and Priyanka (Chopra).

BOI: But do you think it is reciprocated?

SN: Some people don’t but that cannot be a benchmark. I say in our industry there are permanent friends and temporary enemies. Waapas dosti ho jaati hai bus Eid chahiye hoti hai gale milne ke liye. There are permanent friends bus naraaz ho jaate hai because it is a competitive line. Agar unki film garam hui hai toh dusre ki bhi ayegi and those are not upset jinki film nahi aarahi hai. About 96 per cent yehi problem hai. So I would think that there are no permanent enemies, sab milte hai bus timing alag hoti hai. Koi 4 saal baad milta hai toh koi 9. Nobody dies as an enemy.

BOI: So where does Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment go from here? What are your plans?

SN: No plans. But we are working and I feel the only weakness in my company is that I need to see more people who are like me. I need to clone myself. I feel that as long as we have talent, we will survive. I think the future depends on talent, not money. People who have talent will survive as will those who have ideas and innovation.


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