BOI: As always, can we say, Mr Ghai is back!
Subhash Ghai (SG): After the failure of Yuvvraaj and Kisna, I know the trade is expecting something from Subhash Ghai’s Kaanchi. I don’t want to comment on my failures or successes as they are mine. But I do want to say the trade needs to be more mature about the way it reacts. Box-office collections are most important but they are not everything. You cannot compare them with talent. Around 60-70 per cent people without talent also have box-office hits to their name. And the ratio for the genuinely talented is barely 30 per cent.
Everyone is not a box-office achiever. There are two aspects – talent and box-office collections. The box office can be wooed by songs, for any one factor. But films are not about one factor alone; it is a complete film. So when a film flops, it does that mean the man who gave you 12-14 hits is no longer talented. Nowhere in the world have people said ‘Steven Spielberg is not talented’ whereas he too has given flops.
Trade analysts call me an old warrior who is making a ‘comeback’. I feel they ought to use their intelligence. The cinema business is full of creative people, and unless creative people take some risks with subject and content, they cannot be winners.
BOI: You’re known to be a risk taker ...
SG: (Cuts in) I have taken risks throughout my career. When Shatrughan Sinha was known as a villain, I signed him as a hero, and that too in a double role in Kaalicharan. In Vidhaata, I did not have any star, only an old warrior (Dilip Kumar) and a newcomer Sanjay Dutt. I made Saudagar with two old warriors, Dilip Kumar, Raaj Kumar, and two newcomers Manisha Koirala and Vivek Mushran. I made Hero with an entirely new star cast. Wasn’t that a risk? I launched two newcomers – Mahima Chaudhry and Apoorva Agnihotri – in Pardes, which also featured Shah Rukh Khan, who was not that big a star in those days. Because they were hits, you gave me credit. Fine!
You see the pattern of a filmmaker, who likes to take up different types of projects, concepts, subjects and genres. No one can say Kisna and Yuvraaj were bad films. They can say they were flops, in terms of their price. When Karz released, it was a flop. I still have media clippings on how they slashed my film Karz. It was badly criticsed and the media claimed it was a rehash of The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. ‘Pran was a blot in the film; Aruna Irani was bad; Rishi Kapoor played the guitar unnecessarily.’ But, 30 years later, it suddenly becomes a cult film for the younger generation. Those same critics who trashed my film now tell me how many times they ended up watching Karz, which scene they like and how brilliant every actor performed in the film.
Khalid Mohammad wrote about the dog in Taal. In fact, half his column in a leading newspaper was about the dog and how it belongs to Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! He criticised the film but Taal is one of Khalid Mohammad’s favourite films today. So where do we stand when we appreciate or criticise a film? This has happened to many other directors, actors and producers.
What we need is a bigger and broader outlook about a performer with a good body of work. If you’re sitting with me because of my body of work, you’re expecting something from Kaanchi because you liked my earlier films.
Some expect a good subject, some expect a hit but my job is to make a good film and do my best. It is the same talent that expressed itself in Kaalicharan, Karz, Krodhi, Vidhaata, Hero, Yuvvraaj, Kisna and Pardes. Nowadays, I have to convince exhibitors that my film features with newcomers but is a little expensive. That I made the film on a budget of Rs 30 crore, not Rs 3 crore. I want to use auro sound. We will install 52 speakers in the auditorium, so you feel every scene because of the sound system.
My journey is one. The moment I lose my passion to make cinema, I will announce it and take a backseat. But the problem is, you’re compared with your last film. So, if my last film Yuvvraaj didn’t work, the assumption is the latest one will also not work. They forget there are many players in the market today, players who belong to the ’80s and ’90s, like David Dhawan, Anees Bazmee and Rakesh Roshan. But that doesn’t mean directors of the ’80s are not making good cinema and only filmmakers who make films like The Lunchbox are surviving today.
I love all kinds of cinema but I make ‘Subhash Ghai films’, where there is drama, emotion, love, fights, music and melodrama. They keep telling me, make a Subhash Ghai film, make something like Ram-Lakhan. How can I make a Ram-Lakhan? It was made 30 years ago and I make a film like that today, they will say, ‘Oh, he’s made a film like Ram-Lakhan again!’ He hasn’t grown.
All this places filmmakers in a tricky situation. How does one react to the trade, how does one react to the critics? Ek ne perception banaya, sab ne maana. Ek gyaani, uski sabne maani. We need to act mature and give talented filmmakers some love. Don’t trash a person, love him. I know Kaanchi will be trashed by 40 per cent of people. But I am confident of my work. The contribution of a critic has to help the business grow and make a director aware of where he went wrong.
When I say ‘motion pictures’, I mean films like Sholay and Karma. A motion picture means uses every one of the 22 arts and crafts of cinema, whether it’s cutting, editing, cinematography, sound… where every technical aspect tells the story. Simply narrating a story is not enough. Why do you think films like Ben-Hur, Gone With The Wind, My Fair Lady and The Sound Of Music are fresh even today?
SG: I am 80 per cent satisfied. It is not 100 per cent because I need technicians who are looking for excellence in cinema but it is not easy to find them. Everyone wants to make a film within three months. People are worried about their release dates even before starting a film and casting for it. I can see good films getting killed because of release dates. The director doesn’t have the time to review and reworking his film because he has already announced the release date. How can you release a film if you’re not totally satisfied with it? It’s a bad practice.
BOI: Is that the reason you kept postponing Kaanchi?
SG: Yes, earlier, we decided to release Kaanchi on August 15, 2013 but I hadn’t finished shooting till July. I am a filmmaker as well as a writer; I look at cinema in a very different way. There is a huge journey from script to capturing those words as visuals. When you release a film, everything must be perfect. That’s why I took my own sweet time to make this film. I kept spending money; I was supposed to complete it in 75 days but I took 120 days. Kaanchi is a powerful character. She is a newcomer, yet she is in every scene and carries the film on her shoulders.
I had only two veteran actors, Mithun Chakraborty and Rishi Kapoor. The rest are new. So I had to do workshops and improve every scene. Before releasing the film, I had to be satisfied with the outcome despite the circumstances, despite the chaos, despite the technicians I had, despite limited funds. I made this film under huge pressure. That’s why I consider this film the most laborious film of my career.
SG: My friend AR Rahman was very busy. Many of the big stars are my friends but they could not give me time. They all are affected by Yuvvraaj more than I am. There is not a single star in this country who didn’t come to me and ask for work once upon a time. But when you do not deliver a hit film, they want to ‘re-confirm’ whether you’re the same director who used to make classic films.
BOI: Does that hurt?
SG: No, it’s funny and it makes me laugh. I chose Ismail Darbar who hadn’t worked for eight years. Rahman nahi mila, main Pritam ke pass ja sakta tha… but I know Ismail Darbar has talent, he intuitively understands music. So what if he doesn’t have a film? I approached him because I knew he would give me time. I work with artistes and technicians who give me time. I work with artistes who love me, respect me and that’s why I have always worked with new people as they are determined to establish themselves. I don’t want to work with stars who think a film has worked only because they are featuring in it. I don’t want them to feel I purchased flats because they worked in my films and the films became hits because of them. I am an artist and I am prepared to sell my flat to make a film.
BOI: Today, everyone is talking about women-oriented films. But, looking back, from Simi Grewal in Karz, Rakhi in Ram-Lakhan, Nutan in Karma, Manisha Koirala in Saudagar, Aishwarya Rai in Taal, Madhuri Dixit in Khalnayak… all these actresses played very strong roles in your movies. Do you think it’s all coming back?
SG: See, you noticed. After Kahaani and Queen, everyone is talking about women-oriented films because of the media coverage. But, if you look back at all my films, every single one of them had strong women characters, and that’s because I look at women as a powerful human beings. My mother was a very strong woman and that’s what I portray in my films. Kaanchi is about an innocent girl who transforms due to circumstances and eventually takes on the nation.
BOI: And all the actresses who featured in your films went on to become stars?
SG: I didn’t make them into stars; it was my scripts and the characters they played that helped them become big stars. Trust me, I love women, I respect women. When Aishwarya Rai did Taal, she was not a star. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Taal released in the same year and she became a star after that. But all my heroines like Meenakshi Sheshadri and Madhuri Dixit got into the characters and played those roles. Similarly, I have written a good character called Kaanchi and it is up to the audience to accept Mishti as Kaanchi.
Today, Guru Dutt is a classic filmmaker but he died because of the way people used to trash his films. He ended up drinking more and more and died. Mehboob Khan made a cult film like Mother India but his next film was Son Of India and people told him he was finished. After that, he died. They criticised Raj Kapoor after he made Mera Naam Joker. He made Bobby with newcomers. And then those same critics praised him. It’s simple – you should be confident of your work.
The first lesson I learnt was to always laugh at the critics. You should be wise enough to analyse yourself. If you ask me about Yuvvraaj and Kisna, I have just one thing to say, that I wanted to be ahead of the times as other filmmakers were copying my kind of movies. I realised later that I was finally making a film for the audience and it was not necessary for me to experiment with my own dreams, of international range, of filmmaking, to make a film with a foreign heroine and have the Vienna orchestra with an international symphony for a Salman Khan film. You are stupid to bring in an orchestra for a Katrina (Kaif) and Salman Khan film but I did it out of my passion for filmmaking. I wanted to make that film and I can still say that there will be films like Yuvvraaj and Kisna in 2025, mark my words. You will be here and I will be here and they will count it among the classics.
For me, Kaanchi is over and I will focus on my next. I have completed Kaanchi, bas mere liye Kaanchi ab past hai but iske (Mishti) liye future hai.
SG: No, I don’t. My only responsibility is that the actors I cast should be the best in my film. Mere paas yeh baccha aya maine usko pala posa, groom kiya ab future mein ye kitna grow karti hai that depends on her calibre and her destiny. Manisha (Koirala) made her own career, Madhuri (Dixit-Nene) paved her own path, Mahima handled her career in her way. You have watched all these three actresses grow, even Ash (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Each one of them has chartered their own career according to their own talent and destiny. I had nothing to do with that. Sure, I feel very proud when they are successful and it does feel good when people give credit to someone else for their success.
BOI: How did you finalise the cast for this film? Did you audition a lot of women for the lead role?
SG: When I thought of Kaanchi, the subject, the character of Kaanchi impressed me a lot because it was very different from all the other female characters I have been writing for for so many years, whether Ganga (Madhuri Dixit-Nene’s character from Khal Nayak), Radha (Madhuri Dixit-Nene’s character from Ram Lakhan), Ganga (Mahima Chaudhry’s character from Pardes) or Mansi (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s character from Taal). But I am very impressed with the honesty of the younger generation especially through Whistling Woods.
The younger generation speaks their mind; they don’t bother with being politically correct or diplomatic. Women have realised they can think independently; they know they can become leaders or creative chiefs. So they are no longer snubbed by society or their elders. This inspired me to write a different version of Mansi. Kaanchi she is derived from Mansi. Kaanchi is an aggressive form of Mansi.
The wealthy destroy Mansi’s world. They come to Kaanchi’s small town and the way she deals with them is different. The plots are similar and that’s why you can see glimpses of Mansi. People are saying ke ye ladki Ash jaisi lagti hai but Mansi bhi meri thi aur Kaanchi bhi meri hai. Main kahi bahar se yeh characters nahi leke ayah hoon. So I have the right to do what I want to with the characters. If you can make a Welcome 2 or a Race 3, I can absolutely make Mansi 2 (Laughs).
If I can make Mansi 2, I can also take that character into an altogether different zone. The way Mansi 2 behaves in the second half of the film is entirely different form how Mansi behaved in Taal. The first difference is that Kaanchi will not dance. Mishti said she didn’t know how to dance and I deleted that talent from Mansi.
I auditioned 300 girls for this character. I found many beautiful girls who lacked talent and many talented girls who were not beautiful. I also came across many talented and beautiful girls but not Kaanchi. I asked every girl who auditioned what they felt about the character after doing a specific scene. Mishti was the one who said, ‘Sir, this is me. My mother says I am like this. I am a no-nonsense kind of person. Right now, I am simply acting well-behaved in front of you.’ That made me choose her and the fact that she identified with the character.
But when I wrote the script and the character sketch of Kaanchi, and we were wondering whom to cast, my team suggested that I talk to Katrina (Kaif), Kareena (Kapoor Khan) and, yes, they are all my friends. And since this is a woman-oriented film, any one of them would have agreed to do the film. But my script demanded a new face and there was a huge conflict. They said Yuvvraaj chali nahi aapki, Paise hai nahi toh ye film bikegi kaise? And, to top it all, this is a woman-oriented subject where a hero would have limited scope so who would buy it? But I was adamant. They said, barbaad ho jaoge and I said toh ho jaunga. They said, company ka kya hoga? And I replied, jo hoga dekehnge. Picture toh main ye hi banaunga aur nayi ladki ke saath hi banaunga.
BOI: How was Kartik roped in?
As far as Kartik goes, I was shown a promo of his film by my cameraman and after a few shots, he came across as a very real and a natural actor. I had not watched him in Pyaar Ka Punchnama and I still haven’t seen the film. I felt he had a very endearing face, which was compatible with the character. Fortunately, their chemistry worked very well.
Mishti: More than proving myself, I feel that God and Subhashji have blessed me with this opportunity and I feel responsible for that. I just hope people like me for Kaanchi. This film is a stepping stone which will influence how I take my career forward. I am not thinking about my future or my past; now it is all about Kaanchi. I have been blessed to be a part of a film for which so many people had auditioned. So I feel I must justify that faith.
BOI: What was it like to work with Subhashji?
SG: (Cuts In) Mere saamne kaise meri burai karegi ye taarif hi karegi? (Laughs)
Mishti: I consider working with him a blessing, and even though I have done some regional cinema, this is my big Bollywood break – and that too with the Showman himself! So it is not difficult to imagine what that feels like. It was like a dream as it all happened before I could take it in. The journey was like a roller-coaster, to be honest.
SG: (Cuts In) When you say a ‘roller-coaster ride', what do you mean?
Mishti: I mean it was super-fast, super-exciting and it happened in the blink of an eye. There are butterflies in my stomach, and that’s why I compare it to a roller-coaster ride.
BOI: Your Bengali film has not yet released even though it was completed some time ago. Did Subhashji’s ask the filmmakers to hold the film’s release?
SG: No, I have never mentioned it to them. I did not ask them to postpone their release. They can release their film whenever they want to.
Mishti: Subhashji has never interfered with other people’s creativity. He is a creative person and therefore respects other people’s work. It is their film and it is their call.
Kartik Aaryan (KA): It was very different than the films I have done before. I had two releases before Kaanchi – Pyar Ka Punchnama and Akaash Vani. I was amazed that Subhashji called me to meet him watching only a teaser of Aakash Vani. He said, ‘Tu mera hero hai.’ I was completely flabbergasted that he was so confident of casting me. Moreover, this is only my third film and I was very nervous with the kind of confidence he showed in me.
He doesn’t work like other directors do. It was a huge learning experience. Mishti called it a roller-coster ride for her; for me, it was more like the upswing of a roller-coster. The film is a typical Subhash Ghai film, masala and massy too.
There were times when Subhashji would write a scene spontaneously on the sets and ask us to do it. He also enacted scenes to show us how it should be done and what kind of emotion should be portrayed. It was a sheer learning experience for me.
BOI: Kaanchi is largely heroine-centric. Were you worried about your role and how it would turn out?
KA: To be honest, when he told me the title of the film, I was a little concerned. I felt Kaanchi was a girl’s title role but when I discussed my part with him, all my apprehensions vanished. Like him, it is my belief too that no matter how small a role is, you will benefit if the character is strong. So I was very happy being Kaanchi’s Kaancha. And I was very happy that my character had to perform all sorts of heroic acts. For instance, action scenes…
SG: (Cuts in) If Kaanchi is the hero of the film, imagine what the hero’s hero would have to be like. Jisko Kaanchi hero maanti hai woh toh phir double hero hi hua na. (Laughs)
KA: To make Kaanchi stronger, my role had to be even stronger. (Laughs)
SG: (Cuts in) Within the given space, he is very strong. He has done a fabulous job.
SG: Mithun once said Subhashji doesn’t consider me a good actor and that’s why he has never cast me in any of his films. That’s not true. The thing is, after a certain point in his career, he became a superstar and I am scared of superstars. Main dar jaata hoon ke meri script ab inko follow karegi agar maine inko cast kiya toh. I am the kind of director who works like the script is the captain of the ship.
BOI: What was it like for both of you to work with Rishi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty?
Misthi: When you work with actors of that calibre, it is always a learning experience. I feel the scenes where I share screen space with them are my best scenes in the film.
KA: In this one scene with Mithun da, a confrontational scene, Subhashji simply made me stand in from of him. I was so scared, I couldn’t say a word and acting was a far cry at that point. So Mithun da came up to me and asked me to hurl some abuses at him. He said, ‘Mujhe ulta kuch bol phir nervous nahi hoga tu.’ I was amazed that such a big star was giving me this liberty only so that I felt more comfortable doing the scene with him. It was stunning to see he humble and secure he is as an actor.
SG: (Cuts in) It was very nice of him. Very nice gesture. Mithun da was very kind to him and Rishi Kapoor was very kind to her. (Laughs)