Embarking on a project after two flops is not easy. Still, he defied the odds as well as popular opinion while making his upcoming Kahaani. Sujoy Ghosh tells that self-belief and delivering on promises is a key part of filmmaking
Your last release was Aladdin, which tanked badly. It must have been difficult to raise money for your next film, Kahaaniwith Vidya Balan.
Yes, it was the most difficult task of my life. In fact, it was more difficult than raising money for my first film Jhankar Beats. With Jhankar, I had no track record but with Aladdin, I had two flops, the other being Home Delivery. So no track record is better than two flops. Also, the problem with Kahaani was that the film appeared very expensive on paper, almost Rs 17 crore.
But both Vidya and I knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I would have been stupid to approach a producer, after two flops, to make a film with Vidya Balan (who at that time didn’t have big hits like Paa, Ishqiya, Jessica or The Dirty Picture to her credit). But we went ahead with the assumption that Aladdin would be a super hit and that no one would question us. That did not happen. God changed the plan. Making a film is like getting married to a woman of your choice. The world will say she is no good for you. But if you want to marry her, you will, regardless. People who had my best interests at heart repeatedly advised me to make Kahaani later. Had I listened to them, then even Jhankar would not have been made.
How did your financial backers, Pen India, come on board?
Kahaani is about a woman who goes to Kolkata in search of her husband who suddenly goes missing. Everyone tries to assure her that her husband does not exist. But she questions them how this could be true as she is carrying his child.
As I said, the film is very expensive on paper but I knew I could make it for less. I approached a lot of people and told them I could make the film within a certain amount. But in all fairness, they asked me what if I couldn’t. Pen was the only company that trusted me.
How did you choose Vidya Balan as the protagonist of the film?
I have always been this way. I could only imagine Vidya doing Kahaani just as knew I couldn’t have made Aladdinwithout Ritesh Deshmukh or Bachchan Sir or Sanjay Dutt.
What was it about Kahaani that made you so passionate about making the film?
I believed in the story as is the case with all my films. As a filmmaker, you have a responsibility to your audience and to society. Cinema is a powerful medium, where you have the undivided attention of 100-200 people in one dark room. When I made Aladdin, I wanted to give children the message that they would not be handed a magical lamp and that they had to work hard to get the things they wanted. I don’t think I was able to convey that correctly.
Kahaani is about what happens to a woman when she is about to become a mother. A woman undergoes a major transformation when she becomes a mother. Even if it’s a modern woman, she would have to cook and do her children’s homework with them. Most women complain are known to complain about things. But when it comes to my kids, I have watched my wife wake up every two hours to feed the baby without any complaints.
Kahaani talks about a woman’s mental strength, when she is left alone in an environment where she doesn’t know a thing like a city she visits for the first time. A mother will do anything to keep her family together. Kahaani is a tribute to everyone’s mother. It is the closest you can get to God. As a mother, a woman is the fiercest animal you can encounter.
Weren’t you ever asked to add a hero to the film?
Fifty thousand times! There was a huge “NO” staring me in the face when I set out to make Kahaani. There were so many “no’s”… For instance, a pregnant heroine; not being able to show the heroine taking a bath in a white saree; the budget; no songs; no hero, etc.
Do you think Kahaani is being made at the right time, considering Vidya’s career is doing so well?
Yes, I can feel relieved that the film will take a decent opening but I can’t escape the pressure of wondering if people will like the film. The film has to speak for itself. Good marketing will ensure a good opening but you can’t take the audience’s trust for granted.
Amitabh Bachchan sings a song in Kahaani. How did you get him to agree?
I asked him and he said yes. He has never said no to me, ever. He has spoilt me rotten. He is a great human being. That’s why he is who he is. He is not insecure. He doesn’t think twice. And if he thinks this act will help someone, he will do it. Mr Bachchan agreeing to sing for a film is a huge thing. But he was, like, “If you want it, I’ll do it. I wanted someone whose voice people could not miss.
Will you make a video on Amitabh Bachchan?
We might do a ‘making of him singing’ and put it out but we will need his permission. The film is a Vidya Balan film. If I highlight Mr Bachchan’s name, it would be wrong to exploit Mr Bachchan’s love.