My career has been an interesting journey. I made my first film when I was fresh out of college. I was young and had new ideas. I knew what heartbreak was because everyone in college had gone through those feelings. And I was also quintessentially filmy at heart. I knew I had to make something young yet keep the Hindi filminess alive. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was a product of me as a hardcore Hindi film fan plus a few of my personal emotions.
I was very thrilled with the response and I felt a great amount of reverence towards my parents for giving me the values that helped me make a career for myself. So my next film was an ode and tribute to my mom and dad. And so I made Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. At the time, there was a ‘cool’ phase in Hindi cinema. Dil Chahta Hai (DCH)had redefined what was ‘cool’ and I felt I was capable of making something contemporary and cool because I had been slotted as this family filmmaker who was making something that was not modern.
I was very inspired by DCH and wrote Kal Ho Naa Ho, which had a new type of treatment, a new kind of energy and vibe. After that, I lost my father, and I was in a different head space and zone. So I travelled for a year and I didn’t do any writing. I just wanted to be with myself. Everywhere I went, I heard about broken relationships, broken marriages and infidelity. And so I wanted to do something darker, deeper and more mature. And so, from all about loving your parents to all about leaving your wife… this was my next feat in cinema and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna was a result of that.
After that, I was in a different head zone, where I felt I shouldn’t only entertain but also info-tain. I wanted to present information in the garb of entertainment. I felt there were a lot of misconceptions about a certain religion. And post 9/11, I felt strongly about that. I felt the story of My Name Is Khan (MNIK) needed to be told to the world, not only to a domestic audience but also to the diaspora.
I felt that I had gained so much by building a career as an entertainer and now I needed to give back to humanity. MNIK was a give-back to society. It was a film with an integral message and I needed to tell it. But the three years it took to make MNIK took an emotional toll on me. I was exhausted emotionally and as a filmmaker too.
So after that, I wanted to make a ‘holiday film’ and that’s why I made Student Of The Year (SOTY). It’s an easy film – a film about youngsters and about very young kids. I have never made a film that is this young. It has lip-sync songs; it has big dances; it has glamour; it has grandeur; and yet it speaks about friendship, what competition can do to destroy relationships and friendships. Apart from the grandeur, gloss and glamour, it is also a film about competition destroying friendship. But I still call it my ‘holiday film’. As a filmmaker, I went on a creative vacation and had a ball. So SOTY is my party film.
To me, the biggest challenge was taking on newcomers, something I have never done before. I have only worked with big movie stars and have never launched careers. That was challenging. Not only was making a young film a challenge, because I was 39 when I started the youngest film of my career, but the challenge was also working with first-time actors. But I did it on my own and not once did I compromise on the budget or scale or opulence of the film. Not once did I miss having big movie stars in my film. Allow me to say, with humility, that I don’t think anyone has spent the kind of money I have, working with newcomers. So I hope and pray that all the hard work pays off.
The industry gave me a very warm welcome when I started out and it gave me a lot of love. I would love to give back to the industry by making my company launch more and more new talent. There is a paucity of actors and actresses in the industry, and we juggle between six and seven names. As a result, there is a certain fatigue factor which is seeping into our work. So it is necessary to leverage our talent with more actors. I feel I am being a responsible filmmaker and am doing what I am expected to do. It is something people in my position must do. And every established filmmaker should do the same.