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A Time To Believe

The year 2018 has proved to be extremely lucky for these four filmmakers. Successful directors of 2018 – Raj Kumar Gupta (Raid), Milap Milan Zaveri (Satyameva Jayate), Amit Sharma (Badhaai Ho) and Amar Kaushik (Stree) – come together for an interesting discussion with Team Box Office India, about what changes the year brought about for them individually and for the industry as a whole. Excerpts:

Box Office India (BOI): 2018 was an interesting year for the industry and an amazing one for each of you. Can you share how you look back at the year?

Milap Milan Zaveri (MMZ): I was out of the industry. I was buried. In fact, people were saying ke kabr pe naam mat likho kyunki koi dhund le ga aur wapas nikal dega. I was out, so much so, that I was directing television episodes which were at the bottom of the barrel. People forgot every film I had written, they stopped taking my phone calls, stopped meeting me. They had written me off. I didn’t get a single cheque in 2016. Things were so bad. It was only John Abraham who had the guts to say ‘I will do this film (Satyameva Jayate)’. He liked the script that much. It’s been a miracle year.

And I was very happy because all the other three directors here made films with very strong content. Not that Satyameva Jayate was not content-oriented, but it is slotted in the masala, mass entertainer genre. It is not given the critical acclaim that a Raid, Stree or Badhaai Ho gets.

Amit and Amar, with their films, they made what they were supposed to make. There were times when my producer, Nikkhil (Advani), would see the rushes of Satyameva Jayate and ask what I was doing. He would be, like, this is 2018, tu yeh sab kaise kar sakta hai. There were some scenes like the namaaz one which is a tribute to Manmohan Desaiji, that zone of cinema.

Nikkhil told me you cannot do this today. But I said, my last film was a disaster, this may also flop but I believe in it. To everyone’s credit, they let me make it.

In Badhaai Ho, full credit to Ayushmann (Khurrana) because it is Neena Gupta ma’am and Gajraj Rao’s film, and Ayushmann had the courage to do it. It is about something way more than him. Or even in Stree, it is not only Rajkummar’s (Rao) film, it is as much Aparshakti (Khurana) or Abhishek’s (Banerjee) film. There was also a debate of the digital space taking over and I have to say that people are never going to stop going to theatres. The experience of sitting in a cinema hall with 200 people, eating popcorn, watching magic unfold on screen… digital can never take that away and thankfully the year gone by has proved it.

Amit Sharma (AS): Everywhere, I read that content is king and so it seems that this is a good time for films. People called and messaged me to say that they thought good films were not made any more, but after watching movies like these they thought we still have good films to offer. That is something that happened last year.

Raj Kumar Gupta (RKG): I think, for all of us, it has been a great year because the films that we worked on, the subjects we believed in, have worked. This year has also been great for content, which has defined this year.

BOI: From a serious drama, to a horror comedy, to a family comedy, and finally to a masala entertainer, this group defines how this year has been in terms of diverse content. Why do you think all types of genres worked with the audience this year?

Amar Kaushik (AK): I think it was always there. There weren’t many films like these but they were there. What happens is that there are certain emotions like horror or comedy or thriller, and if your film can connect your audience to them, it will work regardless of genre.

If you look at stuff that is being made in films or on digital, the quality has improved. Earlier, we would download content to watch but now it is all around us. Now, we feel that this story relates to us or our padosi or someone else we know. That is something I think the audience is enjoying at the moment.

AS: A few years back, I was talking to someone who was going to watch a movie. I asked him why he had chosen that movie and not the other one that was also running in theatres. To this, he said, who would want to exercise their brains by watching the other film. He just wanted to enjoy a mindless comedy. People have a different point of view now. Today, every star, big or small, needs word-of-mouth.

The key thing is that we are able to make what we want to. And the audience knows now what they want to and don’t want to watch. At the trailer level itself, people know whether they want to watch the film or not. This has happened because maybe we had overdosed the audience with certain kinds of films. Like my film Tevar, when it released, waisi films ka overdose ho gaya tha. The kind of films that have worked in the year 2018 were made before too but they didn’t do as much business as they do now. And because it did not do the business, the producer would not invest in it.

If Stree and Badhaai Ho earn `100 crore, producers would be willing to make those kinds of films in the future too, where you are telling stories straight from the heart, stories which are unbelievable but somewhere they connect and are entertaining. If two people watch a good film now, they will go out and tell six others to watch it. I remember someone telling me that a person, while watching Badhaai Ho in the theatre, had called up someone he knew and asked if they had seen that film. When that person said no, the man who was already watching it was like main abhi dekh raha hun lekin main tere saath phir se dekh lunga. When you have a repeat audience like that, that is when you say the audience has changed.

AK: (Cuts In) When people call others and tell them these things, for them it is like the film is their own. They feel like arre yeh toh humari film hai aur hum tumko yeh dikhayenge.

AS: Absolutely! If I write a tweet saying thank you to whoever has watched the film, they message back asking me why I am thanking them; it is they who should be thanking me for making a film like this. What else can I say, except that the audience has indeed changed, which is very good for all of us because as filmmakers we will be able to tell different kinds of stories. Producers and actors will also be interested in being part of those kinds of films. It is not only Ayushmann and Rajkummar, but other actors too will be interested.

MMZ: The desi audience who liked Satyameva Jayate connected with the emotion, which was like achcha hai, aise logon ko maar padni chahiye. They lived vicariously through John in the film because they thought that main nahin kar sakta lekin koi toh hai jo maar raha hai, jo inko sabak sikha raha hai. That one desi-ness in all our movies, like the family in Raid, or in Stree which dwelt on the small-town mentality or a Badhaai Ho, which talked about the taboo of an elderly women becoming pregnant. All these stories are desi and I think that is why they worked. Everyone has tried to put out a message.

RKG: I feel there is no science to it. We cannot identify what is working, what is not working, which I think is the magic of cinema.

AS: Very true.

RKG: There is no science that films based in foreign locations are not working or the desi flavour is working. For me, what is great is that the subjects that we believed in, we’ve made them with integrity. If you see a film like Stree, and because I know Amar, I see him in it. I won’t have the courage to think that an elderly couple gets pregnant and telling their story, the belief that Milap had even when his producers questioned him and the belief that I had in the way Raid was represented… that was the magic for me.

Different kinds of films have been working. We are making films that we have conviction in, with the best of our knowledge and capabilities and hoping that people will like them. The audience has been generous and all the films have been appreciated. For all of us here and others as well, we were hoping that our films connected with the audience – and they have. So I don’t think there is any set science involved.

MMZ: I have been around for some time and have written about 28 films, and looking at the kind of films that have worked, I can say that I have never seen a year where so many films have worked and each of them is different. There is no formula.

This year, every filmmaker felt, ‘This is my film; I want to go all out in this genre, be it emotion, humour or action.’ I will be honest with you, before Satyameva Jayate, everyone questioned me. I was a flop director. John (Abraham) had not had a great run till then at the box office. Everyone was on tenterhooks about Satyameva Jayate. The moment Baaghi 2 released and did insane business, confidence was restored in Satyameva Jayate, in my producers, in John and in the whole team. Everyone got excited and believed that this could work. If the genre is done correctly, it is not like it won’t work commercially, even though it may receive flak critically. I hope this continues in 2019 as well. We all have our films releasing this year (Laughs).

RKG: I second Amar. 2018 has given all of us confidence in terms of making content or films or stories that we believe in.

BOI: You are absolutely right. 2018 saw an average of one `100-crore film almost every month.

AS: Which is amazing!

BOI: Yes, that is amazing!

AS: Are you complaining? (Everyone laughs)

BOI: We are a trade magazine, we never complain about box office. (Laughs).

MMZ: I feel very strongly that what has changed in 2018 is that – and correct me if I am wrong – there is no fear of releasing another film. I remember when we were releasing Satyameva Jayate, GOLD was also releasing and it was a big film. It had a very prestigious production house and it had a very powerful story. Initially, there was a lot of discussion, but eventually we realised that no matter what Satyameva Jayate does on a normal Friday, it will do more than that on a national holiday.

We never dreamt we would open the way we did. But we knew that GOLD would open bigger than us. Even Badhaai Ho It released with a bigger film. For all practical purposes, Namaste England was a way bigger film than Badhaai Ho. But it didn’t matter in the end. I am releasing Marjaavaan on October 2. A Hrithik Roshan-Tiger Shroff film, backed by Yash Raj Films, is coming out on the same day. There was a distributor from Bihar who said that Satyameva Jayate did crazy business in Bihar in the opening week and that if John’s film releases with Salman (Khan) bhai’s film on Eid, people will still come to watch John’s film. Even if a massy, masala film releases on Eid with Salman bhai’s film, both can co-exist.

 

BOI: Your films worked due to word-of-mouth and there was no large-scale marketing before the release. How important is marketing?

MMZ: T-Series went all out for Raid and Satyameva Jayate. So we cannot complain about our films not being marketed enough.

AS: I think marketing is very, very important especially for films like Stree, Badhaai Ho and even Raid.

MMZ: I released along with GOLD, and we had to do double the effort to be noticed.

AK: I think marketing strategies have changed and a lot depends on the kind of the film it is. That also determines the places your films will be marketed in.

AS: The target has changed and so has the pattern. For Badhaai Ho, I was very clear with the marketing team that since the film is based on a different kind of subject, the marketing should be done in a creative way. Junglee (Pictures) did really well in that aspect, be it Priti (Shahani), Anish (Mohan) or the whole team.

I am first an ad filmmaker and then a feature filmmaker. Marketing today will get you the first slot of people in the cinema, which is the most important thing. After that, it is the audience who decides everything. But marketing a film today is as important as making a film is.

MMZ: For Satyameva Jayate, Vinod Bhanushali sir, Bhushanji (Kumar) and Nikkhil (Advani) sat together and said that I need a Hindi title. There is no Hindi font for Satyameva Jayate. It came on a digital platform and they made their own font. I saw the font and said that yeh kabhi tha hi nahi. Our tag line was ‘This Independence day, get freedom from corruption.’ One night before the poster came out, Nikkhil called me and said he thought the tag line wouldn’t work. He said it was a hardcore desi film and it was releasing on Independence Day and so it needed a Hindi slogan. He asked me to think of something.

I came up with ‘Beimaan pitega, corruption mitega.’ It caught on so strongly that I had to fit it into the film then. During the patchwork, I had to make some people say that line in the film. You need to know what you are targeting when you are making a film. You cannot just go on every comedy show, dance show or to every city.

AS: It is a waste of money.

AK: There the college crowd comes, they hoot and then they leave. 

AS: The crowd constitutes 10,000 people. Not even 200 of them come to the theatres. (Laughs). This is exactly what Priti (Shahani) told me. I asked her if we would visit colleges and she said the people who come to the promotion do not go to see the film. She was right. The first numbers that come in once a film releases is attributable to marketing. 

RKG: Earlier, the marketing for films would start two months before their release dates. That period has become shorter now. And it will keep getting shorter. The first look matters. Stree was sold on its first look. The same goes for Badhaai Ho, Raid and Satyameva Jayate. They were sold the moment their first teasers or trailers were out. I know for a fact that when I saw the teasers or the trailers of these films, I wanted to watch those films. Even the audience wanted to. The dynamics have changed. The money and the time frame that you put in have become more strategic.

MMZ: It worked differently for me, sir. What happened was Sanju was releasing seven weeks before us. Vinod Bhanushali sir said to me that I have to hit theatres with Sanju. He said that he would attach the trailer of Satyameva Jayate with almost every print of Sanju. India would go to watch Sanju and so I had to make it. But I didn’t have the trailer ready. Sanju released on June 29. He asked me to work backwards and I had to give the trailer on June 24.

He said this to me in the first week of June. He said that I should not miss the opportunity of my trailer being attached to Sanju and playing it across India, especially in single screens, where the film was going to be an asset. Even Bhushanji pushed me. Nikkhil was on a family holiday in the US. He used to keep seeing the versions of the cut that we kept sending him back and forth. The team worked very hard to get that promo attached to Sanju on time. Things like this make a lot of difference.

AS: Once I was at a mall and there was a stree roaming around in a white sari over there. I was like, ‘What is happening?’ Then I understood that it was a marketing strategy for Stree. Then I saw the trailer at a cinema where I went to watch some other film. I was laughing so hard that I wanted to watch the film.

I got to know that the trailer of Badhaai Ho went viral on WhatsApp among family groups. Then we went to Gujarat. Boneyji (Kapoor) called me up and asked me where I was. I told him that I was promoting my film. He said that the trailer has saved all the work; and so promoting the film was nothing but a waste of money. A trailer is the biggest marketing tool today.

AK: And your trailer should tell the audience what is there in the film. One must not try and deceive the audience because they will call your bluff.

AS: In the Badhaai Ho trailer, I didn’t put in the emotional quotient. It had only the fun part. But I was very sure that when people will see the emotional scenes, they would not say that they did not come to watch this; they will rather get to see something more.

BOI: Which is very natural too.

AS: Yes! We wanted to hide the emotional aspect that might make people cry. At the first screening, the projectionist watched the film. Somebody told me he had been a projectionist for 40 years and his predictions always come true. I was very scared about what he would say about my film. I was afraid to talk to him after the film ended. He told me poora trailer woh nahi hai, lekin jo hai woh achcha hai. He said that the film is an add-on. I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked him (Laughs). But Amar rightly said that the trailer must be what the film is about.

AK: Stree was a comedy. We gave out two-three jokes in the trailer. When we had to cut 10-20 seconder dialogue promos, I thought all the jokes would be given out and then nothing would be left in the film.

I thought we already have a few songs. I suggested to Dinu (Dinesh Vijan) that we shoot some new scenes that will be related to the film but won’t be incorporated. We thought we would show four friends sitting, scared of stree. We shot four such scenes. People thought I had edited those scenes out of the film. That is why I said that you need to change your marketing style with each film. You cannot give out much when it comes to a suspense thriller, but you need stay true to the film.

BOI: There was a time when filmmakers had this ‘herd mentality’… that is, if a certain kind of film worked, other filmmakers would follow suit because it was a safe bet. Last year, so many different kinds of films worked.  As a filmmaker, is it liberating or does that put pressure on you?

RKG: My first film was very liberating. I started with Aamir. Then I made No One Killed Jessica, Ghanchakkar, Raid and now India’s Most Wanted. I have never followed any trend. Whenever my films release, I am apprehensive because I don’t know whether or not they will work. They have never followed a formulaic pattern.

I have always made films that I have wanted to make, and thankfully they have connected with the audience. That has been my process. As far as your question goes, people will always follow trends, today, tomorrow or next year. People will want to make films like Satyameva Jayate, Badhaai Ho and Stree. But every filmmaker has an individual process too.

MMZ: I had made a film called Mastizaade that did not work at all. I had written Kaante, Shootout At Wadala and Ek Villain. I had also written Housefull, Masti and Grand Masti. Why did I make Mastizaade? Because everyone told me that Grand Masti garnered `100 crore, Sunny (Leone) became super hit due to Ragini MMS 2 and they made for an unbeatable combination. Mastizaade was a super hit on paper. It was a bad decision. But I made the film in all honesty. My producers did their best. Sunny did a great job. I didn’t know that I would get stuck with the censors so badly. Even Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 that had started shooting six months after Mastizaade, released a week before it did. Within two weeks, two adult comedy films released, back-to-back. They clashed, exploded and destroyed each other.

But Satyameva Jayate was a film that I always wanted to make and always wanted to watch. I grew up watching Mukul Anand, Rajkumar Santoshi, Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra films.

Right now, I’m making Marjaavaan, which is an action, revenge love story. It also has drama, dialoguebaazi, action, music. It’s what I hope I can continue making. To date, the original Agneepath is my number one favourite film. I can keep watching Hum. I love Santoshi’s Ghatak.

There is no formula. I may fail with my next film even if it is in the same zone. But you have to be honest with what you’re making, believe in it and go all out. A Friday can bring with it an earthquake, a flood, a tsunami, a war, a better film that is simultaneously releasing with yours or a depression where people may not go want to spend money. Anything can go wrong.

You can make a bad film too. After making a good film, you can end up making a very bad film despite doing everything you did the last time around. Maybe the social scenario in the country will be such that people will want to watch a Badhaai Ho a Stree, a Housefull 4, a Total Dhamaal and not a Satyameva Jayate. Maybe they don’t want to watch an angry film where someone is burning people alive (Laughs). There is no formula. Anybody who claims to know it is lying.

AK: They are just fooling themselves (Laughs).

AS: Nobody knows what really goes on within a shoot. The process of making a film is so amazing. There is no profession like this, where you are shooting at a railway station or on the road and you eat your lunch there itself. All this can get a little boring if you keep making similar films. I have an advertising background. If I keep making similar kinds of ads and it becomes a job for me, then I have to become a property dealer.

Even in ad films, I have tried different kinds of humour, emotions and styles whether it was a car commercial or a bike commercial. In films also, I don’t want to be known for a particular genre. That is why I made films like Tevar, Badhaai Ho and now I am making a sports biopic. I don’t know what the fate of that film will be.

MMZ: You need to know what you are good at and what makes you happy. David Dhawan sir, for instance. He said that he decided from the very beginning that he would direct entertaining films and make people laugh. He said mujhe chalti gaadi ka bonnet nahi kholna. He is the most successful director in the history of India, if you ask me.

AS: Whatever he makes becomes a hit. I want to try different types of films.

AK: I started my career with Raj Kumar sir, with films like Aamir, No One Killed Jessica and Ghanchakkar.

MMZ: You assisted him?

AK: Yes! My career started with him.

MMZ: This is a guru-shishya relationship here (Laughs).

AS: Kya baat hai!

AK: I wanted my first film to be a thriller and I knew that humour would be part of it. We started writing a thriller, but it did not materialise. But when Stree came my way, I thought that I have never watched a horror film. I was wondering how I would do it and then decided to treat it like a thriller. Humour was part of the story. The story and the script were very good. A desipan element had to be incorporated. There is a certain format for a screenplay that there will be so much horror and so much comedy. But like you were saying about stereotyping, yes there is. People now say only you can make horror comedies. I am, like, I have made just one. It is not that I have made five horror comedies and I have become an expert and that only I can make that genre. The next time I make a horror comedy, if I use the same formula that after so much time there will be a scary scene and then there will be humour, I will falter immediately. It is all about reinventing yourself as a filmmaker. You can use the same format or make stories of the same genre but you have to change the formula; the way you tell the story has to change.

MMZ: A journalist met me about a year and half ago. Mastizaade had flopped badly and Great Grand Masti was about to release. Sadly, the film was leaked just before its release or it would have done well. So the journalist said, ‘It is so sad your film has leaked.’ I said, ‘It is not my film and now I am not writing like this.’ The journalist said, ‘Whatever you do in your life, you will always be known as the king of adult comedies.’

The industry has a tendency to slot people. There is already a discussion to do Satyameva Jayate 2 at some point. But there has to be an issue that can be discussed in that film.

AS: Then you will burn people in that film too or maybe hang them!

MMZ: Bhushanji has strictly told me no more burning people. He does not want an A certificate for the next film. When he came on board for Marjaavaan, his first question was, this is not an A film, right? When I told him about the action scenes in the film, he said, ‘Please make it less bloody. In the Muharram scene in Satyameva Jayate, you showed so much bloodshed that we got an A certificate.’ This time, I am trying to have a strong love story. I feel that was the weakest thing in Satyameva Jayate. In Marjaavaan, the love story is integral to the film.

AK: Yes. If it works, great or else you can always go back to what you did successfully earlier.

MMZ: Rohit Shetty told me a fantastic thing. He always wanted to make Singham. But his first film was Zameen, which didn’t work. Then he made Golmaal. He said, ‘Milap, let me make Golmaal 1, 2 and 3. If Singham doesn’t work, I can always make Golmaal 4.’ And, today, he has two franchises and Simmba will be his third franchise. But he always wanted to make drama. He always wanted to make action. He is an action master’s son. But he had to do comedy, he established himself in that genre and went on to make exactly what he wanted to make.

Indra Kumar has made Dil, Beta, Raja and Ishq. But today he is making comedies. He is scared to go back to drama because three films failed. Once Masti did well, he decided to make more comedies. So we have Masti 2, 3 and then the Dhamaal films. He is doing only that. That is his decision. After all, we all have our careers and our livelihoods to take care of. But I hope things change.

AK: I think they will; they already are. If you have a new subject, you will get the chance to make it. There are producers who are telling me not to make horror comedies and do something different.

RKG: Going back to our first question... This has been such a great year. It has given young filmmakers plenty of opportunities. As directors, we have to first go through the struggle of making a film. Then, if your film doesn’t work, you have to go through the struggle of making another film. After all that, you are slotted as being able to make films only of a certain kind.

Amar and I were trying to do his film together. It was a brilliant script but nobody believed in him. But he believed in the subject and, as a first-time filmmaker, it worked.

MMZ: I think you should keep doing something. I made a short film called Raakh, which had Vir Das, Richa Chadha and Shaad Randhawa. It was a thriller. It was a year after Mastizaade. I found the money for it. I went to Vir Das and told him that he should have set the dogs at me for making him do Mastizaade, but could he do this film? All the technicians and actors did the film for free to help me out. I made the film, everyone liked it and it got a Filmfare nomination.

When John heard Satyameva Jayate, he called Rohit Dhawan, Davidji’s (Dhawan) son. He said to him, ‘I have just heard the best script I have heard in a long time. The only problem is Milap wants to direct it and his last film was Mastizaade.’ Rohit told him, ‘No John, his last film was a short film called Raakh. Please watch it and take a decision only after that.’ Everyone asked me why was I making a short film and said that if I made one, I would never get a feature film after that. If I worked on the digital platform or worked in television, I would never make a feature film again. At that time, digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon were not as huge as they are now. So to find a digital platform and put my film out there was difficult.

I went to T-Series and told them I would give the film to them for free if they would just release it on their platform as they have the greatest number of subscribers. At least people would see the film. So my humble advice is make something. He (pointing at Amit) makes ads. His (Raj Kumar) first film Aamir was not a big film but it impressed people. His No One Killed Jessica was not a commercial film; it was a big risk. Nobody was making women-centric films in those days. So, just keep working.

RKG: We are back at that same point, where we said ‘do whatever you do, just believe in yourself’. That trust and belief is what we have seen in 2018.

AS: If a story has touched you in some way and you have conviction in your story, will you be able to convince others? You can convince others only if you are convinced.

RKG: When I was making No One Killed Jessica, people said I was making a film with two girls and it wouldn’t work. I told them I was making a film with two heroes! I think we all need to believe in our subjects and in what we produce. In filmmaking, you are always up against something… budgets, schedules. You are always up against something but you have to keep your sanity.

MMZ: Sujoy Ghosh made Aladin, he made Jhankaar Beats, which I was part of. Home Delivery failed. Aladin was a huge film, with a `40 crore budget in those days. It was a disaster. When he made Kahaani, everyone I know told Sujoy that he had gone mad. The film had Vidya (Balan) playing a pregnant woman. It was a thriller set in Kolkata. There were no songs. Every friend he knew, every colleague, told him it was all over for him with Kahaani. He would have to go back to London. He was not given a chance.

And that one film changed his life. It got him accolades. And every known trade analyst – those who say that they know everything and that they have spent so many years in the industry – all of them said he would be destroyed. Why did he still do the film? He had no choice. If I may say so, your (Amit) film didn’t work. My last film didn’t work. Your (Raj Kumar) Ghanchakkar didn’t work. You (Amar) worked so hard to reach this point. I feel that your best work comes when you are pushed against a wall and you need to scream.

You have to be scared every day. I may shoot a scene so badly today that it may destroy the entire film. My producer may not give me the money to reshoot it. I don’t know about them but I am very insecure. I never show it. Nikkhil tells me, ‘You are shooting in two days and you are faffing in the office. You should be petrified.’ My wife asks me, ‘You know what you are doing, na, you know how to make films, na?’ When I was making Satyameva Jayate, she said, ‘You have made two flops, are you sure you know your job?’

The day before the release of Satyameva Jayate, I had a trial of the film for my industry friends. It was the worst trial, disastrous. My wife was seeing the film for the first time. One particular director left during the interval. During the trial, people were mocking the film. After the trial, my wife was in tears. She sat in the car and fired me, saying, ‘Why did you make such a filmy film? Why is there so much violence? Why are you burning people? They were laughing at you and so-and-so walked out of the film!’ And I was, like, ‘When?’ That gentleman apparently had a work emergency and left, but she thought I was finished. Her expression was almost, like, ‘Why did I get married to you?’

Anyway, the next day, she came to the theatre with me for moral support. We went to Gaiety. The audience went berserk and the numbers came in. When she went home, my wife broke into tears and said, ‘I will never watch your film in a trial again. Never show it to me, never call me. I will see it only in a theatre.’

AS: Talking about failure, in Class VII, I failed in Maths for the first time. There were 27 children in the class, of which 20 had failed. The entire class was crying and looking at them, I too started crying. When you fail for the first time, you realise that your marks are underlined in red ink. My English teacher entered the class. For some reason, she loved me a lot. She asked me why I was crying. I told her that I had failed in Maths. She asked me to stop crying and said, ‘Failures are pillars of success.’

You never know what will work what will not work. When we were talking about content-oriented films, films with not much content have worked this year.

MMZ: What is content? I want to ask, what is content?

AS: People have come up with the term ‘content-driven’ films.

MMZ: Who says that a Baaghi 2 is not content-oriented; it is masala commercial content. A director believed in it and went all out. It is content as much as a Raazi is content, Tumbbad is content, Stree or Badhaai Ho is content. Raid, Sanju, Padmaavat; they are all content. Everything is content in its genre.

AS: Anything that is written as a script is content, it is just that we don’t know what will work and what won’t.

MMZ: I think the thought is if a film works with a smaller star cast, or because of the script, or the director, then it is a ‘content-oriented’ film.

AS: I think they mean that the story was good; it was realistic. People understand and relate to it better.

AK: Earlier, they were known as ‘art’ films, now they are calling them ‘content-oriented’ films.

MMZ: That is because art is creating commerce today.

(Everyone laughs).

BOI: Last year, it was said that the digital space had affected cinema and that theatres had lost their audience. Since you all have proved them wrong now with your successful films, what are your thoughts on it?

AK: I think the digital revolution has changed things. Earlier, we used to download international content but, now, people in every corner of India have access to Netflix. They are watching good content. All they need is an Internet connection. Since the audience is exposed to quality content, they have learnt to appreciate it. I think all this has also affected our writing process.

AS: Stree, Badhaai Ho, Satyameva Jayate and Raid have done good business and we are sitting here today. You have called us to talk about it. People will recall these films and want to watch something similar. But do we want to make the same kind of films? That depends.

AK: There will never be a time when people will move to digital and not come to theatres. There are films meant for the digital platform and then there are films meant for theatres. Today everyone knows what they want to see and what not to see. We have Netflix and Amazon shows, where the writers are made to sit and write. This has improved the writing in cinema as well.

MMZ: This year, all the films that have worked are good films. If Badhaai Ho! was a bad film, in spite of its brilliant concept, it would not have worked. It has connected with the people it was made for. Just because a film has a unique concept does not mean it is going to work. If a film is too massy and commercial in its presentation, it does not mean it is going to work.

2017 was a bad year for films, people said. But we had Baahubali: The Conclusion. When that film came out, I was talking to Box Office India and I said, How can they say that people have stopped going to cinemas? People are going to cinemas and have given `500 crore to a South dubbed film because it has connected with them. On that day, they did not sit at home and watch Amazon or Netflix. They went to the theatres.’

Even on Amazon or Netflix, not every show and every film is good. Eventually any content has to connect with its audience to work. They have to like it and they have to feel either joy or fear or anger. Akshay (Kumar) sir did Rowdy Rathore, which was a super duper hit. In the same year, he did Khiladi 786, which was a massy film that didn’t work. The point is that not everything on digital is mind-blowing and extraordinary.

RKG: I think it would be unfair and slightly demeaning to say that content was not there earlier. Content was there from the time cinema started in different forms. The question is not cinema or digital. Digital is paying for cinema because we are doing a good job as filmmakers. I don’t think we should question the legacy of previous generations of filmmakers either. They have given us a platform. They have taught us things and, going forward, we should remember the good work that they have done.

Fortunately for us all, we have been able to do it in 2018. We should be happy about that. As far as digital is concerned, any platform that gives us freedom to create content is welcome.

If digital as a platform allows us to explore ideas that we might not be able to explore on the big screen, we will definitely do that. And as Amit said, digital is employing so many people, so many talented directors, writers, cinematographers and so on. And they’re not all making films. Say my film is taking two years to start, in the meantime, there could be an interesting story to be told on a digital platform.

We should look at it that way; we should not lessen our legacy in terms of cinema. We have got this opportunity and we are lucky that we can contribute to both.

AK: But if you ask me if I would want to make an entry into the digital space. Why not? There are so many stories that you just cant tell in two hours.

MMZ: The short film that I madeRaakh, actually gave me a lease of life because it was a digital short of 17 minutes and that story could not have been told in more than 17 minutes. In fact, I felt it was long and I should have cut one more minute from it.

RKG: Everybody is open to the idea of exploring different platforms

MMZ: You cant go to someones house and see them watching cinema and enjoying it. You have to go to a theatre to see them laughing and clapping at what they are seeing. Thats the most heavenly feeling.

AS: Also, you never know when Netflix or Amazon will start releasing their films in cinema halls.

RKG: Even on their channels you see such bad shows.

MMZ: Yes, everyone makes good and bad shows, be it filmmakers or digital platforms. For exampleThugs Of Hindostan, which failed at the box office. That does not mean Aamir Khan is not talented. He is a genius. He has failed this year but he will come back next year and make a great film which we will all applaud. It’s okay if one vision went bad.

We tend to demolish names, legacies, reputations; we take delight in saying, aree yaar woh pit gayi, woh barbaad ho gayi; such a fall this film faced. Yaar, he has worked hard for three years and he gave the film his all. Fine, it didn’t connect with the audience. That doesn’t mean that he is not talented and cannot come back next year and make a film. We have to give people chances and not write them off over one failure or one film that backfired.

AS: Right now we are sitting here because our films worked, but if our next films dont work, then you never know what will happen.

RKG: One small thing, if I may add, is when we make a film and it works well, when it is called a content-driven film, people think that all the contribution came from the writer and the director. In these kinds of films, you never see an actor, cinematographer or team being given the credit. Whether its Stree or Badhaai Ho or my film, actors and the other people have the same contribution. When we are still on paper and the film has not been shot, we dont know how it will look and how it will come out. Every small or big actor, technician and the whole team has contributed to what has come out on the screen successfully.

MMZ: In Satyameva Jayate, there is a Muharram scene where John saves a girl. It was only an action scene. John pushed me by saying, ‘Milap, I know you want action, and I will do action. But the biggest strength of your film is emotion. And you need to give me that emotion. It’s not only about me bare-chested and fighting.’ The biggest moment in the promo, when the girl slaps a cop, it was not in the script. This was decided on set. When I gave this idea to him that you take the girl to that cop and she will slap him, he said, ‘Wonderful! Now give me a line. I want to express what this country is feeling.’ Then I wrote that line, ‘Aaj ke baad duniya ka koi bhi mard ye taana nahi marega ki tumne chudiyaan pehni hai kya?’.

If John had not pushed me saying that you can make it better, don’t be happy with what you have written, this would not have been possible. I remember his whole hand was broken and he was in so much pain that he couldn’t lift a cup. Parmanu was not coming out; it was stuck in crazy litigation. Between all this madness, there he was standing in the scorching heat in a bylane and he says, I will not leave here until you are happy. You dont undersell yourself. I am sitting here waiting. You give me a moment that is not only action. You give me an emotion, a thought, a message for this scene. You can do it.’

I thought hard as even I wanted to get away from that heat (Laughs). But he was right. That was the dedication of an actor who pushes himself and says, I am not just taking my paycheck and going home.

AS: Filmmaking is not a medium of only directors and actors. A director or an actor cannot make a film alone.  We were shooting in Delhi for Badhaai Ho during winter. We started the shoot in February and it went on till March. There was mist all over in the beginning and by March it was not misty any more. But I asked them to burn loban so that it looked like a winter scene. My DoP Sanu John Varughese was getting the lights ready asked for the fire to be lit. Our spot boy Manish pointed out that it was a summer scene and Sanu looked at him and realised he was right. Imagine a spot boy knowing the script by heart. That is what happens when everybody is involved.

MMZ: You have to be loyal to the people you work with. You have to have faith in them. There is no filmmaker who has not fallen, who has not seen a flop, or not seen a bad time.

AK: I was an AD for 10 years, and while preparing the call sheet, we used to always include a ‘thought for the day’. So, I thought, this was my film and I would come up with a ‘song of the day’. Every day, before the shoot, we used to play a song. Everyone was supposed to dance, right from Rajkummar to my spot boy. We used to choose the song a day earlier, according to the situation.

For example, during the bookstore scene, where there are books lying everywhere, everyone was dancing on Kitabein bahut si. When it was the first day for Shraddha Kapoor, we played the song Dream girl, kisi shayar ki ghazal. This used to happen every day. This energy is very important on the set.

MMZ: I also want to speak for the producers. When things go wrong, it’s always the producer’s fault. The producer’s job is the most thankless job on a film.

AK: It is very important for a producer to be creative. It always works for the film. I feel Priti Shahani is a very sound producer. If she is convinced about the film, she will make it work. My partners, Hemant Bhandari and Aleya Sen, if they are convinced about a film, they will go all out to make it work. To do that, a producer needs to be creative. It can’t be just about money.

BOI: 2018 proved to be fabulous for all of you. What are you looking forwards to this year?

RKG: Last year was great and we are happy that our films released and they worked. I think 2018 was a great year for the industry. We also hope 2019 will be much better than 2018 has been.

MMZ: Box office pe Raid ho, sab filmon ko Badhaai Ho, sirf purush hi nahi Stree bhi aake film dekhe aur Satyameva Jayate ki jeet ho!

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