Indian filmmakers have now taken a leap forward by making movies in English, like Delhi Belly.
But let’s not forget Nagesh Kukunoor, who made five movies in English (Hyderabad Blues, Rockford, Three Walls, Bollywood Calling and Hyderabad Blues 2) in his first six years as a director before venturing into out-an-out Hindi films.
After lying low for a while, the talented filmmaker is back with his latest offering, Mod. Nagesh Kukunoor talks about his comeback in a chat with Jigar Shah
Is Kukunoor Productions making a comeback with your next release, Mod?
(After a pause) Yes, with Mod, Kukunoor Productions makes a comeback. It has many happy memories to it as I made Hyderabad Blues Part 1 and Part 2 under it. Although, I have always worked under SIC Productions, but Kukunoor Productions has a better connect. It was my beginning. (Smiles)
Mod is another type of love story, right?
I know, I had said I would never make another love story. But I was recently on the jury of the Asian Film Festival and I saw this film and thought, if this could be adapted to Indian sensibilities…
We pursued the Taiwanese filmmaker, bought the rights, and then I began to write the film. It was my kind of film with picturesque locales, not many characters and a story, which is both heartfelt and very gripping.
Do you think, the budget of your last two films, Tasveer and Bombay To Bangkok, overpowered your creativity. Have you made Mod on a stipulated budget?
My only big-budget film in terms of scale, location etc. was Tasveer. But Bombay To Bangkok (BTB) was with Shreyas Talpade and its budget was marginally more than my previous film. I have always been interested in making films of different genres. So after Iqbal and Dor, I thought I should try comedy. It is difficult to predict whether your audience will react positively. In the case of BTB, they rejected it.
Later, John Abraham-starrer Aashayein got stuck. Akshay Kumar-starrer Tasveer also faced some problems – there was to be a multiplex strike. So we decided to release it four months ahead of schedule. We did four months of post-production in one month. Alas, the film was released with zero publicity and tanked. Also when a delayed Aashayeincame in, it didn’t work as the movie had acquitted a bad stamp. The release didn’t happen as I had planned and once you disappoint your audience, you don’t know what they will do.
Yeh Hausla is also stuck…
Ironically Tasveer, Aashayein and Yeh Hausla are with Percept. I did put my heart and soul into making all these three movies but after you make a film, the producer takes over. Yeh Hausla was to release in 2010 but Aashayein came in. So we thought we would space them out. We are still trying to release the film.
(Cuts in) Mod comes at a point when I needed a film that could define me all over again.
Do you think large budgets don’t suit you?
I disagree. Bombay To Bangkok was not an expensive film. Aashayein, production-wise, wasn’t a big film unless you add John’s fee. The only real money we spent on the film was on the Indian Jones. Tasveer was the only big-budget film.
I don’t agree that when you’re limited by budget, you do your best work. This is where my engineering background comes in. I have a budget and it’s not that I have been shooting for 200 extra days and calling 50 dancers on the sets. Tasveer, which was my longest shoot, was 50-odd days. Since our Canada schedule went for a toss, we had to shoot in South Africa, erect a set in Kamalistan etc. So where is that reckless spending?
You have experienced success and faced a few debacles. Has this changed your perception of budgets?
One thing I’ve done consistently is that I never played with just one genre. Also, I have had a very loyal audience. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into box-office numbers. You need to be smart. You have to understand that this is the soul of the film and this is how it will be made. But to even get a Rs 4-5 crore production budget for Aashayein, I had to rope in a John Abraham or I could have never made the film. John came on board in 2006 but, ironically, the film was released in 2010.
When I made Hyderabad Blues, people loved the video feel. The film was shot in 35mm. I tried to repeat this in Hyderabad Blues 2 and people felt the film looked cheap. At the end of the day, your film should look good.
Back to Mod… Was it difficult for the Kukunoor banner to raise funds?
No. When I was doing Hyderabad Blues, no one wanted to invest. After it became a hit, I thought people would give me money for my next, Rockford. But I had to struggle for that one too. When I came in with Hyderabad Blues, I was virtually unknown. After the film did well, I got offers to do mainstream, commercial cinema. I was also offered a film with Anil Kapoor. But I want to make films that I want to make and if I was making films like Hyderabad Blues, who would finance me?
Now I have certain brand equity. This took a hit after my films didn’t do well. When that happens, budgets go down. I started to get money only after I began making films in Hindi. Before that, it was a struggle to raise finances for every single film. When Iqbal became a hit, people realised, “Arrey, this guy makes films in Hindi too!”
Thankfully, when the corporates came in, different types of cinema began to emerge. I could do my kind of films and so can Anurag (Kashyap). If you make commercial cinema, the money comes in real quick. Tasveer would have worked if we had used the right marketing and PR machinery. And I would have been proved right, that despite getting a big star like Akshay and making him do what I do, the movie would have still worked. Alas!
Does making a big-budget film mean a director has arrived?
If you can lie to yourself and keep thinking that these are not my sensibilities but let me still do it, then power to them. When I was working as an environmentalist in the US, I had to write out reports after solving a client’s problem. My boss would tell me that the report I was writing would help get future clients and that students would refer to it in future. This made an impression on me, that I should be proud of everything I put my name to. People say Bombay To Bangkok is my worst film. But I enjoyed it as much as I did when I made Rockford or Iqbal.
When Bombay To Bangkok released, Subhash Ghai was very upset with you. Have you two made up after that?
I learnt that Subhashji was upset with me only after I read about it in the newspapers. I guess he felt I was doing too many films at the time. Mukta Arts did an amazing job with Iqbal. So I went back and did Bombay To Bangkok with them. As a matter of fact, Dor was also with them but, at the last moment, they said they didn’t want it. So I took the film to Percept.
Having said that, there is no bad blood between us and we have met and hung out many times after that, including in Cannes this year.