When I left my hometown so many years ago with the view of entering the film industry, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what lay in store for me.
Everybody has a goal in life but I didn’t have any goal at all. Neither did I have any motivation as such. I was studying at the Government College in Ludhiana but I did not know what I wanted. I would hangout with friends, was very good in cricket and would also play tennis. My father was a banker so it wasn’t like we had a shop or anything where I could go and sit.
My brother, Anil Dhawan, had entered the Hindi film industry. In 1970, he had passed out from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) with Danny Dengzongpa and Jaya Bachchan. He managed to get a break in BR Ishara’s film Chetna which became a hit at that time. He instantly became a good actor, getting good work in the industry. He is very good looking and even now he has that charm. Since he was based in Mumbai, I would visit him from time to time. I would never inform him about my arrival and would just land up!
It was during these times that I met a lot of people from the industry — actors, filmmakers, etc. Vinod Mehra used to stay in the same building as my brother and he was a big support throughout. Shatruji (Shatrughan Sinha) was also very good to me because he was good friends with my brother. In this process, I developed a fond equation with everyone. I knew Roshan Taneja sir very well too. Even actor Kiran Kumar has been a good friend of mine since a long time.
After I met everyone, I decided that I too must join FTII. I planned to study acting. You give an exam and they call you when selected. When I got there, I met a bunch of students who ended up becoming good friends like Satish Shah, Rakesh Bedi, Suresh Oberoi and others. I realised that I could never match up to them in acting. I thought, ‘Main phas gaya yahan aa kar!’
Since I knew Roshan Tanejaji, I sought his advise about what to do with my career because I knew I did not want to study acting. He told me that I have the option to choose anything else. Unable to make a decision with clarity, I went into editing thinking, ‘I will see what to do later.’ I had actually seen editing before when I was visiting my brother. There used to be an editor and director named Mahendra Batra. He was a senior guy and I would sit with him and see him edit. So I studied editing at FTII and those two years were fantastic. The classes would start at 7 am and in the evening, they would show us movies.
It was at FTII that I saw this one film that changed my entire perspective. The movie was Meghe Dhaka Tara directed by Ritwik Ghatak. He was a very big Bengali director like Satyajit Ray. I saw that black and white movie and it shook me. It was a small film, but what a film it was! It showed real emotion. I went back to the room and thought about it. After that, I got really serious about my work. I kept learning and learning and I became a gold medalist at FTII — I passed with first rank.
While I was studying, I knew Saawanji (Kumar Tak) very well. He used to live in the building behind Anil bhai and was very fond of me. One day, we editing students were just sitting around and Saawanji entered. He said that he was in Pune for some work and since I was studying there, he came to meet me. He then asked me when I would be graduating and I told him in two months. He told me to come straight to him after college was over because he was giving me my first movie as an editor. I thought, ‘What could be bigger than this?’
That is how I came to work on the film Saajan Bina Suhagan starring Rajendra Kumarji, Vinod Mehra and Nutanji. The film became a silver jubilee. I had also formed a good relationship with Rajendra Kumarji while working on the film. He called me and gave me another film. I got a lot of work as an editor. I edited movies for Mukul Anand, Mahesh Bhatt. I did Naam with Sanjay Dutt in it. I became a big editor.
Then I developed an interest in direction. I made my first movie, Taaqatwar, with Sanjay Dutt, whom I had worked with in Naam. After Saawanji gave me a break, it was Pahlaj Nihalaniji who also gave me one. The first film I did with him was the Sunny Deol and Dimple Kapadia starrer Aag Ka Gola. And after Aankhen released in February 1993, I have not looked back.
From leaving home without a plan, to having recently directed my 45th film, Judwaa 2, and with both my sons also in the business now, it has been a very interesting and rewarding journey!
– David Dhawan