The showman's extraordinary show goes on...
He may seem a risk taker, making big budget films even as the film industry continues in financial doldrums, but Subhash Ghai does his homework thoroughly. MADHUR TANKHA speaks to the celebrated director who emphasises that stars are actors first and must follow the requirements of the character... .
Subhash Ghai... making films is a business. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt.
AT A time when film-makers have been burning holes in their pockets as most new films are registering as duds at the box office, there is one film personality who has a penchant for catching the pulse of the audience and makes meticulously crafted films. That is Subhash Ghai, who, after being in business for over 25 years and delivering tumultuous hits from "Karz" to "Taal", is yet an affable man, who doesn't speak in a condescending tone even while talking to junior artistes. And he is coming out with another big budget film, "Ek Aur Ek Gyarah" in April even when Bollywood has reportedly suffered a loss of Rs.390 crore. One is slightly nervous meeting the great director-producer, who has risen like a colossus over his contemporaries by showing his proficiency on the silver screen. He doesn't mind going through gruelling, painstaking research work before starting off his film.
In his suite at New Delhi's Crowne Plaza Surya, the World Cup match is being shown on television, but Ghai doesn't seem to be a cricket aficionado, as he wants the Star News channel. Unlike the current flavour of the nation, there is obviously something more important than cricket for this director par excellence. He asks our photographer to do some channel surfing, as he wants to know whether "Devdas" has won an Oscar. He looks shattered but not demoralised when he gets to know that Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ambition has come to a grinding halt.
Ghai says, "Why is the Film Federation of India sending films like `Jeans' for the Oscars? Films should have a message for humanity. `Devdas' is about a self-destructive lover."
Do you agree with Mahesh Bhatt that Aamir Khan shouldn't have tried to popularise his film to the American jury for the Oscars, one tries to extricate an answer from him. Says Ghai, "Why should I say the same thing Mahesh Bhatt has uttered? The jury had accepted songs from `Lagaan'. Aamir Khan had single-handedly struggled in America by showing his film to members of the jury. He had done a commendable job when there was no governmental support."
To one's utter surprise he starts reeling off queries. "What are the reasons for the current bad phase in the film industry?"
One tells him that it is due to overexposure by starlets on the small screen and unabashed piracy by cable operators. Accepting the reply he says, "Audience taste is changing and demand for quality is increasing. Now there are teenagers who have grown up on `Karz', which was made in the `80s. Now there are MTV and Discovery Channel. Therefore the mental level of today's audience has increased. The new generation is more Americanised and we have designer shops and watches. A rickshaw driver cannot sit in a five-star hotel but he can watch 40 channels."
Referring to the World Cup, Ghai continues, "Then there is competition from sports. Cricket gives lots of entertainment. My film `Ek Aur Ek Gyarah' was slated to be released this month."
Is this another comedy, considering it features Sanjay Dutt and Govinda, the "Jodi No. 1" who did plenty of buffoonery and hilarious stuff?
Ghai says, "It is a fun film. `Ek Aur Ek Gyarah' has reconfirmed my faith in the chemistry between Sanjay Dutt and Govinda. Any other actor would have looked ordinary but thanks to this pairing and David Dhawan's direction the film is really good. This film is a sequel to `Jodi No.1'."
And when asked whether this new offering has the latest gadgetry, the man known for his love of technologically advanced films replies in the affirmative.
"Now there are restaurants like McDonalds and Barista. So the whole scenario has changed. Piracy is another factor which Government hasn't understood. There should be zero entertainment tax at all theatres. Our social fabric is being destroyed. Now if I make a film of Rs.35 crore, the next day my film would be sold for Rs.35," he says.
Just when you think there is pessimism in his grudge against rampant piracy, Ghai says, "This is a transitional phase." On the issue of reviews - which can make or break a film - he makes a point about responsibility. "I don't like television channels screening what some cine-goers say about a particular film. They may have actually liked the film but may have dismissed it - `picture bundle hai' - on TV. Media should be more responsible. In New York Times if some critic criticises a film unreasonably, then the filmmaker can sue him. You cannot give reports on hearsay. One should make one's evaluation after knowing how much money the film has earned from various territories."
Suddenly he asks how one liked "Yaadein". One tells him that probably there was repetitiveness on the part of Hrithik Roshan. To this Ghai says, "Not many people know that `Yaadein' made good business. It earned approximately Rs.3 crore per territory, which is not a joke. Tell me how many films made that much business? We made a profit of seven crores. Earlier the audience loved films laced with sex and violence. Now it has become segmented. Earlier there were 12 types of vegetables in a thali. Now we have Thai, Chinese and also rajma rice. I am upgrading myself."
On being asked what made him go in for brand promotion in his latest film, Ghai says, "It wasn't Hrithik Roshan endorsing the Pass Pass product. We had Britannia chocolate but then the marketing people made a hue and cry about it and we changed it."
There has been criticism levelled against Subhash Ghai that for beginners he is an excellent launch pad but after heroes - like Jackie Shroff - have become big stars he is said to have given them a shoddy deal. Cool, calm and composed, Ghai replies that it is a director's prerogative what role to assign to a particular star. He says, "In my set, they are all actors. If today I make somebody play the role of a king, in the next film I might make him play the role of a servant. Jackie was given the main role in `Hero'. After that there were `Ram Lakhan', `Khalnayak' and `Yaadein'. Jackie is still remembered for his role in `Ram Lakhan'. And what kind of role had I given him in `Yaadein'? Jackie played the central character. We make a film according to the subject and not for actors. Actors have to follow characters. In Mukta Arts we work as a family. There is mutual respect for one another. Sanjay Dutt, Shah Rukh Khan, Anil Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan have acted for us. I might offer them a soft role but they like the atmosphere so much that they accept my offer."
Asked when he is going to make a film with Shah Rukh Khan, whom he had cast in "Pardes", he says, "I am finding the right subject for Shah Rukh. Right now he is busy producing his own film."
About Mumbai Whistling Woods International, the institute for films, television and media arts promoted by his company Mukta Arts Limited and expected to come up in 2004, Ghai says it would produce "artists, not businessmen. - Artists with great aesthetics, who are thinkers."
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