'100-crore club will be outdated soon’

Sajid Khan talks about how ‘Himmatwala’ changed the way he viewed films 30 years ago

When ‘Himmatwala’ released in 1983, an 11-year-old boy would go to one cinema hall every week to watch the film. Once a week, for 36 weeks, he skipped his lunch and used the lunch money to buy tickets. His love for films was so intense that he would enact few scenes from the film at Juhu beach and earn appreciation and money. 30 years later, he is all set to pay tribute to his favourite childhood film with his own version.

It is difficult to not feel the childlike enthusiasm in Sajid Khan as it talks about his latest film, set to be released in two weeks. As he sat smoking countless cigarettes (I have to give up smoking, he says) and talking about his larger-than-life take on the ‘83 hit, Sajid makes no bones about being unfazed by the inevitable comparisons with the earlier film. “When you see the film, you will realize that the script is different. Today, every film is a remake.”

Why the same name then, you ask, and he is quick to retort, “I kept the title same because I want my name to be associated with my childhood favourite film. I would re-visit certain theatres where I saw ‘Himmatwala’ as a child. It is going to an emotional moment. 30 years ago, I saw the film at Milan Cinema, Chandan, Lido and Capital. I must have seen it in every possible theater in Mumbai. I saw it 36 times.” He also says in jest that cine-goers may catch him sobbing wearing black glasses out of nostalgia.
Sajid’s childhood has been far from easy. Growing up in a cramped and dingy store room in Shivaji Nagar, Sajid and his sister Farah Khan’s constant struggle for making ends meet, could not kill their craze for cinema. The siblings were born to a filmmaker who dabbled in B-grade films.

His first television ‘Main Bhi Detective’ was a disaster. “Disaster would be an understatement as I remember the flak I received for this show. Critics had written me off. I often read articles that said I should be banned.” Just then, he was offered ‘Ikke Pe Ikka’ on Zee Cinema which was a resounding success and was followed by another hit show ‘Kehne Mein Kya Harz Hai’. “Though the shows were successful, it did not help me in anyway. The industry started noticing me after I made my first film,” he rues.

Sajid’s ‘Himmatwala’ has Ajay Devgn in the lead. Working with Ajay had a special meaning as he has known Ajay since childhood. “I worked with Ajay for the first time and it rekindled our childhood friendship. We were college buddies and ‘Himmatwala’ is like a home-coming of two friends rather than a director and actor.”

As for casting Tamannah, Sajid was clear that his heroine has to be a star down south, just like Sridevi. Jeetendra’s ‘Himmatwala’ is the first hit film for Sridevi and launched her Bollywood career. For a director who could’ve cast any Bollywood beauty, Tamannah was the right choice. “Tamannah is the reigning superstar down South. I wanted keep two-three things intact about the ‘Himmatwala’ which I was making. One is my heroine has to be virtually unknown but a huge star down south. Two Amit Kumar will sing ‘Naino Mein Sapna’ and the original release date of 29th March. I worked on things backwards. I started shoot on August 29th and the film is ready in seven months.”

For someone whose films are critics’ nightmare but have got thumbs-up from the audiences, Sajid feels that being in the ‘100-crore’ club doesn’t mean that it is liked by the audience. “The ‘100 crore’ club will become outdated in two years and the new barometer will be Rs 200 crore. Business of cinema is growing and more so because more and more cinemas are coming up, especially in small towns and rural India where earlier to see a film, you had to travel one hour. Things have changed for better.”

But Box-Office results are not the only thing which he tracks after the film release. For Sajid, his real work starts after that. “I make documentaries and put them in DVDs as special features. The excitement when you can predict correctly how the audience will react to a particular scene makes all the hard work worthwhile.  I always make it a point to go and see my film in as many theaters as possible for three weeks after the release. The documentary starts from day one of the shooting, covers the full making and post production. For ‘Himmatwala’ also, you will see me perhaps shooting outside Chandan Cinema.”
The director has been often labeled as arrogant by the media because of his in-your-face attitude. But Sajid strongly refutes that reputation saying he doesn’t hanker after publicity like the other stars. “I don’t party, womanise or gamble. I am not on twitter. I am not on Facebook. I am the least scandalous person. My idea of going out is watch a film or dinner or to someone’s house for food.”

His passion for cinema is what keeps him going from day-to-day, he says. When he is not running around for promotions or shoots, he likes to watch films. Every day, before getting on with the day’s business, he likes to catch up on a film, mostly one that is not much heard of. “I am 41 years old and I don’t know how many years I will live or how many films I will make. But what bothers me more is how many films I will watch before dying. I am still trying to catch up. I keep ordering films on Amazon. I watched ‘Black Belt Jones’ this morning. This film was made by the same director and same studio (Warner Brothers) as ‘Enter The Dragon’ after Bruce Lee’s demise. It is a B-grade film, but mazedaar,” says Sajid as he signs off.

Here's the original film which inspired Sajid Khan:

HimmatwalaHimmatwala is about Master Dharm Murthi who vacates his village along with his wife and his son for fear of a Bandookwala. The Bandookwala terrorised the villagers. His daughter Rekha followed his footsteps and grew into an insensitive woman who tried to harass the people. After finished his studies Ravi comes back to his villiage and started complaining against the Bandookwala. So the Bandookwala plans to kill Ravi and his family. What happens next? forms the rest of the story.