I hate the Subhash Ghai of the last decade

Mr Ding Dong in action
The very mention of Subhash Ghai is enough to spring up images of the amiable floppy-hatted filmmaker who would make decided cameos in all his films. Having survived the industry for four decades, he has an impressive filmography to his credit. From the suspense classic ‘Karz’ to masala blockbuster ‘Ram Lakhan’, Ghai has tried his hand in everything. ‘Kisna’, ‘Yuvraj’ and ‘Black and White’ may not have tremendous recall with audiences but he defends them, saying that they were misunderstood and were ahead of their times. Ghai has been missing from action for the last few years given the legal hassles pertaining to his film institute, ‘Whistling Woods’. But now that he admits to have resigned from the institute, handing over the baton to his daughter, Ghai is all charged up to return to his first passion: making films. Between recording sessions of his untitled next, he was happy to spare some time with us to talk cinema and how he it has evolved in the last decade.

Firstly, what have you been up to in the last few years? Was this a planned sabbatical?

My sabbatical period has been the most troublesome for me with the legal case against Whistling Woods. It was a big challenge for me to spend 10 years to build a world-class film institute and then I was divided between the institute and filmmaking. But now, luckily the institute has been established very well and my daughter has taken over from me in managing it. So I have practically resigned from the institute to return to my first passion- filmmaking. So you can say that I am again as young as a 24-25-year old Subhash Ghai.

How do you think that the craft of filmmaking has evolved in the four decades that you’ve been in the industry?
In the last four decades, I have learnt filmmaking four times. After every ten years, I have to forget the previous one and learn the new one. So the process of learning, unlearning and re-learning has been a constant effort and exercise for me. What I had learnt in the 70s, I had to forget. Now I am in 2012, so I cannot recall my films from the 90s and 80s. People loved those films but I know that the narrative of the film has to change, even if the subject still works. I believe that I have to be as young as my hero and heroine. Fortunately, my heroes are never older than 22-24 years old. So my calendar age rises but not me. And by young, I mean that I am updated with the latest trends, technology, expression, values and how a youngster feels today. That is the reason why I’ve survived for so long. Now when I am making a film with a new boy and new girl, I feel like I am making a ‘Kalicharan’. It’s a new beginning for a new Subhash Ghai. I hate the Subhash Ghai who made movies in the last 10 years. I just don’t like him. He was too slow. So I have to update myself.
Is there a part of the old Subhash Ghai that you’ve retained?
The human relations are the same. The heart and the soul remain the same, even when the mind grows and gets updated with the new values. The child in me is intact just as it was when I was 5 or 14 years old.

Ghai talks shopHow has the industry become more favourable to filmmakers and are there aspects that have become more challenging?
It has become more favourable for sure. Back in the day, there were only 300 theatres to show your film. Today, you can screen your film in 3000 theatres. There is also a lot of scope for filmmakers to make any kind of film that they want to make. One can make a political film, a sex film, a horror, an action film or an emotional one. This has given a chance to diverse school of thoughts as the acceptance level of the audience is also more than before. I got an audience for a ‘Black and White’ too, which was an issue-based film. That would be the positive side of it. Horror and comedy are genres that were never accepted in the 70s and a comedy film would invariably flop at the box- office. There was only a huge market for sex and violence. I remember there was a film called ‘Pyaar Kiye Ja’. It was a good film. Then even films like ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’ or ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ didn’t do favourably at the box-office. But if these films would’ve released today, they would’ve done business worth Rs 100 crores. There was no scope for a social satire or comedies or even horror films. But with the acceptance today, there is also a challenge to compete with various kind of films. So to select a subject is a big challenge. I cannot be affected by recent successes, unlike what most people do. Whenever I have made a film, I have tried to go against the tide with the belief that I can win. So when action films were in vogue, I made a film called ‘Karz’. When love stories were doing well, I made ‘Khalnayak’. I’ve always believed in the mantra ‘let’s do something different’. Whether you rise or fall, doesn’t matter. Success and failure doesn’t matter to me, it matters to others. What matters is the interest and passion that I have for my films. ‘Kisna’ and ‘Yuvraj’ may not have worked but I can tell you that if you see any frame from these films, you will notice that they’ve been shot with a lot of care and love and are aesthetic. In totality, some films don’t work but I will never compromise on quality. I know one formula: if you care for money, it will never come to you. The moment you care to make a good film, the money will follow. I have never made a single film in my career thinking about ‘kitna dhanda karegi’. I have always thought about ‘yeh film kitni achchi hogi’ and ‘kitne zyaada logon ko pasand aayegi’.

Apart from box office numbers, what is your definition of a successful film?
As far as trade is concerned, the box office numbers are important. But for me, a successful film is one that has longevity. Not those that people refer to as ‘one-time watch’. When people come to me and say that they’ve watched a ‘Pardes’ or a ‘Taal’ 20 or 30 times, then I feel that I’ve done a good job. Otherwise it’s just a weekend funda. You will be surprised to know that when ‘Karz’ released, there was another film called ‘Qurbani’ that released in the same week. And ‘Qurbaani’ did tremendous business and earned easily 7-8 times more money than ‘Karz’ did. But today, I’d like to ask you, how many people remember ‘Qurbani’ and how many people remember ‘Karz’? Even films like ‘Yuvraj’ and ‘Kisna’ may emerge as winners in another 10 years. I had shown classical symphonies at a time when people were making a ‘Dabangg’. ‘Main bohot aage chala gaya tha, so ab main wapas aa gaya hoon’ (laughs).

Can you step back from being a director to enjoy a film?
Fortunately, I have the capability to watch a film from a director’s point of view. When I watch a film, I first see who are the unit members. I change my frame of mind according to them. I never try to think that if I would’ve made the film, I would’ve done it differently. That would be stupidity. So when I watch a David Dhawan film, I become David Dhawan. He is singing his songs, so I have to see it from his point of view. Then I see if they’ve fallen or risen from their school of thought.

Having an impressive filmography to your credit, which are the films that you wished you had made?
I really enjoyed watching ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ a lot. But I cannot make that film and perhaps I will never make a film like that. But I love the film. When I saw the film, I could see Zoya Akhtar in that film and I appreciated how she has done this or that and how she has built it up. Sometimes, I do envy the concept. Like when I saw ‘Vicky Donor’ I was like, ‘I wish I had thought of this’. Also when I watched ‘Rang De Basanti’ and saw how the director has intercut the freedom fighters with the youth of today, I was very envious of his content. Jealousy is a part of every human being.

From ‘Hero’ to ‘Khalnayak’ to ‘Taal’, romance has been the essence of your films, irrespective of the genre. And while these were all blockbuster hits, do you think a love story is essential for a hit in Bollywood?
Love stories have begun with Adam and Eve and it will remain forever. Love is the first thing that everyone seeks. Everything that anyone does is for love. You want to earn money so that the family would love you. You want success because then people will love you. Right from the time that a baby is born, it wants love, whether from the nurse or from the mother. Love is man’s basic need. And even those films that feature violence are actually love stories. When one dacoit kills another, it is a love story. He kills because the other person has hurt him and if that very man forgives him and hugs him, he will break into tears. Violence is the climax when emotion ruptures.

Ghai on the the sets

What is that one change that you would like to bring about in the industry in your second innings in Bollywood?
The idea was that since I am making a film after a long interval and now I want to make 6-7 films, I want to test my talent with newcomers and try to be the author of the film. Lately, what we have noticed is that directors and writers are losing their ground. The weekend business has taken over to such an extent that it only boils down to the star in the film. People go to see the movies only on the release weekend and subsequently if they don’t like it, others don’t bother. The authors and filmmakers have taken a backseat. We belong to an era where we had a Raj Kapoor, a Bimal Roy, a Vijay Anand, a Manoj Kumar, a Yash Chopra and directors commanded the industry. Today, if I ask you who is the director of ‘Bodyguard’, you will only remember Salman. The directors have been shadowed and I will not like to be shadowed. I want to make a big blockbuster with a new boy and a new girl, testing my capability and capacity and my determination and my passion to see one can make a director’s film today.
Film marketing and promotional stunts preceding a release have reached the next level and filmmakers allocate a significant part of the budget for it. What is your stand on this?
I welcome all kinds of change, the technology, the content, the narrative, the speed and the science behind it. But the only thing I don’t like is that people are working very hard on promos. Promos can never be bigger than the movie. People are focusing all their time on movies and they believe a promo can decide the fate of the movie which is untrue. Make a good movie and don’t worry too much about the promos. We will make good promos but it will not override the movie in any way.

While any actor in the industry would want to work with you, why would you cast a debutant pair for your untitled next?
We are filmmakers who are inspired by the basic concept of a film and not by stars, right from the beginning. So if I’ve made a ‘Vidhaata’ with an aged Dilip Kumar and a young Sanjay Dutt, it was because it was a story of a grandfather and a grandson. So, a star has never been my first choice to make a film and the concept has always been my first choice. When the concept is approved, you grow it, you work on the script and then you cast. Casting is never the first stage.

What was the core idea for your next film and where do you seek your concepts from?
Concepts come from everywhere, from newspapers, from someone’s storytelling, some movie shots etc. All my movies are from life but I always write my own ideas from my own observation of life. I had a brilliant concept for this film. It’s about a young girl of this country and she has very deep rooted Indian values and has an Indian soul and the film revolves around how she confronts the biggest power of this country. She doesn’t understand much but she understands that there is a thunder and she has to brave it and come out of it. It’s also a story of an Indian spirit. So it’s like a small lamb fighting against a big storm and the small lamb has to survive. So it’s a survival story. It’s a masala film too. So even though there are a lot of profound thoughts behind it, it has still be narrated in such an entertaining manner that it will be loved by each and everyone. Right from the auto rickshawala to an executive of a prudent business house, everyone will love it.

How do free your head when you get done with work every day?
I just go for a glass of nice red wine and unwind with some good music. The kind of music depends on my mood. Sometimes I prefer sufi, sometimes I prefer symphony or jazz. Every kind of music belongs to me and I belong to every kind of music.