Despite having given numerous hits, Subhash Ghai has seen several low phases in his career as a director. The soft spoken director has however proven his detractors wrong each time and continued to wow the audience with his larger than life movies. Society catches him just ahead of his latest movie’s release.
By Manali Shah
We meet Subhash Ghai at the office of his production company, Mukta Arts, merely days after the trailer of Kaanchi, his latest, has been launched. Typical to his style, it is a film made on a large canvas. “I normally pick up social issues and present it in an entertaining manner,” Ghai describes his preferred manner of making movies. “Whether it is Karma, Pardes or Black and White, I do not pick up any story which does not touch both—my heart and my mind. My films are known to appeal to the masses and also the classes. Cinema is a craft, a device for dance, drama and music. I incorporate all of these in my movies.”
The ‘Showman’ of Bollywood, Subhash Ghai is known to make larger than life films and that’s how he likes it. However, he does watch films which portray the slice of life and enjoys art films. “I am not competing with contemporary filmmakers,” he states. “I will play my own instrument. I will present a story using my own sensibilities. If you like it, take it, if you don’t, I don’t mind.”
Having established his brand of cinema, he moves on to talk about Kaanchi—“a passionately made film about a passionate girl.” It is a love story with a revenge drama starring newbie actors Mishti and Kartik Tiwari. It has a message about the power of women. Looking at the circumstances of our country and being in touch with the youth inspired him to pen a story like Kaanchi. “I have been very fond of youngsters right from the beginning. I can see the restlessness and anger in them, against their parents, against old politicians, against the system.” Kaanchi touches upon these themes, and also has plenty of musical elements in it. Ghai is also pushing the envelope in terms of technology. He claims, “Kaanchi will be the first film that will be exhibited with Auro 3D sound, which means there will be 40 speakers in the theater.”
Speaking about his journey as a director, he explains that he has seen three generations of filmmakers through the decades. He reminisces, “In the ’60s and the ’70s, I saw great filmmakers like Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Mehmood Khan and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. I was quite impressed by them in my teenage years. The second generation happened with Sooraj Barjatya, Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra. In 2000, cinema again underwent a change. Directors like Anurag Kashyap showed more rural and real language. They show the ugly side of reality. My view is that cinema is beautiful, so keep it away from all negativities. Even the villain has to be entertaining.” Holding such strong opinions, Ghai is quite the maverick in his own right!
Ghai was a student at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, and by the time he moved to Mumbai in the ’70s, the masala potboilers meant for the masses had taken over Bollywood. But, there was also a parallel cinema. Being a student of the FTII and particularly, a favourite of Ritwik Ghatak, Ghai had his own sensibilities of artistic cinema. He learnt a lot from geniuses like Mrinal Sen, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Kamal Amrohi. But, Ghai was clear on one point. He wanted to be successful. It was important for him. He was an outsider to Bombay as well as the film industry. He remembers a time when he wasn’t even allowed entry into a studio. From humble beginnings, Ghai reached the top of the ladder in no time though. “I started out with Kalicharan and Vishwanath because I wanted success. They were safe, formula films. Both were successful and I was in the game.”
Once he had cemented his place in the industry, he proceeded to make his own kind of films. He even turned producer because he didn’t want people telling him to do things a certain way. “I wanted to express myself. I made Karz with my own production. I wrote it in one go. I made what I wanted to without fear of commercial failure,” he says, looking back. “At that time, Karz was not accepted by the audience and the box office. But after 30 years, it became a cult movie. I gave many hit films in a row. But, I had a fall after Karz in the form of Krodhi, which flopped.” The ramifications of which gave him a shock. Ghai could see the media, the stars and the buyers had lost faith in him and it pained him immensely. “They write you off. They don’t value your talent, your filmography,” he rues. He cites the example of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who was praised for Rang De Basanti, criticised for Delhi 6 and now is being lauded again for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Indeed, the media flogging is faced by every filmmaker. “But, we go through so much pain. There is so much innocence and ignorance in the media. Even the stars are shaken up. They don’t pick up your phone. I have gone through this phase three to four times in my career,” he says.
However, the love of the audience kept him going. “Surprisingly, every time I meet the audience, when I go to shops, airports, etc, they say, ‘You make such wonderful films.’ They never tell me, ‘You made Yuvvraaj, a flop.’” Seeing their love and affection also gave him a boost of confidence. Ghai is used to harsh criticism but has become accustomed to it. “I just smile and laugh it away like a child. The child in me is very strong. I like being innocent about many things. I will go on making films. Kaanchi is as good as Kalicharan for me. I feel the same nervousness.”
Winding back a little, he dwells upon the time he tried going a different way with his movies. “In 2000, when the multiplex culture was shaping up, I thought I’d evolve and make a film with international sensibilities.” Till then, Ghai had been making films with unabashedly middle class Indian sensibilities. So, when he had the money and could afford it, he made Kisna, starring Vivek Oberoi and Isha Sharvani. The movie failed at the box office and Ghai is of the opinion that the film was ahead of its time. “Kisna was designed and aimed more for international sensibilities.” He is of the opinion that it is only after another 10-20 years that the audience will appreciate the aesthetics and detailing that went into it. He goes on to say that no blockbuster or film is a classic at its own time. “Films achieve the classic status after 10 years or more. The tragedy that happened with me was that for the numerous hits I gave in a row, when the movies were released, I was always bashed. Today, I meet people who had criticised Taal and Khalnayak very harshly and they say, ‘We have seen Taal six times.’ I ask them if they have forgotten what they had said back then.” Sadly, this is the music Ghai believes he will have to face with Kaanchi too and he is expecting plenty of bashing for it.
Ghai has worked with actors such as Anil Kapoor (Meri Jung, Taal, Ram Lakhan) and Dilip Kumar (Vidhaata, Karma) and established Jackie Shroff as a lead actor (Hero). We ask him about repeating his stars and he states that he belongs to the Ritwik Ghatak school of thought. “He told us that the moment actors try to dominate your entity as a director, stop working with them. Otherwise, you become a slave of the star,” Ghai explains. “You should be in command of a film, particularly, when you are the story writer.” He believes that as a director, he has to work with those actors who have faith in him. And, infamously, the faith of the actors is subject to changes as per box office results. “Many stars have physically come to me and said, ‘Sir, I want to work with you.’ They came when I was giving back to back hits. But now, I don’t know whether my name is there in their phonebooks or not.”
Ghai has also founded a world-class film institute called Whistling Woods International in Mumbai. It has been ranked among the top film schools in the world by The Hollywood Reporter. Ghai’s daughter Meghna is at the helm of affairs at the institute.
Among the current superstars, Ghai says he would love to sign on Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, who are his friends. “They love me and we meet quite often. Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Vidya Balan and Deepika Padukone are also my friends. When I wrote Kaanchi, my office kept insisting that I sign a leading star.” So, what prompted him to cast a newcomer? “My script says you should cast a new person. Like, in Pardes, Madhuri Dixit was available, but I cast Mahima Chaudhury instead. How would Madhuri have looked as Ganga in it? Similarly, I feel the same for Kaanchi. Established actors bring their own baggage. A star would have spoiled the film,” he asserts. Certainly, Ghai likes to march to his own tune. Arguably, his gut instinct has served him well. He continues to believe in his brand of cinema and is happy in own space.
(Photo Credit: Bbhupi)
Credit: Society Magazine.