|Shah Rukh Khan with Subhash Ghai while shooting for Pardes (1997)
(A shorter version of this interview by Anna MM Vetticad appeared in the November 2013 issue of Maxim magazine. The full text was published in Maxim India’s online edition.)
“CRITICS DIDN’T LIKE KARZ, BUT IT IS NOW A CULT FILM. HOW THEN CAN ONE TAKE CRITICS SERIOUSLY?” ASKS SUBHASH GHAI
In a Maxim exclusive, filmmaker SUBHASH GHAI talks about cinema, audiences, success and failure, Rishi Kapoor, Salman Khan, Dilip Kumar and Anil Kapoor.
Your film Kaanchi was supposed to release in August. What happened?
I can take the pressure of making a film, but I can’t take the pressure of a pre-announced release date. I want to make my film, watch it, test it, then release it. These days however there is such a maara-maari for theatres that some people announce their release dates even before they’ve started work on the film. I can’t do that. I don’t want to repeat the mistake I made with Yuvvraaj where we had announced the release date in advance so it was sent to theatres straight from the mixing and recording studio. Due to lack of time, even I couldn’t see the final cut in advance. I don’t want to make films like that. I want to make films the way I’ve made them all my life.
Is it hard to cope with some of the changes that have taken place in the industry since you started in the 1960s?
Distribution and exhibition have changed dramatically since the 1980s and 1990s when I was most active. For instance films are released in thousands of theatres now. But one thing remains unchanged: every kind of film is being made including films of the sort that were doing well in the 1980s. Films like Dabangg, Ready and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani which are very much in the old mould are thriving alongside films from the Dibakars, Anurag Kashyaps and other new-age film makers.
|Subhash Ghai and Dilip Kumar celebrate the success of Saudagar,
their third film together, the others being Vidhaata and Karma
But do you find it tough to adjust to the changes in the industry’s functioning? For instance, you mentioned the hype around release dates.
Yes, it’s become difficult for anyone who wants to make a non-star-cast film. The Khans have taken over Eid, Diwali and Christmas and the rest of the weekends have been taken over by other stars. But you can’t get disheartened by that. If the picture appeals it will do well irrespective of who’s in the cast. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag didn’t have a big cast but it did well because it was made in a cinematic manner. Finally it’s the film that works. Even an OMG! Oh My God worked. But yes, the pressure to announce a release date is hard for a film maker like me.
Kaanchi stars Rishi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty but the young leads are non-stars. Is there a specific reason behind not using some of the more established names? Couldn’t you have got a Ranbir or Shahid or Ranveer Singh?
None of my films has had a superstar. I always went for the script first, then the artistes. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s I made films with stars who were viable, available to me and excited about working with me. When I did three films with Dilip Kumar, he was available to me because it was his second innings. Even when Shah Rukh Khan did Pardes, he was in the process of becoming a star, he was not yet a superstar.
|Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan with Subhash Ghai on the
sets of Yuvvraaj (2008)
But you made Yuvvraaj more recently with Salman and Katrina Kaif?
Yes, but Salman was going through a rough patch at that time, just like me.
Why is Salman on such a career high now?
Because all this time he was finding himself, experimenting, doing all kinds of films. Even I gave him the role of a musician, which was wrong. He’s now changed his image and realised that what’s working for him are action love stories.
Why have none of your films worked at the box office since Taal in 1999?
As a filmmaker, when you deliver 11 hits in a row, you want to evolve. So I made Kisna and Yuvvraaj, both of which were of an international standard. But audiences still wanted the same old mass elements from me. Those two films were ahead of their time for the Indian audience.
|Subhash Ghai with Jackie Shroff, Dimple Kapadia and
Anil Kapoor during the shooting of Ram Lakhan (1989)
Quite to the contrary, with those two films, critics seemed to think you had not moved with the times.
They were critics of the time, so they didn’t appreciate a film that’s ahead of its time. Critics didn’t like Karz either when it was released in 1980, but now Karz is considered a cult film. How then can one take critics seriously?
So you actually feel Kisna and Yuvvraaj were good films?
So Karz didn’t do well at the box office or with critics?
Both. And a friend who watched it said he felt it’s ahead of its time, that it may not do well now but it will have a shelf life. He was right. Thirty years later, people are still talking about it. What the film couldn’t make in its entire lifetime, I made in one day when I sold the remake rights for Rs 3 crore. It’s like Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker, rejected at that time, but now considered one of the best films of his career.
Did you like the remake of Karz (called Karzzzz) starring Himesh Reshammiya?
I didn’t want to watch it. I wasn’t in the country when it was released and by the time I came back, people weren’t saying good things about it so I didn’t bother. Anyway, how could I watch someone else’s interpretation of my creation?
|Subhash Ghai with debutant Mahima Chaudhry (earlier known as
Ritu Chaudhry) and Shah Rukh Khan on the sets of Pardes (1997)
But you appeared in Om Shanti Om. It may not have been a remake of Karz but it was certainly a tribute to your film.
That’s different. We are all inspired by many sources. Karz itself was inspired by The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. That’s the process of creativity. Om Shanti Om was not a copy of Karz, it was inspired by both Karz and Madhumati. That’s different from a film being remade with the exact same name and story. It’s not that I was bitter about the Karz remake. After all, we sold the rights to them. It’s just that I was busy and didn’t get the time to watch it.
Do you think it’s advisable to make a carbon copy of an old film without re-contextualising it? Without re-interpreting it for a contemporary situation?
It depends on the producer or director. Let them do it if they want to.
No. Because my box of ideas is still packed so why would I make a carbon copy of an old film. Many people have even asked me to remake Karz, Hero and my other hits, but I’ve refused. I’ve sold the remake rights of Hero to Salman Khan Productions but mera idea box abhi khaali nahin hai that I would remake it myself. I have more ideas than there are years left in my life.
You’re working with Rishi Kapoor again in Kaanchi? What do you think has contributed to his wonderful second innings in films?
It’s a stroke of luck combined with his talent. He’s getting good films from good banners, but what’s helping Rishi do so well right now is that he remains as passionate, dedicated and hard-working as always. I’m so happy for him because he went through a low phase and now he’s back in full swing.
How about your own low phase? Ever got disheartened because of your box-office struggles post-Taal?
Not for a single day. That’s because I’ve never taken either hits or flops seriously. Even when a film was a hit, I’d just laugh and say, ‘Oh now I have to make a bigger or better film.’ These things only affect other people in the industry.
When a filmmaker doesn’t deliver hits, people in the industry say, ‘That person is gone, that person has lost his talent.’ This only happens in India. In Hollywood, people don’t judge a filmmaker by his last hit. If Steven Spielberg were to make a bad film, they’d say, ‘He’s a talented filmmaker and we’ll wait for his next film.’ If Kaanchi becomes a hit, the same people who have written me off will say, ‘We always knew Subhash Ghai had talent.’
Doesn’t that hurt considering that they are your own film industry people?
We have a lovely industry, we love each other but we also feel envious and competitive. It’s up to every individual to be mature, to realise that you march with your own talent.
|Ghai with Anil Kapoor and then newcomer Madhuri Dixit during the shooting
of Ram Lakhan (1989), the film that made Madhuri a superstar
When you cast Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff as co-stars in several films, how did you handle their rivalry?
I managed to strike a balance between Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar, so Anil and Jackie were not difficult for me.
But Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar were seniors when you did Saudagar, it was part of their second innings, whereas when you cast Anil and Jackie together they were young and at their peak with all the insecurities that accompany youth.
There’s a difference between Anil and Jackie. Anil’s an aggressive guy and Jackie’s a cool guy, so he can take Anil’s aggression with a smile and laugh. I don’t know why people consider them rivals. I think they are friends. I’ve seen them admire each other and laugh at each other. Sometimes relationships like that do develop.
What are your future plans?
From now on, I’ll be directing one film a year. Subhash Ghai as a filmmaker will be very, very active for the rest of his years.
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Photographs courtesy: Mukta Arts Limited
Note: These photographs were not published in Maxim