By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network
More than Alan Pukula's The Devil's Own Subhash Ghai's Black & White seems to replicate Joseph Costelo's The War Within where a closet terrorist arrives in New York, befriends a benign Muslim family and plans to blow up the Grand Central. Subhash Ghai is puzzled. "I've never heard of The War Within. In Devil's Own the terrorist succeeds in his mission. In Black & White, the point is that we need to kill terrorism not terrorists. That really touched me. As for the similarities, in world cinema there're 36 plots, only 4 in Mumbai. Sometimes we stretch it to 4.5. Black & White does that."
One of the unique aspects of Black & White is the casting of the veteran stage actor Habib Tanvir. "Casting for the part of the young terrorist (played by debutant Anurag Sinha) and for this wise old man of Chandni Chowk was very tough. I got Habib Saab to play a man who sheltered Hindus in his home during the Partition. Eventually, he sold away all his property for a pittance. Finding the right actor with a specific heritage, culture, personality and face was really tough. I didn't want to cast anybody stereotypical or stagey. Even Dilip Kumar Saab wouldn't have worked. My casting agent suggested Habib Tanvir. He was reluctant to begin with me. He wondered what he'd do in a Subhash Ghai film! I told Habib Saab, 'Subhash Ghai has gone crazy. He wants to make an unusual film.' When he heard me out he loved my subject and my command of Urdu."
But some bitter reviews have left Ghai undeterred. "They aren't angry with my film. They're angry with Subhash Ghai. Hai Allah, tumne kyon chhod diya naach-gaana. When I was doing naach-gana films I was told, 'You've opened an acting school Now make a sensible film.' Now that I've made a sensible film they're wondering what has happened to Subhash Ghai. They're judging Subhash Ghai, not the film. I had a story that I needed to tell at this point of my career. I'm not demoralized by the reviews. The world has torn Jesus and Gandhi into shreds. Who am I? Today even M. F Husain isn't in our country… These brickbats don't matter to me."
Ghai reminisces about the ups and downs in his career. "According to my critics I had a thud in1982 when Krodhi didn't work after two hits Kalicharan and Vishwanath. Then after Krodhi, I made three hits-Vidhaata, Karz and Hero. Then when Trimurti didn't work in 1993 they wrote that Subhash Ghai had lost his magic. I bounced back with Khalnayak, Pardes and Taal. Then the moment Yaadein opened badly they decided to write me off on Friday itself … Now I understand one thing. Today there's a lot of change in the media. The hunger for news today drives the media to extremes. Abhishek-Aishwarya getting married peacefully isn't news. Some crazed girl barging into the wedding claiming to be his wife is bigger news. In the 1980s, there were only six newspapers and one TV channel. Today, there're eighty TV channels and forty newspapers. The media is busy creating vertical rather than horizontal news. I'm immune to these gaalis. If ten people of caliber have appreciated Black & White why should I be bothered with five people who think a theme like terrorism is an occasion for them to be clever and cheeky with their words?"
There's jubilation at Ghais' office. "We're very happy with Black & White. We're uncorking champagne and celebrating. Never mind the personal slant of the comments. Have they said anything nice about Jodhaa Akbar or any other recent film? God bless them. Because even readers are laughing at these opinionated critics. There're actors who are serious entertainers, the others are comedians. Some of our media commentators have become light entertainers. They're only interested in playing with words. They've the right to spoof my reviews, if it makes them happy."
Ghai says he was prompted by the world around him to make Black & White. "Music of a different sufi kind has been used in Black & White. Music has always been important in my films. Taal was a full-on musical because it was about musicians. Although Karz was a murder mystery it was still formated as a musical. In Black & White there's no place for music. The protagonist doesn't like music. The music had to be the kind that the protagonist somehow had to tolerate. Anurag Sinha's character had to go through a change. And that music had to be part of that change. The explosion finally happens within him rather than outside. I asked my composer Sukhvinder to give me a score that had no disco or item songs. How many critics have noticed this?"
For those who think Black & White isn't Subhash Ghai's territory, the Showman has an answer. "Tell me, haven't I made Jogger's Park earlier? Black & White was shot over a period of 40 days at Chandni Chowk at a cost of 6.5 crore rupees. It's a profitable venture, no matter how we look at it. I'm happy for my debutant hero Anurag Sinha. I really like that boy. He's a very good actor and a humble human being. He's an educated soft-spoken boy from a good family. Mumbai hasn't polluted him as yet. No matter what the fate of Black & White, I'll make another film with him."
He is optimistic to the core. "My next film Yuvraaj is a typical Subhash Ghai film. I've enjoyed big sets sounds and moving with the times. Yuvraaj is ahead of its times. I'm lucky to have A. R. Rahman to compose the music .We're planning a Diwali release." In Yuvraaj, Ghai works with Salman Khan for the first time. "Whatever I had heard about him was wrong. He loved my script. Then he started loving me. Trust me not once has he questioned me about the scenes and dialogues. He obeys my instructions. He's a delight to work with. I like stars who've full faith in me."