He allotted himself the title of Showman after Raj Kapoor - and justified it. At 64, Subhash Ghai has spent over 40 years in films, from his acting course at the FTII to being the prolific writer-filmmaker, founder of Whistling Woods International and beyond. As his banner Mukta Arts enters its 30th year, Ghai narrates the screenplay of his life as vividly as if it were his celluloid extravaganza
STORY OF MY LIFE
"Yes, Mukta Arts has entered its 30th year. When I saw the ad that we had placed in Screen, I just kept looking at it. For others it was just a designed ad, but for me it told a story - my story. In those few minutes, I went on a rewind of how my journey has been. My assistants have even made a slideshow of my work and that too took me on a flashback, which was an unique experience for someone who has neither looked back nor watched my movies once they are premiered and become the people's property. If the people like my film, I am happy, if not, I move on to try and make a better film. "So since I never live in the glories of my past and firmly believe that people should focus on my present work, these 30 years have been like 30 days. I'd rather look ahead, even 5-10 years ahead, than have my 100 trophies on display at home or office! I came here to become an actor, and a talent hunt saw Rajesh Khanna and me in a tie as winners. He got great breaks, I did not so I took whatever came. And destiny led me to my forte for writing and directing. There are no regrets - an actor is just one cog in the film, I am much more.
"Movie making will be my passion till I die. The excitement of filmmaking turns me into an energetic child and becomes an outlet for the many innovative forces within me. Hats off to my father Dr Krishna Dayal Ghai, who told me that I should be qualified at whatever I did 45 years ago. He made me join the Film & Television Institute in Pune since I wanted to be in films as I would always act in, write and direct plays in school and college, dance and sing well and pick up trophies. Hats off also to my mother Subhadra who always told me to believe that I was the best - without looking down on anyone else - whether I took up my pen, looked through the camera, or sat with my composer.
"Life is too short to express everything that I want to through the spiritual forces that make me go beyond my own limits. I want to direct seven films in the next seven years though so far I have directed only 16 films in 31 years."
"I would always sing. But whatever I learnt about composing and lyrics writing was from Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Anand Bakshi. Today, thanks to them I can compose a song - I have ghost-composed a few in my films - and written lyrics in Jogger's Park and Iqbal. I would be with the three of them constantly during sittings and recordings, sometime for 12 hours a day, observing the setting up of machines and instruments, and asking questions as an especially keen student of Pyarelal. The trio could do every kind of song or film. When there was discord among them and work began to suffer, I shifted to Nadeem-Shravan for Pardes and A.R.Rahman for Taal. Rahman knows his job, understands the story and characters and bonds well with me. "But now, unlike with LP and Bakshi, the music and lyrics of every film have to be entrusted to whoever is best for a song or a film. In this field too, technology has conquered art. Today's dance directors work on an editing table along with the cinematographer, editor and costume designer rather than with a song and the performers! When will they realize that a film song and music video can never be the same?"
THE GHAI PHILOSOPHY
"My creative energies are flowing five times more than 5 years ago when my company went public with an IPO. I have to expand my company and justify my investors' faith. So I have never repeated myself if you have watched my films. Each film of mine, especially as a director, has had a different colour. T-Series offered me a 10 crore profit only to produce Karz, and some more money to direct it. From their side, it was an honour and a mark of respect for me.
"But I have never repeated an idea - for that would mean that inspiration has run dry. And inspiration comes from anywhere - one paragraph, one scene, one photograph, one remark or even real-life stories can generate a world-class classic - such is filmmaking. Vidhaata's Dilip Kumar and Pardes's Amrish Puri are people I have known in real-life to whom those stories broadly happened. Karz incidentally took off from Reincarnation Of Peter Proud, a film whose dialogues I could not even follow completely. But that one scene where the mother says, "Peter has come!" haunted me. I reworked the idea and did not adapt it, so it's wrong to say that I Indianized it! In the original the man sleeps with his daughter from the previous birth. That would be sacrileginous for Indian culture.
"So far I have been associated with the grand, larger-than-life kind of film. So I set out to make a Basu Chaterjee-like family drama of a father and three daughters to break my image. But superstardom happened to Hrithik Roshan, my third lead after Jackie Shroff and Kareena Kapoor who I had signed before Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai. And things changed! Distributors wanted the climax shot on him, I listened for the first time, and no one was happy in the end!
"But now with the multiplex culture, I am experimenting as a director with my first niche film, Black & White. It's my first ‘real' film. Though Anil Kapoor is there, watch out for my latest protege Anurag Sinha as the protagonist.
IT'S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
"In this world, we tend to forget relationships. We also don't mean what we say, from a "Thank you" to a "You are like my brother". But I mean everything I say, because those are the values my family has instilled in me. If I said that Anand Bakshi was like my brother, I meant it. And so his family became my family too. Bakshi's son worked with me for four years, and my late writer Ram Kelkar's son works for Mukta too. Sachin Bhaumick, who wrote my first production Karz, heads my story department even today. I am most comfortable when I am emotionally attached to my associates, whether stars or technicians."
MAGIC OF THE MAINSTREAM MARQUEE
"One factor that disturbs a creative artiste today is the fast-changing market environment. Commerce has taken over art and all truly creative people are under pressure. Forces are thriving that tempt you - tempt you to sell your soul. Thirty years ago, I was making films independently and connected with the audiences each time. It's still the same. I never cared for financiers and distributors because for me they were just my support system. Unlike so many others I paid not more than 10-25% to my stars and preferred to spend almost 80% of my budget on the film, the visuals, the songs, the background music and so on - in short on my film as a whole. Most of my discoveries did well as stars, but if they acted starry I never worked again with them.
"Today we have a culture where actors and technicians ignore a film's budget. They do not respect their own talent and quality and run after the most lucrative offers. Today's producer is a technical and commercial man who is often at the mercy of the corporate CEO who is interested only in figures and not script and creativity. But a genuine producer should be the support system of the entire creative process!
"When Mukta Arts signs a director, we respect him and support him as the captain of the ship. I hear the first narration and then view the first cut but never go on the sets. But there is a flipside to this that I am now trying to control. Some directors who do not really understand cinema feel offended when I offer suggestions on their so-called ‘vision', but they are all exposed on Friday night! So if I realize that my production is not working, I leave it to God and move on! "People rave and say that cinema has improved. I say technology, style and the form have improved. In the past, we made masala movies - and let me tell you that they are very difficult to make! And that's why such men called that era the worst phase of cinema because at that time they could not stand on their own! It's as stupid as my saying that if Yaadein and Kisna did not do well cinema is going through a bad phase! Let me tell you - only intelligent men can make an unintelligent film! Our audiences then reacted more with their hearts than minds, and it's not easy convincing hearts for three hours with the magic of music, dance and drama! What's great if I make a film that only I like, or only the B-class audiences like, or is only appreciated by the multiplex audience?
"On the other hand, what's great making a film when you have big finances pouring in or the biggest stars available for you? Real talent comes in when you have none of these and yet make a movie that does well in every nook and cranny. I would rate a Khosla Ka Ghosla much higher than so many big hits for this reason!"