I am there to ask the questions, but Subhash Ghai pops the first one. Do you think Salmans Ready will be a hit, he asks me even before I can start the interview. Before I can think of something to say, the great showman of the Hindi film industry takes over. How can you say it will or wont be a hit? Does having a star who is at his careers peak guarantee a hit? Is that enough?
We are sitting in the director-producers Mukta Arts Studio in Mumbais Film City. And Ghai clearly has his next venture in mind — a film that hell direct after a gap of four years. Khan, the whisper goes, will feature in the new film. After all, he was the hero in Yuvraaj, the last film that Ghai directed.
Four years is a long time in a directors life. But there were reasons for the gap, he explains. As the chairperson of Mukta Arts — his production company — he says he had to focus on producing good films. We have produced as many as 15 films in this decade, he says. Then he was busy with his baby, Whistling Woods International (WWI), said to be Asias largest film, television, animation and media arts institute.
Just because I am a filmmaker it doesnt mean that I should keep making films. I am a multitasker today. I am a bit of an educationist, producer and director. As a result, everything has to come in turns. Now that I have done my bit for my students, I will start my directorial venture at the end of this year. Its a commercial and light film — a comedy with drama.
Despite the high chair that he occupies in the Hindi film industry, Ghai — wearing a crisp white Louis Philippe shirt with formal trousers — is easy to interact with. He holds my recorder to make sure that its working — and then says into the microphone: Subhash Ghai, when not directing, is a child who loves experimenting. He is flamboyant and loves to be in the company of youths. That done, he moves on to a wide spectrum of subjects — deftly moving on from life as a struggling actor to his wife, Rehana.
When I came to Mumbai 40 years ago, I was a struggler. Today, God has given me everything and I think its time for me to give it back to the younger generation. Many youngsters wish to enter the film industry, but the fact that they are outsiders prevents them from spreading their wings. With that thought I set up Whistling Woods International. It has the best of facilities and an American faculty.
The institute — spread over 20 acres of land inside Film City in Mumbai — started operating in 2008. Now Ghai plans to open branches in Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. We have also applied to the West Bengal government, expressing our desire to set up WWIs campus in Calcutta, he says. Many of his students feature in his productions.
Ghai, 66, feels for the young, for he still remembers his initial years in Mumbai and at Punes Film and Television Institute of India. It was in Pune that he befriended the actor Shatrughan Sinha. He recalls how he and Sinha spent hours venting their frustrations and talking about their ambitions. Meeting unknown people and asking for opportunities was the biggest challenge, he says with a smile. The top bosses of Bollywood who could give Ghai a toehold in the industry were too busy to give time to an unknown newcomer. It took me five years to meet them. And when they heard me, they liked me, he says with pride, and then adds: I am also talented.
As a young man he wanted to become an actor. After he went from pillar to post, director Shakti Samanta offered him a role — that of a friend of the younger hero, Suraj — in the Rajesh Khanna starrer Aradhana. But when films such as Umang and Aradhana failed to establish him as a lead actor, he realised that a change was needed. I thought of taking up scripting and direction. I used to write, direct and act in my college plays. Fortunately, filmmakers such as Prakash Mehra and Dulal Guha liked my ideas and bought them.
The young Ghai went on to write and sell six stories. But the turning point was his seventh script — Kalicharan. He recalls that when he narrated the script to Sinha, the actor rejected it. However, when (producer) N.N. Sippy asked his opinion about the film, he said he liked it, Ghai says. Sippy didnt just buy the script — he gave Ghai a chance to direct it as well. The 1976 film, starring Sinha, was a box office hit. A chuffed Ghai went on to direct three more films — and then started producing his own cinema.
Karz — another top grosser — established his credentials. Then there was no looking back, he says, reeling off the names of all his hits from Hero, Karma and Ram Lakhan to Saudagar, Khalnayak and Taal.
The actor in him never died, though. In every film, Ghai makes a cameo appearance. It began accidentally. Then it became a habit. And now its a demand, he chuckles. While Ghai was shooting a song in Karz, he realised that he needed an extra. We wanted a man who would wake up with a start when the word paisa is uttered. My assistant was supposed to get someone for that particular shot but hadnt done so. At the eleventh hour I was left with no other option but to make an appearance myself.
Clearly, the scriptwriter in him is alive and kicking as well. Ghai wants to gently nudge me into the direction of Bengali films. You are from Calcutta, so arent you going to ask me about Noukadubi and Kashmakash, he asks. He is no doubt happy with his production of Noukadubi — a Tagore novel directed by Rituparno Ghosh. Producing this film gave me a sense of pride and satisfaction, after all the crap that goes on in Bollywood. Both the versions (the Bengali one and Hindi version, Kashmakash) have got rave reviews, he says.
But there was some talk about Rituparno not being happy about Noukadubi being dubbed into Hindi. No mother likes someone aping or altering the image of her child. So he was right, he says. But my decision as a producer was also correct, as I wanted the Hindi audience to see the film that Id made as a tribute to Rabindranath on his 150th birth anniversary, he replies.
These days, the director-producer has been focusing on regional cinema. Apart from Bengali, his production house has been producing films in Punjabi and Marathi. Ghai goes on to add that he was inspired by Bengali cinema after he was introduced to Ritwik Ghataks films during his FTII days. I see Bengali cinema in that light and respect the ones made by Ritu (Rituparno), Gautam (Ghose), Aparna (Sen), and not the versions that are like southern Indian films.
Ghai is now promoting young students from his own institute and other film schools to give the young a leg up. Luv Express, a romantic comedy, has 11 newcomers. The directors, actors, sound recordists and editors are mostly from the first batch of WWI graduates. Another film Cycle Kick includes students from other institutes. Both the productions were released earlier this month.
I move from the professional to the personal, and ask him when he met Rehana. Oh, I met her years ago. I was at the FTII. And we lived in the same galli. But it was when she came to see a play of mine with a friend that I was introduced to her formally, he recollects.
As I get up to leave, I request him to pose for a picture — and he does so happily. After a few clicks, he says, Let me have a look. Satisfied with the result, he says with a smile, Good. The educator in him, I can see, is thriving as well.