In Bhubaneswar to interact with students last week, film-maker Kunal Kohli said, ‘Changing the world was not my dream, making movies was’. t2 caught him off the dias and chit chatted with him on a range of topics. Here are excerpts:
What was your family’s reaction when you decided to become a filmmaker?
My mother had gifted me a camera in childhood, a decision she regretted later. I never listened to my parents where following my dream was concerned. My friends were earning healthy packages when I was busy doing odd jobs. Money never pestered me when passion was in question. My friends laughed, family fretted but I just knew I would make it there someday. Once someone asked my mother what I did, she was embarrassed to say I worked in a TV show. When she said what I did, the person exclaimed: “Oh! You are Kunal Kohli’s mother!” That day she felt very pleased. Till then she could not understand the power of the medium, as she wasn’t from that field.
How did you get your big break?
When I was interviewing Karan Johar for a show, I asked him to take a look at my script. He took me to meet Aditya Chopra, as he was looking for a new director and just like that I got to make Mujhse Dosti Karoge. It was surreal. How could it be that easy? But I forgot the fact that there were years of struggle behind that. I had worked as an assistant, fixed cable lines, etc. on different film sets. I became a film critic because if I was not making films, I wanted to talk about them, at least.
(Top) Kunal with Priyanka Chopra and Shahid Kapoor while promoting Teri Meri Kahani and (above) a still from Kunal’s first big hit Hum Tum
As an outsider, don’t you think star kids have it easy in the industry?
They (star kids) might get an opportunity once or twice. But after that one has to survive on his own. Kumar Gaurav, son of Rajendra Kumar, was a much bigger star than Sanjay Dutt when he began. Had Shah Rukh thought he is not a Kapoor’s son and so cannot become a star, he wouldn’t have become what he is today. Several stars today don’t come from a filmi lineage. It’s very sad when somebody says there are no opportunities. One has to work his way out.
You are a film-critic-turned-director. How do you assess the role of film critics?
It’s a job that has to be done and some are doing a good job while some are just there like the cub reporters becoming critics. Even that is fine. Everybody has an opinion. If a newspaper or a TV channel feels they are qualified to be a critic, then let them be. Five star ratings are for a matter of few days; the audience’s love stays forever.
Your recent films haven’t clicked. Does it perturb you?
My debut film with big star cast, gigantic banner and budget tanked. How could that happen, but it did. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone and at a much lower budget Hum Tum was made. When I went to receive the award on the stage, which was the first award I was ever getting courtesy my poor academic records, I thought I would see the whole film industry. But the lights on the stage blinded me. That’s when it struck me that this is what success can actually do to you, it can blind you. Yes, I was disheartened by the flop show of Teri Meri Kahani but I can never lose my will to go ahead. Yash Chopra, my mentor, worked for 13 years without a commercially hit film. There were series of films that didn’t work and then came Chandni, which was a blockbuster. Success and failures are two sides of the same coin. They are part and parcel of life. I have made both blockbusters and bad films. I hope my next one does well.
Two things are becoming characteristic of your films. First they are very mainstream, second, they are based on a love story?
While making a film I don’t sit and think if I am making an art film or a commercial film. Bimal Roy films were of the kind where you couldn’t pin point the genre. It had the intelligence of art and business of commercial cinema. I wish to make that kind of cinema where people get confused while putting it into a certain category. Moreover, Indian film audience has taste for all kinds of cinema. One cannot manufacture only one kind of cinema. One may like masala films, which someone else may not. For the second question, we are a romantic country. I love making love stories.
My next will be a political thriller that will centre, again, around a love story.
How are you finding Odisha?
I am coming to Odisha for the first time. I saw the beautiful temples of Bhubaneswar. I tasted the food. The seafood delicacies were mouth watering. I loved chena poda. I am stunned to see the greenery here. Even the beaches are panoramic. I cursed myself for not coming here all these years. I would suggest the Odia film industry to make more films. Regional films are very popular and the state government should extend its full support to them. They play a crucial role in preserving our culture and identity. Regulations on taking several permissions for shooting should be relaxed, which can encourage filmmakers to visit different places. Odisha should give their support.
Being a reality show judge, what do you think about the allegations that they are scripted?
For the judges, it’s good money. Reality shows are just about money. I earned good pocket money! (Laughs)
We meant for the participant?
For many participants, it’s only 60 seconds of fame. But there are many like Sunidhi Chauhan, for whom reality shows are life-changing. You do find good talent from reality shows.
Finally, you must be shattered when Yash Chopra left us?
It’s something I haven’t spoken about. It’s too personal a matter.