Winning in fashion

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  • Published 16.11.08

If he had been a fashion designer, director Madhur Bhandarkar would have been strutting down the ramp with his models in tow, taking a bow as the audience cheers him on. As it is, the director of Fashion, Bollywood’s latest hit can’t stop taking the calls.

His mobile was flooded with no less than 1,500 text messages the day the film was released. “Add to that the innumerable phone calls I received from people saying that they loved the movie, and I knew that Fashion was a runaway hit,” says a visibly delighted Bhandarkar.

Bhandarkar is known for his slice-of-life cinema, and this time around he has delved into the world of fashion — industry insiders were scared he’d splash all their secrets onto the big screen. Certainly, he seems to have regained his touch after his last film Traffic Signal was panned. For Fashion has already achieved both box office success and critical acclaim.

Madhur Bhandarkar with the three leading ladies of Fashion — (from far left) Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut and Mugdha Godse — during the making of the film

The film also marks the arrival of Bhandarkar the producer — he co-produced the film with UTV. “ Becoming a producer has made me a stronger filmmaker. It’s a good mix and it shows in the film,” he says.

Besides, Fashion, which was made for Rs 20 crore, is Bhandarkar’s biggest budget film. And no, the director didn’t bow down to the producer in him; instead, he cut no corners to portray the opulence of the glam world.

The film’s already raking in the moolah in fistfuls. It reported gross box office collections of Rs 33 crore worldwide in the first week alone. It’s showing in over 16 countries, according to UTV. In India alone, it had gross collections of Rs 25 crore in the first five days, and multiplex chains like Inox recorded occupancy rates of over 90 per cent in the first week.

Priyanka Chopra in a still from the movie Fashion

Says Siddharth Roy Kapur, CEO, UTV Motion Pictures, which co-produced the film, “Fashion has surpassed all our expectations with the sort of business it has achieved in just a week and the critical acclaim it has generated in India and around the world.”

For those who came in late, Fashion, is not about “Madhur Bhandarkar telling you what to wear” as the director says. Rather, it delves into the glitz and glamour — and the murkiness — that’s all part of the world of fashion. The story revolves around three models. There’s Priyanka Chopra, who plays an aspiring model from Chandigarh trying to make it big. Kangana Ranaut is the reigning ramp scorcher, who’s jeopardising her life and career with substance abuse. And newcomer Mugdha Godse essays the part of Chopra’s friend, a small-time model who marries an established designer who is gay.

So why did Bhandarkar pick on the glamour industry for his latest slice-of-life cinematic take? “I thought that people only see models walking the ramp and the glamour. But nobody has shown what goes on behind the scenes so far,” he says.

(Top) A poster of Bhandarkar’s last movie Traffic Signal which showed life revolving around a traffic signal; Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, Shatrughan Sinha and Paresh Rawal played some of the major characters in his film Aan: Men at Work

As always, Bhandarkar immersed himself researching his subject — he visited dance bars when he made his first film Chandni Bar too.

So for about eight months this time, Bhandarkar interacted with models, fashion designers, model co-ordinators, make-up artists and just about anybody associated with the business. The result is what Bhandarkar describes as “a positive film”.

The film’s dialogues are its strong points with the audience responding to one-liners like ‘Fashion mein jitna kum sochogi utna zyada kamaogi (the less you think in fashion, the more you earn)’. And there’s a Hitchcockian blink-and-you-miss glimpse of Bhandarkar too when two revellers at a fashion show party in the film point to him and say wryly: “Woh Madhur Bhandarkar hai, suna hai woh fashion pe koi film bana raha hai” (That’s Madhur Bhandarkar. Heard he’s making a movie on fashion).

Bhandarkar is also getting kudos for the film’s casting. So did he choose Chopra because she’s an ex-Miss World? “Not really. Priyanka has a very fragile face. I felt it would go with the ups and downs that her character goes through. She fit the bill perfectly,” says the three-time National Award winning director.

His find, model-turned-actor Mugdha Godse — he loves to work with newcomers — has already shot to stardom with Fashion. She’s all praise for the director. “I really enjoyed working with Madhur. I never knew I could reach this level of acting. It’s all due to him,” she says.

Bhandarkar receives the National Award from former President APJ Abdul Kalam for the movie Page 3

Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, who rates Chandni Bar as Bhandarkar’s best movie, believes that “Bhandarkar has started a new genre of films. And he is unique in that genre.” Director Onir, who made My Brother... Nikhil too is all praise for Fashion’s director. “He has a distinct style of his own. I love watching his films,” he says.

All of Bhandarkar’s movies have been a hard-hitting take on some issue or the other. Does the director have any point to prove? Not really, laughs Bhandarkar. “My movies mirror society. I like doing such films,” he says.

He insists that his movies aren’t preachy. And that he’d rather make such realistic films than make a ‘masala’ film. “At least the people and media should appreciate that Madhur Bhandarkar is doing original and realistic cinema,” he says.

He adds: “I like to make films dealing with different genres and I like exploring different aspects of life. I get to interact with people from different parts of the society. I get to learn so much and it’s also very challenging.”

(From top) A still from the movie Page 3 where Konkona Sen Sharma plays the role of a Page 3 journalist; Bipasha Basu in Corporate ;Tabu shows off her dancing skills in Chandni Bar

Moviemaking is a detailed and meticulous process for Bhandarkar. Once he zeroes in on a subject, he does extensive research, meets people and does a thorough study of his subject matter. “I need to get a feel of the subject,” he says.

So he usually sets aside six months for pre-production work. Once that’s over, he wraps up the shooting in eight-nine months. “That’s the maximum time frame I set for myself,” he says.

How does he pick a subject? He follows his “instincts”, he says. Casting big stars isn’t a priority either. Rather, the subject matter decides whether he will cast an established star or go with a newcomer.

Actually, Bhandarkar’s own journey from a video cassette library owner to an established director of Tinseltown could well be the subject matter of a film. His roots are very middle-class. He grew up in Mumbai, and was always keen on films.

“I was always a film buff and one day I thought, why not make films,” he says. Since that wasn’t going to be easy for an outsider, he ran a video library in Khar, a Mumbai suburb. His story’s a bit similar to Quentin Tarantino, who also worked in a video rental store.

Then, a lucky break saw Bhandarkar become assistant to Ram Gopal Varma. He assisted Varma on films like Raat, Drohi and Rangeela but he always yearned to call the shots. After struggling to go solo, he eventually made his first film Trishakti in 1999. But it bombed at the box office.

Failure taught him many lessons. “For one, I realised who my friends and enemies were. It’s a superficial world out there,” he says. He quickly picked himself up off the ground and came back with a hard-hitting tale of bar dancers in Chandni Bar, which, he admits, was a turning point. “There’s been no looking back ever since, touch wood,” he grins. Then followed films like Satta, Aan: Men at Work, Page 3, Corporate and Traffic Signal.

Not all have fared well but Bhandarkar’s work has largely been appreciated by critics. “I’m the only filmmaker who has got box office success, critical acclaim and National Awards at the same time,” he asserts.

Bhandarkar’s self-confidence is striking. Like his movies, he is a no-frills person and never conceals his modest background.

“For me, it’s more challenging to make a Page 3 or a Corporate than to do a Traffic Signal. It’s a different world for me and I like to explore those areas,” says Bhandarkar, who likes to describe himself as a “down-to-earth, simple man who loves interacting with people”.

What about his new-found role as producer? “UTV had wanted to do films with me for quite some time. So I thought why not do something together,” he says.

Now, he plans to do more co-productions and is in talks with corporate studios like UTV Motion Pictures and Percept Picture Company.

So what’s a normal day like for the hot-shot director? After a gym session in the morning, he heads straight to his office when he’s not shooting. There’s one thing that he must do every day though — interact with people. After all, that’s fodder for his films. “I like getting to know common people. All my protagonists have been simple middle-class folk,” he says.

Back at home at the end of the day, he loves to play with his two-year-old daughter Siddhi. As passionate as he is about all things that deal with real life, he loves to unwind with a non-fiction book. “Right now I’m reading The Punjab Story, which is based on Operation Blue Star,” he tells you.

And yes, he loves watching “all kinds of movies from Manmohan Desai to Satyajit Ray, and from Mani Ratnam to David Dhawan”. He’s a great fan of directors like Vijay Anand, Mani Ratnam and Guru Dutt though.

So what’s he planning to make next? “Let me enjoy the success of Fashion first, then I will think about the next project,” he laughs.

Knowing his love for fresh challenges, don’t be surprised if he presents yet another hard-hitting slice-of-life on the big screen.