Their first time
|(Top)Director Homi Adajania and Saif Ali Khan in Being Cyrus|
The film ends, the credits begin to roll. The lights come on. And then, there’s a brief, pregnant pause. At this time, the director’s heart is on the tip of his tongue. The pause after the screening of his first film is probably the most memorable moment in a director’s life. And also one of the most deciding. Because after that brief pause, there is either thundering appreciation or polite obligation. For a first-time director, that brief pause is like a lifetime.
After much ado (read: much media attention), Homi Adajania’s directorial debut, Being Cyrus, was finally released last week. What remains to be seen is how much attention the audiences give him and his film. Though Adajania is quite kicked about the response that his film got at international film festivals, he is obviously looking forward to a favourable reaction on home ground as well.
The success of a first film is something that every director desperately hopes for. It’s like having a first baby. Or a first kiss. The first time, as they say, should be special. And many first-time directors have achieved some big hits in the industry. Siddharth Anand’s Salaam Namaste did extremely well with the urban audiences. Nikhil Advani’s Kal Ho Naa Ho, Shaad Ali’s Saathiya, Rajkumar Hirani’s Munna Bhai MBBS, Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai, and Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai were all smash hit directorial debuts. When Aditya Chopra made Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, he didn’t just make his first film, he made history.
So what gets the first-timers rocking? A director’s debut definitely receives a boost if he has the right cast. Because no matter how thorough you are with the script, if you have the wrong actor, you’re doomed. Adajania was particularly lucky in this aspect. It’s not everyday that a debutant director gets to work with an ensemble cast like the one in Being Cyrus. “These were all my first choices,” says the new director, “These were the people I wanted. And I got them.” Farhan Akhtar was also extremely particular about who he wanted in his debut, Dil Chahta Hai. “I wanted Saif for the part he played,” he says, “I couldn’t picture anyone else in the role.”
The good thing is that most of our stars are now ready to give the new ‘captains of their ship’ a chance. It must take guts to put your successful career in the hands of a novice. “On the first day of shooting, I was simply petrified,” admits Anil Kapoor of his experience of working with first-time director Jijy Philips (My Wife’s Murder). “But on day one itself, I was pleasantly shocked.”
If they find the project creatively stimulating, most actors go with it. “I never thought Homi was making his debut or anything,” says Saif Ali Khan. After reading the script he knew it was “a great film to be a part of” and was happy that Adajania was very clear about what he wanted from each of his artistes. And that turns out to be the case with many new directors. Before they start shooting, most of them know exactly what they want from even their spot boys. They know that with their first film, they have to prove themselves to the world and his sister. And no amount of planning is enough.
The enthusiasm of a first-time director can be infectious. When Urmila Matondkar was offered the lead role in Shripal Morakhia’s Naina, she promptly agreed. “When I met the director, I realised that he had seen the movie over and over again in his mind. Here was a man who has tremendous clarity about his film. In an age where people don’t have a script with them, he knew the final product.”
But a dream cast does not always ensure the dream kick-start to a directorial career. Even with an actor like Amitabh Bachchan among his cast, Samir Karnik could not strike gold with Kyun! Ho Gaya Na... On the other hand, Anubhav Sinha picked completely new faces and created a reasonable success out of his Tum Bin... When Nagesh Kukunoor made Hyderabad Blues, no one had heard of the man. Today his cinema is a benchmark for all aspiring directors.
For first-time directors, there is also this burning desire to do something different. To hilaao the world. And this usually works in their favour. Says cinematographer Ravi Chandran, “I don’t want comfort levels in shooting. That’s why I like working with new directors. They expect to make me do something different.”
But this burning desire has its flip side. When you’re a new fish in the sea, trying to get stalwarts to invest in your vision, ‘being different’ is not exactly a security deposit. “Everything is tough for a first-time director whom no one trusts,” says Onir, who recently made his first film, My Brother...Nikhil ? a relatively unique film. “And because you’re an unconventional filmmaker even critical expectations multiply. So it’s like losing the battle both ways.” But there’s a catch even in winning the battle. Some first-timers hit such jackpots the first time that they prove to be their own biggest competition the second time round. Aditya Chopra could not recreate the magic of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge in Mohabbatien. When John Mathew Mathan’s Shikhar released recently, every single person in the audience came out shaking his head sadly and exclaiming, “Nothing like Sarfarosh!”
The audiences are waiting to see if Pradeep Sarkar will be able to outdo Parineeta, his first. On the other hand, there are some who face the calamity of a flop the first time, but don’t lose heart. They try again and get it right the second time. Rohan Sippy’s Kuch Na Kaho failed to do well at the box-office. But Bluffmaster!, his second effort has won him accolades. Or Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who made a disastrous debut with Khamoshi The Musical, but followed up with milestone hits, Devdas and Black. It can be a huge blow when a first directorial venture bombs. And the speculation of the media, the audiences and that of the rest of the film fraternity doesn’t help any. “If the first film is a hit, the trade says it could be a fluke,” says director Apoorva Lakhia who made Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost with dost Abhishek Bachchan and Lara Dutta.
But if one has to make a film, one has to make a film. Those who possess the passion brave the odds and take the first plunge. And from the look of it, Homi Adajania is one of many bravehearts.
Because last year, in 2005 alone, there were 28 directors to have made their first films in Bollywood!