Fourteen years ago, I’d gone for what was just another interview with Shah Rukh Khan and walked into the middle of chaos. The Badshah was delivering punches and punchlines on camera, and in between shots, punching out financial statements on his laptop. His cell phone buzzed and miraculously he metamorphosed from a merchant selling dreams to simply a merchant, haggling over prices with a supplier, then, arguing over a new twist in the story with the director and scriptwriter.
Shah Rukh onstage during the launch. (AFP Photo)
Silently observing all the frantic action, I suddenly understood why Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani was not just another movie for SRK. It was his baby!
In his pursuit of excellence, he had approached Aamir Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol and finally Juhi Chawla to partner him in his first home production. Aamir had taken too long to make up his mind, Madhuri was in two minds, Kajol already had her mind focused on the Devgn banner. Finally, it was an excited Juhi who, without even pausing for details, had chirped, “Let’s do it!” And Dreamz Unlimited was born!
Shah Rukh was ruling the box-office at the time and there was no logical reason for him to take the gamble. But, as he pointed out, after a while money ceases to be everything. “I love films and I thought I could do better if I had a legitimate say in the film I was doing,” he reasoned, recalling how he’d once turned up on the sets, ready to risk his life in a 100-foot jump without a double, and only three cameras to record it! When he had asked for more, the filmmaker had shrugged carelessly, “Isi se kaam chala lenge. (We’ll manage with these three).”
Appalled by his couldn’t-care-a-damn attitude, the star had decided to make a film that would get all the care it deserved. And has continued doing so, even when his babies haven’t fetched him the dividends other producers have reaped!
What’s interesting is that when an actor turns producer, he normally doesn’t play safe. Sunny Deol was dubbed a “mad man” when he put his own money on a story written with Kamal Haasan in mind and stood by Rajkumar Santoshi’s vision even when he was told that without some comic moments and romantic tracks, Ghayal would leave him ‘ghayal’ (wounded). It fetched him two National Awards, including Best Actor.
Ditto for Aamir who 11 years ago took a baazi (gamble) with Ashutosh Gowariker and Lagaan, a film set in 1890, dealing with an obsolete land tax imposed by the British and the game of cricket, with a hero in a dhoti throughout. “I knew no one would invest in a film like this, so I did. But I will produce a film only if I come across a script compelling in its content,” he’d told me then. Lagaan almost got him an Oscar and in the decade since, Aamir has produced half a dozen films and all of them have gone beyond the formulaic cinematic boundaries.
This Friday, John Abraham takes the same route with a sperm of an idea Shoojit Sircar donated, and which he surprised everyone by accepting. Shrugging away the tsk tsking critics and breaking free of commercial conventions and taboos, he’s on an over-drive, talking knowledgably about infertility and progeny in a country that often asks, “What’s a sperm? Aur yeh donor kaun (Who’s this donor)?”
Ah well, ignorance is not always bliss! And hey, at least John now has a baby, never mind if his marriage is still happening only in tabloids!