She is known for her over-the-top, glitzy blockbusters, but when you enter director Farah Khan’s home, you can’t help but notice the subtlety endorsed by every corner of the house. "Right now, I am in a peaceful state of mind. This is probably the most content that I have been in a long time because I guess I have turned 50, so a lot of my priorities have changed. Plus, my last film was a big grosser, and I just went on a long holiday with my kids (Anya, Diva and Czar)," says Farah, as she opens up about her life, films, and more.
How true is the industry perception that you are very outspoken?
It’s true, but that’s not something I have developed now. Over the years, I have realised that it’s too tiring to be fake, and not to tell people the truth because, eventually, it will come out. I don’t think anyone feels bad because I say it with a sense of humour, and not with any kind of malice. If you ever visit my film set, you will see that I am not a mean person. But it’s not an easy job to control 300 people on a set. I strongly feel that film-making can’t be a democratic process. So, in a way, there has to be a dictatorship. I am just a very likeable dictator (smiles).
Was film-making always on the agenda?
It was. I even assisted Mansoor Khan (director) on Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). But back in the ’90s, women directors were very rare, and they used to make very niche films. They were also far older… the likes of Sai Paranjpe, Aparna Sen and Aruna of Aruna-Vikas. But no woman had made a big commercial movie till Main Hoon Na (2004; Farah’s debut directorial venture). When I first entered the industry, there was no place for a woman to be a choreographer, forget being a commercial film-maker. I had never thought that one day I will be a big, successful film-maker. All I wanted to do was make one movie.
A still from Farah's film, Happy New Year.
Many feel direction happened to you by default.
It was the other way around. I became a choreographer by chance, and for next 10 years, work kept happening and money kept coming in. So you tend to keep your big dream on the backburner. Then came a time when I was the top choreographer [in Bollywood], and I was like, "Now I have to stop doing songs, and write a script." So I took a break.
How has the journey been so far?
In college, I knew I wanted to make a movie, but I didn’t know how to get there. But I guess destiny and hard-work worked together. I am very thankful about what happened. There are many more movies that I want to make, but it (film-making) is not the be all and end all of my existence. I see people who are busy competing in the ‘rat race’, but I never wanted to be a rat in the first place.
How hard is it being a woman director in Bollywood?
The thought of a woman making a commercial film is very hard to digest. I used to hate saying it, and I used to never feel the gender bias — and I still don’t feel it while I am making a film — but when the film releases, I feel people don’t like the idea of a woman making a kind of movie that usually male directors make. I don’t think Shah Rukh (Khan; actor) ever feels that he shouldn’t invest Rs 100 crore in my film because I am a woman, because it’s all about knowing and doing your job, and that I know too well. I don’t have an ego otherwise, but I can take a shot ten times better than any other male director out there.
What’s your process of film-making?
It is all-consuming. During that time, the unit is your family, and nothing else exists outside that universe. You see your cameraman more than you see your husband, and you see your spot boys more than you see your kids. I don’t cut off completely, but going far away from this dirty pond of Bollywood is a much nicer experience.
Many feel you are a tough taskmaster…
I am a taskmaster in the sense that I don’t like inefficiency. A tailor not stitching a heroine’s blouse’s button properly can cost a producer lakhs. I am a painfully organised director. And I used to be amazed — when I was a choreographer — as to how some directors didn’t feel guilty about wasting a producer’s money.
Farah Khan and Karan Johar stay friends.
How has the industry changed since the ’90s?
In some ways, it’s a lot better, like people are doing just one film at a time and actors’ dates are streamlined etc., but I also feel that due to social media outlets and innumerable critics, things have become more negative.
Nowadays, on the day of a film’s release, everyone wants to tear the movie down. Any Tom, Dick and Harry is a critic online.
You said recently that you didn’t have a picture perfect family as a child. Do those experiences influence you as a director?
Our family was far from being picture perfect. Every film-maker will make films about the kind of people they are, and about life as they understand it. We were rich to begin with, but when the rags happened, it was really a lower- to middle-class life, but education wasn’t compromised on. That’s why I hate wasting money. Karan (Johar; film-maker) and I often joke. He would tell me that when he was ‘poor’ and lived only in a three-bedroom apartment in Napean Sea Road, he could only afford to carry cookies in his tiffin. I was like, "Clearly, our ideas of poverty are two extremes (laughs)."
Do you ever feel like breaking out of this ‘mould’ your critics often criticise you for?
I may not do that just for the sake of making a different film or to prove a point. I like to make a film that connects with the maximum number of people. Why would I make a film that will be watched by only 20 critics who will praise me? I don’t care for them. If you ask me to make an art film, I can make one, but the question is, "Do I want to make it?" And if it wasn’t for big, commercial movies, this industry would have shut down.
How difficult is it to maintain friendships in the film industry?
I have friends who I’ve known for 20 years, but I don’t chat with them every day. You also make friends at work. With me, also because of my kids, I don’t give my friends as much attention as I should. But Shah Rukh, Karan, Anil Kapoor or Tabu have been with me for over 20 years. It’s difficult to have friends in the same competitive space that you work in; so it’s difficult for two heroines or heroes to be friends, as you are always competing for the same things. I have friendships that don’t have an agenda, and they survive longer too.