After directing three hits — Heyy Babyy (2007), Housefull (2010) and Housefull 2 (2012) — Sajid Khan faced a setback with his last two releases, Himmatwala (2013) and Humshakals. Here, the 44-year-old talks about his Bollywood journey, his upbringing, and more.
You became a director after becoming a top TV host. Was that always the plan?
My training ground has been my interest in watching movies. Unlike most other directors, I haven’t assisted anyone. But this is what I always wanted to do. In the late ’80s, as a child, I used to shoot short films on my friend’s wedding camera.
Did you decide to join the entertainment industry after your father (Kamran Khan; film-maker) passed away?
When my father passed away, he left a lot of debt for Farah (Khan; director-sister) and me to pay off. She was 15, and I was 10 at that time. My mother was working, but we still needed at least `300-`400 to run the house. So, Farah started working as a choreographer at an early age. I thought the only way to make money was to turn to crime. So, I got together with a gang of boys, and we became petty thieves. Fortunately, that didn’t go very far. By the age of 13-14, I realised that I could make people laugh. So I started dancing, doing mimicry, and even playing music. I started DJ’ing at 16, making `400-`500 per day, and `15,000-`16,000 a month. Hence, from being below the poverty line, we became a lower-middle class family.
There was a time when you were called arrogant…
Most of the time when I sounded pompous, I made those statements only to grab headlines. They weren’t from my heart. I wish I could have weighed my words before saying anything. I have become politically correct now. I have curbed my enthusiasm. I am in my mid-40s, so it doesn’t make sense to talk brashly like a 20-year-old.
And you have admitted that you were a bit rude too?
Not a bit, but very rude (laughs). I didn’t know if Heyy Babyy or my Housefull films would be hits. But yes, I did become arrogant; I started saying ridiculous things. After Himmatwala (2013), the venom spewed on me was not uncalled for, but it was a bit too much to handle. However, I maintained my dignity by keeping silent. I told myself that for 20 years, I made fun of people on TV in the name of humour. So, I should take it all on my chin like a fighter now. I used to be very rude. But I will make sure that I never make such statements ever again.
Watch the Heyy Babyy trailer
How did you become a director?
Darna Zaroori Hai (2006; DZH) happened by chance. Film-maker Ram Gopal Varma had called me to act in the film. When I heard the story, I told him, “It’s not that scary, and people will pre-empt the climax.” He asked me, “What should the flavour of the film be?” So, I narrated to him a story, that I would often tell my friends, about a man walking through a graveyard, and how his own paranoia about someone following him is killing him. After hearing me out, he said, “You are narrating it like a director. Why don’t you direct it?” I wasn’t sure, but he was. He wanted me to act in it too, but I said, “I can’t direct and also act.” Then I went back to anchoring and hosting on TV. When the film came out, people were surprised that I had directed a decent film that was genuinely scary.
Does it bother you when you are called a comedy film-maker?
I am absolutely alright with that. I don’t resent it because people will know you only through the kind of stuff you dish out. And I don’t want to change my thought process. If your subject material is strong, then life becomes easy. Perhaps, the subjects of my last two films (Himmatwala and Humshakals) weren’t correct or well-timed; or maybe the audience’s tastes were changing [while I was making them].
If you hadn’t directed DZH, would you still continue doing TV shows?
I am still on TV; I never gave up TV. Direction is a 24/7 job, and a film takes months and years to make. TV earns you instant popularity and money, but I can’t dedicate as much time to it as I could earlier. Today, every Bollywood person is on TV. But it (direction) would still have happened, because I had started writing Heyy Babyy (2007) even before DZH came out.
What have been your earliest influences in terms of cinema?
Honestly, movies have taught me everything I know. So, if you discuss an island in Greece, I would have seen it in For Your Eyes Only (1981), or if you are talking about a fancy store in New York, I would have seen it in You’ve Got Mail (1988). My earliest influences were the larger-than-life movies of Manmohan Desai, Jeetendra, Dharmendra, Sridevi and Rajinikanth. Also, due to Hollywood’s influence on my mother and her sisters, I was in touch with Hollywood as well as Bollywood. I used to cut out all the newspaper ads of upcoming releases and maintain a journal. Then, in the early ’80s, I started collecting movie tickets of all the films I watched. Hopefully, one day, they will be worth a lot of money.
Was your sister, film-maker Farah Khan, always a pillar of strength for you?
I am so proud of Farah for doing it the right way with her head held high. She didn’t do anything wrong. I am happy as I know I don’t have to worry about her; she is being taken care of. I have to look after myself.
Did it help that you grew up in a film family alongside cousins like Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar?
Of course; that helped me sharpen my ability to talk about movies on TV shows, at award functions or other events. Even when I made fun of film-makers, actors or scenes, I never became personal. I’ve always been strongly connected to Bollywood films. It will be my life’s weakest moment if I am unable to recall which film released in what year.
Did spending time with your cousins also help you hone your creative skills?
Yes, it did. Our discussions were only film oriented. My father (Kamran Khan) was a film-maker, my aunts had been child actors, and they were also married to film personalities like Javed saab (lyricist) and KK Shukla (writer). The conversations between Farhan, Zoya, Farah, me and our other cousins were about watching films, discussing them, making fun of them, and doing ham scenes. As a 10 or 11-year-old, I started watching one film a day. When we bought a VCR, I would start my day by watching a movie, while getting ready for school. That habit has stayed with me.
Did it hurt when you were criticized for your last two films?
My last two films made sensible money, although not enough to be declared hits. However, they were not duds either. But the moment I say that, people are like, “You are defending your films.” I have never looked back to see what went right with Heyy Babyy and the Housefull series, or what went wrong with the last two films. I move on. You know, if I were to earn one rupee for every joke cracked on Humshakals, I would have been a millionaire today.
Do you think you are respected as a director?
There have always been two kinds of film-makers and actors worldwide — ones who are respected and others who are popular. Respected ones will always die to get that popularity. And once in a while, a popular person might get that respect. I don’t think there will be a lot of respect attached directors like me, Farah, David Dhawan, Rohit Shetty, Rohit Dhawan and Prabhudheva.
How does failure affect you?
I am on track and working hard to make my next two films. I don’t need to defend myself. For the last one year, I have sat with my writers more than I have dated women (laughs). The fact is that I have never been carried away by success, and failures have never made me feel low. The real failure in your life is when you aren’t a good son, brother, friend, husband or boyfriend.
Has life become difficult since your last two films?
My life hasn’t predominantly ever changed with success or failure. The film industry, by and large, is going through tough times with many makers losing money. I have changed, but my life is still the same. The biggest positive thing in all of last year or so has been the revival of my friendship with producer Sajid Nadiadwala. We are like soul brothers for 17 years. I trust him and Farah with my life. I am happy that we are back together. We will be working together very soon.
Your name has been linked with multiple women, and you were also seeing an actor in the recent past. But you never speak about them…
A relationship with any woman, celebrity or not, should not be spoken about. There has to be a certain degree of respect irrespective of what she might say or feel about you; or even if it was a good or a bad break-up. I am not the kiss-and-tell types. When I was seeing the person whose name I won’t take, I maintained a certain degree of silence. I feel it’s a very personal thing. There were a lot of assumptions, but I won’t talk about them.