Film-maker Sooraj R Barjatya’s office in Prabhadevi is elegantly done-up, and is even reflective of the 51-year-old’s simple tastes. “My meditation helps a lot,” he says, citing the reason behind his calm persona. Here, he talks about his over-two-decade-old journey in Bollywood, why he considers The Godfather (1972) a family film, and more.
Your first directorial venture, Maine Pyar Kiya, released in 1989. Are you satisfied with what you have achieved so far?
I rarely look back because I am always on the hunt for new stories. I would have never dreamt that I would make a film like my latest release when I started making movies. I just had one dream, to assist Raj Kapoor (late actor-director), but that couldn’t happen, since he passed away. Initially, I just wanted to make one film, so I made Maine Pyaar Kiya. But then the rest followed. It is like a dream, I can’t believe I have come this far. But, I am really fortunate that people appreciate me, and I am able to contribute to society in whatever way I can.
You are known to be a very soft-spoken person. Even Salman Khan says that you’re one of the best human beings he knows…
I have grown to love people, to forgive and forget, and to not judge people. When you stop judging others, they don’t judge you as well. You give them respect, and they give you respect. On a film set, it is very important to maintain peace. If there is chaos, it disrupts the balance. I believe in doing all the homework earlier, so that there is no chaos [while shooting].
How do you manage to stay so calm in the chaotic industry that Bollywood is?
Yelling doesn’t get any work done. If I am shouting, I am conveying my own insecurities. I must be unhappy with myself, which is why I am shouting. I feel usse andar ka darr bahar aata hai (that reflects your inner fears). When you’re at peace with yourself, you will be at peace with others too. It is important to be calm to deal with any problem. That’s what I do, and that’s what Salman loves [about me] too.
Unlike other major production houses, yours doesn’t seem to be in a rush to make multiple films.
I like to do my best at what I’m doing. We are trying to make more films. Our TV wing is doing very well, and we are going to launch some more shows. As for film-making, we tried several other genres, but somehow, in our banner, anything other than a family drama just never works. So, that’s something we are still struggling with. One should venture out like my sister Kavita Barjatya (producer) did. She is going to try to make films with another banner. To keep making movies in the genre that I specialise in is a bit challenging, because I have to have people who believe in it as much as I do. What I really want is that whatever I am doing should be of high quality.
Things have changed a lot in Bollywood with the entry of corporates and studios. Your banner is one of the oldest ones in B-Town. What’s your take on this scenario?
There are advantages and disadvantages to everything. For our latest film, we tied up with a studio. Financially and marketing-wise, that takes a lot of burden off our shoulders. It is a good step because films are only going to get bigger as we go ahead. But if we talk about corporate culture, where commercial aspects take over the creative aspects, that’s something we are not going to endorse.
Your story ideas are unique in today’s day and age. What kind of reactions do you get from the industry?
Varied reactions (laughs). Firstly, they are worried about whether it will work or not. We are often told, “This doesn’t work today.” But, every time they are proved wrong. I trust myself and my father (Rajkumar Barjatya) the most. We have to trust ourselves, because there is no correct analysis of what has worked earlier and what has not. I always go with my gut feeling.
Like your movies, are you also a family man?
This is the life I have always led. We are 15-16 of us living in one house. To have uncles and aunts all around, and enjoy every family function together is a different experience. Imagine, my son has three grandfathers in the same house. The kind of security you get is something else. For me, happiness comes from the dining table where everyone is always together. Otherwise, what is the point of going home just to eat, drink and sleep?
Why don’t you make films more often?
As a director, you take your time, and during that process, you isolate yourself. If you see Rajuji (Hirani; film-maker) or Kabir (Khan; director), they are all passionate film-makers. It is never about running an organisation as a director. My latest film took me four years to make. I spend a lot of time working on every aspect of the film.
Every film-maker has a unique approach. What is yours?
I have endless sittings with my father about the story. We both believe that the story is the germ. Once that is locked, the commercial part of the film is sorted. Then I write the synopsis, and then I start work on the screenplay. Every day, I write something, even if it’s not final. I have a team of assistants to whom I keep narrating my stories. So I write three-four versions in total. Then, I sit on the music, which takes six-eight months.
Who has been your ultimate bouncing board?
That would be my father. You know, he gets all the newspapers from all over the country, and he reads all the stories, thinking of what could be the plot of our next film. He also tells me whether something is working or not.
You directed your last film around nine years back. Why was there such a big gap?
Vivah released in 2006, so it has been quite a while, yes. But it has been worth it, because I made this film with Salman Khan. It was a big dream for me to come back and make a film with him. You feel the pressure, but it’s more about the audience’s appreciation.
Does it become difficult to run the banner as well as direct films?
Yes, it does. To run an organisation and to also be a director are two different things. But I have my family there. That’s the advantage of having a family. For example, we were in ND Studios, Karjat, for one year to shoot the film, but I know that my uncles, my father and others are all there for me.
How do you handle so many actors in one film?
When you can handle your [big] family, you can also handle the actors (smiles).
Do you keep track of other films and their box-office collections?
Yes, I do, but mostly, the money aspect doesn’t come to my mind. But I make it a point to watch all the good films, as in, to see what’s working or [to understand] why ‘bad’ films weren’t appreciated. I always go to the cinema to watch the films.
You are close to Salman. Do you have other friends in the industry?
We are there for each other and call one another if we need any help. But we are so busy with our own lives — especially when we are making our own films — that it becomes a bit difficult [to keep in touch].
Will you ever switch tracks and make something completely different? Like a horror film?
I don’t think so (laughs). There are still so many stories to tell in my genre. Look at any family, and you will find one story. However, unlike my earlier films, nothing is absolutely perfect in my latest movie. In that sense, I am touching real stuff for the first time.
Your banner has so many popular films to its credit. Do you ever think of remaking those movies?
I could, but as of now, my mind is still filled with my new film. We adapted Nadiya Ke Paar (1982) and tried the same with Chitchor (1976). It’s important to realise that all our films have a thread of simplicity, but it can sometimes get lost when you try to glamourise the film, like I tried to do with Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon (2003). All our films have been very simple films.
Have you thought of what’s next?
I will take a break, read a lot, travel and see what comes up in my mind.
On a lighter note, a character was inspired by you in Om Shanti Om (2007). What did you think of that?
It’s completely fine. It’s all done in good taste. I still can’t forget that Farah (Khan; director) had come with Salman during his first ever dance audition (before Maine Pyar Kiya). He had got Farah along to teach him a few steps. She was also in college then. I have known her since then.
Watch the PRDP review here