Today, he's among the highest paid directors of Indian Cinema. After pressing all the right ha-ha buttons, he is now rated the King of Comedy, sprinting ahead of the one-man jest factory David Dhawan.
More at home in the Mumbai chucklefests than in his homegrown Malayalam entertainers, the man with a score of 71 films (15 in Hindi) is having the last laugh..only if his critics would allow him to..which is why Priyadarshan gets into a verbal combat with Khalid Mohamed
It’s ageless and incurable maybe – the conflict between creators and ‘crits’. Indeed, it would be a strange world where the critics just went rah-rah-rah without expressing their responses..positive..and like it or not..negative too. C’est la cinema.
To cut to the chase, then, I’m watching the athletically sinuous Akshay Kumar and the uber glowing Vidya Balan shoot for Bhool Bhulaiya in the courtyard of a crumbling palace, an hour’s drive away from Jaipur. It’s said if you take the spot’s name, you run into misfortune. So, I daren’t push my luck.
Director Priyadarshan suddenly notices the inconspicuous me, lurking around. “YOU!” he says with a mix of rage and surprise. After all, he has been giving porcupine prickly quotes against me to all and sundry.
"Yes, hello Priyan sir,” I smile angelically (read professionally), “I would like to interview you please.”
“You’re joking.. (pause).. if you’re not, okay let me complete the shot and then..”
Then happens.. and we talk man-to-man.. he starts off by saying, “I want to understand what you have against me.” Exactly, which is why I want to know:
I don’t blame you Priyan sir. No one can take criticism.
Agreed, but criticism should encourage a creative person. Regardless of my track record of successful films recently, you have been trying to discourage me. You seem to be writing out of some sort of vengeance..you write the same lines about my films.
Which lines are these?
Fourteen or 15 times you have written the same lines. I wanted to call and tell you this. I’m not claiming that I’m a great director..but I do have good sparks..you only mention the bad sparks.
<b1>Not at all..but you seem to be stuck in a groove. I would surely like you to make the serious film on weavers you told me about years ago.
I know I’ve been saying this for eight years. And I’m going to start this film on May 20 with Prakash Raj in the lead. It’s a period film about the first communist movement in India..which started in the mills of Kanjeevaram..where the weavers were treated like slaves.
What has taken so long to get it going?
Because whenever I wanted to make it, producers would tell me to make a commercial film instead. So, I said okay I’ll make one, then I’ll do that. One commercial film led to another one..but now I’m sorted..after Bhool Bhulaiya, I’ll do one more, a Great Escape.. like comedy, with Akshaye Khanna and Anil Kapoor..and then I’ll do the film on weavers.
When your Hindi films tanked at the outset, did you feel self-doubtful?
Yes, after Hera Pheri..which was a success..ironically, I was in the doldrums for one-and-a-half years.. Hera Pheri was followed by three disasters (Kabhi Na Kabhi, Doli Sajake Rakhna, Yeh Teraa Ghar Yeh Meraa Ghar).
I felt shaky, then Hungama worked, and I signed films left, right and centre to kill my insecurity. All directors from the south go back home as failures..I didn’t want that to happen to me. So, I became a factory, determined to produce successful goods. With every hit it bothered me that the next one had to click too.
Now if your hit Malaamal Weekly is ripped off from an Irish film, do you expect critics not to mention that at all?
But Khalid, 99 per cent of all our films are taken from some source or the other. At least, it can be accepted that I made a hit without any big stars. I’d like to see Dhoom work without stars. (Laughs) And see Martin Scorsese remakes a Hong Kong movie (Internal Affairs) and his The Departed wins an Oscar. But here my films have won 16 National Awards in different categories..but I’ve never won a National Award.
I’ve been a big dreamer from my childhood. After making it in Kerala, I dreamt bigger..I was attracted to the gloss and glamour of Bombay. Now, I’m 50 and can say, yes, I did it.
How come there is always talk about your liaisons with your heroines, right from Pooja Batra to Rimi Sen?
All that is only talk-talk. It’s sad but I’m a flop at affairs.
Recently, Rimi Sen huffed that she hasn’t got anything out of your films.
What can I do if she feels that way? I’m not Yash or Aditya Chopra or Karan Johar to do justice only to my heroines. I can only do justice to my entire film, 65 per cent of which are situational comedies.
<b3>How does your wife react when she reads those hot Priyadarshan stories?
Oh, no problem there. She knows how far I can go.
Do you mind being compared to David Dhawan?
Don’t draw me into a controversy please. All I’ll say is I don’t use double-meaning dialogue. I want to appeal to family audiences, I would never want to alienate women and kids. But yes, I wouldn’t like the comparison with Mr Dhawan because I do cleaner comedies and also some meaningful films like Saza -e-Kaala Paani.
So whatever happened to the director of Gardish and ..Kaala Paani?
Frankly, I’m playing to the gallery because that’s demanded of me. I don’t have to prove that I’m the greatest artistic director of India. I have to be successful, stay in the limelight. It gives me a tremendous kick to make remakes which improve on the original.
Like Garam Masala which had more tempo and gloss…And let me tell you, Yeh Teraa Ghar Yeh Meraa Ghar taught me that subtlety doesn’t work, I have to be straight and direct.
How important is it for you to make stacks of cash?
Whatever I’ve earned, I’ve invested in cameras, lights, technical equipment and facilities for my post-production unit in Chennai. Otherwise I drive the same car..a Beetle..I used to 15 years ago.
Don’t you often bank on star names?
Stars are a big part of the business. And I’ve really enjoyed working with stars like Akshay Kumar. But when the script doesn’t demand huge stars..I’d also go with Tusshar Kapoor, Sharman Joshi and Rajpal Yadav like I’ve done in Dhol.
I’m also trying to do a film with Shah Rukh Khan..we’ve discussed many projects in the past..he has spoken to me about doing a film together.
As a director where do you place yourself then?
I’m nowhere. Am I listed in any particular place in the industry?
Aren’t you among the highest-paid directors?
I hope I am..maybe I’ll be THE highest-paid like Sanjay Leela Bhansali is. I’ll have to make better remakes..and I would request you to say one thing..(pause)
Sure Priyan sir..what?
Call me the Martin Scorsese of India. If he can do remakes, why can’t I? And I’ll look up my files and send you the same lines you keep using about me.
What are these lines ?
I can’t remember.