How much has cinema changed since the 1970s when you started out with films like Kalicharan (’76) and Vishwanath (’78)?
If we’re talking about mainstream cinema, then nothing much has changed except for the presentation and technology used. We have Dolby digital sound now but going by content, Om Shanti Om, Welcome and Singh is Kinng are no different from Manmohan Desai films.
When was the last time you made a thriller?
Khal Nayak, 17 years ago. But Right Yaa Wrong is a very different film, revolving around four characters who break the law and the code of ethics without realising that their right is wrong.
Wouldn’t Right Yaa Wrong be more of a courtroom drama than an action-packed thriller?
Not really, the courtroom scenes are barely seven minutes in a 120-minute film. Meri Jung and Aitraaz were courtroom dramas.
How do today’s generation of actors compare to your protégés, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Mahima to name a few?
Once it was the face that mattered, today, it’s the body. The gym has become a part of our lives and physical appearance scores over performance. Cinema is now about costume, cosmetics and Michael Jackson’s Thriller-inspired choreography. This generation is also more independent and unwilling to accept parental guidance which is reflected in our films. The hero who once dutifully listened to daddy, went to the temple with mummy, tied ‘rakhi’ to his sister and married a desi girl, runs away from the family business today and has a cabaret dancer for a girlfriend who goes, ‘Touch me, touch me, touch me, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me…’ Relationships were once about bonding, now they have become burdens.
That’s the voice of the NRI culture that has crept into our cinema. Today, films are made keeping in mind the viewer in London rather than the one in Ludhiana. Even you set your Yuvvraaj in Austria.
That was a mistake. Yuvvraaj would have worked better if the story had unfolded in Rajasthan. In the competition for fresh visuals that has pulled our filmmakers away from Ooty, Srinagar, Khandala and Jaipur, I too got lured away to Austria. But Indians, not just those back home but even those living abroad, connect better with a ‘desi’ subject rooted in our country. My Pardes was filmed in the US but it had an Indian heart. And it was a superhit!
Isn’t it a mistake to go against an actor’s image? One expected to see Sunny return as an action hero in Right Yaa Wrong?
One actor, Aamir Khan, played a school teacher, an industrialist suffering from memory loss and an idiot over the last three years and all the three films—Taare Zameen Par, Ghajini and 3 Idiots—were blockbusters. Staying true to an image was a cliché that worked in the ’60s. Today, a wheelchair-bound Sunny Deol can effectively communicate his anger through a full-face close-up, without any kicks. Once actors flaunted the 10-film ceiling to shoot round-the-clock. Today, few do more than two-three films a year. They don’t need to shoot for 10 movies when they can make more money from six endorsements, attending eight ‘shaadis’ (weddings) and performing at five shows.
Music is also not scoring big…
There are two kinds of songs—the item numbers and remixes and the lyrical songs. In the ’80s, in 80 per cent of the songs, melody dominated, now it is rhythm that rules.
How important a role does marketing play in the success of a film?
It’s a way of reaching out to people, making them aware of your movie. But eventually, it’s the word-of-mouth recommendation of friends that still brings people to the theatres. Marketing was brought along by corporates with deep pockets and inexperienced execs. The hype didn’t help sell bad films. And today, the onus has shifted back to independent filmmakers who have respect for content and cost.
So you do admit that the economics of a film has gone awry?
Absolutely. If you make a film for Rs 100 and give 50 per cent of the budget to stars, how much will you be left with? It’s important to correct the balance or we’ll have more flops than hits.
As a corporate, Mukta Arts’ recent track record hasn’t been too good either?
When you become a public listed company, your business model changes. You need to expand in different directions and scale up production. And when volume goes up, you have a few failures too.
In the changing scenario, has Subhash Ghai the director taken a back seat?
After three decades, I have a certain responsibility to my audience. I cannot come up with just another film. But you can expect an announcement in Diwali.