In the mid 1970s, a young man without any clear ambition followed his actor brother Anil to Mumbai. Mildly curious about the profession, he joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune but soon changed streams from acting to editing. It was while he was registered at FTII that Rajinder’s father changed his younger son’s name, making his nickname into his official name. “The name has been lucky for me,” says David Dhawan who, 11 years after passing out of the Institute, with several film credits as editor, directed his first movie in 1987. Taaqatwar released in 1989. Twenty years later, he has created a brand around his kind of comedy – mostly stories of adultery, mistaken identity, love triangles, deceit and usually starring Govinda, Salman Khan or both.
‘Adultery is fascinating’
A few days after the release of his latest venture Do Knot Disturb, Dhawan is relaxed. Tucking into a cream cheese bagel at BBC, the coffee shop in Mumbai’s J W Marriott, he says he’s unconcerned about the mixed reactions to his film. “The film’s fate is not important. I have done 40 films, taken lots of bumps and enjoyed lots of hits. Do Knot Disturb was not a big film with big names to get an opening, but it has my branding. I set out to make entertainers, not teach big lessons,” says the filmmaker. While Coolie No. 1, Hero No. 1 and Biwi No. 1 were big hits, critics suggest that his brand might be past its sell by date; that adultery is done to death and Dhawan’s clones might be doing it better than him.
“I agree. My wife also told me, if you want to have an affair, just have it! But I do find the subject of adultery and the possibility of getting caught very interesting. There are many clones now and some are very bad, but that’s because people think success is easy with comedy. It’s not. Comedy is hard and you never know if it works till the audience reacts, or not. My next film Hook Ya Crook is a clean comedy about jail and sports. Now, when everybody is doing the same thing, I feel I should leave the genre.”
In 1990 Dhawan made the emotional Swarg. How about a return to that, or any another genre? “I am thinking of emotions and all, making people cry a bit. But family dramas are boring – TV takes care of that. Maybe a romantic comedy, a story about brothers or a thriller if I crack a good script, but even those must have comic relief,” he adds, citing Hrishikesh Mukherjee as an influence. But before you feel optimistic, he adds, “I want to make people laugh, smile, have fun. Chalti gaadi ka bonnet kyun kholoon? (Why open the bonnet of a car that’s working?)”
Ask him why comedy has to be of the ‘leave your brains at home’ variety and he counters, “If you are enjoying a comedy, isn’t your brain enjoying it too? With comedy there is no back-up to the situation – there are no emotions, relationships to fall back on. The gag has to hold on its own merit. I give thumbs up to Hero No. 1, Coolie No. 1, Deewana Mastana, Partner – they are good comedies.” But there are a few he is less proud of, like Banarasi Babu, Shaadi No. 1, Yeh Hai Jalwa, Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin. “I wonder why I made those. Overconfidence maybe, in some cases I was forced to make them,” he says with unexpected candour.
Govinda and Salman
Govinda and Dhawan have worked together in about 16 films; he has a score of nine with Salman Khan, and speaks with avuncular warmth about both actors. He describes Govinda as a talent “who can do any type of role but has not got his due. He is partly responsible for having let himself go. But he is no less than Aamir, Shah Rukh, or Salman. He can turn a bad scene into a good one.” Dhawan got to know Salman Khan during their first film Judwaa (1997). “He’s an easy guy, a good person and I have bonded well with his family,” Dhawan says.
Dhawan’s sons are on threshold of their professions. Rohit will soon start directing a film and Varun, who has acting aspirations, is currently learning the ropes as an assistant director. His family constantly nags him about his health and fitness. “They are upset with me about my health. I have to put films aside and focus on that. I will start this week,” he smiles.
The No. 1 list
No. 1 means: ‘It used to be connected with my films and my jodi with Govinda’
No. 1 comic actresses: Goldie Hawn, Juhi Chawla
No. 1 comic actors: Charlie Chaplin, Amitabh Bachchan
No. 1 comedies: Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Dumb & Dumber
No. 1 weakness: ‘Food, especially Chinese’
No. 1 strength: ‘My family. My wife and children take care of me, they are amazing’