He is one of the most reticent people in the Mumbai film industry. Others with a repertoire like his would be smiling at us smugly from magazine covers and waxing eloquent on the state of the industry, but not Sooraj Barjatya. The writer-producer-director believes his work should speak for itself. Now as he prepares to release his next film production, Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi, Barjatya makes an exception and opens up the inner sanctum of Rajshri Productions.
Barjatya has cornered the market on wedding scenario movies, having directed hits like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?, Hum Saath Saath Hain and Vivaah. This time he hands the baton to newcomer Kaushik Ghatak.
“I have taken a break from directing as we are producing four films right now and I need to be able to keep the vision and essence intact,” says Barjatya.
Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi stars Eesha Koppikhar and Sonu Sood and is about a wedding that derails at the last minute when the girl says she needs more time. The boy says he will wait and a 12-year courtship follows. “It is the journey of two people who show each other respect, support and restraint,” says Barjatya.
Barjatya’s last film Vivaah was a huge hit in spite of adverse criticism of the arranged marriage premise. It also followed the biggest flop in his career, Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon.
“Vivaah was a revelation. After a failure behind me, I was apprehensive and people around me also had doubts about the viability of Vivaah, but I was sure there was an audience for a film giving hope,” he says. “Rajshri films are ones you would take your mother and grandmother to.”
Barjatya lives in a joint family of 13 in Mumbai and the Marwari milieu of his extended family in Agra, Delhi and Jaipur is often his inspiration. “I am very Indian with small town roots and try to present that world in a way that youngsters can relate to,” he says. “Morality is very important to us and we try to work with people who share the same beliefs, ideals and value system.”
But are arranged marriages relevant in modern society? Aren’t Barjatya’s films regressive? “This is as contemporary as anything that is changing,” he says gently.
“Vivaah didn’t propagate arranged marriage – it is about a boy and girl agreeing to a union, and it tracks the journey from engagement to marriage. During courtship the other’s feelings are most important; after marriage people take each other for granted. Even in Mumbai, people worry for their children; children seek parental approval. And real India is very different from south Mumbai.”
Barjatya’s manner is consistently temperate, even as he says, “As a filmmaker I connect to our culture and roots and as I grow I feel more responsible. I don’t think you can make a film unless you have lived the life you are portraying. I couldn’t imagine what Amrita Rao’s character goes through in Vivaah till I visited a burn unit and saw the patients. As a filmmaker you have to live that life.”
This sense of responsibility applies to his role as a father to his three children who he hopes will eventually join the family business. This, today, includes film production and distribution, television production and music and web divisions.
Film has been his only passion and since the age of 12 Barjatya has been imbibing the profession, sitting in on edits and writing sessions. “All I ever wanted to do was make movies,” he says.
Stints as an assistant with Mahesh Bhatt (Saaransh), N Chandra (Pratighaat) and Hiren Nag (Abodh) followed. “I worked with these directors at their creative best when you could feel the vibrations by just standing next to them,” he recalls.
He made his first film, Maine Pyar Kiya, when he was 21 and imprinted Prem in the hearts of Indian audiences around the world. Sonu Sood’s character in Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi is also called Prem. Will Prem be in all his films? “I hope so,” he replies. “He represents a particular character and how boys in society should be. All the characters have filtered down from Prem in Maine Pyar Kiya.”
It was a formidable debut and was surpassed by his sophomore venture Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?. The pressure of living up to these two hits was enormous but Barjatya says he has finally overcome that. “I wanted to better myself commercially and I am fortunate that people remember those films. But now commercial success is secondary – primarily I need to be proud of what I make. I would like to leave behind good cinema.”