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January 6, 2000


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'Mela is a calculated effort on my part'

Dharmesh Darshan If all the world's a Mela, then Dharmesh Darshan has to be its director! This is a man whose passion is cinema, whose mistress is the silver screen. He already has a successful Lootere, and the super-hit Raja Hindustani behind him. And now, he is wooing his audience with Mela, scheduled to release on Friday, January 7.

Yet, when it came to tracking the director for an interview, it required immense persistence. After rejecting numerous requests, he finally agreed to speak to Aparajita Saha a couple of days before his film was released. Once Darshan started talking, though, there was no stopping the man. He covered the gamut -- his passions, convictions, dreams and the other things that set him apart from the rest.

There are rumours that Mela is inspired by the '70s hit, Caravan, starring Jeetendra and Asha Parekh.

I feel the golden era of cinema has gone, so everything that will be done will have to have a reflection of the past. This applies to all aspects of movies, be it songs, stories, characterisations, etc. So, though I definitely will not call Mela an imitation, I would refer to it as an inspiration. After all, all forms of greatness have drawn inspiration from some source or the other.

You are being quite evasive and publicity-shy as far as Mela is concerned. Why?

I am generally a shy and low-key person and I dislike double standards wherein I suddenly start wooing the press just before my movie is released. I prefer maintaining a constant code of conduct throughout, hence the lack of interviews and public appearances.

What are your expectations from Mela?

Absolute and complete box office success -- nothing less than that! Raja Hindustani was more from the heart, while Mela is more from the head. It is more of a calculated effort on my part, there's more strategising involved.

Honestly, I feel that, after its completion, Raja Hindustani turned out better than I had expected or what I had started out with. But, with Mela, the end product has been similar, if not slightly less than what I had started out with.

Every movie is like a child and all one can do is nurture and guide it. The end result, though, depends on a host of other factors as well. All I can do is give it my best and then leave the rest to God. So I hope Mela works and only time will tell me whether my hopes have been answered!

Is it true that Aamir Khan is in Mela only to pull in crowds so that his brother, Faisal, has a successful comeback?

Faisal Khan and Johny Lever in Mela Not at all! I am working with Aamir because we enjoy working with one another and we wanted to repeat the experience of doing so after Raja Hindustani.

As for casting Faisal, it was a decision based partly on emotion and partly professional. But after the film has been completed, I would say the decision is more professional than personal. I respect the work Faisal has done in Mela as any director would, when faced with a good performance.

But you did not repeat Karisma Kapoor. Was there any particular reason for this?

If actors and actresses can work with different directors, then why can't directors? There were no particular reasons, my choice for the female lead depended entirely on the requirements of the script.

Did it have to do anything with the fact that Aamir Khan did not want to work with her because he felt she overshadowed him in Raja Hindustani?

The rumour that Aamir did not want to work with Karisma because he felt she overshadowed him in Raja Hindustani is untrue!

You were responsible for transforming Karisma -- are you doing the same for Twinkle Khanna and Faisal Khan?

(Laughs) I wouldn't call it transforming. I am not a magician but, yes, I do take a lot of interest in the appearances of the characters in my films and I work very hard on them.

I like to believe that I correct their flaws and emphasise on their individual strong points. I provoke and push my actors and that brings out the best in them. But that best has to already be there in them, I just give it the direction it needs.

The next woman I am going to work with is Shilpa Shetty -- I hope to present her in a different and refreshing way, as I have done with Juhi, Karisma and Twinkle.

People call you a perfectionist. Does it work to your advantage or disadvantage?

Perfection, and demanding perfection, are problems, because they make one very demanding and restless. I think my quest for perfection can be related to the values I believe in -- honesty and purity -- and it has left me disillusioned and vulnerable. Today, perfection is regarded as being parallel to idealism; it doesn't extend beyond one's mother and God.

How was it working with Aamir Khan, who is known to be a perfectionist himself? Were there any clashes?

Aamir Khan in Mela Working with Aamir is an extremely educative experience. He has made me more aware and open-minded. He either gets convinced or convinces you -- there is nothing in between! Working with him means one has to exert one's self more than usual because you have to try and anticipate his next move or query! He is a genius and I would like to think that working with him would entail some of that genius rubbing off on me!

How do you rate him as an actor?

He is an outstanding actor. In fact, I would say he is today's Dilip Kumar. He is the stuff great people are made of. He is very technically aware of the various aspects of film-making, something that is very rare in an actor. He is very fair in his manner, totally non-judgmental and very democratic in his approach.

Is it true you included Aishwarya Rai in a special appearance that you put together at the last minute? Did you need her present popularity to ensure the success of Mela?

Yes, Aishwarya Rai does make an appearance in the film. But her role is not a last minute inclusion, the script demanded it. Of course, her present popularity was a huge deciding factor for her being cast in that role, but the fact remains that the script called for it.

Every director evolves or grows after each movie -- what changes have you experienced after Raja Hindustani and Mela?

I have become more alert and daring. Ordinarily, success makes one frightened, but I feel even more convinced than ever in what I believe in. I feel stronger as a film-maker as well as a person. Also, making films of this size and magnitude makes me feel more humble as I realise the numerous elements and the immense luck factor that go into the whole effort.

You are considered to be a rival to Yash Chopra's school of film-making. Would you like to say something about that?

(Smiles) I'm tremendously flattered and thrilled to bits, but I won't dare compare myself to him. He has been here for over four decades and is a legend in his own right. He stands for a lifetime of dedication and passion. I am just a few films old; I haven't even scratched the surface yet!

What, for you, would be the movie of a lifetime?

Honestly, for me it would have to be Raja Hindustani. I think it was the perfect combination of body and soul, of the heart and mind. It reached out to millions of people all over and cut across different levels of society. Also, the characterisation was brilliant and the turbulence of emotions was finely etched. The movie was a tremendous emotional high for me.

Aamir Khan and Karisma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani One lifetime is too short to make the perfect movie, but with Raja Hindustani I feel I came close, as close to perfection as I can possibly come. I am not talking about absolute perfection, but the perfection that I am capable of. I don't think I can pull off another Raja Hindustani again though, of course, I hope to!

A movie you'd love to have directed, if you had the chance.

Sangam. The reasons being many but, yes, this is a movie I would have loved to direct.

Who would be part of your dream star cast?

I don't believe in dream star casts; that would be unfairly narrowing it down. What I do believe in is a dream performance.

Who or what have been your inspiration?

Here I would like to distinguish between Dharmesh Darshan, the person and Dharmesh Darshan, the film-maker...

Dharmesh Darshan, the person, has been inspired tremendously by his parents and also his maternal grandmother, Nanabhai Bhatt (Darshan's grandmother's name is actually Shirin, but he has always referred to both his grandparents as Nanabhai. His maternal grandfather is the film-maker, Nanabhai Bhatt). My grandmother was a woman with tremendous strengths; she reminds me of those classic film heroines who display immense courage and grace at all times. I have learnt compassion and sensitivity from her. And I think it is from this compassion and sensitivity that my film-making has emerged.

Professionally, I've been very inspired by Raj Kapoor. I think he was a tremendous commercial artiste and I try to emulate that. I admire Lata Mangeshkar for the vast range of her talent and her timelessness. Among the actors, Dilip Kumar is undoubtedly one of the finest ever to grace the screen.

Speaking of politics, I admire Mahatma Gandhi and I say this not for effect, but for the fact that he possessed great tolerance. The world's policy of 'an eye for an eye' leaves people blinded; what one needs is vision and that is what he had. I also respect Lal Bahadur Shastri. Among today's leaders, I think Atal Bihari Vajpayee represents honesty and hope.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being Dharmesh Darshan?

The advantages of being Dharmesh Darshan are that he is very honest and straightforward, both materialistically and emotionally. He lives in a dream world and is thus saved from certain unnecessary harsh realities. As a result, he is not unnecessarily aggressive. He is totally uncorrupt.

The disadvantages of being Dharmesh Darshan are that he is too sensitive at times which leads to him being very vulnerable and open to hurt. But, on the positive side, it is this sensitivity that compels him to express what he feels and believes in through the medium of movies. Another thing about me is that I can't bear injustice of any sort; when I come across it in any form, it devours me. Sometimes, I wish I were more ruthless in my manner and behaviour.

What have been your best and worst career moves?

My best move has been to make Raja Hindustani -- that was a movie which was straight from my heart, based solely on my convictions and beliefs. Its success reinforced my faith in myself. It was a tremendous high for me, a high that I had previously only dreamt of and never thought I would actually feel one day!

It is like you dream of certain fantastically impossible things, never hoping to actually realise them, and then, one day, they actually become reality. And you have to convince yourself that it is really happening! That's what happened with Raja Hindustani.

There have been no worst moves as yet -- so far so good! I hope I don't have any in the future as well!

What are your plans for the future?

I only work on one movie at a time and my next is Dhadkan, which has Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar and Sunil Shetty in the lead roles. It is going to be challenging because I envision a performance-oriented film.

Working as an assistant to a director is one of the fundamental ways of learning the tricks of the trade. You, however, you have had no prior training.

Twinkle Khanna and Aamir Khan in Mela It is true I have had absolutely no formal training in making films but I think, more than training, what is required is instinct and passion. Technique takes a few minutes to master and for the rest you need your conviction and zeal. I think film-making is something you are born with, either you have it or you don't. You can't train in it if you don't have it in your blood to start with. Too much knowledge can be a hindrance at times. I guess sometimes ignorance is really bliss!

Where does your passion for cinema come from?

I think my passion for cinema is something that is in my blood, it is something I was born with. It's like I am married to it! For me, cinema is like an ocean with great depths. The deeper one goes, the more one learns. But then, the deeper one goes, the more are the chances of one's drowning too! I think this medium is a great leveller; it has no favourites -- you can be up one moment and down the next. Here, great achievements come with daring.

Though my passion is a gift, it does have its flip side. The whimsical nature of this profession has made me very fatalistic and, at times, I feel like a leaf in a storm, pushed in whichever direction the wind blows.

What are the lessons you have learnt from being in the industry?

(Laughs) There are far too many to elaborate on, but I would like to say the strongest belief I have and the lesson I hold most dear is to always believe in yourself and to never give up till the very end. I stand by what Vivekananda once said -- that every great man has first been rejected, opposed and then finally accepted.

I believe if you are convinced about what you are doing, the world is yours. And there are no shortcuts to success, it is all about hard work.

Everyone devises their own strategy to deal with certain issues and to survive in the profession -- what are your strategies to deal with gossip, fame, star tantrums?

Be it any aspect of film-making or life in general, the shortest distance between any two points is always a straight line. One should be straight in one's dealings and everything follows from that. To deal with any situation, clarity with respect to objectives is crucial -- know who you are and what you have to do. Don't waste time in judging other people or in believing what someone else says.

Gossip is outdated. I feel open-mindedness is the need of this millennium. Live and let live and survival is ensured!

How do you deal with failure and success?

I think it all depends on attitude -- a failure can be viewed as a success in some ways and vice-versa. What the world may perceive as a failure, I may see as a success. It holds true the other way as well.

One should never judge success or failure by the world's standards. I would like to believe that I would deal with success and failure in much the same way -- maintain my faith in God, in myself and in my work. I would not like to go overboard with either because both do not last forever.

You have worked with some beautiful women -- who is your idea of truly beautiful?

(Laughs) Yes, I suppose you can say that. But, though the women I have worked with are lovely, if I have to name someone who I consider a true beauty, it would have to be Madhubala. Even Greta Garbo and Hema Malini are beautiful. And then, I think Juhi Chawla is beautiful. Not conventionally or obviously, but there is this certain spark about her. Then, of course, there is the fact that she is very talented.

What makes you tick?

Sheer survival instinct and passion. Movies are an emotional need for me. It is not the money, status or the acclaim. It satisfies a basic need within me and that is why I am here. I am fortunate that my passion is also my source of livelihood. The pure exhilaration of putting together a big film, with the ups and downs, is what gets me going!

What is your philosophy for life?

I shall quote a hymn that I learnt at my school (Bombay Scottish) and which still holds immense relevance for me:
Courage brother, do not stumble
Though thy path be dark as night
There is a star to guide the humble
Trust in God and do the right.

If you weren't a director, who would you be?

If I weren't a director, I would cease to exist. Every film-maker has to feel that he was born to be one and to believe that he belong to the movies and nowhere else -- I feel the same way. Film is my one and only passion.

At the end of it all, what would you like to be remembered for?

(Laughs) Nothing at all! As long as I am living, I should be remembered for my actions and, after I cease to live, I want to be forgotten. My departure will make room for someone else's arrival.

Make way for another Mela
The Aamir Khan interview
The music review

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