It is not as though Anil Sharma's career started with Gadar -- Ek Prem Katha. He has a large number of potboilers to his credit, some of which were quite successful.
Nor will Sharma's career end with his new espionage epic, The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy.
Rushing to get The Hero into theatres on April 11 even as he fights a diktat by four leading Mumbai film associations banning the release of new Hindi films, Sharma is a hassled, but happy, filmmaker.
Though he enjoys being known as Gadar's director, Sharma is certainly not basking in its glory. "Why just Gadar [starring Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel]? I want to be known as the director of all my films, whether it is my first film Shradhanjali [Suresh Oberoi, Raakhee] or the one I made before Gadar [Maharaja, starring Govinda and Manisha Koirala]. I am proud of all my films, even Farishtay [Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Rajnikanth, Sridevi, Swapna, Jayaprada], during which I had a lot of problems with my producer."
Sharma was only 18 when he joined B R Chopra's production house as an assistant. At 21, he wrote and directed Shradhanjali. "I knew nothing about filmmaking except the kind of films I liked watching," he recalls. "Then I made a sensitive film, Bandhan Kachchey Dhagon Ka [Shashi Kapoor, Rekha, Zeenat Aman], which was very close to my heart. But because of the video invasion in the 1980s, it did not work. I had no choice but to make the kind of films audiences liked rather than what I liked. That is how my first major hit Hukumat [Dharmendra, Rati Agnihotri] happened. It was as big a success as Gadar in those times, when the industry was facing a slump like it is today. Hukumat's success enabled me to launch Elaan-e-Jung with Dharmendra [and Jayaprada]. It sold at Rs 45 lakhs [Rs 4.5 million] per territory. That is the equivalent of Rs 4.5 crores [Rs 45 million] today."
Sharma admits he got carried away while making Elaan-e-Jung. "No matter what people expect from me after Gadar, I have made a completely different film [The Hero]. Gadar was [a] period [drama]. The Hero is completely contemporary. I learnt my lesson while making Elaan-e-Jung. Halfway through, I realised I was making Hukumat all over again. But it was too late to turn back."
After Farishtay, Sharma took a five-year break. "I wanted to return only when I would be able to make the kind of films I wanted to. My comeback film Maharaja did not work for various reasons. But during the making of Maharaja, I wrote Gadar."
Sharma elaborated on Gadar's interesting genesis. "I was actually working on a subject called Kashmir when I asked my writer Shaktimaan for a subplot about an Indo-Pak romance. He narrated the true story of Boota Singh's search for his wife during Partition. I applied the story of Boota Singh to the Ramayana, where Lord Rama rescued Sita from Ravana. I knew the film would succeed. Who does not relate to the idea of a man rescuing the mother of his child from a strange land?"
But he was disappointed with the critics' reaction. "I do not blame them. Gadar was released with Lagaan, which had Aamir Khan's backing. Who [would have] wanted to see a film by Anil Sharma? Later, my friends in the media admitted there was a bias against Gadar. There is no comparison between the success of Gadar and Lagaan. If my film did business worth Rs 10, Lagaan did [business worth] Rs 2. But it is hard for those who wrote off Gadar to eat their words."
Sharma's association with Dharmendra's family goes back to 1987 when he made Hukumat, followed by Elaan-e-Jung, Tehelka and Farishtay with the star. With Gadar and The Hero, Sharma has renewed his association with the Deols by working with Sunny. Now, it is Bobby's turn. He will star in Sharma's next film, Ab Tumhare Hawaale Watan Saathiyon, in which Sharma reverts to his Gadar theme of rustic patriotism. "It moves through 1971 to the present."
The filmmaker calls Sunny a subtle actor. "He does nor want to overact unless he is made to. Directors force him to rave and rant on screen. He wants to avoid all that as much as possible."
Sunny wears various disguises in The Hero. Sharma explains, "A spy has to wear disguises. Sunny wasn't comfortable doing it. He had to streak his hair blonde. Sunny plays a subtle spy who doesn't scream and shout."
Sharma says he had planned The Hero much before Gadar's release. "That is the way I work. My responsibility is to living up to my own expectations. I'm happy with The Hero. I make films I enjoy. Whether they succeed or not comes later. I can never treat filmmaking as a job. Those who do can never make a good film."
He is sure The Hero will be successful. "But it is not an Indian James Bond, please! When I wanted to make an espionage film, I contemplated doing a James Bond. But Indian films don't have that kind of budget. Our main money goes into paying the stars. Then I thought of making a film based on the spy network in India."
The burden of having helmed one of Hindi cinema's big hits weighs on the director's mind. "Gadar was a different film. The Bharatiyapan [Indianness] in that film cannot be there in all my films. It was a great pleasure going back in history in Gadar. The Hero gave me a chance to be completely contemporary. It is not an espionage film like Ramanand Sagar's Aankhen in which Dharamji starred 33 years ago. The Hero is a clean family film. No sex and violence."
A lot is being said about The Hero's budget. People have declared it the most expensive Hindi film ever made. Sharma is unhappy about the hype. "The producers have gone on record about the budget. I cannot tell you the exact cost. But yes, it is an expensive film. Normally, Indian filmmakers only shoot songs abroad. We shot 50 per cent of the film with helicopters and trains in Canada and Switzerland. To hire a driver, you have to pay 500 francs in Switzerland. To fill a whole train with people, I had to pay 500 francs per head."
"Audiences' expectations rise with such declarations. A film works on emotions, not the budget. How do you think Jai Santoshi Maa worked? Even 27 years later, viewers across the nation, including my family, are glued to their seats when it is shown on television. I think The Hero will work because of its sensitivity."
Sharma agrees it is risky to make a film as huge as The Hero when the film industry is going through a slump. "But everything is risky; even walking on the street is risky. I knew before I started how much it would cost. I think the two years I gave to the film are more important than the budget. The money may come back, the time won't. Films these days don't work because filmmakers don't give enough time to them. Films like Sholay, Guide, Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Deewar were 'hundred per cent films.' So was Gadar. Hopefully, The Hero will be the same."