Suneel Darshan is an unlikely candidate for corporate moviemaking. But the director-producer, who belongs to a movie-making family, seems to have weathered the current recession in the Hindi film industry.
His latest film, Talaash, starring Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor and produced by Pahlaj Nihalani, is slated for release on the first Friday of the New Year, January 3. "We had to shift our release because of the upheaval of releases in December caused by the delay of Kaante," he says.
His other films are racing towards completion -- Mere Jeevan Saathi (produced by Suraj Prakash) and Andaz (directed by Raj Kanwar). Suneel is also set to produce a film that his brother Dharmesh will direct, he tells Subhash K Jha:
How have you weathered the present storm in the film industry?
There is such a recession. Music companies have ganged up against producers. Since most music companies have become producers, they have stopped buying music from outsiders. So music marketing becomes a huge problem.
The music companies are trying to eliminate all outside competition by getting into film production. They are reverting to the old mould of Bombay Talkies and Prabhat Studios, where everything from stars to music to directors was done in-house. I think music companies are trying to control the entire filmmaking process.
Perhaps the music companies are trying to minimise losses since no album is doing well.
Yes, but the music for their own productions aren't doing well. [Producer] Vashu Bhagnani took a radical step. When a music company tried to twist his arm for the score of Jeena Sirf Merre Liye, he launched his own music company. But the music he chose to start his company with was not up to the mark.
I haven't decided what I will do with my music. I am very careful about the quality. Right now, the soundtrack for Talaash is one of the few that is doing well.
Both you and your brother Dharmesh have an ear for marketable music.
While Dharmesh's music is acutely romantic, mine is always commercially inclined. I am confident about the music in the films that I produce. Should I launch my own music company? I don't know. Vashu Bhagnani's failure is disturbing. There is absolute pandemonium in the industry right now. Every producer is searching for a way out.
And what is your way out?
I am passionate about cinema. But I realise we need to change the way we look at entertainment. The industry is on the verge of crashing because most films being made in the last four years were a mixture of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dil To Pagal Hai and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
Talaash doesn't belong to that genre though it definitely belongs to commercial cinema. I would say it's my kind of cinema.
How is it different from the usual eye candy that's being served?
Talaash is about a man's hunt for a dear one. Akshay Kumar plays the hunter (laughs). It's a well-designed commercial venture. We have an astonishing lineup of actors from Kareena Kapoor, Raakheeji, Kabir Bedi, Raj Babbar, Shakti Kapoor, Dalip Tahil to Gulshan Grover.
But conventional films no longer work.
I feel everything unconventional has become conventional. Everyone was busy aping Yash Chopra and Karan Johar's cinema. That had become the norm of cinematic entertainment, so much so that in 2002 Yash Chopra could not deliver successes when he produced Mujhse Dosti Karoge and Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai.
You had to make space for Karisma Kapoor in your Ek Rishtaa: The Bond Of Love. Where does Kareena Kapoor fit into the action?
Kareena Kapoor is the highlight of Talaash. She is so fresh and appealing. I disagree with you about Karisma in Ek Rishtaa. The bahu is a very important and integral part of the Hindu joint family. That's what Karisma played. She has been a part of all my films until Talaash.
I signed Kareena because she's young and the most happening actress today. Kareena has so much to give to the camera. She is the female Shah Rukh Khan! So far I would say only 40 per cent of her potential has been used. She is in the Mumtaz and Sridevi mould. Unfortunately, her success ratio is not very high. Yet, she is able to hold on to her own terms. That says a lot about her talent. She looks great with Akshay. There's great sex appeal on screen.
Is Dharmesh doing any other film for you?
We are planning a film in mid-2003 with Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan and Akshay Kumar. Dharmesh is making a film for Boney Kapoor in December. I have almost completed Mere Jeevan Saathi with Akshay, Karisma and Amisha Patel for producer Suraj Prakash [who directed Jab Jab Phool Khile and Aamne Saamne in the 1960s]. I don't want to say too much about it. It is very personalised cinema and features the best role of Karisma's career. It's the story of a helpless lover with a fabulous score from Nadeem-Shravan.
Is your production house going to invite more directors after Raj Kanwar is finished with Andaz?
Inviting outside directors was something that just happened. All production houses are going corporate. I had Akshay's dates ready and wanted to start another film right away. I was tied up with Talaash and Mere Jeevan Saathi. Raj Kanwar, who happens to be a friend, narrated a subject that I liked. So I asked him to make a film for us.
He had admirable success until his last three films. I have faith in him. Andaz is even more exciting because Raj had not worked with Nadeem-Shravan in recent years, in spite of collaborating on hits like Deewaana. I have let him do whatever he wants to in Andaz. I did not interfere. But I am there to improve the quality of the end product.
The heroines in Andaz are a coup of sorts.
For the heroine's roles, I had to make a choice. I could have worked with top heroines like Karisma and Kareena who are sisters. But we were working within a tight budget. Therefore, I brought in two girls who were new on screen and yet, stars in their own right. To have [former] Miss Universe Lara Dutta and [former] Miss World Priyanka Chopra together in their first film seemed like a good USP. They are young girls with great bodies and intelligent minds. What's more, they are fabulous actresses and thorough professionals. I got Manish Malhotra to do their clothes and give them a new look. Lara plays a hardcore Indian girl so convincingly!
Where is the film industry heading right now?
Right now, it's hurling down damnation alley. We have already lost about Rs 3 billion in recent times. Distributors are becoming extinct. Producers will now have to market the films themselves. It is a very dangerous position. The risk is almost entirely the producer's. I am distributing Talaash in Rajasthan and I manage to keep afloat overseas because I've always been a part of the film industry. Besides, my films Jaanwar and Ek Rishtaa were very successful. Haan Maine Bhi Pyar Kiya was not a success but it broke even.
2002 proved very unlucky for the film industry. Let's hope the year starts on a positive note with Talaash.