Sajid Khan: Himmatwala made Sridevi a star
You may love him or hate him, but you can't ignore him.
After the success of Heyy Babyy and the Housefull films, Sajid Khan has emerged as one of the most commercially successful directors in the Hindi film industry today.
Khan's next, Himmatwala, is a remake of the1980s hit film of the same name, which starred Jeetendra and Sridevi.
Starring Ajay Devgn and Tamannah, the film releases on March 29.
True to his style, the 41-year-old director makes tall claims about his new film's prospects at the box office and claims that his leading man's entry in the film will be the best introduction scene ever by an Indian actor.
In this interview with Sonil Dedhia, the director talks about what prompted him to remake Himmatwala, his penchant for over-the-top humour in his films, and why he thinks Bollywood lacks good writers.
Is remaking a film easier than making an original film?
Himmatwala is one of my top five favourite Bollywood films and I'm very fortunate that my name is associated with the movie.
The film is a rewrite and not a remake. The essence of the original Himmatwala is there in my version, but my treatment is completely different.
The three most important aspects of the film, which are the opening act, the centre act and the finale, are completely different.
The scenes and the characters in my version of the film are completely different. I am sure the makers of the 1983 musical blockbuster will also enjoy my film.
Image: Ajay Devgn and Tamannah in Himmatwala
'I don't add things to sensationalise my films'
Why did you decide to rewrite Himmatwala?
When I sat down to write this film I realised that these kind of films were prevalent only during the 1980s. There was over-the- top heroism, the protective brother, a mother giving fiery dialogues to the villain...
That kind of film hasn't been made in many years. The number one dramatic scene was between Amitabh Bachchan and Nirupa Roy in Deewar, which was made way back in 1975.
We don't see such scenes anymore. This is why I decided to make this film.
Since you say the film is a rewrite and not a remake, was it necessary for you to buy the rights of the old Himmatwala?
I realised after I finished my first draft that it wasn't necessary. But the producers of the film had already purchased it.
How did you decide on the changes to be made in the original film?
The basic essence of the film is the same; at the same time I have added my style of comedy, action and drama.
My film's hero is white and the villain is black. There are no shades of grey. It's almost like a fairy tale.
I have added some nuances like slightly over-the-top acting, typical filmi scenes between mother and son, which today's youth will not have seen.
There is also saas-bahu drama, which I have attempted for the first time.
I like action but not violence in my films. I don't add things to sensationalise my films. I don't even put anyone into a costume that shows cleavage if it is not required.
I make films that an entire family can watch together. My films are like role models films for the censors.
Image: Sajid Khan and Ajay Devgn
'Ekta Kapoor has kept the melodrama alive'
You say that the humour in your films is very stupid some#215 how do you feel when you read the comments made by the critics?
I've not read a single comment or review of any of my films. I'm not on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking site. It's not because I'm scared; it's just that I don't want critics to tell me what they feel about my film unless I have asked their opinion.
I only believe in one thing: that if my film is good, the box office collections are going to speak for it.
Truth and fact are two different things. Most of the time truth is manipulated in our industry. Most things in the newspapers today are PR (public relations) tactics to make people believe in something. Fact will always remain a fact.
My films fetch good money and at the same time people say that they enjoy watching my films, and that's a fact!
Do you think the audience today wants to watch the kind of melodramatic films that were made in the 1980s?
Ekta Kapoor has kept the melodrama alive. It has only moved from films to television. I am sure it will work in films if it is shown right.
Hindi films are all about storytelling. Arguably the greatest living director today is Rajkumar Hirani. His storytelling is so simple. Films like Kahaani or Vicky Donor were simply all about storytelling.
Image: Ajay Devgn and Tamannah in Himmatwala
'Where are today's Salim-Javed and Kader Khan?'
Sridevi, who acted in the original film, said in an interview that Himmatwala shouldn't be remade as it is not a Mughal-E-Azam.
Sridevi became a star because of Himmatwala. I think that Himmatwala is no less than Mughal-E-Azam for her.
At the same time, it is her point of view and she has every right to say what she feels about the remake.
Did you speak to Jeetendra or Sridevi before you started shooting?
I personally don't know Sridevi so I didn't speak with her. I had a word with Jeetuji i(Jeetendra) two days before I started shooting the film.
He was glad to know that I'm directing the film and said that I was the right person to make the film because, according to him, I understand this genre very well. He also blessed me.
Chashme Baddoor is another film that has been remade. Rakesh Bedi, who was part of the original film, recently said in an interview that while directors call their remakes a 'tribute', he feels that they just don't have original content.
He is not completely wrong when he says that. To be frank, the industry doesn't have any good writers. There are very few writers today who can write good scenes or a dialogue.
Most writers today want to become directors, which is not wrong. The quality of writing prevalent in the '70s and '80s is certainly missing today.
Where are today's Salim-Javed and Kader Khan? We still remember the dialogues of the films from the '70s and '80s.I'm not saying that I am a great writer, but I am blessed that my experience of watching cinema and my understanding of it has helped me write some good stuff.
Image: Sridevi and Jeetendra in Himmatwala (1983)
'I am proud of my films but not egoistic'
All your films have featured Akshay Kumar. Why did you decide to cast Ajay Devgn in this film?
You've not seen Ajay like this before. I'm 100 per cent confident that Ajay ki entry pe aapke ticket ka aadha paisa vasool ho jayega.
You don't get to see a heroic entry in films anymore. I think only Salman Khan gets a good entry today.
If 80 per cent of the audience in a theatre doesn't whistle and clap during Ajay's entry, I'll change my name. It will be one of the top three hero entries in Hindi cinema.
How did you choose Tamannah as the leading lady?
There were certain things that I wanted to stay true to. I wanted someone like Sridevi, who was a big star in South films in 1983 but was unknown in HIndi films. Tamannah was the perfect choice.
I wanted only Amit Kumar to sing Naino Main Sapna or else I wouldn't have recorded that song and I wanted to release the film in March because 30 years ago the original film was also released in March. I am also a little superstitious and my mahurat shot is a one-take shot which goes in the film.
After three back-to-back hits (Heyy Baby, Housefull and Housefull 2) is there pressure to deliver another hit?
Himmatwala will be a super hit and my next after that will also be a super hit.
When I say my films will work at the box office, people feel I've lost it and become over-confident and egoistic. But when my films work, the same people say I was lucky!
I am proud of my films but not egoistic. I make films for the audience and not for myself. And that's why I'm always confident that my films will work at the box office.
The film will surely get a huge opening. It is my fourth film and somewhere the audience expects that brand Sajid Khan will not disappoint.
Image: Ajay Devgn and Tamannah in Himmatwala
'I don take advice from Farah Khan'
What are your memories of the original Himmatwala?
I was living in a chawl in Juhu when I and a friend would wait for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival as we had pandals in our area that would play music on loudspeakers.
Himmatwala's music was a rage. My friend and I would go on the terrace and copy Jeetendra's steps from the film. I really cherish those moments (smiles).
Do you take your sister Farah Khan's advice when making a film?
No, I don't. You take advice from a person who can give you good advice. I believe in one theory -- that you should listen to everyone but do what you want to.
I don't give advice to her either. She makes her type of films and I make mine. Work has never come between us. I love her films.
In fact I did not enjoy Tees Maar Khan and I told her that. I feel Happy New Year will be her best film. For her it is very shocking that her younger brother has become such a big director.
Image: Sajid and Farah Khan
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'I would like to remake Half Ticket'
You started the trend of hosting stand-up comedy shows. Any plans to start it again?
I love ham, I love over-the-top actors, I love enjoying certain bad films (laughs). They are like anti-depressants.
But I won't go back to that. That was a phase in my life that has passed. I don't see myself hosting shows for a living. I have done it for 20 years.
It has paid off really well because till today and people remember me because of that. I may judge a reality show again.
Any other films that you would like to remake?
I would like to make Half Ticket, which is one of my favourite films. I think it was a mad film. I have seen it more than 200 times.
It was Kishore Kumar at his maddest. It was so ahead of its times in terms of its humour.
Any plans to return to acting?
I am a very bad actor. I acted in Jooth Bole Kauwa Kaate only because the film was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
Image: Kishore Kumar in Half Ticket