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'Awards come and go. Who remembers?'
Hrishikesh Mukherjee, winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award 2000, spoke to rediff.com
What do you think is happening to storytelling in Indian films?
It is not necessary to base a film on stories; it can be based on an idea also. Previously, novels would be picturised on film. Film has a bigger scope than a novel because it can show you a lot of things, and you can also hear lots of sound. Films can based on a simple idea. It needn't be a plot, craft thing. Technique is to achieve something. Technique is a means to achieve something. What you show is not important. How it is shown is the most important thing.
Are good films hard to make?
Till the price of raw film comes down to the level of paper and pencil, it is very difficult for the medium to survive as an art form. Good films are being made, but where are they? There is no opportunity to see them; there is no opportunity to show them. Till the prices of raw stock come down come down, it will very difficult for the medium to survive.
I used to make a film with Rs 8 lakhs or Rs 10 lakhs. Today the negative's raw cost is Rs 50 lakhs! So the cost is enormous. You have to get back your money, don't you?
How come nobody takes a cue from you and makes good clean films?
No that's not right. Everybody should have their own approach to film-making. What Mani Ratnam does, I find nothing wrong in that. I don't find anything wrong in trying to survive to make another film. You need your film to click at least to get back your money. And there is nothing wrong in that.
Take, for example, Ratnam's Roja. There is nothing wrong about the theme -- it is brilliant execution and brilliant photography. But he over decorates the film. He does so that it will draw crowds. That's why he puts in all those songs.
In my time the songs were meant for the ears; these days they are meant for the eyes. Though Mani Ratnam's songs in Roja were beautiful, most of the songs in other films are done in haste. And I have always believed haste and hurry are the greatest enemies of art.
Lately, which are the movies you have seen and liked?
I have seen many that I liked. I saw Adoor Gopalkrishan's Kathapurushan. It's a brilliant film. Saeed Mirza's Naseem is another brilliant film. The tragedy is that they are not shown. There are lots of very good films, but they are not shown. Today exhibition is extremely costly.
If you run a cinema house, you must get back your money, the cost of your tax, air conditioning, etc. With such high rates, low budget films cannot run in these cinemas. It is the government's duty to protect and promote these films.
With 43 films behind you, is there any film you would like to make?
The idea behind making a film is to communicate. Communicate what? Anything which has an effect on me. If I I feel like laughing, I want to share that with my audience. I have made comedies like Golmaal or Chupke Chupke. When something makes me indignant I have made films like Satyakam which is about corruption. Similarly, I have made a romantic film or a tragedy.
Life has many facets. You like to cry. You like to laugh. You like to get angry. You like to sleep. All my films are a product of my attitude to life; it is all reflected in my work. I wanted to show what is beautiful.
You may say I am an escapist. I know the bigger part of the world is very ugly. But I read somewhere that a man once stood in the balcony. He looked down and saw the gutter; he looked up and found the stars. Now only looking at the gutter is wrong; so is only looking at the stars. I wanted to look at the healthier side of life.
Life is so short. There is so little time, to love, to make friends. I find there is no point in making a film where you show that love is degenerating, or a friendship is breaking, I don't feel like making those films. My attitude towards life is what I want to share with people.
Why do Western film-makers show India bad light?
That is something novel for them. You see sometimes you cannot invent, there are some things, which we see around us all the time but don't realise it. But here is material for the Westerners, which is absolutely new to them. The queerness or cruelty of life here is new to them. So they show it.
It was ridiculous when critics said that Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali survived on poverty. It is stupid of them to say that. The fact is India is a poor country. But even amongst the poor there is lot of conscience, and love. That is the beauty of life.
If you were not a film-maker, what would you be?
I don't know. I never wanted to be a film-maker. I wanted to be a biochemist. But life is full of surprises. I cannot recollect how from being 28 years old I suddenly became 78! I have no idea how I spent all those years. There is no hisaab (stock taking).
Was it time well spent?
There was always someone pushing you, as if you were in a crowd. You had no control of where you where. In the film industry, you are as good or bad as your last film. So the uncertainty is always there. I am very fortunate that most of my films got back their money, which is why I could make 43 films. It is difficult to make so many today. If your last film fails, you are out.
When you sit back you do self-analysis. In retrospect, you want to know who you are and what you have done. You find that you have not achieved much; in fact, you have achieved very little. You have achieved some satisfaction. You have got some adulation from people and public. But is that the purpose of life?
But you had great friends...
I have no regrets. I know I have a very limited power and capacity to create. I am a quite an ordinary and mediocre person. I have worked with sincerity. What I have achieved is out of that hard labour and sincerity. I am not a very talented person. There are hundreds of people more talented. I am not trying to be modest.
I tell them if had one tenth of their talent, with my hard work where could I have been! Take for instance, Salil Choudhary. He was a genius -- be it composing music, poetry, writing literature, or satire!
Who was your teacher?
Life. I was always told to keep my eyes and ears open, and see people. My father used to say, 'Never consider yourself superior than anybody'. Never get elated when you are going up, because you have to come down. Put you feet firmly on the ground and keep your eyes and ears open. Enjoy life.
What makes you happy these days?
Playing chess is what I do these days. It's a fascinating game. I think man came nearest to the gods when he invented chess. There is no luck and chance here. I get tremendous pleasure out of chess.
I used to get tremendous pleasure out of cricket too. But after this scam, this match fixing I hate to see cricket, honestly. Of course, when I see Dravid, Sachin and Saurav play, I get reasonable satisfaction. If they have failed, then they have failed. But when I see a man score more than 50 runs and give a dolly catch, I know there is something wrong. So I don't enjoy cricket these days. But I enjoy good music, scientific programmes on Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet.
Who is your chess partner these days?
They are all gone. I play alone.
As an artist you may have faced various ups and downs. How do you cope with the downs?
Swami Chidanand of the Shivanand ashram, who must be around 90 now, taught me a very beautiful thing. He asked me what is the purpose of life? I said I haven't thought about it and I don't think there is a purpose of life. He said, 'Of course Hrishi, there is a purpose in life!' I asked him what was that and he replied "To be happy! Nobody wants to be unhappy. Look at the animal world. They want to sleep, they want to procreate, they want to play, they want to be happy!''
I said if that is the purpose in life why is there so much sorrow in the world? "Because you have forgotten your purpose of life. Your purpose in life is to be happy. Om hi dasha putra, you are part of eternal happiness. You are born to be happy. But you pin your happiness on objects, which are temporary in nature.
Like you love a girl and you think this is heaven. Then you come to know that the girl is on the sly in having an affair with another man. So the same girl becomes the source of your sorrow. Or you love your young son, and you think that he is everything to me. But the son suddenly dies. So the same object, which was an object of joy, becomes an object of sorrow.
So I have learnt not to pin my happiness in an object which is temporary in nature. In case of sorrow or happiness, stand before a mirror and ask that mirror image of yours, who is happy? I am happy. Who am I? What is the answer? The answer is 'Omhi dasha putra.' You are born to be happy. Not that you never become sad, but you can overcome it. I have lived my life like this.
What do you think is the role of artistes in society?
I think artistes are the conscience of society.
Do you think in India they listen to that conscience?
I don't know. 'Binh ruchiri loka.' People have different taste, different ideas…That's why I don't argue with anybody. Arindonath Chattopadhyay, a great poet, one told me, 'Don't argue with anybody'. It is not a difference of intellect; it is a difference of opinion. He never used to argue with anybody.
You have just been awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award…
They come on the way. I have not done anything to achieve an award. I have tried to make films to communicate to the people my feelings. To some extent it was successful. On the way you get an award. So the award was not the goal. It comes and it goes. Who remembers?
Do you watch Amitabh Bachchan in Kaun Banega Crorepati?
Yes. I feel how many questions I could have answered! I see it every day.
What career advice would give him as an actor?
He is very brilliant. He is like my son. Yesterday, I received a phone call interrupting my viewing of KBC. I got very angry. I keenly watch how he conducts the show. Small things, you know. How he gives hints, how he puts a little humour.
What are your future plans?
I don't know. We have no control over life. My son was going to New Delhi on the 6th of June this year. He got an asthma attack on the train, reached Delhi, and in two hours he was no more. The way I took that news, is the way I take this news (winning the Phalke award).
Who am I? Why should I be happy? Why should I be sad? I am part of the eternal happiness Omhi dasa putra. So we have no control over our lives. My brother was telling me that there was an earthquake in Bombay. I thought it was my rickety old cot that was shaking. Who knows what will happen in the future? I don't know whether I will be there till the 18th of September to receive the Award.
How did you deal with the devastating news of your son's death?
You have to accept it. What can you do? I felt very sad. He was so young. He met me before going to the station and in 20 hours I get the news that he is now no more. So who is being sad? I am. Who am I? I am part of that eternal happiness, I am born to be happy. Why should sadness touch me?
Likewise, why should material success touch me? These are the teaching by great teachers who showed how to cope with life. If you feel terribly elated with material success you going to be terribly sad with a tragedy like this. I never feel very elated with material success.
There are a lot of people out there who love you.
I feel very grateful to life. That is the word I like to hear that people love me. I don't want to hear they respect me or worship me. I want to hear they love me.
That they definitely do...
That is what I want hear. That is what I wanted to achieve in life. That is why my films have no vamps or villains. They are very lovable people, some of them lovable rascals.
What does love mean to you?
Love means to me, that life is worth living. Whether it is love for a woman, love for a flower or love for an animal. It makes life worth living
And life is beautiful?
Life is beautiful, definitely. Life is ugly also sometimes.
There are two things which fascinates us Indians, films stars and politicians
Don't talk about politicians!
Can we have any hope from them?
The power of evil is stronger than the power of good. I have always felt one drop of poison is enough to poison a huge bucket of milk. But the huge bucket of milk is not enough to get rid of a drop of poison. The power of evil people is always more stronger. That's why in epics you have a very evil character before a good character. Of course in epics you always make the good character win. Without a Ravan there is no Ram. Without Duryodhan there would been no Mahabharat.
Produced by SoundPicture Communications