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August 30, 2000


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'I want to make a film that expresses me'

He came. No one really noticed.

Vikram Bhatt He directed Fareb. People sat up.

He ultimately conquered with the commercially acclaimed Ghulam. The film and its famous Aati kya Khandala, sung by Aamir Khan, set the box office afire.

Vikram Bhatt is firmly here to stay. He has some interesting projects coming up. One of which includes the beautiful and elusive Lisa Ray for his movie. Aparajita Saha caught up with this restless, questioning, searching and experimenting director. Excerpts:

Tell us a little about life before and after Ghulam.

Before Ghulam, there was Fareb, which was successful, too. Yes, Ghulam won me recognition. I didn't change in any way. What did change was people's perception of me. Now people are watching out for the fate of my films. Earlier, they just weren't bothered.

Actually, it's a cyclical process. You first seek success. Once you have it, you try to hang on to it. And then, it becomes a constant bid to attain and retain.

I believe success is delayed failure. You can't afford to be afraid of failure in this business. As they say, the only way you can ensure a film's success is by making one that doesn't fail!

For me, Ghulam was a beautiful relationship that ended on good terms. It's a finished chapter in my life. Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherjee

Didn't you take a risk with Rani Mukherjee in the film? After all, she was a one-film flop actress then.

First things first. I took her because she's a good actress. As for risking the popularity of the film, Aamir Khan was a safe bet. I consider him among the best actors around today. Anyone who has worked with him once wants to work with him again. I'd take them both again if my script required it.

Did you think you were taking a risk with Aati kya Khandala, especially since it was sung by Aamir? Did you ever think it would be such a success?

The one thing I was sure about was the success of that song. I was so positive about that! In fact, that song was an afterthought. We were shooting for a rain sequence and lyricist, Nitin Raikar, came over to see the shoot.

He has a collection of tapori songs and he was fooling around singing Aati kya Khandala. Aamir heard it and insisted that I hear it too. We had to cut out three scenes to incorporate the song in to the movie. This was the last thing we did and we were all confident it would be a hit!

How important is the star status of the actors when you're casting for a film?

What is most crucial is the script. That defines the cast. As for the star value, in every category or class of actors, there are people possessing so-called star status. But that doesn't really signify anything because it can work both ways.

For instance, Dastak had Sushmita Sen at the peak of her star appeal and it still bombed. On the other hand, Fareb had a relatively unknown start cast and it was a successful film. Ultimately it's the quality of the film and the script that determines its fate.

What do you expect from yourself as a director?

Vikram Bhatt That's a question that has been troubling me. I'm still trying to find a vehicle to portray what I feel emotionally. A medium through which I can verbalise my feelings. Mahesh Bhatt had an Arth, Sooraj Barjatya had a Hum Aapke Hain Koun… different film makers express themselves differently. I'm searching for a movie that expresses me.

I find what I've done so far insignificant. Fight scenes, comedy -- all are insignificant to me at a personal level.

(Laughs) I am becoming what one might term commercially dangerous!

As a director of commercial films, I know I'm competent but there's more to life than stereotyped dialogues of Agar tu apne Ma ka beta hain…or Mujhe badla chahiye…!

I'm at a threshold where I require everything I do to fulfill me. I'm searching for something that can be mine alone, that only I can do justice too. My forte is thriller movies and I want to create a film with an emotion that only I can bring across and no one else.

Do any of your forthcoming ventures succeed in fulfilling those expectations?

I have three movies that I'm working on and each is exciting in their own way. One is Kasoor with Lisa Ray and Aftab Shivdasani. Then there is Tum Ko Meri Kasam with Anil Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Ashutosh Rana and Gulshan Grover. The third movie, Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage, stars Hritik Roshan and Ameesha Patel.

Tell us about Kasoor. Why did you choose Lisa Ray for the part?

The movie is close to my heart and delves into previously uncharted emotional territory. It is a thriller. The relationship between Lisa and Aftab is very interesting and challenging to depict. I chose Lisa because she fit the role perfectly. The script requires a modern day woman with the moral fibres of this century. She represents and understands the role entirely. It's a challenging and thrilling role and she agreed to it in one sitting itself. I believe the film can take her to the top of the heap.

Kasoor will be released later this year and will determine if I succeed or fail according to my personal expectations.

Coming to your second venture…

Tum Ko Meri Kasam, with Anil Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Ashutosh Rana and Gulshan Grover, is a love story set against the Partition. It's about how the events of 1947 affect two lovers. I'm excited about the script of the movie -- it's a once-in-a-lifetime script.

The film has the potential of a classic and is the most selfless love story I've come across. If I pull it off, I know this is one movie I will be remembered for. It is scheduled for release some time in 2001.

What is the Hritik-Ameesha starrer about? Don't you think there is added pressure for you to make them deliver after the success of Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai?

Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage is a youthful film about tenacity and determination. It's a story about a group of student engineers who get embroiled with the underworld. They have no one but themselves to rely on for their safety. It's the righteous rage of 200-300 students who stand united to defend themselves.

As for the pressure factor, I'd cast them long before the success of Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, so that didn't really figure anywhere. They look good together and that's why I cast them. The film was started in September 1999 and is also scheduled for 2001.

What does Vikram Bhatt do when he isn't directing?

Vikram Bhatt I'm not a very movie person when I'm not directing movies. I like doing my own thing.

I love reading -- anything and everything! In fact I adapted the TV serial, Dhund, from Wuthering Heights.

Books are inspiring, be it the characters they portray or the plots they unfold. Sometimes, I borrow some of characteristics of characters in books to add to the dimensions of the roles in my movies. Though not many English books translate well in to Hindi.

Some of my all-time favourites are Sherlock Holmes, Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, Kane and Abel and Wuthering Heights, among others. I'm a great Robert Ludlum fan.

I'm also a complete Net buff as well and surf incessantly. I've met a lot of interesting people through the Net and keep visiting and In fact, I'm looking to start a and join the IT bandwagon!

What kind of movies wouldn't you direct?

Comedies, for sure! I'm quite a control freak and I think comedies place a lot of control in the hands of the actor. It's all about his timing -- he either succeeds in the comic element or doesn't. One has to be particularly careful about casting when it comes to comedies. Also, one can't gift-wrap a comedy film to attract audiences and that's quite tricky!

What kind of movie would you love to direct?

Without a doubt, Milos Forman's Amadeus. The depiction of the relationship between Antonie Salierie and Mozart was marvelous. Another movie would be One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Were films the natural choice for you?

They were the natural, but not the obvious, choice. There're many people in my family who're not in the profession. There were other alternatives but I wanted to do movies.

If I weren't a film maker, I'd probably be a novelist! No budgetary constraints and complete freedom - what a combination! I could build forts and palaces, blow up buildings and bridges, go all out with the locations, without a thought to whether I could afford it!

Who are the people you've learnt from?

I've learnt from many people. I worked as an assistant to Mukul Anand for over six years. I learnt about form, technique and camera work from him. I was with Shekhar Kapur for two and a half years and he taught me about content. Working with Mahesh Bhatt, I learnt that a film maker is a storyteller. If you don't have a good story to tell, you don't have a film to make.

Looking back, on the time gone by, what do you feel?

At the end of the day I know I don't want to be a film maker forever. There has to be more to life than 'start sound, action, cut.' Recently I've been feeling that this chase for fame is transitory. For fame, you work hard all your life, ignore the present, to be remembered after you're dead. But life is about living each present moment to the fullest.

I want to travel. Mehboob Studios and Filmistan can't be the only things I see! There's a lot, apart from film making, to do and enjoy and I intend doing some of that! I'll probably make movies until I'm 50, then I'm out.

There was a point when all I wanted was to make films. Not anymore. That doesn't mean I'm through with films and film making. It means that there's more to life than just that - film making is a means but definitely not the end. I'm just beginning to learn more about myself -- it is a scary process because it involves a degree of unlearning too.

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