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February 2, 2000


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'We live in a hypocritical world'

Rajkumar Santoshi Anger has been a predominant theme in the films made by Rajkumar Santoshi. Whether it's a frustrated Sunny Deol (Ghayal), a wronged Meenakshi Sheshadri (Damini), or a failed Om Puri (China Gate) -- all his characters have resorted to and expressed themselves through anger.

His latest venture, Pukar again deals with rage. This time, it's Madhuri Dixit, rejected in love, who takes refuge in rage.

The versatile director, however, has experimented with other genres as well -- a laugh-riot in the form of Andaz Apna Apna and a romance, Barsaat, the latter being the launch pad for star kids Bobby Deol and Twinkle Khanna.

Santoshi talks to Sukanya Verma about his passion, which is films, and why he dares to be different.

All the films that you have directed so far have had strong storylines. Is Pukar also in the same mould?

Yes, it has a strong storyline. It is an emotional, intense love story with the Army as the backdrop. There is also an espionage angle to it. We talk about love in this film -- love in the sense of romance, but also love with respect to the motherland.

What inspired you to come up with the subject?

All along, when I was doing Ghayal, Damini, Andaz Apna Apna, people kept asking me why I havenít made a good love story. So I was thinking about a love story for sometime. But I wanted to be different and not make a conventional love story, without the usual problems of caste, class, rich boy-poor girl, family feud etc. I wanted to make a love story where love itself becomes a problem and the reason for creating rifts. That's how I came across this story.

Why did you choose Madhuri and Anil Kapoor for the film?

Boneyji wanted me to direct a film for him, so of course, we were thinking of Anil Kapoor. Both the hero and heroine in Pukar are not your usual characters -- there are complexities and various shades to the roles. There is a grey element in them, which is unusual in mainstream cinema. In commercial cinema, the hero and heroine are generally stark white, they are always right.

We needed good artistes in Pukar, thatís one of the reasons I thought of Anil and Madhuri. They have often played a pair on screen, but now they have a new angle in their relationship. In this film, they are actually not opposite each other, nor are they singing duets. I thought it would be challenging for both the artistes. I am extremely satisfied with both, they have come up with sterling performances. I can proudly say this is Anil and Madhuriís career best.

How would you rate Boney Kapoor as a producer?

Pukar I think for Pukar and for me, Boneyji is a blessing. He is an asset. At times, even if I felt like making a compromise here and there, Boney wouldn't let me. He is one producer who keeps pushing, he needs the best. He knows cinema, and he has got tremendous passion. Money is not important, but passion is. You must love the medium and that's something Boney Kapoor does. He loves the medium, he loves making films and he strives for perfection. He wants the best.

Let me give you an example. When we discussed this song -- which talks about the purity and seriousness of love -- the first thing we decided was that we needed an unusual location. I thought of snow, as snow symbolises purity, Boneyji suggested Alaska.

Now, Alaska is a really out-of-the-way place. Even Hollywood filmmakers have hardly gone there. But we did go there, and it was an expensive exercise. We had to go to the location in a helicopter every day. The first couple of days, we could not land on the glacier since it was very cloudy. I told Anil that we should go back and shoot in a garden full of yellow flowers instead. But Boney was adamant and I salute him for that kind of patience and strength. He said, 'we thought of Alaska, we will shoot in Alaska. My money is going waste, no problem.' Eventually we shot there, and the result is for everyone to see. The visuals are stunning.

Is it true that Sunny Deol is miffed because you did Pukar?

No, no, no. The media just likes to speculate. In fact, I am soon going to start a film with Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol. The film will go on the floors next month.

Andaz Apna Apna may not have been a super-success, but it was certainly appreciated. Do you plan to make another comedy?

Yes, definitely. I am working on a couple of scripts. By the end of this year, I should have something on the floors.

You have worked with big stars in almost all your films. Did anyone ever give you trouble?

I work with the stars I am friendly with. I enjoy a good relationship with most of the current stars, whether it is Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol, Aamir or Shah Rukh. They also agree with my conviction, story and screenplay and readily agree to do my film. I have no problems whatsoever.

Do you think that the Indian audiences are not ready for experimental films like China Gate?

China Gate I wouldn't say that. I think China Gate did reasonably well, even though it did not have a big star. I think what went wrong with the film was that it was released in a rush. I wish it had been given another 40 days or so for the right kind of promotion. The media is so strong these days that one can reach out to the audiences through it and prepare them for what kind of a film it is. I feel more people should make such films. One has to try and make it work.

What happened to the film that you were planning with Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan?

We are still working on the script. It is tricky balancing both the stars in the script. Probably by 2001, we will start shooting.

Is it true that this film will be based on Mozartís life?

No. It is a story of two musicians. There is a shade of Amadeus, in the relationship between Antonio Salieri and Mozart, but it isnít based on the film.

What other films are you directing?

I am planning to start a film titled Lajja which means shame. It is a heroine-oriented film, much stronger than Damini. I am talking about the problems women face today. Even though we are in 2000 and we talk about progress and technology, women are being subjected to so many humiliations and discriminations. I am basically tackling that in Lajja.

Who are acting in it?

The cast is still being worked out. But several big heroines such as Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala are in the contention. Aishwarya Rai is putting a special appearance in the film. Namrata Shirodkar, Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol, Danny and Amrish Puri are also being considered for the film.

Why do most of your films have strong heroine-oriented subjects, something which commercial films lack otherwise?

I personally feel that whenever the heroine's character is strong, the story becomes interesting. Otherwise, it becomes single dimensional. Whether it is Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor or Guru Dutt, you will see that their films had strong heroines. Even in Ghayal, though the heroineís character was not that strong, she did contribute to the narration of the story. She was not there just to sing, dance and add glamour. When I work on a script, I keep in mind not to have unnecessary characters like mother and father hanging around or a servant trying to create comedy or a blind sister lying in the house. I try to be honest with my characters I have and give them details.

Ghayal and Ghatak were angry films...

Ghatak The anger is still there. Lajja is again a product of anger. I thought of the story because of an incident that took place in a village near Kanpur in July last year. A 42-year-old lady was gang-raped, held captive in her house for several days and eventually burnt alive in her own courtyard. She was a Dalit lady from a poor family.

This incident disturbed me no end. The news headlines said, 'woman raped.' I feel it should have been 'mother raped,' because in reality, she was the mother of an 18-year-old boy. Her sin was that the boy eloped with a girl from the higher caste.

I felt extremely angry at the hypocritical world we are living in. On one hand, we talk about Maa Vaishnodevi, Maa Ambewali. We are ready to worship a woman in a stone form, wrap a sari around her and sing bhajans to her. But when it comes to a real woman, she is raped and burnt alive, and there's hardly anyone to protest. This is what made me work on the subject of Lajja, thatís why I called it so, because it is a shame. Shame on the country, the people, the times.

My film starts in New York where the husband and wife are located and it travels from there. What I am trying to say in my film is that every man is the same, you only have to scratch deeper to reveal his true nature. The root cause, I would say, are the parents. Right from the beginning, they keep saying 'Ladki toh paraya dhan hai' ( A girl belongs to someone else). They donít want to take her responsibility. When there is a wedding, the general idea is that the girlís side should be meek because she is supposed to be a burden.

Long time back, you had stated that you would like to make a film on Prithviraj Chauhan and Samyukta with Sunny Deol and Madhuri Dixit -- do you still plan to make it?

The cost factor is the main hindrance to making such a film, though I have made China Gate, which was an equally big budget film. It isnít impossible to make the film, but I think the star cast will need some changes because Madhuri Dixit today may not be the right choice to play Samyukta. We may have to take a new heroine. Letís see.

What kind of subjects appeal to you most?

Rajkumar Santoshi I choose a subject depending on what I am thinking at that moment. I have done a comedy like Andaz Apna Apna. Comedy comes naturally to me, haansta bhi hoon haansata bhi hoon (I laugh myself and make others laugh). Whenever I think of doing something I get so involved with it that I need to do full justice to it. I am making Lajja now. I will not bring a Johnny Lever or a Jaspal Bhatti to make it comic. If there has to be comedy, I will make a film like Andaz Apna Apna. Ghayal was an intense, action drama; there were no songs in the entire second half of Damini, though I had Nadeem Shravan doing the music.

So, like I said, choosing a subject depends on my mood. Currently, I feel very strongly about making a film on child labour. I donít have any story as of now, but I will -- in the near future.

You like to work on your villains -- how different is Abrush (in Pukar) from the others?

Abrush is a terrorist, a real character, whom we read about in the newspapers every day. He has strong convictions, money is secondary to him. When you see this film, you will realise that Abrush is the scariest villain, at least in comparison to my past films. Normally in Hindi films, the villain is bothered about maal godown main utra ke nahin utra (whether the goods have reached the godown or not). But we are neither bothered about the maal nor about nahee utrega toh kya luksaan hoga (the consequences if it doesn't reach). Normally, only one person -- the villain -- is anxious about the maal being delivered, and there will be a cop to stop it. The entire film would revolve around this. This is the story (laughs).

In Pukar, Abrush talks about his country, his morals, his ethics. Somewhere he too, is a hero among his own people. This element has strongly been brought out in the film.

Have you ever created a villain in your film, with whom you empathised so much that you wanted to make a film about him?

No, not at all. I believe that violence is not the solution to any problem. I condemn any method where violence is the tool to make somebody agree on certain things. In fact, all my films send out the message that violence is not the solution.

The Anil Kapoor interview
An encounter with Boney Kapoor
The Madhuri Dixit interview
Madhuri unplugged -- In Real Audio

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