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The Rediff Interview/Subhash Ghai

'I have to make movies a certain way, that's who I am'

Prem Panicker | September 09, 2003

Subhash GhaiSubhash Ghai is both happy and sad.

Happy, that in the year that marks the 25th anniversary of his banner, Mukta Arts -- he launched his banner in October 24, 1978, with Karz -- he is leading a full, cinematic life.

The self-styled 'showman' of Bollywood had jetted into New York from London to promote Joggers' Park, the latest Mukta Arts film, scheduled for a worldwide release on September 12.

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He is simultaneously doing the pre-production planning for his next directorial venture, the details of which he will announce on October 24.

The happiness this activity entails is tinged, he told the media during a brief press interaction at Utsav (47th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues) in New York on Monday, with grief. Anant Balani, the director of Joggers' Park, died just 10 days ago.

"I am here with mixed feelings," Ghai, who occasionally allowed emotion to visibly get the better of him, told the media. "Normally, a Mukta Arts production is accompanied with much pomp and show, but with its young, promising director so recently dead, we just do not feel like all that fuss."

At the same time, he added, Mukta Arts is now no longer about Subhash Ghai and what he wants. "In 1978, when I made Karz, it was with an initial capital of just Rs 10,000. Today, we are a corporate company. I am just the managing director, the shareholders are the bosses. So I am here on behalf of Anant [Balani], to help promote our film."

Ghai spoke at length of his banner and its corporate plans. Itemising said plans, he said work on a $20 million film institute is almost complete and it will be pressed into service in 2004. "It is for those who aspire to make good movies, to work in good movies, but who are not the sons or daughters of film people, and who do not have all those connections and godfathers."

Two-year courses in all aspects of filmmaking are planned; the institute will be affiliated with leading institutions in England, the US and elsewhere.

Perizaad Zorabian in Jpggers' ParkMukta Arts and its story workshop will usher in a new era in filmmaking, Ghai said. "Ek taraf premi ek taraf mangetar story. Yehi baar baar [we followed the 'lover on one side, fiance on the other' story time and again]. This was our formula for years. But it will no longer suffice for a young, more demanding audience. So, at our story workshop, we work on contemporary themes, bold themes in keeping with the times."

Joggers' Park -- Ghai is credited with the 'concept' in the titles -- is a product of that workshop. The filmmaker has a fetish for pegging his stories on incidents he says he came to know about in his own life. I recall him, years ago, telling a group of journalists during the shooting of Khalnayak, of a real life mother who told him of her bigda hua (spoilt) son.

He said, "This story [Jogger's Park] was conceived when I was 24. I knew I would make this film some day. It is based on the story of a girl I knew, Jenny [incidentally, the name of the character played by Perizaad Zorabian in Joggers' Park].

"I couldn't make it then because it did not fit into the formula. But during our workshops, one day I mentioned this story, and everyone liked it. I asked Anant [Balani] to direct and he said he would if I did the dialogues."

The film, he said, was deliberately aimed at a particular class of audiences. A group he defined as young, city-bred, impatient of the cliched formulae of Bollywood and hungry for something new. "We do not make any bones about this: we plan our films for various categories of audiences. This one is clearly for a class audience and is budgeted with that in mind. The film I will direct next will be a big budget spectacular, the typical Subhash Ghai film, for a mass audience."

Such a planned approach, Ghai said, is the future of filmmaking. While populist films would continue to be made, filmmakers also had to take into account the numerical minority of filmgoers who want something more than songs, dances and fights, and make films with them in mind.

That is why Mukta Arts has six films in the pipeline, all in different genres and aimed at different audiences.

The promotional literature lists the film as belonging to the crossover genre. Ghai defined it as "a film made for the Indian diaspora, but which will have appeal for the larger White audience as well."

Ghai, especially during the marketing stage of his films, is easily accessible to the media. This trip was an exception. When we asked for one-on-one time, his response was a wry grin. He was, he said, still nursing a jet lag from his Mumbai-London-New York travels. By Tuesday afternoon, he will board a jetliner bound for Mumbai.

In-between, he still had to take mediapersons over to a nearby preview theatre for a screening of the film.

Given the time constraint, he sat still for just a few quick queries. Excerpts:

When you look back at your 25 years in this business, how has the industry changed you?

It has made me an internationalist.

When I started out, I thought only of myself, my films. Now, I am more outward-looking; I travel the world, attending film festivals even though there is no film of mine showing [there].

I have learnt filmmaking is not something I can do in a cocoon. I am a small part of the larger fraternity of filmmakers worldwide. I need to be aware of who they are and what they are doing.

How have you changed the industry?

I like to think I have taught the industry to be more professional, for instance.

Mukta Arts was the first to become a public company. When you go public, you bring in accountability. You cannot just be Subhash Ghai any more, doing whatever he wants to do and not caring about the results. You are answerable to the public, and you are in fact a salaried employee of the public, so you are accountable in a way you were not before. That brings with it a more professional approach. This is something I like to think of as my contribution to the industry.

The word 'industry' is, itself, something new to films, isn't it? Only lately, filmmaking has been recognised officially as an industry. You are on the CII committee, so you are in a position to guage how that has worked out.

It has worked out very well. For 50 years, all we ever got from the government was meetings and more meetings. This current government cut through all that and gave us what we wanted. It gave us an industry status.

But is it of any real worth or merely a cachet? Can an aspiring filmmaker with a good script and a well planned project report, for instance, walk into a bank and ask for a loan, like he would if he were planning a poultry farm?

Of course he can. Many have. And they have got financial help from institutions like IDBI, Bank of India and others. I am the president of CII's national entertainment committee. In that capacity, I can tell you dozens have benefited from the naming of filmmaking as an industry.

An 'industry' assumes a certain amount of fiscal sanity. You produce something for x amount and sell it for y, and make a profit and keep your shareholders happy. The movie industry, however, does not seem to operate on such sensible lines.

Arre, I grant you that last year, for instance, many movies have made losses, but so what? Is filmmaking the only industry that has made losses? Don't you know of other companies, in other fields, that have made losses?

I remember we were once discussing this. Some IDBI officials expressed this concern and I asked them, what is the total amount spent on making films in a year? Rs 4,000 crore? Suppose the entire thing had to be written off, what percentage is that of the total amount of bad debts you write off in a year? One per cent? Five per cent?

So it is okay for films, despite being given the industry status it has sought, to operate without fiscal logic?

I didn't say that. You must remember no one sets out to make a loss. It is not like we tell ourselves, chalo, let us take Rs 100 million or Rs 200 million and burn it up in a film. We all want our films to work.

Till now, it was not an entirely professional industry. Now, with filmmaking being deemed an industry, professionalism is creeping in. It is a slow process, but you have to remember it is only some four years since we have got industry status. The change is already happening, and over the next five, six years, you will see the full extent of that change.

Perizaad Zorabian and Victor Banerjee in Joggers' ParkOne final question. You said earlier that when you make a film, it will be a Subhash Ghai film, an extravaganza. In the same breath, you talk of good cinema, your cinema workshop and all that. What stops you from putting your name, your stamp, on such examples of good cinema? Is your name a trap or is it your own ego at work?

A bit of both.

When audiences come to see a Subhash Ghai film, they expect certain things. If I give them less than what they expect, they will say Ghai has cheated them.

Also, I have to make movies in a certain way, that is who I am. Would you expect a Shiv Kumar Sharma to play the banjo? Would you go to hear him if he did?

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