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The Rediff Interview / John Mathew Matthan
The return of John Mathew Matthan
December 29, 2005
John Mathew Matthan knew he wanted to be a director when he was still in school. He entered the industry years later by joining Govind Nihalani on Aakrosh and Richard Attenborough on Gandhi. He was offered a film by the producer of Aakrosh, but didn't do it assuming he was too immature to direct a film.
And, as Patcy N gathered from a conversation with the director, he's more confident than ever. Excerpts:
It is about ambition. I have a young Shahid Kapur who has just graduated and is about to step into the world of business. Then there's Ajay Devgan, who is already successful and wants to achieve far more. His dream is to build a city and control everything in it, from water and electricity to transportation. It is a social film. It is also about ecology and the environment, but I don't say usually this because it turns people off. They think it is documentary.
Is it a copy of Wall Street?
There is nothing in common between the two [movies] except for the two characters -- the ambitious Michael Douglas and the young boy who joins him. I had seen Wall Street a long time ago and forgot about it. But when I narrated my story to a friend, he told me it was a lot like the Hollywood film. So, I watched it once again just to confirm it wasn't the same. Actually, there are very few plots. Your story will connect somewhere or the other to another one. But no, you can't call it a copy.
Why did your second film take you so many years?
Before the release of Sarfarosh, I had decided I would tour India if I recovered my money, as I had been through a lot while making it. I travelled for a year and a half. I would travel by road, meet people and stay at any place I liked. At the same time, I was reading and writing. I worked on three scripts. One was to be shot entirely in America. I went to the US, stayed for six months, did some research and a lot of pre-production work. But then, 9/11 happened and all my plans were washed away. My movie was to show America as a superpower, which it suddenly wasn't. I had Aamir Khan in mind for that particular film.
Another subject I thought of became Shikhar, which took me a year to write and more than a year to make. I didn't approach Aamir this time because he had already begun growing his hair for Mangal Pandey and I didn't wanted to wait that much.
Why did you say you went through hell making Sarfarosh?
I produced the film, so money was a major problem. Then there were problems with dates. Certain artists didn't cooperate. I didn't have an experienced unit. I had invested all my money. I had to shoot the climax again, which required me to build a set and I didn't have the money for that. Then, some of my distributors didn't pay me. You go through lot of anxiety until your movie is released.
Aamir was very cooperative. He was excellent, but he had date problems as he had signed three or four films and we had to re-shoot a lot. So, the movie was delayed. I wouldn't like to talk about cast members who gave me problems.
What was working with Ajay and Shahid like?
Ajay Devgan is an actor who cuts the dialogues you give him into half. He doesn't like mouthing long dialogues. And I don't mind as long as the content is conveyed. Insecurity is universal in all actors, and it can only go once you begin to trust your director. Ajay Devgan is not insecure. If at all Shahid was, he didn't show it either. Shahid was very well-behaved. He would come on time and do his job. There were no hassles at all. Ajay is very professional and a superb guy. He also has a habit of playing pranks on unit members. It is only because of this unit that I could make the film.
Did the two actresses have problems on sets?
Bipasha Basu and Amrita Rao didn't have too many scenes together, so there was no problem because I worked with them separately. Both are nice, professional and good actors, although I haven't seen their other films.
Is it true that Amrita wasn't happy about the film's promos?
I don't think she's upset. The problem was the first song we promoted was a solo Bipasha number with Shahid Kapur and Ajay Devgan. And that was entirely the music company's decision as they felt it was a catchy song. As it didn't have her in it, she felt bad when a media person asked her about it. I know she will never badmouth my film though, as it is her film too. I think things were twisted a little. I am not at all upset with her.
Can you share some incidents that occurred on the sets with us?
Bipasha almost got drowned. Shahid and Bipasha were on a motor-scooter and they went deep into the sea when it toppled. Luckily, Bipasha had a lifejacket but Shahid did not. He didn't know how to swim either. We had to send a rescue team to bring them back. Bipasha was so shocked that she didn't speak for three hours. It was a requirement for the movie, of course, but they were not supposed to go in so deep. That was really scary. When I told her we still needed a shot, she obliged and went back into the water. And still, Shahid didn't wear his lifejacket.
There are many directors whose first movies do exceptionally well, but the follow-ups do not…
I personally feel that you have to work harder on your second project. I think I have worked harder for this one. I wrote three drafts of the script and a fourth of 150 pages that I gave to Abbas Tyrewala, who cut it to 90 pages. I then made more changes and shortened it further. I think it will be good study material for students of cinema. I intend to preserve all versions so they can be put to use in future.
Why haven't you tried making Malayalam movies?
I know Malayalam, but I am not fluent in it. And unless you know the language and the region you shouldn't try making a film in that area. Priyadarshan is very lucky that he can make movies in Hindi, a language he is not conversant with.
What about your next project?
It is about a treasure hunt -- hidden treasures that belongs to a King and who they go to. The script will be ready in six months. I am also working on an English film, which will have actors from overseas.
What are the difficulties involved in making a multi-starrer?
If all the stars respect their director and trust him, there are no problems. The problems arise when they assume another actor is being given more prominence. When the actors start getting insecure, the politics follows. I have been true to everyone and faithful to my script. Each of my characters has a prominent role. I am not here to promote or demote someone.
Your first movie was a big hit. What are your expectations from Shikhar?
That is based purely on collections, so I really don't know what to say. I do feel it will be highly appreciated though. Collection-wise, this will surpass Sarfarosh, but that may also be because of multiplexes, as ticket costs are higher in multiplexes. But I feel sad that common people are deprived of good movies.