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From sari-seller to Producer No 1

May 21, 2009 13:57 IST

From sari-seller to Producer No 1


Mumbai is not called the City of Dreams for nothing. Ask Vashu Bhagnani. A sari-seller in Kolkata, Bhagnani came to Mumbai to try his luck and ended up making Bollywood hits like Coolie No 1, Hero No 1, Biwi No 1 and Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai.

The producer is now ready to launch his son Jaccky in Kal Kissne Dekha, opposite another newcomer Vaishali Desai.

He tells Patcy N about his journey to stardom, and of course, his new film.

You have produced so many films from the No 1 series to Sorry Bhai. But we barely know about your struggling years.

I come from a lower middle class family in Kolkata. My father was a wholesale dealer of saris and would earn about Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 a month.

When I was 13, he suffered a huge loss in his business. I had to give up my education and help him in his business as I was the eldest among my six siblings.

I would take 50 saris to Cuttack, Orissa, to sell them. I would travel without ticket in the second class train compartment, and sit outside the bathroom. I would stay in small hotels which had a tariff of Rs 15.

I continued selling saris for 10 years, till 1983.

When did things change for you?

I got married in 1983. That was the turning point in my life. My wife Pooja brought luck in my life. I got a motorcycle soon, and then got myself an Ambassador car. In 1989, I came to Mumbai.

Why did you come to Mumbai?

After five years of marriage, I went to Delhi and made some builder friends. I started a construction business, and stopped my sari business. I made about 17 bungalows and became a crorepati.

So I came to Mumbai and bought a house in Andheri [a Mumbai suburb]. I constructed a few buildings there as well, and started doing well.

I moved on to a cassettes business. I bought a plot in Silvassa [on the Maharashtra border] and built a cassette manufacturing factory. I named all my businesses after my wife.

I keep changing because I need do something new all the time.

Image: A scene from Hero No. 1


'People would become producers by just carrying a suitcase full of money and alcohol'

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How did you get into films?

When I was in cassette manufacturing business, I told Ramesh and Kumar Taurani [the owners of TIPS] to produce movies since they were in the movie business. I told them that all the music companies in Hollywood have film companies and since they made so much money, they should try their luck in producing films as well. But they always said no.

One day I went to watch Aankhen, starring Govinda and Chunky Pandey. It was directed by David Dhawan and produced by Pahlaj Nihalani. I had gone with the Tauranis. When I walked out of the theatre, I told Ramesh that if he was not going to make films, I would. I didn't know anything about the film industry but I was a fan. I have seen Jugnu 30 times. I loved watching films but never ever thought that I would make films someday.

Within three days I roped in Govinda and David Dhawan for my film. But Davidji was not sure of me. In those days, people would become producers by just carrying a suitcase full of money and alcohol, and sign actors and directors. But the film would never go on the floors. Maybe that's why Davidji had his doubts. But Ramesh told him that I was very smart and hardworking.

Davidji and I made Coolie No 1 (1995), Hero No 1 (1997), Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (1998) and Biwi No 1 (1999). All films were back-to-back hits and people started saying that whatever he touches turns to gold.

But after that, I lost big money on my films. Deewaanapan (2001), Om Jai Jagadish (2002), Jeena Sirf Merre Liye (2002), Vaada (2005) and Silsiilay (2005) flopped and people started saying that I had become bankrupt.

Image: A scene from Biwi No 1

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'I never thought Jaccky would do something'

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When did Jaccky tell you that he wanted to become an actor?

When Jaccky was 14, he weighed 130 kilos. I never thought he would ever do something. I just thought he would take over my chair and become a builder or a producer. But one day he told me that he wanted to join dance classes and go gyming.

I thought that I would lose money, but in the process, he would lose some weight. So I let him join classes. I never thought he would lose so much weight -- from 130 kilos he went down to 72 kilos.

He went to the US and Australia to take some acting, dance and action courses. I thought he was wasting time but still I allowed him to go ahead. But when he returned, I was stunned. My son was looking very different from what I knew of him. One and a half years ago, he felt he was properly trained and told me that he wanted to act in a film.

What did you do next?

I had left the film industry in 2005 after Shaadi No 1, as I had lost big money. I had returned to my construction business. I made a comeback in 2008 with Sorry Bhai.

I started looking for directors for Jaccky's film and approached Gautam Menon and Ken Ghosh. But we zeroed on Vivek Sharma.

Since I've worked in the industry for so many years, I know what will work for newcomers as far as scripts are concerned. I have launched Tusshar Kapoor (Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai) and Riteish Deshmukh (Out Of Control).

Image: Jaccky Bhagnani

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'To launch a new actor you need a love story'

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Since you have given so many hits with David Dhawan, why didn't you ask him to launch your son?

David is like my elder brother. He makes comedies. He has made 42 films and is very senior. For Jaccky, we needed someone who could speak to him and make him comfortable -- someone closer to his age.

Also, to launch a new actor you need a love story and a director who will spend more time with the actor. Davidji will never make a love story and I should not even request him to do something that's not his genre. 

I did not know Vivek Shrama but after I met him a couple of times, I knew he was the right man to direct my son.

Image: A still from Bade Miyan Chote Miyan

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'I am not cheating the producers'

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You are releasing your film in the middle of the producer strike. Won't the producers be upset with you?

The problem between the producers and multiplexes is very crucial but I'm releasing this film because the whole industry is with me. I am not cheating my people. My film will be the first to release in single screen theatres. Yash Raj's New York will release two weeks after that.

Releasing this film at this time is a blessing in disguise as the hunger for entertainment is so much that people will come to the theatres. When there is hunger, anything works.

I started the publicity of my film two months ago, and the strike started after that. If I had stopped the publicity, people would think my film is bad. I thought the strike would get over in 10-15 days.

What next?

Do Knot Disturb starring Govinda, Sushmita, Lara Dutta and Riteish Deshmukh. It's directed by David Dhawan and will release on July 24. Then I will think of another film with Jaccky.

Image: A scene from Do Knot Disturb

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