Friday, November 23, 2007

Madhuri Dixit interview

“I was very sure of what I wanted’

Her sabbatical from the movies notwithstanding, Madhuri Dixit still has a voice and laughter that can melt a million hearts, says Sandhya Iyer

One invariably tends to slip into eulogizing clichés when the subject happens to be Madhuri Dixit. After all, this is the same actress who defined blockbuster musical cinema of the 90s and enthralled a whole generation of cine goers. And the more Bollywood grapples with the idea of finding a complete leading lady today; the heart constantly harks back to this one iconic actress who could decisively turn a film’s fortunes.
But when one is already spoken of in the most hyperbolic terms, the person rarely feels the need to shout of one’s achievements from the rooftops. Hence Madhuri’s reply as regards to her box-office clout is an expectedly placid one. “I was fortunate to get good films like Beta and Raja, which were well-balanced scripts. I wouldn’t say I was responsible for these films doing well. Ultimately the product has to be good. Not all my films did well. Just because I was there in a film, anything and everything didn’t sell,” she says matter-of-factly
But she’ll agree that none of the current actresses (barring maybe Rani Mukherjee) have managed to break into the Bollywood male bastion in terms of trade in the way she did. Most actresses are still considered perfectly interchangeable if a top hero is in place. Consequently, heroine-oriented subjects have never received a fillip. Again, Madhuri listens carefully but opts for a somber answer. “I remember distributors were always happy to have me in a film. They were confident that if Madhuri was there, then the film would be good. But as I said, ultimately only a good film will work. Otherwise, I haven’t really given this a thought,” says the actress, notorious for her diplomatic answers.

Talking of Aaja Nachle, clearly the actress was being besieged with numerous offers. What then prompted her to do this film, that too with a self-confessedly nervous first-time director –Anil Mehta? “I liked the whole concept of the film and could identify with it. Also, I have worked with Yash Chopra before and had a wonderful experience with Dil To Pagal Hai. I also had confidence in them, in the sense that I knew that if they start a project, they make sure they will carry it on smoothly and end it on time. They are a very disciplined unit and that is important for me,” she says. “Also, with regards to Anil Mehta, I have seen his work in film like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, so there was a level of confidence. No, I don’t think him being a first time director worked on my mind. I have previously worked with debutant directors like Indra Kumar (Dil, Beta, Ishq) and Lawrence D’Souza (Sajan, Dil Tera Aashiq).”

Talking of which, Indra Kumar has constantly expressed how much he misses Madhuri in his films. So much so, that he actually went ahead and opted to make an all-male film with Dhamaal this time. Tell her this and you’re rewarded with that oh-so- wonderful lilting laughter of hers but she disappointingly settles for sober answer. “All I will say is that I had a wonderful experience working with all of them and whatever I learnt in the course of my interaction with them, I put that to use in my career.”

Clearly, today, Madhuri views affairs in Bollywood with a certain serene detachment and nothing could be more honest than her saying that she’s here only for the love of her craft. In fact, it’s easy to guess why Madhuri was drawn to the script of Aaja Nachle, considering it has an ironic likeness to her own real life – a girl moving to America and then returning to her homeland as mother to renew her interest in art. The actress heartily agrees, “I know, it is so similar to my own life, which is why it instantly struck a chord with me.”

Much has changed since Madhuri left but the actress welcomes Bollywood’s recent foray into different genres of cinema. “The 90s cinema was larger than life. Today, films are more realistic. Personally, being a movie buff, I love all kinds of films. I like Manmohan Desai as much as Bimal Roy,” she says.
But doesn’t she miss the blockbuster cinema that the 90s personified? “Oh, but those kind of films are still being made. I did Devdas, which was a blockbuster film in every way. It’s just that situations are becoming more realistic in films. As for songs and dances, there is no escaping from it. That is why cinema so different.”

But really, Madhuri comes fully alive only when you speak about her family life. This might not be the popular sentiment but there is a certain disappointment one feels about a phenomenal artist like Madhuri opting to slip so entirely into her role as wife and mother and sidelining her career. Where a Shah Rukh Khan can do a fantastic balancing act between his family and a super successful career, an equally charismatic Madhuri feels the desire to withdraw from the race to nurture her personal goals. Why should a woman feel the need to give up a career she has so painstakingly built? Of course, such debates only get ignited when one talks of genuine talents and their prolonged absence from public life.

Says Madhuri, “I never did anything that I didn’t want to do. When I found the right person, I decided to marry and have a family. I have always been sure of what I wanted in life and have followed my heart accordingly. Today, I’m content with my wonderful husband and two beautiful kids. And yes, now I have Aaja Nachle,” she says, pointing at her picture-perfect existence.

Ask her how she got into such a svelte figure and there’s that famous laughter again, “It’s all about eating well, thinking positive, no vices. Also, Ram and I want to be in the best shape of our lives for our kids. We want them to be health conscious and it’s very important that we set a good example,” she says, exhibiting the same practical approach that drove her career ambitions.

Hopefully, the actress is keen to do many more films and cites the example of movies like Cheeni Kum that have pushed the envelope in terms of the roles offered for mature actresses.

In any case, Aaja Nachle will be an interesting re-introduction of Madhuri for a whole new generation that has grown up after her exit. For the others, she will hopefully provide an evocation of the unforgettable films she was a part of.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

'I never felt equipped to be a director'

Cinematographer Anil Mehta, who turns director with Aaja Nachle, speaks to Sandhya Iyer about how all his initial nervousness vanished the moment he saw Madhuri Dixit’s class act

You’ve done the cinematography for films like Lagaan, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Veer Zaara, Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna etc. Was direction always on your mind?

Not at all. I was honestly very happy with what I was doing and moreover, I never felt equipped to be a director. When I was shooting for Veer Zaara, Aditya (Chopra) made me hear an outline of a story he had written and asked me if I could direct it. I will still hesitant to take it up. Then, Jaideep Sahni, who has been an old friend of mine came into the picture and the story was fleshed out. Slowly, I felt more reassured about directing the film.

Since you say that you were diffident about your directorial debut, did you feel the constant urge to seek Aditya's approval?

Actually, I was a part of the writing process before we went into the production of the film. So all the discussions and consultations happened at that stage itsef. But once the film went on floors, as a matter of principal, Aditya doesn't come on the sets. And I hardly had any breathing room, since we were working on a bound script and it was a continous shoot.

Was the script written entirely with Madhuri Dixit in mind?

Yes, we had not got the script ready until Madhuri consented to do the film. Until then, it was just a story idea but once we knew she would be the lead, the script grew.
Is Aaja Nachle a period film?

No, it’s very much a contemporary film. It’s set in a small town, a place where this girl grows up and then quite abruptly has to leave it and move to America all by herself. Here, she becomes a successful choreographer. Then one day, she gets a phone call, informing her that her guru has taken sick. She returns to India and learns that her teacher has passed on his legacy to her -a theatre academy (Ajanta). It’s then left to her to resurrect the place.

You said you were hesitant to take on direction. How easy was it for Madhuri to trust herself with a first-time director?

I never asked her and she never told me, so I wouldn’t know her feelings in this regard. Madhuri is actually one actress I have never worked with even as a cinematographer. I’ve always seen her as an iconic figure and quite frankly was overwhelmed by her experience. Yes, there was a great deal of anxiousness I felt before shooting with her. But once she came on the sets, all that nervousness just disappeared. She’s such a simple, warm-hearted person and thorough professional. Also, when you see that your actor delivers the scenes so well, is receptive to your cues and adds so much value to a scene, it is very reassuring.

How have you reacted to media reports that Madhuri is unhappy with the film and promos?

How can Madhuri be unhappy with the film when she has not even seen it? And it was only one newspaper which carried that story and they did so without quoting any sources whatsoever. We even offered to give them a clarification from Madhuri, but they weren’t interested because they had already gone ahead with the story. And of course, then this kind of stuff is replicated without control everywhere. What purpose does it serve to trash a film before its release? This really mars genuine interaction with the media and gives rise to mutual suspicion.

But could there be truth in the stories that Madhuri is miffed at the promos and the marketing strategy?

The whole marketing plan could be made only after Madhuri came down to India and what do you think she’s doing from the past 3-4 days? Endlessly doing press, barely sleeping. As for the promos, I have made them myself, so the responsibility lies on my shoulders. And who is to decide how the publicity should be done? With Chak De India, the marketing was low-key and that worked in favour of the film. On the other hand, with Jhoon Barabar Jhoom, the banner went all out to publicise it. So every film has its own identity and it must be allowed to live its life. But I will say here, that I have absolutely no clue about marketing and other things, I leave it to Yash Raj’s experience completely.

Will you be directing another film?

I’m not sure what I will do next. I always do one thing at a time but I’m not shutting any option. But right now, I want to take a long break.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thoughts on the overrated Kannathil Muthamittal

'For couples looking at adoption with mixed feelings, this film is a metaphor for their worst fears'

The more films of Mani Ratnam I see, the more my respect for him sinks. The man is pretentious to the core, with an ‘Hey, I’m making a masterpiece here’ arrogance that screams from every frame of this film.
Unlike Kandukondain Kandukondain (the other Rajiv Menon film I saw this week) which is so fetching and genuine, Ratnam’s film only carries the pretense of being ‘socially relevant’
The filmmaker has never ever shown the gumption to go the full hog in any of his films (Roja, Bombay, Guru) and Kannathil Muthamittal is no exception.

Of course, this is one film that goes wrong right from the beginning.
About a 9-year old girl’s (Amuda) search for her mother, who abandoned her at childbirth, the film attempts to be a cry for peace in strife torn Sri-Lanka.
Amuda is adopted by a loving couple (Simran and Madhavan), who have two children of their own.
When the girl hears the truth about her birth, she runs away from home a couple of times. That’s when Simran and Madhavan promise to get her to meet the real mother.
The film’s biggest drawback that it is very unrealistically treated, which takes away the impact entirely from its thematic significance. How on earth can Madhavan continue to work in a factory when he’s a well-known writer who is invited for conferences!?
The circumstances in which he finds Amuda are not clear and neither are his motivations for adopting her. His urgency to marry Simran just because the adoption center won’t let a bachelor have the baby is even more laughable. But certainly nothing to beat the near amateurish way Amuda’s character has been treated. Also, why would anyone in their right senses go looking for the ‘real mother’ amidst exploding bombs!? Besides the director’s annoying habit of mixing genres, one had to say here that Mani Ratnam’s political notions are extremely weak; more so regards the causes and solutions of wars.

Ratnam takes on weighty, social themes (Roja, Dil Se, Guru, KM) but almost always ‘orphans’ (quite literally as in KM) it at the alter of commercial considerations and other creative inadequacies.
He did it with Anjali, where beyond the obvious theme of looking at the world of a mentally challenge girl, he provides no answers to parents faced with similar trauma. He conveniently lets her die, thereby making the film he wanted to but keeping the threads hanging.
In Guru again, the director unabashed glorifies his lead actor and leaves almost no moral ambiguity about Gurukant Desai’s actions.

But the worst of course is Kannathil Mutthamittal, where the director embarks on a burning issue like terrorism but treats it not only with superficial gravitas but also lets his script drown in sentimental mush.

What is more worrying here is the absolute callousness in tackling a sensitive subject like adoption. When the parents decide to tell Amuda (the adopted girl) about how she was found, they use the most insensitive words. Simran (the mother) says something to the effect that she is NOT their daughter, while her brothers are! Who in the right mind would speak in such a tone?The adopted girl is portrayed as a self-centred brat, who keeps telling everyone who meets her that ‘Simran is not her real mother!’
This could be forgiven, but what seems highly irresponsible is the huge built up to the ‘revelation’ that Amuda is adopted. Is it something so terrible to be adopted? (Everything here is manipulated for an emotional response, a Ratnam trait incidentally)

Such cinematic flourish is more than self-indulgence or creative largesse - it extracts a terrible price from the issue of adoption which is then used as a vehicle to address the director’s warped take on terrorism. For all childless couples probably considering an adoption with mixed feelings, this film is a metaphor for their worst fears, " says a reviewer.
This is precisely why there's a need to re visit and re-assess some of these so called Ratnam gems, even if the person undertaking this unsavoury task stands in a minorty.

-Sandhya Iyer


' I was shocked by Ta Ra Rum Pum's opening'

Interview conducted in May

Siddharth Anand is flustered by the industry and trade reactions to his film, Ta Ra Rum Pum, which released last month. His next will star Ranbir Kapoor

Ta Ra Rum Pum is nearing the 40 crore mark, that should make you happy?
I’m really happy but the media has not been supportive at all. They said the opening was dismal and declared it a flop on the very first day of its release.

But the opening was weak, wasn’t it?

I agree the opening was bad and initially, I was quite shocked. It disturbed me. But I saw that only the 12 o’clock show on Friday was weak. When I visited the theatres, I was assured that the collections would pick up by night and that is exactly what happened. At the end of the first week, its collections were the highest of this year. Yes, it’s higher than Guru.

Do you think the promotion of the film was wrong?

That’s what I’m told but again, there have so many films in the past, which had such huge promotions and yet they didn’t do well. But yes, we need to look into why our film opened badly, Once everything around TRRP settles down and the film is out of our system, we’ll have to sit down and see what went wrong with the promotion.
Why do you think the trade pulled down the film?

I guess they got an opportunity to pull down a Yash Raj film after a long time and they pounced on it. When they saw that the opening was weak, they immediately declared it a flop. But I think it is to the film’s credit that it sustained through the weeks and is nearing 40 crores. In fact, we are going to be coming up with ads tomorrow declaring a 75 gross worldwide. Ultimately, the industry and trade will have to eat their words.
Do you think there was a certain sense of disappointment over the film because it was coming after a blockbuster like Dhoom 2 from Yash Raj

But then, that’s an unfair comparison to make. Dhoom 2 had its own luxury and space. It was the sequel of a very big hit. The general assumption is that Yash Raj films do well only because of their banner. I think TRRP has broken that myth. If that were the case, my film would have opened big. Why didn’t it? The fact that the film got a weak opening and steadied itself in the subsequent weeks proves that it is doing well because it’s a good film.

Trade experts are still calling the film an ‘average’ grosser

(Smirks) Yeah, but what can I do? If they want to call a film that makes 40 crore net as average, I have nothing to say. They probably expected a 200 crore film from me then… that pushes me into another league altogether. TRRP is Saif’s (Ali Khan) biggest hit and will end up making twice as much as Salaam Namaste. For me, it’s a huge success. By the end of its run, it will have done mind-boggling business in cities like Mumbai and Delhi.
While the trade was unkind to the film, even the critics didn’t spare it…
Yes, that was surprising. Their whole trip was to find out the ‘source’ of the film. And once they found it, they were like… ‘We’ve nailed this film now’. Fine, you identify the source but then, judge it on its merit. The Departed, which was an adaptation of The Infernal Affairs, won two of the most important Academy awards. Critics here are very limited and shallow in their reviewing patterns.

The film was criticised for being synthetic…
See, I made the film I wanted to. And my target audience, which consisted of kids and families, has loved the film – which is exactly why all that animation etc was added. It’s the niche audience, which is nitpicking about the film. In any case, I didn’t make this film to find any kind of critical acclaim. I don’t make trends… I follow them. I have always said I’m a fan of Manmohan Desai’s brand of cinema.

But then, reviewers loved your last film, Salaam Namaste?

I know Salaam Namaste was a critics’ friendly film. In any case, reviewers love it when you make something different. With TRRP, I was just making a hard-core commercial film. I was just going back to my roots and I was aware of that. Ultimately, my film has proved that critics don’t matter and it’s the audience, which finally decides the destiny of any film.
But surely, you can’t be that nonchalant towards the critical side of your films?

The motive behind making TRRP was always to make money and we worked within that space. I don’t think any of my films are going to be remembered ten years from now and that’s fine. TRRP was a pure summer flick and we wanted it to be THE film of the season. We’re glad we achieved that.

So, what’s coming up next?

My next film should get rolling by the end of this year. I’ve already finished writing the script and am looking into the casting at the moment.

Is it Saif again?
No, It will be Ranbir Kapoor.
So you’ll be keenly watching the fate of Saawariya (Ranbir’s debut film)?

No, Ranbir is fantastic and it doesn’t matter how Saawariya fares. My script will not change.

Are you casting a new actress opposite him?
No, it will be someone established, though I haven’t decided on the name yet.
Finally, what are the lessons you’ll be taking from Ta Ra Rum Pum?

To make films from my heart…and not be bothered by what the trade and industry have to say. Only the audience counts.
-Sandhya Iyer

Sunday, November 18, 2007

'Multiplex films are a myth'

Nagesh Kukunoor, who was recently in Pune, speaks to Sandhya Iyer about the multiplex culture and how it has not necessarily proved to be a haven for filmmakers like him, among many other things

All your films so far have been relatively small budget movies. Suddenly you have a film with John Abraham (Aashaein) and Akshay Kumar (Eight By Ten) lined up next. Do you suspect they will bring a certain star baggage along?

I hope that doesn't happen but ultimately only the audience can tell whether I have been true to my vision or not. But essentially, I have always put my story and script ahead of star concerns. After finishing with a script, I know exactly how much budget the film would need and I approach my producers accordingly. That’s when I decide whether my film needs saleable stars or not. For example, I didn’t think Dor needed stars. It was a simple story, which needed good actors and real locations.

You mean you have been at a liberty all this while to pick and choose top stars and you opted not to do so?

No, no. The floodgates opened up only after Iqbal, it was my first film in Hindi. Otherwise I’ve only made English films (Rockford, Hyderabad Blues). Even Teen Dewarein was 25 per cent in English. But with Iqbal, a signal was sent to the industry that I could make a film entirely in Hindi and that’s when the cash started pouring in.

While your skill as a story-teller has always been reconogised, there’s a feeling that probably you engage less with the craft of cinema, in terms of offering visual cues etc

I have always been a wordy director. Cinema has moved ahead from the language of mere visuals and people who propagate otherwise are just selling a piece of garbage. The moment audio was introduced in the movies, it changed everything. I grew up in the talkies era, not the silent one, so for me, audio and video have always been supplementary. And more so in my cinema, audio is unbelievably important. There’s nothing like the power of words when they are used correctly.

But one of your next films is Eight By Ten, an actioner with Akshay Kumar. Will it still allow you to play to your strength?

No it won’t allow me to, but that is a new challenge again. I’m making an action film because I want my own journey as a filmmaker to be enjoyable and excitable. The day I start making films only for money, that should hopefully be my last film. In that sense, Bombay 2 Bangkok (B2B)was a phenomenal experience. I wrote the entire script in Thailand, shot an item song with Shreyas and a Thai girl...I had the time of my life! And I realised how tough it actually is to shoot this kind of thing. I mean, all my other scenes got shot like that (clicking his fingers) but this was a completely new world for me, with smoke machines, dancers, sync sound...and I plunged into it heart and soul.

So you have never been against items songs and lip sync, contrary to what your films suggest?

Oh, absolutely not. My stories have never warranted songs. But after B2B, I guess I have more confidence to shoot them. Why would I look down upon songs anyway? I have grown up watching Bollywood musicals. The greatest of filmmakers, be it Guru Dutt ot Biman Roy, had phenomenal music in their films. So it’s not something that is against my sensibilities. In future, if any of my films require elements like lip sync, I will incorporate them.

You made your debut with a film, which many would describe as India’s first multiplex film, Hyberabad Blues (1998). (This is ofcourse ironical because the multiplex phenomena came into existence only post 2000 in India). How would you assess its journey so far?

You know, this whole multiplex thing is a real myth. It’s just that now we have more screens and a better viewing environment. But actually, it’s only the biggies which are benefit. Today if you walk into a multiplex, there’s a show of OSO and Saawariya every 45 minutes and there just aren’t enough screens left for smaller films. We’re always left fighting for multiplex space. Okay, so we are granted 10 more screens today as opposed to one single 1000 seater in the earlier days, but things haven’t changed drastically. I mean B2B might get screens at the start of its release but one Yash Raj film will be enough to rout it. The only real change happening is that there’s so much money in the country today that people are looking to invest it in the movies.

But then again, the multiplex culture enables a film like No Smoking to be made and released...

Remove John Abraham from the equation and No Smoking wouldn’t have released at all.

Talking of No Smoking, the film gave rise to this whole debate about whether a filmmaker can dare to make any film he wishes to, without considering the sensibility of his audience...

Oh Anurag (Kashyap) must absolutely make the film he believes in, without caring for what people are going to think. Films are a guessing game anyway. Tastes are constantly evolving and from the time an idea germinates to the time it finally releases, the whole world could have changed. So Anurag must go ahead and make any abstract film he likes, as long as he has full belief in his material. Then of course starts the horrible job of convincing distributors and exhibitors to give your film a chance.

Most top commercial stars today seem to be attracted to the idea of a ‘prestige hit’ I mean, an Akshay Kumar will have his Bhool Bhulaiyas and Hey Babys, but he needs someone like Kukunoor to give him critical acclaim, is it not?

(smiles): The day that happens, I will never have to fear about being unemployed for a very long time!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Coming into the foreground -Salim Sulaiman


Sulaiman (above)

Sulaiman of the Salim-Sulaiman music duo, talks to Sandhya Iyer about their big break with Aja Nachle and how background score in films has evolved over the time

As music composers, they may not have made it to the foreground yet, but as creators of background score, they are by far the 'it' guys of Bollywood. Not that they haven't done commendable music scores. Besides their foot-tapping music for Kaal, the duo also has to its credit Iqbal and the recent Chak De India.

Salim-Sulaiman’s biggest strength has been their avid exposure to world cinema/music and their ability to bring in that sensibility into the fast changing world of Hindi cinema. The duo broke away from stock, stereotypical background music and opted instead to use elements within the film's music score itself, thereby lending it a certain seamless quality. Fanaa was a clear example. He says, ”Songs shouldn’t jump out saying 'Hey, here I am', they must blend with the entire music which is what we try and do."

Sulaiman also agrees that the field of background score has assumed a certain degree of imminence only in recent times, especially after films like Bhoot, Aks Krrish etc. Strange, considering how much Indian audiences hate silences in films.

He laughs, “Yes, true. All this while, filmmakers generally got the background score done from whoever was willing and available, it was the last thing they thought about. If it’s a sad scene, there would be a flute playing in the background, if it was a really, really sad scene, then there would be a sitar or sarangi. Action, suspense all had their stock music. But I think Bhoot’s music score played a defining role in changing perceptions about how it can be more creatively used. Today, we have people booking us six months in advance, so there is a definite difference,”: he says.
This trend, he feels, is in keeping with the West, where background scores always stay very true to the film. Considering how much Bollywood is widening in reach internationally, Sulaiman feels the change was but, a natural transition.

In keeping with the duo’s insistence on doing films where the music ‘naturally fits into the script’, their scores for both Iqbal and Chak De India were ones where the music came in only after the films were ready. “In such cases, where the story-line is very strong, it makes perfect sense to create music later on because then you get the clear picture. You know all about its colours and visual presentation. Also, both these films didn’t have any lip synch,” he says.
Talking about Chak De India, he says that the duo always knew that the film’s title songs would become a sports anthem after the film’s release. “The whole designing, publicity of the film was done in a certain pre-planned manner but we knew the music would be BIG after its release.”

Now, the duo is hoping that Aja Nachle picks up momentum. “While we were composing for CDI, Aditya (Chopra) asked us casually if we’d like to do the music for a Madhuri starrer and we jumped at it. There was pressure, no doubt. I mean Madhuri comes with a massive legacy behind her, with quite a plethora of hits like Dhak Dhak etc. So it was obviously a challenge to create something that takes her to the next level. But after a point, we decided not to let this aspect play on our minds and felt we should create our songs and be true to the script. And also, the film has Madhuri in a more mature role, it’s a different era, so the style of music becomes quite unique in any case. Thankfully, Madhuri herself was elated after hearing the music, especially the title track.”
Sulaiman is hopeful the music will pick up in sales once the Om Shanti Om-Saawariya buzz dies down. “Currently, Aja Nachle is on no 3 and 4 but I think once the limelight shifts from these two biggies, we’ll know exactly what the audience thinks of Aja Nachle music”

On another note, the duo seem to be happy withen their own private space, not venturing into any high profile music talent hunt shows. "Yes, you know after a point, these shows become just another tamasha and to be honest, the reach is so huge that any off hand statement from you and you can be branded for life. I'm not sure I'm prepared for it. We have been approached for music shows but for the moment, we are resisting these offers."

Coming up next for them, as music composers are films such as Race, Bhootnath, Fashion and Bombay To Bangkok.

Favourite background scores (own films)
1. Krrish
2. Dhoom 1
3. Bhoot
4. Ab Tak Chappan
5. Chak De India
1. Satya
2. Bombay
3. Aks
Last music score he loved: Partner (Sajid-Wajid)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Interview: Yash Chopra

'A good film only needs a good script'

Yash Chopra, who was in the city on Tuesday, spoke to Sandhya Iyer about his next film with Jaideep Sahni and how all’s well with Aja Nachle, contrary to media reports

In what can be described as a major face-saver for the 5th Asian Film Festival organisers, veteran director, Yash Chopra finally arrived in the city yesterday evening to receive the Zenith Asia Honour.
The filmmaker was expected earlier this month to be part of the inaugural function of the film festival, where director Madhur Bhandarkar was supposed to confer the honour upon him. However, due to some last minute issues, Chopra couldn’t make it. In a special event organised at NFAI, Kiran V Shantaram, Chairman, Asian Film Foundation, who also happens to be one of Chopra’s close friends, finally conferred the award upon him. The filmmaker expressed his close ties with the Shantaram family, who stood by him in his initial days of struggle in Mumbai.

“When I came here, I had no money, no godfather ---only my dreams, visions and love for cinema. At that point of time, I was all set to direct Daag, with Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore and Rakhee but all these artists were under a six-film ceiling and no studio could oblige me. But Anna (V Shantaram), who I consider one of the finest filmmakers the country has produced, opened his Raj Kamal Studios for me to shoot my film. Over the years, they lent me every possible support and made sure I got preference over anyone else. I will always be indebted to them, which is why I find it impossible to refuse Kiran for any function,” he said.
Today of course, the Chopras own one of Asia’s biggest film studios but according to Kiran Shantaram, the former still makes it a point to shoot at least a small portion of all his films at Raj Kamal Studios.


Yash Raj Films would have been in a bit of a spot this year had it not been for the stupendous success of Chak De India. Not only did the film set the cash registers ringing but more importantly, it brought back prestige to the banner. Naturally, filmmaker Yash Chopra was in a rather self-congratulatory mood, as he spoke about a variety of aspects concerning Bollywood’s most powerful production house.
The director’s own film which he is scripting presently with Jaideep Sahni, will go on floors in January. “I am still writing the script and only after I finish it, can I decide upon my star cast,” he says.
That reminds us of one of Yash Raj’s next releases, Aja Nachle.
Rumours are rife that Madhuri Dixit is not exactly elated with the way the film has shaped up and is reluctant to promote it. Chopra dismisses this piece of news, “Madhuri is coming to India tomorrow morning and she will start promoting the film. Aja Nachle is meant to be her comeback film and she was thrilled when she heard the subject. She has created sheer magic in the film and I’m confident the audiences will fall in love with her all over again.”

As for taking a rather long break after Veer Zaara, he explains, “I can only make films I believe in and get excited about. Since all my films are about human relationships, I find it very hard to get good subjects. I can’t make an action film or a thriller, so my choices are restricted. Also, when it comes to human relationships, there are several social taboos and one needs to take care the subject doesn’t hurt anyone’s sentiments. Then again, it has to be aesthetically narrated. So, it always remains a big challenge to make a good love story.”
While Chak De India is a clear exception, many of the other films made under the banner lately have been all about glamour, mega stars and glossy
packaging. For someone like Chopra, who has so many milestones to his credit - from making Bollywood’s first songless thriller (Ittefaq) to directing Lamhe, a film way ahead of its times--- how does he deal with criticism that the banner is making films lacking in substance these days? Dhoom, Fanaa, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Neal N Nikki are some recent examples. Almost sidestepping the question, Chopra says, “I may not have made an actioner, but when we decide to make one, we make sure it turns out to be the best one. Dhoom 2 released along with Casino Royale and I had a lot of people who came and told me that the action in Dhoom 2 was better. We have been trying to promote all kinds of films, some do well, some don’t. Filmmaking is a dicey proposition because until it releases, no one can predict if it will work or not. That is the beauty of cinema.”

He heaps praise on his own Veer Zaara, which elicited a mixed critical response when it released in 2004. “It was the first Indo-Pak love story of its kind and do you know, it is probably the single largest selling music album of all time! It was a daring experiment to take Madan Mohan’s music, composed more than 30 years ago and use it for the film. But it worked.”

While it maybe his son Aditya Chopra who runs Yash Raj Films today, the decisions, he says are always taken after mutual consultation. And the banner, he says, is extremely keen to encourage young talent. “This year, we made five films, next year we would like to make six films. While choosing a new director, we always go by our gut feeling and the confidence the person shows in his script. And it’s not only new directors whom we are opening our doors for. The media hasn’t noticed, but we have been consistently taking on new talents, whether they are singers, music directors or other technicians.”

For a banner which has always laid a premium on star appeal, today the filmmaker feels nothing is more important than a script. “Look at Chak De India. It is a complete film on its own and really, any actor could have made it work. No doubt ke Shah Rukh ne chaar chaand laga diye but point is, today a good film only needs a good script.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Grand 'Om Coming

Om Shanti Om

*ing: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Arjun Rampal, Shreyas Talpade
Director: Farah Khan

Given that I never thought of her previous outing, Main Hoon Na as anything more than a garrulous, over-the top no-brainer, one wasn’t expecting anything out-of the ordinary from Farah Khan here.
The only thing one could safely bet on was that she would be pulling all stops to make her song & dance sequences a scintillating visual experience.
Also a certain standard of humour could be expected, given the director’s off screen talent for sharp, witty repartees. Of course, since I personally found Main Hoon Na’s comedy quite lame, I wasn’t particularly pinning my hopes on that either.

With Om Shanti Om, Farah Khan chooses a theme, extremely close to her heart and one, which she knows like the back of her hand –Bollywood.
From the moment the film begins, the script displays the confidence and control of a director, who knows she’s playing on home ground. Naturally then, the film sparkles with a clever screenplay, witty dialogues, splendid spoofs and stunning item numbers.

Considering that the film is a riotous parody on Bollywood, it’s perfectly apt then that the movie’s basic one-line plot stays true to the set conventions of the 70s cinema. So essentially, any suggestion of far-fetched plot elements only strengths its evocative appeal no?

Om Prakash Makhija (SRK), a junior artist in the 70s film world, is deeply in love with a leading young actress, Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone). But his dreams of becoming a huge star and then marrying her are crushed when he discovers she’s already married to her producer Mukesh (Rampal).
Soon later, tragedy strikes and in a bizarre twist, Mukesh kills Shantipriya by setting her on fire. Om too dies trying to save her.

30 years later Om is reborn as Om Kapoor and in due course of time, his past reveals itself before him. From there on, the film takes on the form of comic-thriller, with Shanti’s look alike (Sandy), his old friend Pappu (Shreyas Talpade) and mother (Kirron Kher) helping him to take revenge on Mukesh (who comes back as Myke).

The spoofs are tremendous here. I especially loved the one on Subhash Ghai and his penchant for wasting time at award functions, by rambling nonsensical stuff, even as an impatient Rishi Kapoor looks on. Another zany idea is the one where SRK and Shreyas throw a few lines from Maine Pyaar Kiya to Deepika while they’re in the 70s. When she asks them which film it’s taken from, they say, ‘Abhi tak toh film main nahin aye hai. Lekin aye hi jayegi’, while a young Sooraj Barjatya is quietly taking down these lines standing outside for “future use”

Then there’s that superb award function sequence. I loved the way Abhishek Bachchan gets off his bike with the Dhoom signature turn playing in the background but in next few scenes, he hams like crazy. And oh, there’s a scene with Akshay Kumar, which is an absolute laugh riot.

Farah spares no one –not Karan Johar, not Yash Chopra, not Govinda, not Amitabh (who is aptly abrasive as he says, ‘Who Om?’ when asked about SRK’s prospects of winning at an award function), not Rakesh Roshan, not SRK himself ---- who is nominated for all similar looking films named Phir Bhi Dil Hai NRI and Main Bhi Hoon Na etc. But mind you, none of it is mean-spirited.

There is a huge sense of dissapointment one feels pre-interval, when the plot appears to go totally haywire (I mean, this is too much even if you suspend your disbelief to its utmost limit) but somehow, even this resolves itself in the second half.

Also, the second half makes you feel the film is getting too close for comfort with Karz and this leaves you with mixed feelings. Why couldn’t the makers have credited the original when they were taking a huge chunk from this 70s film? But thankfully, Farah doesn’t let you down here and comes up with another blinder of a climax.

Almost all the songs are good but I didn’t like the way whistles and noises were inbuilt into that extremely peppy number with 30 guest appearances. This is a new trend of adding whistles (Aja Nach Le has it) and clearly it’s a silly device to induce a ‘chartbusting’ moment. Agreed that multiplex audiences are generally placid (there was pin drop silence in the theatre even when the highly addictive Dard-e-Disco played) but this sort of gimmick is in bad taste. Especially when one hears loud whistles in the film when the likes of Dino Morea, Amrita Arora and Aftab Shivdasani walk in. Pulllleease!

As for the performances, Deepika Padukone radiates with charm and grace. She’s certainly a wonderful addition to an industry, starved of fresh looking heroines. For SRK, this is a double whammy after the super Chak De India. He doesn’t have any outstanding moments in the film but his acting is uniformly good. Arjun Rampal registers his first solid performance with Om Shanti Om.

But, the film belongs to maam Farah Khan, who has not only made a thoroughly entertaining film but infused it with so many layers and rich period references, that it would take a couple of more viewings to capture all of it.
A grand ’Om coming indeed for her.

Stars: ***1/2

What these stars mean

* Yuk, what was that!
** See, only if you must
***: Neat film
**** Excellent
*****: Send this straight to the Oscars!

-Sandhya Iyer

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lajo, as poor cinematic choice

As many would be aware, Mani Ratnam was all set to adapt Ismat Chughtai's short story, Gharwali, into a film called Lajo. He, along with producer Bobby Bedi, had even signed on superstar Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor for the central roles. But on account of various reasons, the film couldn't take off and as it stands today, this much-eagerly mouted project has been shelved.
From the very beginning, I was pessimistic about the film. My skepticism wasn't only because this subject does not hold well commercially, but also because this theme is not up Ratnam's alley.

My feelings about this only grew stronger after reading Ismat Chughtai’s Lifting The Veil, which is a collection of her various short stories, including her much controversial, The Quilt(Lihaaf)

Now, fortunately, I also found Gharwali (The Housemaker) aka Lajo.
While the story itself is quite powerful, looking at the institution of marriage with pitiless irony, the theme really is about female physical desire and how societal conditioning causes its ‘sexual erasure’. Chugtai’s statement with Gharwali and many other stories seems to signify that real passion, natural charm and rustic beauty is vested in full-bodied countrywomen/girls, while middle-class women, wearing the veil of shame and respectability, lead sexually repressed lives.Which is why, when Lajo is a ‘freewheeling mare’, expressing her physical love freely, she’s the cynosure of all eyes. Every man wants to possess her. Her charms work even on the usually guarded Mirza, who marries her and ‘tames’ her to be a good wife. Lajo’s coquetry that seemed charming before marriage is now objectionable. Ultimately, this arrangement falls apart and exposes the inherent hypocrisy and double standards of society.

For it’s time (1940-50) and place (Lucknow), these were extremely radical ideas and this is particularly significant given that Ismat was among the first few writers to acknowledge female sexuality and portray it in a convincing and courageous manner. Following her, several other female writers were able to free themselves of the existing taboos in literature and give give wings to their feelings.

Though I was ill-impressed with several of Ismat’s stories (some of them are too pedestrian in both writing and thoughts), this one is a particularly good one but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how Ratnam could have adapted this. Firstly, this is a totally female-oriented subject and no doubt would have been a great part for Kareena. But again, I’m not sure how different this would have been since the actress has done something very similar in Chameli.
However, I am shocked how Aamir even agreed to this film, since his character is clearly secondary to Lajo’s in every sense of the word.Not only is Mirza’s character devoid of any charm or strength of character, he is clearly the object of satire and mostly used to illuminate aspects of Lajo’s life.

Also, these are characters from a certain social milieu and capturing that would have been an arduous task for Ratnam, given that he struggled to convincingly portray even a Gujrati couple in Guru. And here, we're talking about 1940 Lucknow in a Muslim setting!
So while, Gharwali (Lajo) stands out for being a radical piece of literature, a successful cinematic interpretation out of this would have been nothing short of a miracle.

Finding his Astitiva

Mahesh Manjrekar, who was present to showcase his latest film, The Struggler at the Asian Film Festival, spoke to Sandhya Iyer about why he must stick to his own brand of cinema

Few directors in mainstream Hindi cinema have dared to attempt as many socially relevant films as Mahesh Manjrekar. If Astitiva gave a voice to sexually repressed middle-class women, Vaastav was a gritty portrayal of misled youth. Then again, his film with Ajay Devgan, Tera Mera Saath Rahe took up the issue of mental retardation. Nidaan explored the subject of HIV Aids, while one of his recent films, Virrudh was based partially on the Jessica Lal murder case.
Even one of his least commercially successful films, Pran Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye, was a dark satire on the sprawling Mumbai chawls and related underlying issues. In fact, Manjrekar says that he’s particularly fond of this film. “I think the marketing went wrong, otherwise it was one of my best written films,” he says.
Even otherwise, most of the filmmaker’s films have suffered on account of marketing and other external reasons. For example, several of his very sensitive and niche films released at a time when multiplexes were few and far in between. Again, his film, Virrudh, which won a fair bit of critical acclaim went down the drawn as its release collided with the infamous July 26 rains in Mumbai a couple of years back. Manjrekar says he’s wisened up. “The multiplex culture really allows me to make the cinema I believe in. Today, I can pick and choose the films I want to do and I know there are producers waiting in line, who will market my films well,” he says.

The last few years haven’t been as fruitful though. The filmmaker has allowed himself to get distracted doing inane movies and being part of dance shows etc. Manjrekar says that he does not regret doing a Musafir etc, because he insists that’s where he makes his money to do the kind of films he believes in. But he does admit that he tried to do a David Dhavan and failed miserably. “I think Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav was a terrible film I did but that happened because I tried to do something that didn’t come naturally to me. It requires some intelligence to even make crass comedies. Unfortunately, I do not have the requisite acumen for it. That film taught me that I should stick to my brand of cinema,” he says.

His latest film, The Struggler, is a solo-act, where the director-actor has given expression to his anger about the innate impotency that ails social beings. “There were various issues that I wanted to talk about and I felt that cinema is the perfect medium. It’s a one and half hour film and here, you will see the camera becoming a character as well. I’ve spoken about everything from America trying to be a monitor the world to the issue of stray dogs. Now, I am a dog lover but I will not close my eyes to the stray dog menace. No one wants to talk about that.”

While the film makes a powerful comment on present-day living, The Strugger has found no mainstream release so far. “The film was stuck with the Censors for a long time. When I went to the Tribunal, they passed the film with 54 cuts. When I approached the Revision committee, they added four more cuts to the existing 54, so it’s been a struggle to even bring it this far. But I’m happy the film is being shown at the Asian Film Festival, where it will be seen by the right audience,” he says.

Finally, the director is keen as ever to continue producing socially relevant cinema for the Marathi film market. “You know, the Marathi market is entirely two two-tier. You can either make totally crass masala films or then cater to the niche, discriminating audiences. I’m clear what I want to make.”
As for Hindi films, the director is in the process of making a film called Vibgyor, a film about different emotions. “I have finished scripting for Green, Blue and White. The last one, White, is a step ahead of Astitiva. Let’s see how it goes.”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

'I can't make abstract films'

Madhur Bhandarkar may be credited with breaking a certain clutter where present-day Hindi cinema is concerned but the filmmkarer clearly has the sensibilities of a mainstream commercial maker, says Sandhya Iyer

When Madhur made his first film Chandni Bar, a hard-hitting story about bar girls, he was instantly hailed as the torchbearer of realistic cinema. Then came Page 3, a film that not only won critical acclaim but also became an instant hit in cities. Fired by the success of his two films, the filmmaker bravely embarked on making bold and brazen cinema, drawing heavily from real life.

But thankfully, Bandarkar admits that realistic cinema has existed for long and is hardly a phenomenon that came with him, though he probably might have revived an interest in it again. “I think what works in my favour is that all my films have made money for my producers. So while I could attempt something different from the league, I also succeeded in making sure the public came to see it,” he says. The multiplex era has made life easier for individual filmmakers wanting to attempt niche cinema.

“When Govind Nihalani or Shyam Benegal made movies like Mandi, Ankur, their films would be played only on matinee shows. Today, my film Traffic Signal gets released in 80 cinemas in Mumbai alone. It made it so much easier to recover our costs. Ultimately, it’s all about making money in the first weekend itself,” he says, speaking the typical language of Bollywood producers who want to make their loot and run. Also, even though his cinema does not strictly follow the formulaic pattern of a mainstream Hindi film, he admits he would never like to alienate his audiences.

Realism in cinema took a daring surreal leap recently when Anurag Kashyap attempted a Kafka-like No Smoking, drawing heavy influence from world cinema. The film came in for heavy criticism, but would Madhur be game to attempt something similar? He candidly denies any such possibility. “I cannot make abstract films. I don’t see the point in making something, which only I want to see or believe in. Ultimately, I have to think of my producer and whether enough people would be interested in the subject. If at all, a filmmaker has a vision and wants to try something genuinely different, he must do it on a smaller budget. Actually, abstract subjects are ideal for diploma films, etc. In the real world, economics matters and I cannot put someone else’s money at stake to make an indulgent film.”

Is he influenced by world cinema? “Not really. All my real influences have been through watching Indian filmmakers like Satyajit Ray. Not that I do not admire foreign cinema; there are times when I feel there’s a lot to learn from them. But again, as I said, I use films as a tool of communication and I wouldn’t like to talk to my audiences in a language they can’t understand,” he says. But doesn’t he feel that he tackles his subjects through a standard prism of middle class morality, wherein that conservatism often leads him to sensationalise his films? Madhur says this probably has something to do with his background.

“I have been a middle class guy, working at a video library for years. So maybe my attitude is drawn from there. Also, my films are for the common people, who can identify with the characters I’m trying to portray,” he says.

The filmmaker’s next is Fashion, a film that looks to offer a behind-the-scenes depiction of the modeling circuit. This one again is a woman-oriented subject, with Priyanka Chopra and Kangana in the lead roles. But Madhur is keen on a male-centred subject next, “Oh yes, there are so many subjects I have in mind for male protagonists," he says.