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!