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Deep Focus: ‘Will return to direction in 2022': Filmmaker Subhash Ghai reveals his plans about helming movies

10:50 PM Jul 31, 2021 | Roshmila Bhattacharya

On June 24, Subhash Ghai’s lucky date, 36 Farmhouse was launched with him as the writer and creative producer. And this, the filmmaker insists, is just the beginning of an exciting new phase as the scripts he has been working on with his team at Mukta Arts, including a Kalicharan remake and a Khal Nayak sequel, find their way to the screen, bringing him back as a director. The film school he started has also completed 15 years and there is a lot to talk about. Excerpts:

‘36 Farmhouse is a light comedy drama which I’ve written’

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36 Farmhouse has been written by me for a collaboration between my banner, Mukta Arts, and Zee Studio. It’s a light comedy drama about some poor people who break into a farmhouse to steal things they badly need, only to discover that its rich owners are into far bigger crimes. The tagline, ‘Some steal for need… Some steal for greed’, encapsulates an interesting plot which will be lived on screen by an ensemble cast of talented actors like Sanjay Mishra, Vijay Raaz, Ashwini Kalsekar, Amol Palsekar, Chintan Sharma of TVF’s web series Tripling, and debutante Barkha Singh play the romantic leads, with Pardes’s Madhuri Bhatia returning as the granny.

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We have just wrapped up a 20-day shoot in a Lonavala farmhouse with me taking on every responsibility, from production manager and assistant director to creative producer. Having not made a film in seven years, I was slightly apprehensive, wondering if the world had changed in the interim and I would be out of sync. But during this shoot, I discovered I’m still cool with youngsters and today, I’m confident of helming a 50-day schedule as a director.

‘My institute kept me away from direction’

The film institute I set up was in a transition stage, it needed my complete commitment and focus, that’s what kept me away from making films. Today, Whistling Woods International (WWI), which has just completed 15 years, is a state-of-the-art institute, its alumni is working with top entertainment and media companies. We’ve developed a strong technical pool of talented sound recordists and sound designers, directors and assistant directors, cinematographers and writers, production managers, coordinators and supervisors. We’ve given the industry many wonderful actors too. We will draw from this pool for our own productions as well.

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For the last four years, we’ve been developing content, around 20 scripts are ready, including a remake of Kalicharan and a Khal Nayak sequel. On October 24, Mukta Arts’ 43rd anniversary, you can expect some exciting announcements. I too will return to direction in 2022.

‘The writer should always come first’

Having closely analysed changing content and our evolving audience over the last few years, I’ve realised films like Kisna: The Warrior Poet and Yuvvraaj didn’t work because they were more visual dominated. Unlike my earlier films, I let the director dominate the writer. That was a mistake, the writer should always come first. Now, I will concentrate on the story, characters and music. We have a full team at Mukta Arts and I’m as excited as a child. You will see the results in a couple of years.

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‘For me, the actor can never be bigger than the character’

The tag ‘showman’ came from others, not me. In my 40-year career, I’ve never relied on stars. I flagged off my career as a director with Kalicharan in 1976, which featured a popular villain of the time, Shatrughan Sinha, as the leading man in an author-backed double role. Karz released seven years after Bobby in 1973 when Rishi Kapoor was shuttling between professional highs and lows. During Meri Jung, Anil Kapoor was a rising star, while Hero turned Jackie Shroff into a ‘hero’. I’ve worked with either newcomers or promising and struggling actors, because I’ve never wanted to have the burden of stardom on my head.

When you sign a star, the script follows him, but when you take an actor, the character follows the script. For me, the actor can never be bigger than the character. I’ve cast ‘nayak’ Sanjay Dutt as a ‘khalnayak’, turned Saraansh’s idealistic teacher BV Pradhana as a diabolical terrorist, Dr Dang, and Anil Kapoor into ‘one-two-ka-four’ Lakhan. I like to surprise my actors and my audience. Our profession may be market-driven, but at the end of the day I’m a writer and a filmmaker, not a trader.

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‘Rajesh Khanna, Dheeraj Kumar and I were the three winners…’

I will always be grateful I spent two years at the Film and Television Institute of India because as an FTII graduate, I got to meet A-list filmmakers. Along with Rajesh Khanna and Dheeraj Kumar, I was one of the three winners of the Filmfare — United Producers Talent contest, catching the eye of BR Chopra, Yash Chopra, Shakti Samanta and Nasir Husain, who were on the jury. After a stint as leading man in films like Taqdeer, Aradhana, Umang, Natak and Gumrah, I rediscovered myself as a writer. I sold six stories to six top producers. Khaan Dost, featured Raj Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha, and was made by Dulal Guhu in 1976. In the same year, I wrote and directed Kalicharan, which changed the direction of Shatru’s career, for NN Sippy. Two years later, Aakhri Daku was produced by Shanti Sagar and directed by Prakash Mehra with Vinod Khanna, Randhir Kapoor, Rekha and Reena Roy in the lead. 

On October 24, 1978, I launched Mukta Arts Limited, Hindi cinema’s first production house to be listed in the stock exchange. I introduced a number of new faces, including Jackie Shroff, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Mahima Chaudhry.

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‘I will be back with a bang’

Many of my discoveries went on to become big stars and every year, I was approached by hundreds of aspirants from different states with no film connections or godfathers, who wanted me to launch them as actors, directors and technicians. I make

one film in two years, how many youngsters could I give a chance to? But then, I realised, I could give them a school.

I visited 32 top film schools in the world — from UCLA to the New York Film School and the London Film School — making my curriculum more skill-oriented rather than just theory based. Sharad Pawar, Balasaheb Thackeray, Vilasrao Deshmukh, and so many other top politicians were encouraging, so I negotiated for 40 acres in Panvel to build my school. I also decided to go in for an IPO to raise money from the market so I could make more movies. When this news came in the papers, I was advised to set up my school in Film City, which was spread over 650 acres. It would give my students proximity to film shoots and personalities. So, I got into an 85/15 per cent partnership with Film City.

But in 2003, I was caught in a political crossfire and could only open my school in 2006, and to date have access to only five acres. Still, I was able to build one of the finest film schools in Asia that I had committed to almost 20 years ago. From FTII, I made the journey to WWI, even though the effort took a toll on my health and finances, kept me away from making movies. Now, I will be back with a bang in the next couple of years.

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