Embarking on the path of filmmaking with Kalicharan, Subhash Ghai since then has never had to look back. Today, the title of Showman of Bollywood seems befitting the man who in his career spanning over 30 years has given us movies like Karz, Karmna, Khalnayak, Ram Lakhan amongst others.
Surrounded within the walls of his Academy, Whistling Woods International; with a sense of pride Ghai speaks to Businessofcinema.com. Seated in his private room filled with pieces of art and the quintessential conference table, he shares his views on being called the Showman, nervousness before his film’s release and more…
After so many years and so many films, do you still get pangs of nervousness when your film is about to release?
(Smiles) I always feel nervous. Even when I have done the best, it’s like giving an exam. Its like when you pass school, then graduate and then get your masters; the more you do the more nervous you become. Similarly the more senior you become as a director, the more you worry because you are then competing with senior directors as well as the young ones. And more than any other competition, it is about competing with yourself and your work. People land into a lot of expectations when a Ghai movie comes, and I make my movies with my heart and utmost sincerity without designing it to meet anyone’s expectations. Which is perhaps why the first two three days the movies are bashed, because they don’t meet the expectations.
So how do you deal with it?
That is why I always wait for a Monday. I am undeterred by the Saturday reviews. Whether houseful or not houseful it does not excite me. See ultimately when you say Ghai has made a good movie it is no news, but when you say Ghai has made a bad movie it becomes news. Naturally it is more delightful for the media to write about it, and I don’t blame the media for it because it is their job. It does not affect the movie because it is watched by an innocent audience and once they enjoy it the movie becomes a hit.
Once the fate of a movie is decided do you sit once again to discuss where indeed things went wrong or right?
Yes. We have a conference where in all the writers and I meet; we sit down and get the audience reactions. We collect them and discuss them so that we don’t make the same mistake next time.
For example in Kisna what happened was that two things were not right. Firstly unfortunately the hero, Vivek Oberoi was not doing so great in other films, when we signed him on his films like Yuva and company so he was promising and upcoming. By the time our movie finished, he was not that favorable to the audience, so here the protagonist was not favorable. Secondly, the story itself was about a hero of 1930-1947, meaning it was a story of my great grand father when he was young and how he would fall in love and his values of family and so on. That story could not be related by audiences, the values of today did not match.
So today when you make a film, how do you decide what works?
See like I’m making Yuvvraaj. It’s a film for 2008- 2009. The relationships of brothers have changed; today they sit and talk across the table. In earlier elder brothers were treated like a father, that’s when I had made a film like Ram Lakhan where every elder brother was a Ram and the younger brother was a Lakhan. But today the brothers feel they are partners, born in the same family and each one will get his or her share. What I try to do is incorporate today’s values, language and try and give them a simple story and big experience.
There was a rift between you and Salman earlier on… so does Yuvvraj mark a new beginning?
That was a long ago. The rift was buried ages back. See we never knew each other, we were strangers who met at a party and there was an argument. But the following morning we turned friends and since then our relationship has just been growing stronger and stronger. Now he is like a younger brother and member of my family, he treats me like a father- elder brother kind of a thing and yes its great.
Showman of Bollywood is a tag you have been given by many, what’s the feeling like?
(Smiles) I feel extremely uncomfortable when the media calls me a Showman. It is a tag that makes me feel uncomfortable, which is why you will never see me use it in my publicity for any film. The word puts a lot of responsibility onto me. I like to make movies on a big scale and give the audience an experience; I have made my share of small movies like Black and White, Jung and many other pocket films. But the cinema experience is different, it has to be larger than life and that’s how I see it. So the word Showman is definitely flattery and a compliment to a person, but then it becomes a responsibility to give a good show in the theatre.
Black and White was unlike any Ghai film…
With Black and white, for the first time, I tried a film that is very unlike Ghai. At a point when you become a senior director, you also make a film for a social reason on social issues. I made this movie in the smallest budget of my life, a seven crore film in comparison to my regular 20-40 crore films. I took the terrorism issue and made the film, I am happy that it was appreciated and is still being appreciated.
First came direction, then production and now you’ve turned mentor by starting Whistling woods…
It was very important for us to create platform for the next generation, especially for those who don’t know anything about the film industry or don’t have any connections in spite of having great talent. They also need a place to groom themselves; hence it was my dream 15 years ago that when I make money I will open this school. I am glad God has given me the strength and money so that I could open this school and share my experience with the coming generations.
I am glad that today we have 320 students here and 80 students have graduated already and most of them already have a job.
So is there a sense of pride… especially when people compare it to schools internationally?
Absolutely. I feel extremely happy and there is a satisfying feeling when people say it is a world class institution.
Lastly, what is cinema to you?
For me cinema is a celebration where you see the whole ambience of the world in front of you sitting in the theatre. The magic lies in the fact the audience is arrested with the perfect sound and visuals. So when you see an ocean or a valley, you should feel like you are present there to experience it.