He is not someone who gives up easily. Having been in the industry for over 33 years, his story is certainly that of the struggler who walked out victorious. He is perhaps one of the few directors who have production houses lining up to have him make a film for them. With blockbusters like Welcome, No Entry, Singh Is King, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha amongst many others to his directorial credit, director Anees Bazmee, has also been at the helm of writing a string of successful films.
In this exclusive chat with Businessofcinema.com, Bazmee holds forth on what it is like working with stars, his views on critics and the industry and throws light on his forthcoming films.
Honestly not many people know how Anees Bazmee actually became this huge director, do tell us about it.
(Laughs) My actual name is Anees Ahmed, but my father who wrote Urdu Shayari used the name Bazmee as his pen name, so I too started using that name because I always want my father’s pen name to be with me. I was 13 when I entered this industry and I have been in the industry for more than 33 years now. It started with me taking my brother Raees’s pictures to various places because I wanted him to join the film industry as he was an extremely good looking kid. Though he never managed to get the work, I got a few offers which I took up. I tried my hand at a lot of things within the industry like editing, script writing, sound and then became an assistant director to Raj Kapoor saab for Prem Rog and went on to assist many other directors. After that I became a writer, something I never wanted to become.
To become a director it was very difficult. Only those who were friendly with actors became directors. I thought if I couldn’t do this then I should become a writer and earn some fame with writing. All the films I wrote went on to become silver and golden jubilee films. The first film I wrote was Swarg starring Rajesh Khanna, and then there was Prathibandh, followed by films like Bol Radha Bol, Ladla, Deewana Mastana, Gopi Kishan and so on. My directors used to ask me why I wanted to turn director given the fact that I was already a successful writer. Finally after having spent many years as a writer, I directed my first film, Pyaar to Hona Hi Tha which did very well. After that there was no looking back.
2008 has been a fantastic year for you.
(Smiles) Yes. But so has 2007 because of Welcome, as well as 2005 because of No Entry. Initially, before the release of Singh Is King, I was extremely tensed, because for the first time, there were a lot of expectations. After making No Entry and Welcome the biggest hits of their years, I realized that everyone was talking about and waiting for Singh Is King. And funnily enough a lot of people told me that the first two films of all directors end up being hits, but the third one is where the problem arises. So because of that I became tensed and nervous, but by the grace of god the film was a the biggest hit of 2008.
The feeling is great, especially because when I decided that Akshay was going to play a Sikh character, everyone thought it wouldn’t work in the films favour. More so because films like Jo bole So Nihaal didn’t do well. Everyone thought that having a Sardar as the main protagonist in such a commercial film would not work. But I was extremely convinced about doing it and the film turned out to be a huge success.
Did Akshay agree readily to do the film?
I spoke to Akshay and he was extremely excited. He had wanted to play such a character for a long time, but never actually got the opportunity. I took the first picture of him with the turban on my cell phone, even before the film was scripted. Once we knew this was a go ahead I started working on the script. But when I decided that all the other characters were also going to be Sikhs everyone told me I was going overboard and told me this would not work. My logic was that if a Sardar is going to get back someone from his village, back home, they obviously couldn’t be from anywhere else. Also this gave the film freshness and I don’t think the film would have worked otherwise.
How do you decide what to make and what works?
I look at myself as an audience while making a film. If I feel excited and interested about something then I believe the audience will also be interested and excited about it. Other than that, I refrain from watching movies. I must have watched about not more than 3-4 Hindi films in the last ten odd years. I might see a Gujarati, Tamil or even an international film but I haven’t seen any of the recent big films. The only reason for that is that I don’t want to be calculative while making my films. A lot of my friends insist that I watch Hindi films, especially because I make them myself. I don’t want to know where the public claps or whistles, I know what kind of reaction I expect in my films if I get it great, otherwise it’s called unwanted reaction. And till date whether it’s the films I have written or directed, I have never had to experience unwanted reactions. Another reason I don’t watch these films is because I think I will become burdened with too much information regarding cinematic technicalities, I want to keep the madness and excitement alive when I make my films and don’t want to be influenced.
With the so called entry of the Bollywood film corporates, is it a fantastic time to be in as a director and writer?
See the thing is with the entry of these corporates we have seen a lot of benefits. Things have become far more systematic and it’s not just about the funding. As compared to earlier times, today we have insurance on films. I remember I had made a film called Ladla and unfortunately before completing the film, Divya Bharti passed away, due to which we had to re-shoot the entire film; the same was the case of Angrakshak, which also starred Divya Bharti. Today at least everything is disciplined; we have agreements and schedules drawn. Earlier due to monetary constraints films used to be in the making for two to three years, including some of mine. Today we have budgets in place and we are able to keep track of what is spent and how much can we afford to spend, so in that manner things are far more systematic and disciplined. Therefore yes I think this is a great time to be in as a writer or director.
We keep hearing of you signing deals after deals, what exactly are the actual ones?
(laughs) People believe that I am doing some 100-200 films. The truth is that I have always only worked on one film at time. Between 2005 – 2008 I have had only one release a year. Singh is King is perhaps the only film that got made a bit faster and due credit for that goes to my producer Vipul Shah. He planned the film in such a manner that when I was doing Welcome, he insisted that we begin work on Singh Is King and I began doing a little work on it then.
The film I am currently working on is tentatively titled It’s My Life, which I am making for Sanjay Kapoor. This is one film that I have wanted to make for a long time and it is completely different from the comedy films people associate me with. In March – April I will be working on an Anil Kapoor production starring Anil, Sanjay Dutt and Akshaye Khanna. Once this is complete I will start working on a T-Series film with Salman Khan. I have also signed one Studio 18 film, which unfortunately has taken a bit of a time to start. However, I am only working on one film at a time, contrary to what people believe.
Is it true that you had a 3 films deal with UTV and a film with Sahara?
Yes, I was going to do a three film deal with UTV but that didn’t materialize. Now especially with this whole talk about prices and corrections, the question of such deals don’t arise. With regards to Sahara, I had singed a film with them but due to certain issues nothing concrete happened beyond the signing stage. There has been no progress on that.
What about all the sequels and remakes that are to be made, such as Hera Pheri 3, Mr India, Singh is King 2 and No Entry?
We are certainly in talks about making the sequels of Hera Pheri, No Entry and remake of Mr.India, but all of them depend on the script. Today if the script was ready I would have already made the Sequel to No Entry, especially after it became such a success and people are waiting for the sequel. When the script is ready for these films we will move ahead with it, currently the writing is in progress. As far as Singh is King 2 is concerned, all depends on Vipul Shah. I am grateful to Vipul for Singh is King and if he comes to me asking me to make Singh is Kinng 2, I will readily write the script and direct it too.
Apart from directing movies, you have written for blockbuster films. What’s next on the writing front?
I have finished writing for a film to be directed by Neeraj Vohra. I have written the story, screenplay and dialogues for it and it is called Shortcut and stars Akshaye Khanna and Arshad Warsi. Anil Kapoor is a producer and a friend so I have written for him. My introduction with the people was as a writer, so that’s something I will never forget. I might direct many films, but always regard myself as a writer first and then a director.
I will always continue to write for my friends who are directors and producers, but as I come closer to old age I would want to only direct films, I want to leave writing. This is because if there is any job in the process of filmmaking that I find truly difficult it is writing. While a music director, actor, lyricist, art directors all get briefs on the script and know what they are supposed to do the writer doesn’t as there is no one to tell him what he or she should be doing. It is a single person’s vision in which scores of others get involved in and that is difficult.