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‘New directors are not afraid to fail; that’s why they succeed’

How has the story of Ab Tak Chhappan progressed in this sequel?
The character I play, Sadhu, was in his 40s. In this film, he is 60 years old. He lives in a small village with his son. His wife is dead so he is both a father as well as a mother to his son. He lives a quiet life, he doesn’t talk too much and there is a certain angst he carries, which he doesn’t share with anyone. One fine day, the cops from the city summon him for an assignment. He is reluctant to return but he is convinced by his son to take up the offer. He comes to the city and has to deal with many problems. He realises that the problems he dealt with in the past were small. The people committing those crimes have changed and are sophisticated now. In the first film, these criminals were illiterate so dealing with them was far easier. The crimes were also localised then. In this film, the scale of crime has expanded. And despite these criminals getting caught, they go scot free on bail. The monies that were swindled have also shot up. Earlier, we would talk about Rs 1-2 crore; now they deal with Rs 1,000 crore! Even though we know that these guys are criminals, we tend to roam around with them and then work with them for money. These criminals therefore earn undue respect because of their money and so the film is about how to deal with these criminals.

My character also has to deal with the fact that he is old and the police department is now filled with young blood. So they are a little averse to his presence. So this guy has a lot more baggage in this film and this film is more about him, while the first film was about the police department.

Ab Tak Chhappan released in 2004. With the sequel releasing more than 10 years later, how different was this film for you?

The story has progressed, so our approach to shooting the film was different. The characters are the same, so we didn’t need to conceive things differently. New characters have been added in the sense that his kids have grown up and his old friends aren’t there anymore. That’s the only difference. Now the producers also want to announce Ab Tak Chhappan 3, which will be shot in cities like Istanbul and France. I will be directing that film as well as writing it and acting in it too. The locations where you place your film also determine the story. This story is more about emotions than being a thriller. It’s a far more emotional film than Ab Tak Chappan was.

Is it because there’s more of a family angle in the film?

No, this film doesn’t have more of a family angle because his wife, who was there in the first film, is deceased in this sequel. And his son is not married. But he plays several roles as a human being, that of a father, a mother and a police officer. His world has also changed because he has to face the hatred of all the people he has killed during his encounters.

You have worked for 40 years in the industry. How has the going been?

It has been great! I have lived life on my own terms. I did have my share of differences with a lot of people but that never turned into animosity. Either you convince me as to why I should do a scene in a particular way and be ready to answer my questions regarding my roles, or you get convinced by me! I have always had arguments with my directors. I have never once done a scene blindly. Toh itni khitkhit, maara maari, gaali galauj ke baad bhi itne saa kaat diye! (Laughs)

I have survived in this industry for so long without having a ‘godfather’. It is quite incredible. Don’t you think so? I have never compromised. Also, it was a hobby for me; I never looked at it as a profession. I am a commercial artist and was working with an advertising agency. One day, I was at a crossroads in my life, to either continue with my job or to take up theatre and I chose the latter.

Since the ’70s, you must have witnessed many changes in the industry…
(Cuts in) Not only changes in the industry but I have also seen people changing in front of my very eyes, for money. Those changes are bound to happen but there are a lot of technical changes that have come about. There were so many things we had to think about, like print costs and so on. These days, everything is digital. We couldn’t give a shot which was more than 4 minutes long because our film could accommodate only that much. Now we can give 8-10 minute shots without any difficulty. So filmmaking has become a lot easier. But the sad part is that stories are not concentrated upon. People feel that if they show glitz and glamour on screen, the audience will be fooled into liking it. Aaj kal, filmmakers ko lagta hai ki film ki look se woh audience ko chaka chaund kar sakte hain. Par har chamakne waali cheez sona nahi hoti hai. Scratch the surface and you will see through the false paint. That is what is happening to films these days.

There is a new set of directors in the industry. What has your experience with them been like?

Times are changing and so are stories. These days, there are so many youngsters in the industry. They were not even born when I was became an actor. So these directors come with a new set of ideas and they are not afraid of failure. They are ever ready to experiment. We were a little scared and used to play safe. Directors like Bimal da (Roy), V Shantaram, Yakub saab and Mehboob saab were experimental directors but I used to particularly like Bimal da’s films. He brought in so much variety, whether in Madhumati, Bandini or Sujata. You would watch one of his films and it would satiate your appetite for months. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a release every week. These days, cinema doesn’t provide that kind of wholesome entertainment. Today’s films don’t compel you to think. And I cannot make a film whose sole focus is entertainment; I want to tell stories that are happening in society. And I have the best medium through which I can say all that.

Ab Tak Chhappan 2 is directed by a debutant director. What was it like working with him?

I worked in Khamoshi, which was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s debut film. Ab Tak Chhappan was Shimit Amin’s first film. Vidhu Vinod Chopra hadn’t made a commercial film when I did Parinda, which was his first commercial film. So new people have interesting ideas. I feel it is good to work with new directors as you can intimidate them! (Laughs) New people have brilliant ideas as they don’t follow the same old formulas. Established people are scared of failure but the new kids are not afraid to fall or fail and that is why they succeed!

You spoke about technical changes in the industry. Along with that, corporate houses have also entered the industry and promotions and marketing have become critical these days. What’s your view on that?

Yes, promotions have become very important, everyone is shouting from the rooftops and announcing that their film is going to release. I was also asked to visit television shows but I refused to do so because I don’t see the point in going to someone else’s show and promoting my film, that too shows where people don’t respect their guests. They talk all sorts of nonsense about actors on these shows these days. I personally don’t think this is humour. If I need to appear on a TV show to create a buzz, then I prefer that my film doesn’t work at all. I will only go on shows that I like watching.

But with so many films releasing on one single weekend, how will the audience get to know about your film? That’s why everyone is vying for attention via promotions.

I prefer giving interviews to the press because people will read what I want to say about my film. And secondly, if my film is good, people will come and watch it. Maybe on the first day, 100 people will watch the film, but those 100 people will go out and speak about it and bring more and more people to watch the film. You can’t stop a good film from running and you can’t force a bad film to run.

But today cinema is only about the first weekend. To recover money, weekend collections are very important.

Ok, let me give you an example. Recently, we did a film called Dr Prakash Baba Amte in Marathi. It was a story about a man who left his city life and went to a Naxalite area to work for the tribals. It was a biopic on Baba Amte’s life. The budget of the film was only Rs 2 crore and we made a Hindi and a Marathi version of that film on that budget. That film in Marathi ran for 16 weeks and earned Rs 16-17 crore. But, as an actor, I don’t look for business. I only concentrate on the subject. If your film is good, it will run as long as audiences are coming to watch the movie. People who make bad films look for weekend collections because they have to recover their money in that given time. That’s because once the audience spreads the word, no one will go and watch the film. In the past year, we have seen so many big films which were promoted so well but tanked at the box office. You cannot fool the audience today. You have watched the promo of Ab Tak Chhapan 2. If you like the trailer, go watch the film; if you don’t like it, don’t go.

Do you miss those days when a film used to make a silver jubilee or golden jubilee?

Earlier, a film would release in limited cinema halls as there were limited cinemas. For example, in Mumbai, a film released only at Opera House and in a suburban cinema hall. It did not release in other cinema hall. So films like Mujhe Jeene Do and Ganga Jamuna used to run for 25 weeks or 50 weeks. Today, a film releases in every multiplex, which runs at least four shows. Like our film Ab Tak Chhapan 2 has around 1,200 cinemas all-India, which means even if we get two shows in each cinema hall, we will have 2,400 shows. The only difference is that, whereas a film used to run for 50 weeks in one cinema hall, it now releases in 50 cinema halls. The calculation is the same.

It also varies from film to film. So, for instance, Ab Tak Chhapan 2 doesn’t require songs whereas Welcome Back needs dance, music and comedy. So after spending Rs 5 crore, you are doing business worth Rs 50 crore, whereas in the second case, after spending Rs 50 crore, you are earning Rs 55 crore. So who’s making a profit?
When we made Prakash Amte… I had assumed even if it ran for a week, it would be fine because my motive was to make people aware of his work but it ran for 16 weeks. Being an actor, I have a medium through which I can tell stories and let the world know about few people’s great work.
What will you do by earning so much money? Keep it in your cupboard? According to research, you can spend only 5 per cent of your earnings, and if you spend too much, then you spend only 10 per cent, no more. I am happy with what I have. Like when I meet Rajkumar Santoshi, I tell him, ‘Kya re, tune ab tak mere saath film nahi kiya.’ I can scold him but I will never beg anyone for a role.

Are you also planning to expand your productions?

Yes, there is a famous Marathi play Natasamrat, which is almost 45 years old. Shreeram Lagoo had acted in it and it was a brilliant play. So Mahesh Manjrekar will be directing it and they approached me to play the lead. I asked for higher remuneration and they suggested that I take a profit-sharing deal and so I became the producer of the film. But I also share the risk. I am not greedy perhaps because my needs are simple. I take a rickshaw if I have to travel close by. When the camera is switched on, I am an actor, not when the cameras have been switched off. There are so many people who act even when the camera is off. (Laughs)

Will you be producing Hindi films too?
Yes, absolutely. You keep the budget in check so that you can sell the film at a good price. And after that, if your expenses as well as theirs are covered, you can also become a partner. It is easy; all you need is good stories, good actors and good performances.

You directed Prahaar in 1991. Why didn’t you direct after that?
I have unofficially directed many films. Officially, I will direct Ab Tak Chhappan 3, which will be announced soon.

Over the years, you have been part of so many diverse films. Would you want to remake any one of those films or even make a sequel to any of them?

Sequels means you cash in on the name of a film that worked well. Clearly you remember Prahaar. And if I make a sequel to that film, you will connect with the title. So the leverage that comes with the name can benefit a sequel. Otherwise, it can be a separate film altogether. I like Liam Neeson’s Taken series… the whole concept of his daughter being kidnapped… Films which have an emotional hook work well with the audience.

Ab Tak Chhappan 2 was to release a long time ago.
 (Cuts in) It was their decision as the producers wanted to release The Attacks Of 26/11 before this film.

What are your upcoming projects?

After Ab Tak Chhappan 2, I have Welcome Back and after that Natsamrat. There is an interesting love story that I will be doing which will be directed by Prakash Raj. It is a remake of one of his films which he directed and also played the same part. I asked him why he was acting in the Hindi version of the film as well and he said, ‘Chief, you will do the film. It is not only a simple love story; it also has humour. It is not comedy… ‘comedy’ is a weird word and I don’t like it. But there is a subtle kind of humour in the film.

Aur kitna kaam karenge yaar?
For the last 42 years, I have worked non-stop. Jahan sukoon mile jahan achcha lage woh karo nahi toh mat karo. Read, write and observe things around you. There are so many people around, read their faces. So many sad people around, read them. You will learn volumes  about life. Box Office India
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