37 not out

Showman Subhash Ghai and Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts in conversation with Team Box Office India on their banner’s 37th anniversary

Box Office India (BOI): Cut back to 37 years, when you were about to launch Mukta Arts. What was the vision behind the banner?
Subhash Ghai (SG): I never wanted to become a producer as I was not comfortable with accounts. I was always a writer and am still a writer, and I was a director and am still one. But when I made two films – Kalicharan and Vishwanath – I had senior producers who would teach me how to produce a film. 

The second film was also Shatrugan’s (Sinha) film so I had control over it. But there was a third and fourth film called Gautam Govinda and Krodhi, which didn’t work as they took three to four years. That’s when I realised why a producer is so important in making a good film. 

Trust me, the moment I narrated Krodhi’s script to Dharmendra, he said he wanted to produce the film. I actually went to sign him as an actor. And the moment Gautam Govinda’s script was narrated to Shashi Kapoor, he called his brother Raj Kapoor and said he had just heard a fantastic script. Both scripts were wonderful but why didn’t they work? I learnt that you have to become a producer to control, to allow your creativity to express the story. 

There is no producer who thinks, let me take a bad story and make a film. Why do 90 per cent films flop? Because the journey from story to final print, story to screenplay to dialogue to direction to camera to artistes to lights, to casting to music to marketing… It is a huge process par woh derail hoti jaati hai joh script hai.

So, a financer who was very fond of me said, ‘Subhashji, I will finance the film, you produce it.’ And 
then I met Rajendra Kumar. These two people, they say beta sahi picture bannani hai na producer ban ja tu, and I was like there are a lot of liabilities that come with producing. 

But the financer said to me, ‘I will finance the film, you don’t worry. And when the film works, give 
me the interest then.’ Itna bada trust. So I thought mera kuch faayda hoga. So in my innocence, I started Karz.

BOI: Basically, Karz taught you the art of production.
SG: Yes, we had done Karz, then I said khud banata hun. Mukta Arts launched in 1982. I wanted to make it a private limited company, and that meant we would have to mention details of expenditure in our accounts. Before that, I was making a film called Sangeet with Kamal Haasan, this was after Vidhaata. I had seen Kamal Haasan’s film Ek Duuje Ke Liye in a trial show and I liked it a lot. 

The film hadn’t yet released. I told him I had a musical film and since he danced and acted very well, I would like him to be part of it. He said yes, I signed him for the film and within three weeks, I was ready with the story. In the fourth week, his film released and it became a huge hit.

The next morning, there were 10 producers in the lobby of the hotel where he was staying. My film went on getting postponed, and when it was postponed to nine months, I wrote him a letter, saying we were not making the film. I was sad but then I wrote the story of Hero. Now I wanted new actors. The job of a producer is not only to direct people but also to gauge them, treat them, and command them with your work. I learnt all this with Hero.

BOI: Was Hero made out of vengeance, to prove a point?
SG: First, to prove a point that star ke saath nahi banani hai. This happened twice – one time I won and the other time I lost. I made Kisna out of anger and it didn’t work. But when Hero released, Coolie ka zor itna thathat for initial two weeks Hero baith gayi. In the third week, I said, ‘The film is not going to work.’ But from the fourth week, Hero’s collections started increasing from 65 per cent to 80… it started rising so much, that in the ninth week, it was 92 per cent. So this is my journey as a producer. 

The film worked and I think it is a big high for a director to make a big hit with a newcomer. It is the true test of a director.

BOI: Most of your films picked up only a week after their release. Why?
SG: But most of them live more than 30 years. Quick films have a very fast energy, they have great collections, but they decline in the third week. On the other hand, a film made with detailing, patience and the right attitude might have a few pauses and grow slowly, usme theharav hota hai, like water. 
I have never made a film purely for the initial numbers, and that’s why I have never worked with superstars. I have always worked with rising stars or actors who are just three or four films old. 

When these actors enter the stardom space, I believe I shouldn’t work with them as my script and my work as a producer will follow them. A film like that will have a value of two or three years, not 30 years.

BOI: You just said that a star can guarantee initial but when you worked with Shah Rukh Khan inPardes, he was a star yet the film did not take off in a big way. It started to grow after two weeks.
SG: Shah Rukh had only one big hit, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Before that, he had Darr and my film Trimurti. He was having ups and downs in his career and that is when I signed him. So, for me, he was a rising star, I had signed him for three films, Trimurti, Pardes and another film which was never made. 

BOI: During Yuvvraaj, Salman Khan wanted you to remake Hero with him.
SG: No, I wanted to make an action film with Salman. He liked the script but said, ‘Sir yeh toh Karma se milti hai.’ Maine use 15 picture ke naam de diye on the same concept but he didn’t agree I wanted to do a film with a star as Kisna didn’t work. Then I came up with Yuvvraajand he liked it.

BOI: Subhashji, around the time you became a brand and Mukta Arts became a brand, and there was an aura around your films, an aura of large-scale grandeur, was it a burden?
SG: I was a huge burden. I had written the movie called Jogger’s Park before Kalicharan, when I was young and new ideas and thoughts were flourishing in my mind. Since I was making these commercial movies, I could not make Jogger’s Park. Then I told this FTII guy that I had a script I wanted him to look at. I told him I will rewrite it as it was my favourite subject.

BOI: Nowadays, most corporate companies are moving to the digital platform. Do you plan to do the same?
RP: We have launched our digital venture called Connect One. It is content creation with a digital studio and multi-channel network with YouTube. Through Whistling Woods, we have an excellent relationship with YouTube. 

The thing with Connect One is that we are creating a whole of content but you need those one or two standouts, where you will take a big director and make a really interesting 15-20 minute film or web series, all those are in the pipeline. There are a couple of businesses that we are looking at for funding in the web platform space.

BOI: Subhashji, are you planning to enter the television space as well?
SG: We have tried television but a film company cannot have a separate television division. It is very difficult to be on it 24 hours a day or if you have a five-year gap like Rajshri and they did it. But we weren’t able to do that because it is an altogether separate business entity. 

BOI: Deva was a film that was never made. Do you intend to make it?
SG: Yes.

BOI: Who will you cast?
SG: Salman Khan…. I will not say any more than that. (Laughs)

BOI: You had launched Deva on a very large scale. What went wrong?
SG: There are always circumstances. I am not going to blame anyone, neither  am I going to blame myself. Although it was a diamond necklace, a profit-making project for Mukta Arts, it didn’t happen. Everything was going wrong. 

He was not able to focus properly. I also was not able to make things right. I went to him and said, we can make a film any time but if we can’t make a film according to the script, then let’s just shut it down. He agreed, we never had a fight or anything. I went to his house and he agreed. It was sad.

BOI: Priyadarshan and Abbas-Mustan are still signed with you.
SG: Yes, four years ago. I signed Anurag Basu, Anees Bazmee, Priyan sir and Abbas-
Mustan. After I gave them the signing amount, our industry experienced a sudden boom so within a year, each one of them was earning five times what they were earning before. 

They told me, ‘You are a poor producer, you won’t be able to afford us, so let us work outside.’ All of them are signed with us. They have the amount and now it is their decision to work with Mukta.

BOI: When you talk about this and also the immense contribution that Mukta has made in terms of so many path-breaking things. Yet sometimes it is not recognised for what it is. So what do you feel in terms of the industry as a fraternity?

SG: Or industry is just like the stock market. Like if your last film is a super blockbuster everyone will recognise your other good films and remember them. But if the film is a flop everything will be forgotten. I remember how my very good friend Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV had a bad run but everyone has a bad phase. 

He was in a very bad situation but since his film Rang De Basanti worked and I still remember at that tim e during the 6pm shows the 9 pm shows were housefull. This was on a Saturday. I said to him, ‘Ronnie tere saare paap dhul gaye’. 

He said nahi mera bohot paisa pehele gaya hai and I know he had a lot of debts. I said to him, ‘I know how it is but yeh picture teri chal padi hai aur tera plane yahan se chal pada hai and sky is the limit now’.  

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