Whenever Indians say the word “Showman” there are two directors who will probably pop into your mind. One will no doubt be “Raj Kapoor” who changed the way cinema was made in the black and white era. For today’s modern era, however, the name that will most likely pop in your mind is Mr. Subhash Ghai. A couple weeks back on his birthday, I had the honor of interviewing a director who I completely admire, Mr. Subhash Ghai! To me, he is India’s equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock in terms of the quality of his direction. In Bollywood, most directors are quick to make a movie without paying attention to detail. However, Ghai is one of the few directors to carefully frame a scene, manipulate light to enhance a moment, and strike a balance in each frame. As readers of my work, you know how much I appreciate when artists pay attention to detail – whether it is for a film, book, or music album!
From his very first movie – Kalicharan – Subhash Ghai has churned out classics! He went on to make hits like Karz, Hero, Ram Lakhan, Khal Nayak, Pardes, Taal, Yaadein, Kisna: The Warrior Poet, and most recently, Yuvraaj. This year, Ghai will be returning to the world of cinema with a new movie – Kaanchi. Ghai also keeps busy running his own film academy – Whistling Woods International. Read on below for my Q and A with the Showman himself, Mr. Subhash Ghai.
Mr. Ghai: It is indeed my pleasure.
Roopa: Of all the directors in India, your track record for making amazing cinema is unparalleled, so it is no surprise that you are called the “showman” of India. Can you please share with readers a bit about your process of moviemaking? That is, what inspires you to write such unique movies? Do you visualize the movie as you are writing? How close is the final product to your initial vision?
Mr. Ghai: My process of movie making is through observation. I see the world around me and write stories that I feel will inspire. As you know, I have grown up seeing some hard times and therefore my characters remain deeply rooted in India. I like to write my stories myself. I then like to collaborate with other writers as sounding boards. Sachin Bhomick and Ram Kelkar were terrific for me when I was starting out. They helped me to write for the audience rather than myself. They were wonderful sounding boards for me. I do visualize the movie while writing. It is important for me as I am a very visual person. This way I can better explain the film in a narration rather than get people to read the script. I narrate visually and with all sounds so that the person listening feels they are watching the film. Sometimes the film comes out close the way I initially thought of. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is down to improvisation on the set as well as sometimes not being able to execute as I had hope for a variety of reasons.
Roopa: What do you enjoy more – writing, directing, or producing?
Mr. Ghai: My first love is writing and directing. I became a producer to control those variables better for myself. I prefer having someone handle most of the production aspects for me, though I will be deeply involved. I also will ensure that the film is promoted and distributed properly but deep inside my love is making movies.
Roopa: Many years ago you had said that you would like to focus most of your films, location-wise, in India as far as possible. Films like Pardes and Taal, filmed almost entirely in India did well, but more modern movies in India seem to be filmed almost entirely abroad. Do you think Bollywood has lost its Indianness by targeting the NRI audience? Which location in India is your favorite to shoot at?
Mr. Ghai: I think that more and more movies are not being shot here in India. There was a time after films like Pardes, Taal, DDLJ did well, that filmmakers used overseas as a platform for their movies. I think the overseas market itself has cooled for a lot of Bollywood films, therefore filmmakers have to come back to India and make movies for this audience. I think there are a lot of movies these days like Kaahani or Vicky Donor solely shot in India and solely maybe for a domestic audience. I forsee more films like this. My favorite location to shoot is Lonavala. Most of my films have been made there and I have used it as a substitute for anywhere from Switzerland to Chamba!
Mr. Ghai: I went to FTII in Pune. I was in the acting course there but I also had a talent for storytelling as I had been writing plays in my college days. During my FTII days I would often enter classes on sound, camera, direction as extras. The whiff of films has always inspired me. I guess I have a talent to tell stories in some capacity. I initially wanted to be an actor but then changed track to a writer. I wrote many successful films with my partner and we sold them as well. One script was Kalicharan. I was shocked when the big producer NN Sippy asked me to direct that movie. I had never considered direction until then. But it was the break I needed and now almost 40 years later, here I still am.
Roopa: I’ve noticed that you play a lot of with light effects in your films. It often reminds me of the genius of Alfred Hitchcock. Which directors are your favorite – in India, US, etc.?
I was a big fan of David Lean. His Lawrence of Arabia was a huge inspiration for me. The scale of that film, the vision. I wanted to make movies like that. I was also heavily influenced by Ritwik Ghatak. He was my faculty when I was in FTII. The way he uses sound in his films has been a great influence. I admire a host of filmmakers, young and old. Whenever I see a beautiful movie, the director inspires me to make more wonderful films.
Roopa: Why did you take a hiatus of 4 years? Please tell us about your new venture – Kaanchi.
Mr. Ghai: I have been busy with my Film School in Mumbai. Whistling Woods is a dream project for me and I have given a lot of time to it. Also I needed to refresh and find a truly great script. I don’t like making films for the sake of it. I want to tell wondrous stories and Kaanchi is one such story. It’s the story of a small girl from the village who fights against the biggest powers in India. Politics and Money. It’s the struggle of a common man against these forces and can truly inspire us all how never to give in. That is why its Kaanchi – the Unbreakable.
Roopa: “M” has been a lucky letter for Mukta Arts as well as its heroines. Please tell us about your latest find – Mishti. How did you discover her?
Mr. Ghai: I met Mishti after auditioning over 500 girls for Kaanchi. They were all talented and beautiful but none was Kaanchi. The moment I met this talented girl, I knew she was the one. There is such a wonderful ease and poise about her. And she is a brilliant actor. A complete natural. She is going to be a big, big star.
Mr. Ghai: The lead actor for the film is a young actor called Karthik Tewari. He has previously been in Pyar Ka Punchnama. He is a exceptionally bright boy with an almost Askhay Kumar star presence about him. That easiness in performance that makes it seem completely natural. He will be one of the big male stars soon. Mark my words. There will be WWI graduates in the film too. They will be playing pivotal roles. They have all emerged as exceptional actors.
Roopa: Often, films do not work in India unless the star cast is purely A-list. However, you have introduced many newcomers to the industry in the past. Do you find newcomers are easier to mold into the characters you have written in your screenplay? Do you wish Bollywood had more faith in newcomers?
Mr. Ghai: I took newcomers initially because I did not want to play the star system. I believe that the story must be told the way the writer and the director want to tell it, not have it manipulated to suit certain stars. I have never done that. I never will. I believe that I am able to get performances out of newcomers. They respect me for my experience and therefore place their trust in me. I like to get to know them and then mould a character suited for them. They don’t have worries about scenes of looks or those cosmetic things. They work hard and get into the character as I have envisioned thus adding to the film. I do wish we had more faith in newcomers. I believe we need more fresh talent and that is why we started WWI over seven years ago.
Roopa: Your film Kaanchi also stars Bollywood greats Rishi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty. How was it to work with these veteran actors?
Mr. Ghai: I am working with my dear friend Rishi Kapoor after almost 30 years. It is a pleasure to have him back. He is such a versatile actor and the role I have for him in Kaanchi only he can do. He will be a revelation. Mithun is also a wonderful actor. I worked with him in only a small role in Yuvraaj but I was extremely impressed. He also is a versatile actor and unlike perhaps his perception, he is a brilliant actor having won many National Awards. It is a privilege to have them in Kaanchi. They are the film’s backbone.
Mr. Ghai: Don’t have a dream cast. The cast I get for my movies is my dream cast. I do not like settling for second best. Ever.
Roopa: Of your movies, which movie is your favorite? Can you share with us which experiences and filmmaking moments you treasure the most?
Mr. Ghai: Hard for me to pick a favorite movie of mine. I don’t tend to watch them after they release. Karz is special as it was my first as a Producer-director and it launched Mukta Arts, which has gone on to be the biggest part of my life. I treasure all my filmmaking experiences. One thing I try to do is to enjoy the filmmaking process. Its important. Its hard and tiring work with long hours. If you don’t love what you are doing, you can never be successful. I have always tried to make my set like a family. I have loved working with Dilip Saab. He is the best actor we have ever produced and I am honoured to have done three films with him as a director.
Roopa: Any other message you want to share with our readers?
Mr. Ghai: I thank them for their love and their inspiration. I always try to make movies for my audience and it’s the love and affection I receive from them that inspires me to keep doing what I do. I would like to say to them to dream big and live life bigger. All the best.
Roopa: Thank you very much for the interview.
Keep it locked to UrbanAsian.com for more details on Kaanchi!