2015-10-24 : 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): 37 years ago, when we started Mukta Films with Karz, there was a man behind it with 10 years' experience. He was a writer then he became a director. So his birth as a producer in Mukta Films was not as a corporate guy or a man from finance or business. The spinal cord of Mukta Films was a creative man, a writer and a director, who then became a producer.

You will notice that banners that have existed for 40-50 years were launched by directors or writers, whether Yash Chopra or Raj Kapoor. When there is talent behind a banner, it has the potential to go the distance.

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. Phir mujhe laga ke yeh jo producers hote hain, every last hit would influence them so much that they would try and convince me to introduce elements which were popular. Mein tang aa gaya, aur joh puri script thi woh aahista aahista derail hone lagi. 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.

I watched the film Reincarnation of Peter Proud. I didn't understand the film. There were around 1,500 flashes in that film, and there was this one scene that kept haunting me, the scene where he goes to his mother after reincarnation and the mother says, 'Peter has come.' That scene kept haunting me...

BOI: Karz has that scene.

SG: Yes. I thought, suppose I died today and was reborn after 25 years, and my wife and my children were servants in somebody's house. How would I see it? This created a story in my mind and I left for Ooty, for 20 days. I narrated the story to Sachinda (Sachin Bhowmick), and he said, 'Okay, leave it to me, I will write it for you.'

I came back and started discussing it in detail and I said it is a murder mystery but it is very important to include music. Dada asked me how that would be possible and I said, 'Okay, let's do one thing, let's make the hero a pop singer and let's use a haunting tune that will be the theme of our movie.' Dada agreed, so I approached Laxmikant-Pyarelal. If you see the culture of Karz music because I wanted to make a modern film, Panchamda suited that culture. Everyone said I should take Pancham's music, but I refused. I said that I had worked with them on Gautam Govinda, toh mere tunning unke sath jaami hui hai thodi and since I was producing a film for the first time, let me work with someone with whom I feel comfortable working with. But he said, 'Arey, woh toh dholak wale log hai.' But I met Laxmikant-Pyarelalji and narrated the story to them. I told them it was a murder mystery and I wanted Indian music with a Western orchestra. Pyarelalji said it was a big challenge but that he and Laxmikant would handle it. I narrated the whole script to Pyarelalji and he was inspired and agreed. When I started Karz, I deposited the first cheque of `10,000 in Mukta on October 24, 1978. After that, we started the production. When I released the film (Karz), everybody said it was a flop. I enquired why, and they said the UP cinema halls were saying, 'Agar film mein mara Raj Kiran hai, toh Rishi Kapoor ko kya taqlif hai?' They didn't understand the concept.

BOI: Please continue.

SG: Then Krodhi didn't work. The stars who wanted to work with me after Karz started avoiding me. Ahista ahista woh 'bathroom' jaane lagey. Uss time pe 'bathroom' hota tha abhi mobile phone hi nahi uthate hai. I was signed by Gulshanji (Rai). He said that he makes films with big star cast. I told him the big star cast that I had had left as my last film didn't work, everybody thought ki maine sirf pehle do movie achi banayi.

Then I called and said, 'Gulshanji, tell me one thing, films work on stories or stars?' He said, 'Films work on the story but the initial comes due to the stars.' Then I asked him whether we were making a film for initial sake or the film's sake. I told him I would first narrate the story to him.

I wrote the story in a week and that story was Vidhaata. I told him that there is no need of star cast because I haven't kept any character in it. There is one elderly person from Pali Hill, he has dates and then there is a 17-year-old boy, Sanjay Dutt, who is ready to work with me.' He was, like, 'Yes, I know him I am financing Rocky.' I was, like, 'Bas, he loved the story. He said, 'Okay, one more thing, you direct the film and produce it.' So, practically, I produced the film. He gave me a cheque book, saying, 'Mujhe at least ek territory ka profit chahiye.' I said, 'You will get that.' Maine jitna Karz produce karte waqt nahin sikha utna maine yahaan sikha.Because this was the responsibility as producer. So I used to jot down the daily expenses, I used to see how the pricing should be. Gulshanji was a financer-distributor, so while sitting in his office I learnt about the whole film market. Brokers and I learnt the entire trade language. Even today, the language is the same, nothing has changed except that you have technology now. Earlier, people use to hide information, now there is transparency. Earlier, nobody used to reveal how much a film earned. The film celebrated its silver jubilee and I thought that a film can be a hit even without a star.

BOI: Basically, this film 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. The biggest problem with my films is that there were too many expectations attached to them. Our work as a writer and a director is that you make a film with honesty and it all depends on luck after that. Sometimes, a story works and sometimes it doesn't. Mehboob Khan has made the best film ever made in India, Mother India. The next film he made was Son Of India, a super flop. Can you believe that the team that made Sholayalso made Shaan, within just three years? So things like this happen as you want to grow and make a film that has a little more than the last one. In Hollywood, no one asks (Steven) Spielberg how many of his films were flops or hits. They know he is talented.

Kabhi aap audience se piche reh jaate hai aur kabhi aap audience se aage nikal jaate hai. Now you will ask me what happened after Yaadein. There are three reasons for that. I would earlier take a year and a half to make one film but when you go into corporatisation, your mind goes into the business aspects of filmmaking. Second, after making 11 hits, you want to grow. And that is when your creative involvement increases as you want your films to be more international. That's why I made Kisna in English as well as in Hindi. Chal jaati toh woh bhi Lagaan thi, but times had changed. Then in Yuvvraaj I had Salman Khan, who is an action hero, unke haath mein violin de diya, and our sweet doll Katrina (Kaif) was in the film. So you want to experiment like I did in Pardes where the second guy was to be played by Salman and there was also Shah Rukh and Madhuri Dixit. We then came to the conclusion that these two characters should be played by newcomers. In fact, Madhuri loved the role of Ganga but I wanted people to connect with her so I wanted a new face.

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: Rahul, how do you view the journey of Mukta Arts over the last 37 years?

Rahul Puri (RP): There are many families that have dominated this industry for so many years and here comes one man, who in ten years becomes one of the pre-eminent brands in the industry. There are only a few people who have that kind of foresight to create something unique.

Regardless of what people might say, Mukta is a unique company. We straddle all the sectors of business. We are exhibitors, distributors, and film producers. And now we are educators and that gives us a very unique perspective of the range of issues in the industry. Very few people understand the bandwidth it takes to continuously push forward.

Anyone who works with Subhashji is blessed in many ways because there is so much wisdom to learn from. It's been 12-13 years and I now have my own ideas to take the company forward. And Mukta is going to focus on what we are good at and how do we make things look as wide as we possibly can?

Take Iqbal, for instance. There was dumb boy and you could have made it in a different way. But we were very clear about the idea, to make the movie as universal as we possibly could. And that was the philosophy to drive our films. Obviously, we now have two other very large pillars. There is Whistling Woods in education, which we are deeply committed to, not necessarily from the capital point of view but from the human resource point of view. Not a release goes by that does not have Whistling Woods alumni associated with it.

Now Mukta is looking forward to the exhibition area. We are almost up to 50 screens now. The idea is to have 100 screens. Everyone in the exhibition space is chasing all those big multiplexes but we are chasing the fact that the average cine-goer cannot afford `450 to watch a movie. So how about going to Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore and giving them comfort in terms of food, luxury and projection for `150?

Jai Hind is our prime property in Mumbai and you cannot get a ticket there because the loyalty factor has been built and affordable ticket rates. Families can afford to experiment on the kinds of films that they watch and it doesn't have to be only Shah Rukh or Salman films. They can watch Marathi or Telugu films, they can watch a wide range of films without it burning a hole in their pocket. They can also buy their kids popcorn, pay for parking and do that every week.

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 Co