Sajid Khan completed s 10 years in Bollywood today. Apart from 5 feature films, Khan has also directed a short story in Darna Zaroori Hai. The director gave out three consecutive hits in the form of Heyy Baby, Housefull and Housefull 2, however his next two directorial, Himmatwala and Humshakals failed to create the magic at the Box Office.
In an explosive interview with us, Sajid Khan spoke about his journey in Bollywood, why commercial cinema will always rule this industry and a lot more.
Tell us about your journey as a film director. How did you bag Darna Zaroori Hai?
Darna Zaroori Hai was actually a fluke. Ram Gopal Verma had called me because he liked my sense of humor. He wanted me to direct a comedy film and act in it. He asked me to act in a comedy film and was ready to invest in it, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to act. In those days, I used to discuss a lot of horror films with him, and I told him ‘Darna Maana Hai was not actually scary and it could have been a lot better. Bhoot and Raat were scary, but Darna Maana Hai wasn’t.’ Then I told him a short story which I had written in school. After listening the story, he told me ‘The way you narrate, why don’t you direct it and act in it?’ I said, I will direct it but I won’t act in it. I needed a good actor and that’s when he asked me to write the script. When I came home after the meeting, somebody from his team called me to say ‘You have been signed to direct a short story for us, please let us know your crew requirement.’ They gave me an assistant director after which I called my friend Sujoy Ghosh to teach me shot break down. I used to give him references like ‘I want to shoot under the table shot like Mission Impossible, and he used to help me with that. I learnt shot breaking practically on the field. In a budget of 6 Lakhs we finished the film in 3 days. That was my first film as a director and then I had fun editing it.
How did the transformation from horror to comedy happen?
Sajid Nadiadwala saw the film and told me, ‘You can direct films’ and that’s how Heyy Baby happened. It was a film I was writing since 2004 but there were no buyers for it. The script was with several production houses, but the film didn’t happen. Very few people know this, but it was also supposed to be the launch of Arjun Kapoor as a producer. Boney Kapoor wanted to make it with Arjun as a producer as I knew them since a long time, but that didn’t happen. I went with folded hands to Sajid Nadiadwala and eventually, he made it. The rest is history.
Do you think the real knowledge about cinema can be earned practically and not in some film university?
University cannot damage you, as they can only enhance your skills. They play a big role in polishing your technical skills, but I genuinely believe that a compounder might not be as knowledgeable as a doctor, but he has the same amount of practical knowledge. The compounder might not be a MBBS, but when you work practically, you gain a lot of knowledge. What happens in film institute is that you are learning things like studies rather than experiencing the entire process, and those students won’t get an opportunity to work on the film sets. The university can help, but they can’t make you a complete person. Universities might instill in you a group mind-set i.e. these are the great directors and these are the bad directors or these are the types of good cinema and these are the type of bad cinema. Don’t follow commercial, follow good cinema and bad cinema. But I would like to question them as to who are you to decide what is good cinema?
Their role models are not worthy of being role models. When I interact with film students, they don’t have Farah Khan, Rohit Shetty, David Dhawan and Sajid Khan as their role models. They have Anurag Kashyap, Imtiaz Ali, Vishal Bhardwaj as their role models. Nothing against the kind of cinema these people make. I am sure we won’t be able to make the kind of films which these guys do and vice versa, but our cinema is far more accepted than their cinema. Their cinema is accepted where it matters i.e in the media.
There has always been a divide between critics and the audience. What is your say on this?
Films are meant for entertainment, there are guys who worship Christopher Nolan but don’t understand his cinema. But the point is not that, the point is, the great divide has always been there. Like Manmohan Desai might be your favorite and my favorite, but even at that time he was written off many the critics. Trade pundits used to swear by him, but critics always dissed off his cinema. The critics always liked the cinema made by Shyam Benegal or Hrishikesh Mukerji. I genuinely feel Manmohan Desai is the mogul of commercial cinema and he never got his due as a director by the critics. The critics even dissed off Sholay. This great divide also happens with European Cinema or French Cinema, but that’s their culture. When we talk of Indian Cinema, the basis should always be Indian. What does a film like Baahubali do? It comes out unabashed with the oldest theme possibly known to the Hindi cinema i.e Saas Baahu and it does Rs 505 crore at the Box Office, which is a slap on the face of people who make Hindi films. Films in today’s time have to become larger than life. Yes, films may make you think about a particular issue, but they should never be meant to change your life. They might influence you but a film never made you get up and change society.
How did you manage to get all the top actresses on board for the title song of Heyy Baby?
I was friends with all the heroines because I used to host shows, film events and used to travel with them. So while making the film, I just called them up and asked them to shoot for a song since it was my first film and they all said yes.
Was it difficult to convince Shah Rukh Khan for a cameo?
It was very gracious of Shah Rukh Khan to come and shoot for the film. You won’t believe, we shot the entire sequence featuring Shah Rukh Khan in just 6 hours.
Wasn’t Fardeen Khan’s character of Parimal Tripathi a tribute to Chupke Chupke?
Yes, it was. Fardeen Khan worked very hard to do that because he wasn’t very comfortable with Hindi. Many critics including me used to laugh at his Hindi, but he did it.
From 2007 to 2017, how do you think has the Hindi film audience evolved?
The audience has not evolved, but I think we are going through a very exciting time right now. The social media today plays a very important role in influencing your mind before and after you see a film. You get into healthy and not so healthy debates after you watch a film. Earlier, the discussions used to be in a group, but today, it is there on the public platform. Today it is mandatory for YouTube to filled with videos of public reviews. Humshakals is a strong case of a film which is not liked by a lot of people,specially those who have not seen it. See it and don’t like it, but here you are not liking the film because of general consensus. It is a case of perception taking over the reality.
Is comedy under-rated as a genre in India?
Of course, because comedy is the only genre which has divided opinions. What is funny for me, might not be funny for you and vice versa. Comedy is a very difficult genre and slap stick is even more difficult. Comedy depends on two things, conviction and timing. Largely thanks to AIB, Kapil Sharma Show and all other stand up comedy shows, people are fed up of watching things which are largely unfunny. People have suddenly shifted their focus from slap stick comedy and I learnt it the hard way with Humshakals. Two people who can pull of slap stick comedy with ease are Akshay Kumar and Ritesh Deshmukh. Every time I get the two of them together, I have to give them a slap sticky situation.
Do you think 2007 was the best time for Hindi cinema?
Today is a very good time for Hindi cinema as if you make a content driven film trapped with all commercial elements, then suddenly your films which are grossing Rs 100 or Rs 110 crore, which are so called great content cinema, will start earning Rs 250 or Rs 300 crore. Baahubali showed the potential of Hindi film market. Kattapa Ne Baahubali Ko Kyun Maara might have helped the film earn Rs 200 crore, but the film touched Rs 500 crore mark due to the content and commercial treatment. Today I make a prediction after watching Judwaa 2’s trailer. Just wait to see how much the film earns on its opening day and also the amount of money it gets from single screen as well as the multiplexes. True entertainment, however illogical it is, would work with the audience.
But there has been a constant chatter around that ‘Masala Entertainers’ won’t work any more….
The statement, ‘Masala Entertainers would not work’ is synonymous with Hindi cinema since 1950’s. Every five years, there is a shift in audience taste after which people say ‘This cinema is now over’ or ‘He is no more a superstar’ and then one film comes which reverses everything after which people would say ‘The genre is back and it will work.’
Which according to you is your best film till date?
Lot of people would say it is Heyy Baby, but for me it is Housefull 1. It is like my version of a Pink Panther film. The film had a lot of heart as it was about a guy who was very unlucky and who wants to find himself. Akshay Kumar was known for his comedy antiques and I had to sober him down. From the first scene to the last scene, every character from the film has walked over him and even in the climax, he had his shoulders down. I feel it was a damn good performance by Akshay Kumar and rather I would say it is one of his better performance.
If you had a chance to go back in time and change something, what would it be?
I think our communication went wrong to the audience during Himmatwala. Our communication should have clearly been that the film is a homage to every cliche of 70’s and 80’s, but that didn’t come across in the trailer and posters. Not that Himmatwala (Old) was liked by today’s generation and I don’t think Himmatwala had a lot of fans except me, who is a sucker of Hindi cinema. I wish I could go back and correct the communication. Apart from that, one thing I would like to go back and fix on a personal note was my distancing from Sajid Nadiadwala. We were friends for 20 years and suddenly we didn’t talk for 2 years. People were filling things in his ears and mine as well. We just decided to come back together again as friends because we love each other a lot. Two people who can slap me in public and get away with it are Farah Khan and Sajid Nadiadwala.
What does cinema mean to you?
The only temple for me was cinema hall. When we walked into movies at that time, I swear the censor certificate used to give us a lot of happiness as the film was about to begin. But in today’s time, people visit theaters to watch films as if they are doing some favor. Look at the way films are watched, people say ‘Chalo Picture Viture Dekhne Jaate Hai’ and that’s the reason why magic of cinema has now dried down a bit. Film watching used to be my priority as cinema hall was always a temple for me. Movies are meant to be enjoyed and felt. The experience of getting tickets in black was priceless. Getting ticket of a big film on Sunday for a 3 pm show was as good as winning XYZ amount in lottery. You earned the right to be in the cinema hall.
Lastly, do you think the concept of stardom would ever take a backseat in India?
The concept of super-stardom can never fade in the industry. See what happens when Akshay or Shah Rukh Khan’s son comes in the industry. These guys are intelligent enough to manipulate their career with the changing times and the superstars today won’t make the mistakes that the yester year stars did. Salman, Shah Rukh, Aamir, Akshay, Ajay have become the pillars of our industry and it is very difficult to move them. You switch on any movie channel on TV, and all that you would find is some film starring one of these 5 superstars. They have acted in all possible films which is the reason why they are deep rooted in India. They are actually superstars who can with stand 20 hits and 20 flops. Every five years people used to say Salman Khan is over. I remember a certain section of trade saying ‘Salman Khan is over’ after the release of Maine Pyaar Kiya as they believed it was a Bhagyashree film. According to trade, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar too were over long back, but that’s not how things work. These guys have survived new lots every five years. Remember people saying Salman and Shah Rukh will soon be taken over Hrithik Roshan, Chandrachur Singh and the entire lot? What happened? They sustained for so many years.
Sajid Khan’s next directorial is Housefull 4 which goes on floor in 2018.