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May 29, 2000


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'My films need actors'

Kundan Shah The Film and Television Institute at Pune is at the height of its popularity. Its best cinema students are gathered in the projection hall on the campus. All of them are very, very angry.

A man who has made a masala commercial Hindi film is actually been allowed to screen his work here... To an intellectual audience that prefers an endless lecture about the influence of Russian poetry on Andre Tarkovsky's Stalker!

But, barely 10 minutes into Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, and laughing bodies roll in the aisles.

Kundan Shah had won critical acclaim.

Yet selling his next film, Kabhie Haan Kabhie Naa, proved next to impossible. Eventually, its star, Shah Rukh Khan, had to buy the film and release it in the theatres.

Loveria, Kundan's next film, an ABCL production, is still lying in the cans. Which is why he has his fingers crossed about his next two, back-to-back releases, which are happening after a gap of six years. He believes that if they succeed, it will facilitate Loveria's release.

Both Hum To Mohabbat Karega and Kya Kehna! are Kundan's out-and-out attempts at commercial cinema. They even boast of a popular starcast like Karisma Kapoor, Bobby Deol, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan. Which leaves Kundan an optimistic man.

Talking about his films is a great passion with him, especially if the conversation veers towards Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Chaplin and Kundan's desire to make his kind of films. And he is confident he will be able to do so someday. While he waits, Sharmila Taliculam talks to him about his latest two films. Excerpts…

You're working in commercial set-ups now. How does that make you feel?

At the end of it, I can make what I can make. Even in commercial set-ups, my inspirations are people who have been in these set-ups... Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and the main film-makers. But the thing is, you can either do something or you can't do it. So it's obvious.

Hum To Mohabbat Karega You should do what you are good at, whether it is commercial or not. You can try commercial cinema, but you are only trying for what you are good at. If it is not happening there, then you try somewhere else. And if that is also not possible, then you sit at home. The choices are obvious. But you still try.

Are there a lot of compromises to be made while making a commercial film? After all, the market dictates a lot of things here.

No, that is not what it is. You have to compromise even when you make an NFDC film. So it's not as if you make compromises only in commercial cinema. One wants to do one's best for the future. And one has done these kind of films thinking one has done their best. But now one wants to be stronger.

Everything is finally governed by the content of the film. Nobody tells us to compromise. So that is not the point. The point that you think you can do better and yet find yourself in a tight corner. What one is trying to do is avoid those corners. You can call them compromises or mistakes you've committed or whatever. But, even if you fail, you have to at least try things. I want to try things. And I can do that if I get the opportunity.

You think you will get those opportunities?

I will try and create those opportunities. If you are good, then you can do it. The journey is more important than the destination. There are many film-makers who can never make their films. They live on dreams. I have seen so many directors who have not made it.

I have not been asked to compromise. But you feel that you can get away with poetry, something that is opposite, then one has to rethink. One has to find out how to achieve them.

What about Kya Kehna! and Hum To Mohabbat Karega?

I wrote the script of Hum To Mohabbat Karega with Ranjit Kapoor. Kya Kehna! is a script by Honey Irani. After the success of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, they selected me to direct the film.

Who came up with the idea of HTMK?

I did. Karisma is a reporter investigating a scam-cum-murder. Bobby is the waiter who hero-worships her. How this creates a weird set of situations and what happens then forms the crux of the film. It's a comedy-based, light film.

Kya Kehna! Kya Kehna!, on the other hand, is more character-based. The subject in it very emotional.

See, even Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was an emotional film, but the treatment was comic. People find the Mahabharat scene very funny. But, to me, it's about people who believe in honesty. Who want to focus on what makes the world white and what they will go through to prove it. Of course, they don't succeed.

I get very emotionally involved in my films. I can't make comedy without emotions. All my heroes are underdogs. There is one character who is a big coward, but he is like Amitabh Bachchan in stature. If you see him in the dark, you will get frightened. What kind of a life would he believe in? My heroes are like that.

What was it about Kya Kehna! that appealed to you?

The best thing about that script was its strong protagonist. Which is what I have in most of my films. That's the basic thing about the film. The main character is female and, even though she is just 18 years old, she has a point of view towards life. And even though truth is relative, she believes in certain truths. What you believe in becomes truth and I am not talking materialistically. But then, you can turn anything into a truth if you strongly believe in it.

So she is that kind of a girl. What she does in the film is a kind of a point of view. But it's not necessary that every girl should behave like she does. What is important is that you feel you can make a stand in life. Your stand becomes bigger than the problem. That gives you strength. The problem might be insurmountable. Once you make a point, once you decide that this is how you will do it, then it gives you strength to overcome all the hurdles.

This film has been long in the making…

Yeah, all my films are like that. They take a long time to finish. Actually, it's beyond my control. But that was not the case with Loveria. Loveria is complete, only it didn't get released. Hopefully, if these two films do well, Loveria might also be released.

What is the problem with Loveria?

I don't know. Maybe some market reasons, let's call it that. Let's not talk about it. It's very obvious they have not been able to sell it. Most of the films I have made are not standard, so selling it might be a problem.

Even Kabhie Haan Kabhie Naa faced similar problems. Eventually, Shah Rukh had to buy the film himself and sell it. So these kind of things are a part of my life.

Hum To Mohabbat Karega What do you think of the small budget films that are a rage today?

Hyderabad Blues was very nice. Have you seen Saara Aakash? Bhuvan Shome by Mrinal Sen? These films happened 30 or 35 years ago. They were very small films, but they worked. Bhuvan Shome was the best Gujarati film made by a Bengali. It was based in Gujarat.

It's about a railway officer who is on leave and it is his first time. He gets off the train and finds a ticket collector taking bribes and suspends him. He goes and lives in a house where he is well received. It turns out that the house belongs to the suspended TC. So the film was very humorous.

Hyderabad Blues was a good film. And I think more such films should be made. At least, they are fresh experiences. I don't think it matters what the films are today. Content always wins. I have seen a film which is shot only in a corridor. And I have never seen a better film.

There is no limit to imagination. If you have the biggest set or a big drawing room, it wouldn't matter if you didn't have a good story. The box office doesn't decide what is a good film. The fact that a film is a hit does not automatically make it a better film.

You think there is hope for good cinema?

There is always hope for good cinema. The only hope is for good cinema, whether it is this or that, commercial or parallel.

How different it is to work with serious actors and temperamental stars?

I make comedies and I have to depend on actors. If my actors fail, my film fails and everything else fails. Stars are stars, but they are not that to me. I can't make films otherwise.

How did Karisma Kapoor and Bobby Doel fit into your kind or roles?

One knew the handicaps. But Bobby was very open to experiments. Karisma has done quite a few comedies, since she has worked with David Dhawan.

You mean slapstick comedies?

I have a lot of respect for slapstick and I wish David made them. Slapstick is much more creative. Most of Chaplin is slapstick because it is action comedy. Action comedy is very different. There is a lot of choreography and tremendous amount of body movement. Timing is very important.

So it is not just slap and stick, but more of body movements. And that can be a very derogatory word. Any lewd comedy or double entendre comedy is considered slapstick. But, actually, it is very difficult and fun to make.

I would love to do a lot of action comedy. But it has to be well choreographed. It's more challenging and tough.

What about Preity Zinta?

Kya Kehna! This was Priety's first film, so we had a good rapport. She was considered for this role much before she came into films. She was into the character differently. She wanted to play this role. So when I came to know that, I met her and told her the story and she okayed the role. And Saif is a good actor.

If you had to cast somebody else in your films, then who would you choose?

The point is who is available. And who wants to work with me. The casting doesn't matter as long as my actors deliver what I want.

What do you think of stars who want to work with good film-makers?

You think so? Probably they want to, but I have no idea. Stars are stars. For everybody. Unfortunately for the films that I make, they are actors for me. They have to accept that if they want to do these kind of roles. What they do outside the sets is no concern of mine.

But they should call me only if they are interested. If they feel they can be actors. You become a star when you have taken all the chances of being an actor. Stars are needed for the producers and distributors who want to sell their films. But my films need actors. And I would rather not work with stars who have that star kind of attitude. I depend on them totally and they have to give me what I want.

How many films are you making these days?

Every film is different for me. But I wish I could make one film at a time. At the moment, I have only these two films. I have not signed anything else. But I have committed myself to one film, which has Sunil Shetty in it. Whenever they give me the dates, I will finish the film.

Waiting is like rest time for me. I don't mind waiting between films. But I don't like waiting in between schedules. That is no way of making films. Films should be made in one go.

Wouldn't you want to produce your own films then?

I don't know. But I am working with somebody who is interested in my projects. Hopefully, if that relationship works out according to what I want to do -- or according to what he wants to but where I am important -- then we might go ahead. If he not interested in my projects, then I will make it myself.

I don't get a big kick working with big stars. I like making small budget films. The smaller the film, the bigger they are for me. It's not who is important, the actors or the director, but the content of the film. Films comes above everything else. They are so important to me that I am the film.

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