May 2, 2001


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Passion or paisa? Filmmakers' dilemma

Dr Rajiv Vijayakar

"I need a break now!"

That is Shyam Benegal. Twenty-two films old. Twenty-seven years in the industry. Four commercially successful films.

On the flip side, you have David Dhawan -- with 28 films in 12 years, with a better success rate -- juggling more than one project on hand.

But Shyam Benegal feels he has been working too much, too fast. His last two films (the latest being Zubeidaa) were made in two years.

(clockwise from left) David Dhawan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Mahesh Bhatt Consider this. The year 2000 saw only two major hits: Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai and Mohabbatein. The directors, Rakesh Roshan and Aditya Chopra, took three and five years respectively after their last films to complete these two.

Karan Johar, director of 1998's biggest grosser Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, began planning Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham with buddies Shah Rukh and Kajol, since the winter of 1998.

It is an industry tradition to approach a popular director with lucrative offers even if he is known to direct only for his own banner. But Aditya and Karan refuse to be baited.

No filmmaker, for whom filmmaking is more passion than paisa, does.

The other films in 2000 that enjoyed a fair amount of success were Kya Kehna, directed by Kundan Shah (his first release in seven years) and Josh, directed by Mansoor Khan (who didn't have a release in six years).

Then there is a Jungle directed by Ramgopal Varma a year after Mast and Kaun (both flops). And a Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega and Badal directed by Raj Kanwar, who churned out ten films in less than a decade.

Karisma Kapoor, Shyam Benegal What works best for a filmmaker: passion (quality) or paisa (which prompts quantity)?

"Films must to be made with passion for them to work," says Benegal. "One should have conviction, an original stamp and aim for the masses without actually pandering to them or sacrificing any of the previous parameters."

His Zubeidaa might have bombed at the BO. But his reputation as a filmmaker remains unsullied and he is very likely to find takers next time he wants them.

Speed, or the lack of it, per se, is not a criterion for quality. Like eating food, writing books or composing music, everyone has a different capacity. A less prolific director need not necessarily deliver a superior product.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee churned out Anand, Guddi, Abhimaan, Namak Haram, Bawarchi, Buddha Mil Gaya and Sabse Bada Sukh in a 30-month span. The first five were successful, while the only disappointing one was the last.

More important, no one could have accused Hrishida of pandering to commerce in any of these diverse films, none of which were formulaic ones either.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee, a still from Guddi In 1977, Manmohan Desai worked on four films, all multistar entertainers with the lost-and-found theme and several cast and crew members common to all or most of these films. Released between March and November, Dharam Veer, Chacha Bhatija, Parvarish and Amar Akbar Anthony proved to be four of the five biggest hits of the year, yielding only the third place to Nasir Husain's Hum Kisise Kum Naheen.

Later, Desai worked at lesser speed but with a deliberate repeat of his hit formula of item based masala entertainment. For a while it clicked (Suhaag, Naseeb, Coolie, Mard), though the films lacked the spontaneous freshness.

Then it stopped working. Hits, he learnt, happened and could not be designed.

When he had enjoyed making films in a different and individualistic style without exactly running after moolah, he clicked. But pandering to his own formula was a no-no.

On the other hand, a Prakash Jha (Dil Kya Kare, Rahul) did not exactly create masterpiece even if he worked on just one film at a time.

Vinod Chopra's passion for cinema is as transparent as his keen musical and absent script sense. After Kareeb, the man suffered rejection from Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan for Mission Kashmir.

Sometimes, passion can be painful, indeed.

(clockwise from left) Subhash Ghai, Rakesh Roshan, Rajkumar Santoshi Deepak Sareen, after Aaina (1993) and Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai, (1998) clicked, didn't go on a signing spree.

Today, one Albela can put him out of circulation.

"There is definitely safety in numbers," opines a leading distributor, who also encourages meaningful cinema. "Even if one of your many films click or is even technically upbeat, you can get more work. But if your only film flops, especially after a while, you can be out."

Mahesh Manjrekar, Mahesh Bhatt, Basu Chaterjee, Kalpataru, David Dhawan and the South brigade of film directors like T L V Prasad, K Bapaiah, T Rama Rao have been or are firm adherents of this mad method in their various times.

Despite their low average of successes (Dhawan's is better than the rest), they always get work.

Manjrekar's Astitva was critically acclaimed and David Dhawan resurfaced with the moderately successful Jodi No 1, though he now intends to slow down and change tracks to more purposeful cinema within commercial parameters.

Earlier, the cream of our filmmakers never took up more than one film at a time. Raj Kapoor, V Shantaram, Bimal Roy, B R Chopra, Guru Dutt, Mehboob Khan and Vijay Anand spun classics almost each time in this way.

Even a showman producer with the mantra of hardcore entertainment, S Mukerji, never produced more than one film at a time, when he could have easily allotted three projects to three different directors. Urmila Matondkar, Fardeen Khan in Jungle, Ramgopal Varma (inset)

When a Kapoor (Mera Naam Joker) and a Dutt (Kaagaz Ke Phool) got a flop to their name and distributors applied pressure on them, they circumvented the situation beautifully, churning out a more commercial Bobby and a Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam without sacrificing their individuality. And reputation.

Fortunately, unlike the 1970s and 1980s, when directors -- but for the art brigade and a handful of committed names -- merely made films selling on star roster, today, it is the director who commands an initial draw as much or greater than a top star.

Subhash Ghai, Rakesh Roshan, Rajiv Rai, Mansoor Khan, John Matthew Matthan, Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Sooraj Barjatya, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rajkumar Santoshi carry clout on par with the Khans or any other hit names.

Most of these filmmakers spend less time shooting a film. They devote more time to the all-important planning and detailed scripting.

We hope that failure -- which can still happen -- does not demoralise them the way Ramesh Sippy went haywire after three well crafted films: Shaan, Shakti and Saagar failed to get what they deserved at the BO, and faced unfair comparison with Sholay.

Today Subhash Ghai wants to improve, update and even reinvent himself despite directing films that are all successes.

Aditya Chopra (left), Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan in Mohabbatein Raj Khosla grew beyond crime thrillers with Do Raaste and Mera Gaon Mera Desh. Shakti Samanta and J Om Prakash outgrew the formula with sensitive filmmaking like Aradhana and Aap Ki Kasam respectively and Pramod Chakravorty made a Naya Zamana in-between his entertainers.

And for every Gulzar whose claim to 'different' cinema had him recycle an authentic Maachis with a fake Hu Tu Tu, there is a Shekhar Kapur (his ex-assistant) who never repeated a genre (Masoom, Mr India, Bandit Queen, Queen Elizabeth and even Joshilaay, which he left midway, and Time Machine, which never took off).

Today even Rajkumar Santoshi has evolved (Pukar, Lajja and his planned film on the freedom struggle) from a man who made three films from one storyline (Ghayal, Vinashak, and Ghatak) into a man more worthy of Damini-calibre filmmaking.

Ramgopal Varma, the ex-video library owner who occasionally sent a wrong message through his films (Satya, Shool), shows his passion for cinema by experimenting with genres galore: (Raat, Rangeela, Daud, Mast, Kaun, Jungle, Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya) in-between his gangwar and political fare.

Filmmaking is like a rainbow with the proverbial pot of gold on the distant horizon. And there are temptations galore on the way.

What these filmmakers show is that succumbing to the passion of filmmaking, inevitably brings in immortality and the moolah.

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