1983 set young Jackie Shroff off on a roller coaster ride with Hero. In 1989, Ram Lakhan was a chart topper that turned Madhuri Dixit into a huge star that was ready to explode into millions of tiny colorful ones that promised to light up every South Asian’s fantasy world for many years to come. Two years later, Saudagar set the Indian screens on fire with the pretty Manisha Koirala and the boy next door Vivek Mushran in lead roles. 1997’s Pardes confirmed Mahima Chaudry’s instant superstar status and in 1999, Taal reintroduced Aishwarya Rai to the world who had crowned her it’s queen a few years ago but was slowly forgetting what she was all about. And finally, last year’s Kisna unveiled the sparkling Isha Sharvani who’s destined to go a long way with her impeccable good looks and a knack for dancing.
Although it might leave many a non-Indian-film-buffs clueless as to what these blockbusters and superstars have in common, it’s palpable that there’s only one man in Bollywood who could be responsible for so much commotion in the industry, and that one man made his first trip to Karachi last month to showcase Iqbal, his latest magnum opus starring Naseeruddin Shah, in the Sab Say Karara Kara Film Festival, now in it’s fifth year, which was held in the city of lights in the first couple of weeks of December.
Subhash Ghai, often quite deservingly known as The Showman or The Starmaker among colleagues and millions of fans around the world was very excited about his first trip across the notorious border. Less than 24 hours and he, along with the laid-back Mahesh Bhatt and the radiant Anupam Kher were totally at home walking around the hotel lobby greeting fans and warming up for the big day ahead.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for me, both emotionally and spiritually.” He told me when I asked him how he liked the place so far. Emotionally because his father’s family comes from the Jhelum and Lahore area, just like 90 percent of Bollywood which is also Punjabi. Almost in love with the thought of having a good relationship with Pakistan because for him “it’s like a second home,” and spiritually because he was quite amused at the fact that his PIA ride the previous evening had been the shortest international flight he’d ever been on. “It takes more time to fly within India!” He declared with a cheerful chortle.
Subhash Ghai was born on January 24, 1943 in Nagpur, Mahrashtra, India and since graduating from the Film Institute of India, Pune in 1965, he has come a very long way, devouring his share of success which came almost instantaneously with his directorial debut Kalicharan in 1976 and the naissance of his own production house called Mukta Arts Ltd. in 1978 which has now turned into one of the country’s leading film and entertainment company, but the only noteworthy thing that has not changed for him is his love and passion for film; and especially for mainstream commercial cinema.
That does not mean that he stays clear of alternative cinema though. Mukta Arts has an impressive reputation of producing all kinds of films; be them mainstream commercial, art, or independent. Iqbal, which is a perfect example of the alternative cinema that also attracts Subhash to no ends, was decided upon deliberately. The risks involved were huge, of course, because it wasn’t a commercially heavy, fun and song filled film like the ones that do business these days but it has still surfaced and made a mark by being accepted and applauded all over India. “The DVD has not been released in India yet,” He joked, “but I wouldn’t know if it’s available in the Pakistani stores or not!”
And I think we very well would!
Iqbal was screened as the opening film, together with Anupam Kher’s Main Ne Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, at Kara this year.
The romantic film-maker has written and directed over 14 movies in the quarter of a century he’s been around, 12 out of which have been absolute runaway successes like himself. The reason? Well, maybe his good-boy charm and unadulterated generosity might have something to do with it.
A clause in the contract of any newcomer signed by Mukta Arts requires them to donate 35 percent of their income for the first five years, be it from films, TV shows, stage or magazine covers, to the Mukta Arts Workers Charitable Trust. “I think it is only right that they help the people who worked so hard to make them stars, because of whom they’re earning millions.”
He’s had a few unpleasant experiences with the actors he launched (cough, Mahima Chaudry, cough), sure, but he just shrugs the bad memories off with, “bad experiences are as much a part of life as good ones.” His favorite ex-protégé remains the evergreen Madhuri, however, who “is an absolute delight to work with and has always honored the contracts.”
October 24, 2005, which marked the 27th anniversary of Mukta Arts Ltd., was special to Subhash Ghai. The date not only happens to be Subhash and Rehana Ghai’s wedding anniversary, but the Showman also makes it a point to religiously announce new films and ventures on this date year after year. This October was no exception to the tradition as Ghai announced five new projects to be produced by his company during the next year. While four of these films are to be directed by other directors, he himself will warm the director’s chair for one still untitled, “big-budgeted, musical extravaganza with love for the central theme!” He enlightened me. “I have signed Salman Khan for one of the lead roles but have not decided on the other hero and two heroines yet.”
Another film which is already under production status is Money Money Money. With a story that revolves around greed for money, Ritesh Deshmukh, Jackie Shroff and Sunil Shetty play the male leads opposite Celina Jaitley, Riya Sen and Koena Mitra. Both Salman Khan’s film and Money Money Money are due for release in the second half of 2006.
Not so bad, really, because we can still look forward to a bit of Subhash Ghai in the near future with 36 China Town and Shaadi Se Pehle. While the former is an entertaining thriller shot in Bankok, starring Akshaye Khanna, the off-screen love birds Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor together with Payal Rohatgi, Upen Patel, Isha Koppikar, Paresh Rawal and Johnny Lever; Shaadi Se Pehle is a hilarious comedy once again with Akshaye Khanna opposite Aisha Takia, Mallika Sharawat, Sunil Shetty and Anupam Kher. Shaadi Se Pehle should hit the screens any time now but 36 China Town is slated for an April/May release. Both films, unlike Kisna which shockingly fell flat, are expected to score high on the box office.
It wasn’t long before our discussion stirred towards what the Pakistanis have been up to lately. Truly saddened by the fact that Pakistan hasn’t been able to develop its film industry over the years, Mr. Ghai pointed out the need to overcome the fear of experimentation and delve into co-ventures not only with India but with other countries as well because that’s the only thing likely to help us overcome the decades long film recession. Learning from the masters of the trade by working alongside them is surely a tempting offer, especially when Anupam Kher has dropped off subtle hints of wanting to open his acting school in Karachi and Subhash also seemed quite keen on inviting Pakistani raw talent to his recently founded Whistling Woods International for Film, Television & Media Arts to brush up on their skills and increase their competency to work at par with international artists from the same arena.
“Pakistan will build up because it’s a strong country with a lot of potential, talent, energetic people and intelligence,” he pointed out, “but all these positive forces must be used in the right way, allowing us to reap the right fruits at the right time. We should avoid hatred and fighting all the time. Woh sab bekar hai!”
Woh sab bekar hai indeed! What with perfectly timed flicks like Veer Zara and Main Hun Na making waves across both the countries and giving off all the right messages! Surely we’re both over our LOC and Border days?
“I want to see South Asians become a strong people that stick together.” He added, “The Kara Film Festival is the beginning of an evolution. Today, I have come with Anupam and Mahesh so maybe next year; half our industry will want to come over as well.”
Wouldn’t we just love that? Star studded co ventures; exchanging films, music and art and them coming over to shoot in Pakistan while we go over to work in their more respectable projects.
Kara has taken a very bold step to bridge the gap that has been almost 60 years in the making. It’s young, but it’s got vision and the capability to make it. The drive, dedication and endeavors of the whole team are unquestionable and whether we admit it or not, while the dire reviews circulating the city have been a turn off for many, it’s also quite appreciatively understood that you can’t expect Cannes standing in such a short time. What we’ve got so far is a miracle in itself and patience and commitment is the way to go about it in the future. This year alone, films from 30 countries were screened over a period of 11 days, the end of which met our very cool President attending the award ceremony where Subhash’s Iqbal won the best director and the best supporting actor awards.
When I woke up on the morning of December 2, I had absolutely no idea I was going to meet The Subhash Ghai in a couple of hours and quite frankly, even though his name was identifiable, I had almost no idea what exactly he owed his celebrity to. Of course now I know he’s the creator of some of the most memorable films from my childhood; films I was allowed to watch as a six year old! Spending time with him in all the greatness he radiates was an absolute treat because Subhash’s brilliance is supreme. He is the father of glitzy Indian cinema that has made us weep, laugh and dance around to catchy tunes that are still as well known as they were fifteen year ago.
By the time our meeting came to an end, it was almost time to start getting ready for the first gala shows of the year. I had to rush home and drive back to Alliance Francaise within an hour if I wanted to make it in time for the show while Subhash had a get-together with Meera, who had devotedly flown in from Lahore to attend the festival.
I had had an amazing, reflective time with The Showman and when I asked him if there was anything he wanted to say to the public of Pakistan he was quick to part with some sensible words: “I always stress on one point: educate your children to the world of art, films and entertainment and teach them to be good and let them grow and be competent enough to stand tall with confidence…”
We sure hope your message’s been received, Mr. Ghai, and wish to see you again next year with another blockbuster!