Since your first release as a director with Khudgarz in 1987, it’s been a long journey of 25 years. How does it feel?
(Pauses) Twenty-five years as a director but more than four decades in this industry. I joined the industry when I was 17 when my father passed away. I had the option of going to Wadia College in Pune, staying in Mumbai and working as an assistant director, or joining the Pune Institute. So I stayed with the family and learnt the ropes of filmmaking. I started assisting H S Rawail, who was making Sunghursh with Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. After that, I joined Mohan Kumar and worked on two films with him, Anjaana and Aap Aye Bahaar Ayee.
Then I got my first break as an actor in Man Mandir and Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani.As an actor, I wasn’t getting my dream roles or a chance to work in good films with good directors. I had a few chances but they were mostly heroine-oriented films and these films weren’t doing well either. This affected my career. But I didn’t give up.
Then I started doing negative roles too. I wanted to stick around, and I always had a vision to make my own films. So I started my own production house with films like Aap Ke Deewane and Kaamchor. But luck wasn’t smiling on me. Kaamchor was a big success but Jaya Prada shot to the limelight and I didn’t get any films after that. Though Kaamchor was a hero-centric film, I didn’t get a single offer thereafter.
It must have had shaken you.
I decided to turn producer as I thought I would have a better chance to prove myself as an actor in my own films. I made Aap Ke Deewane and signed Rishi Kapoor, a dear friend and a saleable actor, and the film did quite well. Then,Kaamchor, which worked for Jaya Prada. My third film as a producer was Jaag Utha Insan with Mithun (Chakraborty) and Sridevi but we were all miscast. Mithun was known as a disco dancer but I cast him as a harijan. I cast Sridevi as a goddess but the audience saw her differently. I had just done a commercial success, Kaamchor, and here, I was playing a pundit. So we were all miscast. Then I made Bhagwaan Dada, with me, Sridevi and Rajnikant. The film did all right. By that time, my acting career was not going anywhere so I thought I would try my hand at direction.
And you have had a successful stint as a director. Don’t you think that before you took up direction, your journey was a learning experience?
As an actor, I was always around on the sets. Even when I wasn’t shooting, I used to be on the sets to watch the directors as I planned on becoming a director. So the actor Rakesh Roshan gave way to the producer and then the director Rakesh Roshan. While making these films, I took keen interest in everything, from storytelling to direction to editing. But I was still apprehensive about Khudgarz, my first film as a director. My family and I were driving to the premiere, and when I saw the hoardings outside Metro cinema, I told my wife that this was my last chance. If I fail with this film, my career was over. Luckily, things turned around. Maybe I was destined to be a director from the very beginning.
And there was no looking back.
It is said that you have a high success ratio because you kept mixing it up. How could a director make a heroine-oriented film, Khoon Bhari Maang, after delivering a big success in a male-dominated film like Khudgarz?
When you make different genres, you get sleepless nights and that is very challenging. I always believe in doing that. It keeps me alive and my brain working all the time. Making a family film doesn’t take time but choosing different genres keeps me on my toes. I have to work on the screenplay and make the film commercial too. It should cater to all types of audience.
Is that how you earned a reputation as the best commercial director?
Perhaps. Every film is a new film for me. Even with Krrish 3, I felt I had started afresh. Hrithik (Roshan) tells me, “Papa, once you start the film, you will be all right.” I used to tell him that I would not be able to make it as I am not young any more. But then once I’m on the sets, things start falling into place as I had done a lot of preparation before the film went on the floors.
You’re calling yourself old…
(Cuts in with a smile) I am not at all old! It’s just my age. I am a very young person. (Laughs)
Despite your age, all your films appeal to the youth. You have brought in such a lot of variety that your films are ahead of your time.
I have a young team of assistants and writers. Of course, Hrithik is a big help to me. He helps me keep the freshness alive. The team is young and I listen to everyone. Even if a new, 20-year-old assistant has something to say, I listento him.