Latest Tweets

“I firmly believe numbers are the best benchmark”

Producer with the Midas touch Sajid Nadiadwala in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Your banner, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, is a third-generation production house, which has been around for 60 years…

(Cuts in) The head of my banner was my grandfather but NG has been around for more than 60 years because we were in the business of cinema long before that. There was Nadiadwala Theatre Productions etc. But the original Nadiadwala started in 1954. Our grandfather was a builder and 80 per cent of Malad (a western suburb in Mumbai) belonged to him. All the cinemas in Malad belonged to him, like Savera and New Era. We even owned schools and colleges there.

My grandfather met Shakti da (Samanta) and Ashok Kumar in 1954 and made a film, Inspector. That’s where it all began. Then the second generation came in, my dad and his brothers Habib and Farookh. My brother Feroze and I are the third generation. That’s why we are celebrating our 60th year.

BOI: How many movies has your banner made so far?

I have lost count. There were so many films that come up when I Google stuff.

BOI: So many production houses have shut down over the years. What is it about your banner that has made it survive and prosper?

I think it is the marriage of creativity and art. So we have the commerce and the art sense to make films. My grandfather was a businessman who loved cinema, so he wanted to make films only with the best. He worked with Manmohan Desai. That was art! Commerce came into the picture when he decided to sign him for three films. He did the same with Prakash Mehra. Even today, people like Dabbooji (Randhir Kapoor) tell us these stories.

In those days, there were only a few filmmakers unlike today, when a cheque given to an actor or a filmmaker never bounces. Things didn’t quite work that way then since everyone used to invest their own money to make a film. In that sense, the Nadiadwalas earned a reputation for honoruing their payments. My grandfather was fondly called Sethji and it was said that if he gave his word to anyone, that was enough. Ek baar agar woh zubaan de dete the, woh kaafi hota tha.

My grandfather was from Gujarat, so he had a business streak in him. In comparison, I am not very business savvy. I came in at a time when Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan were ruling the industry and I placed all my bets on Salman. I agreed to cast him in a double role in Judwaa which was directed by David Dhawan. At that time, Govinda and David Dhawan was the hot actor-director combination. So, despite the odds, Judwaa worked big time.

There was a film, Andolan with Sanjay Dutt and Govinda, that went over-budget by Rs 3-4 crore… this was about 20 years ago. Today, a budget like that would be around Rs 100 crore. But Sanjay Dutt had delivered a hit in Sadak and Govinda’s film Aankhen became a hit too. So my film was much talked about. Judwaa came after Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!, Karan Arjun, Jeet and Andaz Apna Apna. So it became hot property and things worked in my favour.

Akshay Kumar was my friend and we grew so close that the Houseful series became a hit. Today, everything can be wiped out with just one film. So it is time to sustain. Last year, we climbed the Everest, and we had back-to-back big successes in Highway, 2 States, Heropanti and Kick. Sustaining that will depend on the company’s policies and we have six films lined up for the next two years.

BOI: In our industry, we have a saying that if your niyat is good, no one can stop you. Does that work for you, because you take care of your staff, unit and everyone around you?

Yes, it’s always been like that. My staff, including my drivers, have been with me for 30 years. They have been with me since I joined the industry. But emotions aside, their goodwill has worked. I think 90 per cent of successful people don’t believe in luck. Lucky people don’t believe there is such a thing as luck. But luck has played a very important part in my successes. I entered the industry with the simple aim of making films and by some stroke of luck, the films I refused to make ended up tanking. So I have earned a reputation for being intelligent enough to have rejected those films!

There were a lot of actors in those days who are nowhere today. But when we had differences and they walked out on me, they crashed terribly later. If I had worked with those actors, I wouldn’t be here today. So I absolutely believe in destiny. And I also love what I do. Like I would have never placed my bets on a film like Highway or I would have never launched a newcomer Tiger Shroff in Heropanti.

BOI: Even 2 States was not a sure-shot formula for success.

No, I was very confident about 2 States because of its content. Shah Rukh and Ranbir Kapoor were confirmed for this movie. I was also sure because of Arjun (Kapoor). Of course, I didn’t expect the business to cross Rs 100 crore. Also, I knew Heropanti was a sure-shot hit too. I knew it would cross Rs 35 crore but crossing Rs 50 crore was a big thing. Next year starts with Phantom.

BOI: But the lead actor of the film is going through a low phase...

That’s a very big challenge. I was blessed to have Imtiaz Ali with me this year; I believed in 2 States; Heropanti also worked; and Kick with Salman Khan was like… Salman is like a winning horse. Now Saif is this important actor of mine who is not doing well because his past films did not work. For us to project this film and market it in a big way is a huge challenge. But it is up to us as we green-lit the film not because of the star but because of its content. Now the content remains the same and this star did very well two years ago. He will definitely do well two years later too which is now. I don’t know if we will be lucky for Saif. He has been around for so many years and this is proof that he has talent.

His films have not done well probably due to the publicity or the content. We can’t blame the actors. We have got the director of Ek Tha Tiger. He hasn’t changed; Katrina Kaif has not changed; the content has not changed; and the banner has become bigger and expectations are higher. The protagonist is undergoing a weak phase and we have to cover that up with our content. We will be exposed with this film. We know that an actor does play a very important role in how the film fares but it is also our responsibility to make sure the film does well. We all know how much Salman pulls a film on his own and how much the content does. So we may have an uphill task because India believes in superstars, stardom and fan following but hopefully things will work out.

BOI: Why do you think the three Khans still rule Hindi films?

They came with a bang and won the hearts of the people with some outstanding films. Aur ek baar koi itni bedardi se kisi ke dil mein ghus jaata hai toh usko nikalna mushkil ho jata hai. Shah Rukh ki first film thi Deewana, woh jo bike pe aaye in the song koi na koi chahiye, he won every individual’s heart. With Salman and his first film Maine Pyaar Kiya, the moment the audience watched him in the scene where he says, ‘main kaam karoonga aur paise kamaaoonga’, he won the hearts of all the ladies. Aamir Khan did the same with Qayamant Se Qayamat Tak. After that, they have all consistently performed fantastically on screen. Plus they are outstanding off-screen.

Salman is a superstar and 70-80 per cent of his earnings go to charity. Bolna bahut aasan hai par jeb se cheque phaad ke dena padta hai charity mein toh acche acchon ki haalat kharab ho jaati hai. Even if it’s for the sake of publicity, when you actually have to give a cheque of an amount which is major part of your earnings, it is a big thing. He delivers blockbuster movies and just walks away without blinking even once. He doesn’t even throw a party. I mean, he delivers a hit and walks off to host Bigg Boss. So ab toh unke liye aadat si ho gayi hai.

BOI: But the three Khans have gone through low phases…

(Cuts in) Chalte rahega aisa. Sometimes, the films are not appreciated and that happens. These three actors are very similar to South Indian actors. If someone even hits them on screen, then their fans take it personally. If they play the part of an unemployed person in a movie and they are denied a job, their fans trash the film! They can never play the role of a poor person on screen. Their personas are so big off screen that it makes them larger than life. So, if in a film like Jane-e-man, when Preity Zinta jilts Salman and walks off, his fans are, like, ‘Bhai ko kaise chhod ke chali gayi,’ and the movie didn’t work! (Laughs)

Persona-wise, I feel Salman has the biggest persona, then Shah Rukh and then Aamir. But Aamir has his own loyal audience. But with Salman it’s, like, bhai ke saath kuch galat ho nahi sakta. Bhai chori bhi karta hai toh bhai achcha aadmi hai. Bhai police wala ban gaya agar last scene mein, toh kaise bana kyun bana kisi ko matlab nahi hai. It’s very interesting that Salman is the dream of every human being in India. Ki hamara sapna hai ki hamara bhai ya beta aisa ho. Toh usko saath agar bura ho toh log picture dekhne hi nahi jayenge. If the trailer of his film is weak, they will not watch the film. They feel he is like a brother and must be protected as far as possible.

BOI: Talking about Khans, do you think our younger generation has the same charisma?

The way the audience would go crazy for the Khans isn’t the same for these kids. They are very hard working and they are good at what they do. And some of these kids are even better performers than the Khans were back then. But the hysteria over the Khans and their charm off-screen isn’t there for these kids. It is about making the right choices and decisions and also the way they choose to live lives that is important. It was very difficult to choose a life like Salman’s… in a moment saying you become a director and you become a producer. It is not easy to take these decisions. To take a decision in this industry, that there is a producer who has been producing for 27 years and asking him to turn director and direct his film, that too at the top of his career, where he has 20 other directors in the queue. Ye adayen kahan se layenge ye bacche, ye jigar kahan se layenge. Aur ye jigar lana zaruri nahi but jab ye deewangi hoti hai na toh woh chehere pe dikhti hai, chehere se camera pakadta hai aur camere se woh audience ke pass jaati hai, aur audience ko ye dikhta hai.

I’m not saying it’s not possible for them but this will take time because these youngsters are damn good and very hardworking. They’re very professional, dedicated and focused. Their work will make them good actors but to become a superstar, they will have to wait for some more time.

BOI: Over the years, what changes have you have seen in the industry?

Things are much more organised. Films are made on time and actors are working on one film at a time. People respect their commitments, even if the film doesn’t seem to hold potential. Earlier, if a distributor watched a trailer and didn’t like it, he would carry four cheques in four separate pockets. He would only give us one cheque. If you threatened him, he would bring out the second cheque. Then he would bring out the third cheque and start crying and then give another one. We would be worried that a film wouldn’t sell if it wasn’t hot, but today people stand by their commitments.

BOI: You spoke about changes in the industry. Did you bring any changes in your company?

Since I run a company, I have changed myself, in some ways. Whereas I used to reach office by 2:00 in the afternoon, I now reach by 11 and my staff comes in by 10:30 am as opposed to 1 pm. So I have changed the way I look at the industry. And success has given me more respect. So I am trying to chase more. God has been kind to me, and from Judwaa, Jeet to Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega..., all my films have been super hits. I have a 97-per cent success record. Except for Jaan-e-mann, all my films have been blockbusters.

Today, there is an aura around me when I walk into my office every morning. My staff feels they are the staff of a successful office. There is a lot of interaction between the people. I have employees who joined me at retirement’s age and who are now 75. We talk, we interact every month. We show pictures to our staff that we earlier kept to ourselves. Earlier, only I used to watch a new film and my staff would to watch it on the day the film’s release.

Now they have a voice and have started communicating and offering feedback. And I have started listening to them. There is a good atmosphere in the office today. Whereas, earlier, people use to sit around and chew mawa, now they all are reading on the Internet and educating themselves. Some of them are learning English while others are learning Business Management after work. They are all trying to improve themselves and asking for an increase in salary. They are working hard and feel responsible for their work and the success of this company.

My CFOs were once upon a time production guys. My production guy was earlier a costume man. They have all grown over the years. And, right now, I am sitting in Box Office India’s office and giving this interview, while there the post-production of Phantom is happening and I am not even aware of what is going on. Shooting of Tamasha is taking place in Shimla with Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone and I am not even aware of the details. Every day, I get to know the cost of per day shooting via email. So with successful films, we all are growing too.

BOI: Can you share how you started your career as a producer with Zulm Ki Hukumat?

I had worked with Dharamji in Ghulami and Hathyar. So when I decided to make my first film, I approached him and he agreed to be a part of it. Govinda was a common struggling friend at that time. Bharat (Rangachary) ji was doing a show called Subah, which was very popular. He agreed to direct the film. Then I also started Waqt Humara Hai so that we could release Zulm Ki Hukumat. Then to release Waqt Humara Hai, we started Andolan with Sanjay Dutt and Govinda. To release Andolan, we started Jeet, and to release Jeet, we started Judwaa and finally Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega cleared everything.

When I started Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega, it was not very hot property but when its release approached, it had the magic of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for Rani Mukerji. Preity Zinta was doing very well as she had Dil Se and Salman Khan had become a huge star. So the whole persona of the film suddenly became very positive. The songs were outstanding chartbusters. Even Bhushan Kumar started his career with that film. Both our careers blossomed after that film. Shah Rukh Khan did a small appearance in the film, so we felt it would become a super hit.

Even before Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, David’s (Dhawan) career was not doing well, and we also cast Priyanka Chopra. And everyone was asking us why we had cast a new girl. But the film did wonders at the box office. Another example is Sajid Khan… He was working in the television industry as a host of a few shows. He has not assisted any director. So it was, like, this is asking for too much, pushing your luck now. Like with Sabbir (Khan) too, everyone knew iske pass kuch aa nahi raha tha and then when Heropanti became a big hit, everyone thought kya smart aadmi hai Sajid Nadiadwala!

For Kick, I had approached so many people. Kabir Khan was shooting a film; and Milan Lutharia said he was leaving for Oman to shoot Once Upon Ay Time In Mumbaai Dobaara and couldn’t take up the offer. There was not a single director available and I had the rights of the film since five years. I was afraid that someone else might make the film with this idea. And then it came to me, that I should direct it myself. People wondered if it was a wise decision because I don’t think like a director; I think like a producer. But many people helped me with direction, intelligent casting, intelligent actors and an intelligent team. Also, since I had produced so many films, I knew the basics. Today, I can take all the credit but actually it was the Almighty that made me do it.

BOI: When you look back at your career of over 26 years can you share the turning points of your career?

The first turning point was when I joined the industry. I had gone to get the blessings of my two chachaas, Farruk Nadiadwala and Habib Nadiadwala, for the IAS exams, and they said I should join the film industry instead. The second turning point was when I started my first film Zulm Ki Hukumat with Dharamji and Govinda, with a meagre signing amount, even for the technicians. So many technicians didn’t receive their remuneration for months together but they never said a word. They understood that this child had come from our fraternity and was learning. Third turning point was when I had debts to pay and liabilities due to the numerous delays in my films. Then Salman came into my life and that worked magic for both of us. We used to talk about everything else but films while the film was being shot. But now we are both more mature and take our work seriously. But, back then, we didn’t talk about our success. We felt yeh toh chalna hi hai aur humko aata hi kya hai.

Another turning point came after my marriage, when I became more mature and started green-lighting films more intelligently. Salim uncle used to say, ‘Dimaag paise gawata hai aur taqdeer paisa laati hai’ but then I started green-lighting and streamlining films more intelligently and approached everything more professionally. Pehele thode awara the, making one film then taking a sabbatical for four years, roaming around with Salman, going to his shoots then deciding on making a film. And then taking a break for three to four years.

BOI: What advice would you give other corporate houses?

They should hire their CEOs from the industry and not get in bankers and the like. They may not be able to speak good English but they know the business like the back of their hand. They may not wear a tie and suit but they know their jobs. If you groom them a little, they will be very good at their work. I don’t think people who watch one or two Hindi film a year should green-light films.

BOI: As a solo producer, you are still ruling the industry. What advice do you have for solo producers who are lying low? How can they bounce back?

Most people who have gone wrong have tried to do something different after achieving success, just to gain respect. Jab woh izzat dhundne nikle unki films flop hui. I used to look up to those guys when they were making the kind of films they were known for. They are damn good filmmakers with amazing sensibilities. But somewhere down the line, they decided to make ‘upmarket multiplex films’. And that’s where they got stuck. Think about it… Even the multiplexes audience is our own audience. It’s not like that PVR Juhu has an audience coming from London.

I believe they should stick to making films that are expected of them and not get hung up on making ‘new cinema’. Films like Dhoom, 3 Idiots, Kick, Happy New Year, Chennai Express, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Dabangg and Krrish have all done very well. Some might say this list is tacky but these are all our films and they have been at the top for years. All the films are working on are typical Hindi films, they are Hindustani films. All of them have proper songs, protagonists, characters and everything. These films have a proper structure, a beginning, interval and an end.

BOI: These last 10 months of 2014 have been fantastic for your company but the same cannot be said of other filmmakers. Also, according to the trade, we have witnessed major flops this year compared to previous years. How do you explain that?

I don’t know, I haven’t seen the statistics. But I feel that Gen-X should be reined in a little. They shouldn’t be so extreme and compare themselves with others. Even I get to meet some new directors and they keep telling me about some latest film in Hollywood. And I keep telling them that we are Indians. I keep telling them to travel beyond Virar and see the real India. All these new directors who want to make ‘new’ films should travel by train beyond Virar just once, to places like Indore, Lucknow, Bikaner, Surat, Malegaon, Nagpur, Kanpur and other small cities, to understand the audience.

If you’re making a film for Rs 3 or 4 crore, it’s okay but if you expect to make a film with Rs 40 crore, then you should study the audience in such places. Jahaan bhada Rs 20,000 hai aur share aata hai Rs 3 lakh ka. Just visit cinemas in these places… you can barely watch the film, never mind sound. It’s very depressing. Here, in Mumbai, we talk about Atmos sound and what not. But where is the sound?

So I believe the CEOs of corporate houses should, first, start watching films and, second, they should learn from us jinko bolte hain purane chawal. So they should just grab the good part from us and try and execute in their way so that we also learn from them if that happens then Bollywood will be in their best phase.

When Kick earned Rs 230 crore, people said, ‘Mazaa nahi aaya’; Happy New Year crossed Rs 200 crore but still they said, ‘Woh baat nahi hai’. By the grace of God, we are hitting these benchmarks and raising the bar every day. The new generation keeps talking about new-age cinema but I cannot understand why we are ashamed of our own movies? We are living in a country where people love cinema. We grow up watching cinema, to date people stand outside cinemas to catch a glimpse of Salman Khan. He wears shades and ducks into his car but people still hope to see him.

FMCGs conduct market research to keep improving their products. They interact with their customers regularly. Everyone does that except the film industry, where everything is under wraps. We will not share our script with Vajir or show him too much of the film before its release. What if he voices his opinion? They’re scared of facts. Then I have met so many people who say, ‘Sir, I am not doing it for the numbers’ but when the film approaches its release, they say, ‘Sir kuch kariye na, zara opening dilwayiye na.’ How can you get a good opening when you have green-lit a film like that? Everybody wants maximum people.

Earlier, a film used to run for 25 weeks but, today, feeding is not possible kyunki aukat nahi hain. To cross the Rs 200-crore mark and if you need to feed or buy tickets, you end up spending nearly Rs 50 crore. From where will you get it? So I think feeding time is gone. These days, the numbers that are published are accurate and everyone is aware of the business of a film. So there has to be a benchmark.

I firmly believe numbers are the best benchmark. But many people are ashamed of those numbers. They feel it is not the correct way to judge the success of a film. But we need benchmarks for everything. I don’t understand why some sections of our industry feel numbers are not the correct way to assess the success of a film. Don’t actors have their numbers, directors have their number, producers have their numbers? But when it comes to a film, they say it’s not correct. Unless ghar ghar ki kahaani mein banti film, where no one charges any money, then it’s okay. When everyone is taking numbers, why should a distributor not talk numbers?

Anonymous's picture