Budget, budget, budget… That, in short, is filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar’s mantra for success. Now he’s ecstatic about making a romantic comedy and claims he’s bang on with his product. Here’s the three-time National Award-winning director in conversation with Vajir Singh
To start with, you’ve assembled an unusual cast for your Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji haven’t you?
After a decade of filmmaking, I felt it was time to explore different genres of cinema. I know it has become national news and everyone’s wondering why Madhur Bhandarkar is directing a comedy, especially a rom-com, which is not “his area of expertise”. But I must explore all kinds of cinema, whether a love story, thriller, action film or a topical film. My film is basically on the lines of the ‘70s’ Basu Chatterjee, Hrishikesh Mukherjee comedy films but with a contemporary feel. About the unusual cast… well… Ajay Devgn’s character is that of a guy in his late 30s, going through a divorce and falling in love with a 21-yearold girl. For Emraan Hashmi’s role, I wanted a guy who looked like a gym instructor. His life is all about freeloading on girls. I thought it would be refreshing to see Emraan in this role.
Ajay, Emraan and Omi, this trio is very different. You saw Ajay and Emraan in Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai. Now watch them play completely contrasting roles. In short, Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji is true to the fact that everyone is a child at heart. A lot of people say you need to take off your thinking cap when you watch a Hindi comedy film. I ask people to bring their thinking cap along when they come to watch my comedy.
Even though you are known for making hard-hitting movies, romance has been an integral part of every film of yours.
(Cuts in) Very true. Whether Tabu’s love for a gangster in Chandni Bar, Konkona’s love in Page 3, Priyanka’s love for Arjan and then Arbaaz in Fashion, Bipasha’s love for Kay Kay Menon in Corporate or Konkona’s love for Ranvir Shorey’s in Traffic Signal… every movie has to have a romantic angle. After all, we are making an Indian movie. Indian cinema cannot succeed unless you pour love into it.
But this time, the love angle is from the perspective of a male protagonist, right?
It’s a film about three different characters (male characters) and their take on love…three different love stories. As the famous saying goes, love grows but men don’t grow. Apart from comedy, this film has drama, emotion and pathos. I am portraying all these in a lighter vein. Yes, completely from a man’s point of view.
Ajay Devgn recently said that no one understands women the way Madhur does. Comment.
(Laughs) I think that’s a really humorous way to put it. Actually, many people say this. Maybe it’s because of the women’s psyche I reveal through my female characters. I am often asked how I capture the pulse of women.
Now people will say that Madhur understands men too!
(Laughs Loudly) Yes, you can say that!
Considering the track records, it would have been great to see Madhur Bhandarkar directing Ajay Devgn in hardhitting cinema. Don’t you think?
It’s been a couple of years since Ajay and I have been toying with the idea of working together. When I came across this script, I was sure we should team up. Within 20 minutes of the script narration, Ajay was mesmerised by the character. He said, “It’s a brilliant character, let’s do the film together.”
So hard-hitting cinema can wait?
(Smiles) I plan to make another film with Ajay but with a subject that is completely different from this one. He is a thorough gentleman and a delight for a director. He says we should have teamed up earlier.
Ajay is accepted in comedy roles but these movies are over-the-top while your film is different.
Let’s not forget he’s an actor par excellence. He plays a very real character in this film. I can’t make a film for kicks. There are expectations from my cinema and I must not insult the audience’s sensibilities. My comedy is very tonguein- cheek, humorous and down-to-earth. Everyone will be able to relate to it. That’s the kind of comedy I am showcasing in this film.
But will the masses be able to relate to it?
Definitely. I myself am a part of the masses. I have been watching movies every Friday at Gaiety cinema in Bandra since many years. Every film has its own audience and each one appeals to different sensibilities. If I make an overthe- top, senseless film, people will not accept it. I have to find a middle path, where the audience sensibilities and the comedy are intact.
In 2010, we saw several biggies attempting something different and their movies tanked. The stated reason is escalating costs. Have you kept tabs on your costs?
I started my career with a Rs 1.5-crore film Chandni Bar; Corporate with Rs 4 crore, Page 3 with Rs 2 crore, and every film has earned money. This film is also made on a very moderate budget. For me, my budget is very important. Even Fashion was a budgeted film. I do intense homework on my budgeting. I don’t shoot and think about the budget later. It’s not the film that fails, it’s the budget that fails. If the budget is controlled and the cost of directors is minimised, the film will work.
You can’t say, “I am getting paid only so much, so let the producer fend for himself.” You have to look at the totality. The producer survives and, as a filmmaker, you too survive. Even though Jail didn’t work, it broke even and will now fetch revenue through satellite rights.
You mean, live and let live.
Absolutely! Ultimately even if a film does not work, you say “at least he made it on a moderate budget”. Then people will be willing to invest in your projects in future.
I have made this film too on a limited budget. Filmmaking today is about publicity and it has to be big-time. Today, there are 60 to 70 channels and so many reality shows, so you have to be seen everywhere and stand out from the rest.
Memory is very short because there are about 20 to 30 promos of diffrent movies running on various channels daily. My ratio at the box office is very good, 80 per cent of my films have worked at the box office. And that’s only because I know how to control budgets. If the budget is under control, everyone survives.
And you don’t demand the price every other director demands after delivering a hit? Do you?
I believe in making cinema, not filling my pockets. I have no penchant for being the highest-paid director. I think of producers and exhibitors too. Every new film gives me a new opportunity. At the end of the day, it’s business. You can’t take the lion’s share and leave the producer, distributor and exhibitor in the lurch. It has to be a win-win situation for everyone.
Do you believe everyone in the industry should learn a lesson from the overbudgeted fiascos of 2010?
100 per cent! They should understand the gravity of the film Industry. Big films have bombed very badly Small filmmakers don’t have the time to publicise their films. People should bear in mind that when a film makes money, they will receive a share of the profits. If you think you’re a big filmmaker and can guarantee a success, ask for a share and not for big remuneration.
Do you ask for your share?
Of course. I am surprised that renowned producers sometimes pay an abominable price. I really don’t understand the equation. I feel I am in kindergarten when I see big producers making losses. How can the economics work when the film is not viable? I am also a producer and I understand the dilemma producers go through when a film fails.
These days, producers shy away from giving away their rights and wait for a film to hot up so that they can command more money. But you have already sold Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji.
We sold the rights the day we announced the film. The rights were bought by Gordhan Tanwaniji of Baba Films. We sold it for a reasonable price.
We made a reasonable film and didn’t want to wait to get big money. In fact, we had done the deal even before OUATIM released. We were committed to that price and stuck to it.
In keeping with the title of your film, Dil Toh Baccha Hai ji… how come your heart doesn’t expect more money?
I feel I am God’s blessed child. As I have come a long way from the person who used to deliver video cassettes and then to a director who started his career with a flop, Trishakti. With an 80-per cent success rate, three National Awards and critical acclaim, I am happy with the journey I have traveled in ten years. I am an optimist and don’t plan my life. Industry equations change from Friday to Friday.
Coming to your question… We made the film on a stipulated budget and sold it for a moderate price so that the buyer will make money as well as all those who do business with him. It’s a win-win situation.
So you’re not expecting a National Awards this time?
I never expected a National Award for any of my films. But it is an honour when you’re given one. (Smiles)
Everyone wants to know what’s happening to Heroine, which was to topline Kareena Kapoor?
I am not making Heroine. I did speak to Kareena about it but she was busy and so was I. I didn’t approach any other actress except Kareena. As of now, I have shelved the film. I won’t even think about it till January 28. I will think about the type of films I want to make – comedy, intense or horror – only after the release of Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji and a short holiday.
Unlike other director-turnedproducers, you’ve never given an outside director a chance under your banner.
I haven’t but I will soon. I am planning a Marathi film next year. We’re working on the script and it will be a hard-hitting one a la Madhur Bhandarkar. (Smiles)