Rajkumar Santoshi’s fundamentals of filmmaking

Rajkumar Santoshi has just directed his third comedy in 33 years. Photo: Universal Communications

He is humorous, sometimes sarcastic, and even gets into pompous zones. He probably can well afford it, for Rajkumar Santoshi has carved a distinct reputation for himself. His maiden film, Ghayal, not only got critical appreciation and a prized entry into the Deol household for him, but also was a commercial blockbuster.

His second, Damini, a hard-hitting court drama, was also epic in a different way, and so was Andaz Apna Apna, his third film that was a sparkling and pure comedy. Then came a teenage romance in Barsaat, in which he introduced Dharmendra’s younger son Bobby Deol and Rajesh Khanna-Dimple Kapadia’s daughter, Twinkle Khanna.

The variety has never stopped, and the list includes The Legend of Bhagat Singh, the gritty Khakee and the frothy Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani. Early this year, he gave us the unique historical fantasy, Gandhi Godse—Ek Yudh and has just come out with a peppy rom-com, Bad Boy.

His sharp wit is on display when I ask him the very first question.

Excerpts from an interview follow.

You largely make serious and even dark films. But at intervals, you step into the comedy zone of Andaz Apna Apna (1994), Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009) and now Bad Boy. What makes you do such subjects at intervals?

Your question is wrong! See, it’s like this. My father, P.L. Santoshi, was a top name writer, lyricist and filmmaker. But I did not come into this profession because of him. I always abhorred the idea of a 9 to 5 routine in an office. And I could never tolerate becoming a lawyer or a doctor and listening to sad narratives every day! And films offered me that scope for variety.

So if I did a Ghayal and then hunted for a similar subject again and again, it would not be pleasant for me, right? After Ghayal, I decided to do a courtroom drama. After that, I chose a comedy. I wanted to keep my interest alive in filmmaking. So I only do stories that interest me. If I do more films, I will rake in my fees, but if my heart is not in them, I will be cheating the audience! That is why, incidentally, I also turned down the sequel to Ghayal as I could not find a convincing story that could take it forward.

So how did Bad Boy and its title originate?

I was to do an action film for the same producer, Sajid Qureshi, with Sunny Deol. But suddenly, Sunny won the election and became busy. So Sajid told me to watch a Telugu film whose core idea, he thought, could be reworked. The title was given by me: when my dog at home does not listen to me, I say, ‘Bad boy!’ to him! It fitted the story.

And how did you choose your first new pair after Bobby and Twinkle?

Sajid also told me that he had signed Namashi Chakraborty and asked me to meet the boy. He also had a girl named Amrin. I told him that I will cast them only if they are good, and I knew that Namashi was Mithun Chakraborty’s son. And Namashi impressed me at our first meeting. He was the kind I knew would work very hard and had the talent. The same was the case with Amrin. But in my films, the right casting is the most important. The character and the actor must match, and that is the key. So they both fitted the roles as well.

It is only after I approved both these newcomers that Sajid revealed that Amrin was his daughter! And mark my words, both of them will make a name for themselves!

Mithun Chakraborty and Namashi Chakarborty in Bad Boy. Photo: Universal Communications

Is it easier or more difficult to work with newcomers compared to established stars?

Newcomers are much more enthusiastic. And luckily, as my first film was huge, even stars treat me with respect. With most of my films, my actors have realized that it is the director who is the most important, and whether it is Sunny, Aamir, Salman, Akshay, Ajay or Amitabh, and the same with my heroines, they have all looked up to me.

Let me tell you an incident. Amitabh Bachchan told me that his beard was lucky for him when I asked him to shave it off for Khakee. Policemen are not allowed to keep beards unless they are Sikhs, I told him. I said that I wanted his talent, not luck. He even said that he was simultaneously shooting—with the beard!—as a cop in Govind Nihalani’s Dev. Now, Govind-ji is my guru in cinema. So I told him that a guru could take liberties, but not me. He listened to me, even if he had to wait to shoot with a beard again as he was used to sporting it even for Kaun Banega Crorepati!

And let me also mention that Mithun-da never once interfered or asked any questions, and neither did Amrin ever treat me as a director-employee of her producer-father! She never refused any number of takes like some stars do with some directors!

You have worked with so many composers in the past, but this is your first film with Himesh Reshammiya.

Yes. I think that Himesh’s strength is rooted melody with modern orchestration, just like Nadeem-Shravan. I have worked with him before in a film I actually produced but did not direct—Insan. This time, he gave me all the four songs in one sitting!

So which would you say is the most satisfying of all your films?

My favorite is The Legend of Bhagat Singh. And though it flopped, many complimented me, especially as there were some bad films made the same year on Bhagat Singh! And after it, I began to command my highest price as director! And why I term it satisfying is because it was a well-known story—Bhagat Singh’s history is known to all, so I had to make the oft-heard saga interesting by keeping within the limits of what had happened. I did not have the license to just go anywhere, as in a fictional film.

There has been buzz off and on that Andaz Apna Apna will have a sequel.

Every film has its destiny! The film was a flop when first released because the producer was new and he did not know how to market and release it. The premiere was decided upon and held when Aamir Khan and Salman Khan as well as I were not even in town! And from the title and cast, people assumed it would be a love story!  But Andaz Apna Apna was a pure comedy without conflicts or emotions. And Aamir, Salman and even Paresh Rawal were doing comedy for the first time.

Yes, I did think of a sequel. I am still open to the idea if I get the right script! That comedy was innocent, but since Aamir and Salman are now older by 30 years, it will have to be a different kind of story. What sounds fresh for youngsters might look vulgar at their present age!

You have worked with Sunny, Bobby and Namashi but never with Dharmendra or Mithun.

Yes, there are some things that do not happen. I had wanted to work with Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand too. Dev, who was my father’s discovery, had signed me once. “Rajkumar Santoshi and Dev Anand will be coming together!” he had told me enthusiastically!

One last question: you were the first filmmaker to use DI (Digital Intermediate) in Indian cinema. Can you tell us how that happened?

The digital process makes the color palette of a frame uniform. We were shooting in Nashik and I wanted to keep everything about the frames earthy and brown. But Aishwarya Rai had an accident, the shooting got delayed and rains began, making everything green. So we had to bring back the brown hues. It was done by Prasad EFX.



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