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Unfazed by failure

Failures do not bog him down. Neither can they make him change his style of working. SUBHASH K. JHA talks to Mahesh Manjrekar, the prolific film director, whose "Pitaah" was released recently.


Mahesh Manjrekar... a director who makes films on his own terms.

TWO FILMS in two weeks. And both were flops. But Mahesh Manjrekar is undaunted. Both "Tera Mera Saath Rahen" and "Ehsaas" were subjects close to his heart. Now his third film "Pitaah" has also been released. This prolific director vows to make films only on his own terms, without compromises.

Do you think songs came in the way of your story telling in "Ehsaas" and "Tera Mera Saath Rahen"?

They certainly did. I know songs often hamper the story. But what can I do? In "Tera Mera Saath Rahen" I suggested we shoot the songs in Mumbai instead of going abroad. But the producer wanted glamorous footage for the television promos. In "Pitaah" they wanted Sanjay Dutt to sing at least two songs. I put my foot down. All the songs in "Pitaah" are in the background.

I feel both "Tera Mera Saath Rahen" and "Ehsaas" deserved a better deal at the box office...

Yeah they were good films. But they didn't do well because they were released in the Ramzan period. Furthermore two action heroes, Ajay Devgan and Sunil Shetty, were cast against their image. I feel "Ehsaas" would've done well if it had been released with "Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham", on December14.

Why do you feel so?

"Ehsaas" would've been no threat to "Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham". But if out of 200 people only 100 get into a theatre showing Karan Johar's film, at least 30 out of the remaining would have said, `Lets go and see the other film'. I'm sure after seeing "Ehsaas" they wouldn't have been disappointed. But the producer didn't want to wait.

Do you think the similarity in the mood and theme of the two films affected the box office performance?

Only the second film, "Ehsaas", should have been affected by the similarity. I feel "Tera Mera Saath Rahen" was ruined by the songs. As for "Ehsaas" I think Sunil Shetty is wonderful. His love for kids comes across. Sunil is really worried. What does he do now? He can't go back to doing action roles. .

Could the progressively limited budgets for your films be the culprit?

But I spent a lot on "Tera Mera Saath Rahen". The chawl set alone cost me more than a crore. Everything, including the chawl facing my location, was a set. In "Ehsaas", the two houses where the main drama unfolds, are sets.

No I don't think "Tera Mera Saath Rahen" was a low-budget film. It needed that rough middle class claustrophobic look. Except for the songs I am quite happy with "Tera Mera Saath Rahen". Even when I watch those songs on television my blood starts boiling.

So why did you allow them?

The producers had sold the music rights for a hefty sum, so I shot the songs. But I told them to keep the songs only for the television promos. If songs are woven well into the narrative, as in "Gadar", the music does well. From now on if my film is set in Mumbai I wont go to Kulu Manali, let alone Switzerland, for a song. In the case of "Pitaah" the music supports the narration.

Are the protagonists in your "Pratibimb", the sequel to "Vaastav", going to sing songs?

Sanjay Dutt isn't going to sing. Shilpa Shetty will sing one song. In my remake of "The Godfather" ("Kutumb"), which I am now writing, I've told my producer Feroz Nadiadwala that I can't fit in songs. I want to make "Kutumb" at one go, and I am not bothered if someone else makes a film with the Amitabh-Abhishek combination before me.

There's an announcement of a new film by you every week. How many films are you actually making?

Just "Pratibimb" and "Kutumb". I have started a film with Bobby Deol. But since it's a different subject, everyone is a little apprehensive. Then I have another subject about two blind lovers, which I want to make with Sanjay Dutt and Kareena. Sanjay has already given me dates. Now I have to get Kareena's dates.

Do you have anything else in mind?

Last night I thought of a subject. It's called "Harivansh Rai Ka Bachcha Bhi To Hero Bana Na". It's about the strugglers who come to the Mumbai film industry. The number of strugglers in Mumbai is frightening.I'd need stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan to make guest appearances just for half a day of shooting each. There will be no sets in the film.

What else do you have up your sleeve?

Then I have a film called "Common Man". It is a silent film. Only two actors can carry the role. Paresh Rawail or Naseeruddin Shah. I have spoken to Paresh.

Before starting the film every actor would have to rehearse his part. Apart from Paresh I don't have any stars in "Common Man", only actors from the Marathi theatre.

You are often been accused favouring Marathi actors in your films...

But they are able to give me the performances that I want. There is this actor I am working with in one of my films. It seems impossible for him to get out of the hero-giri mould.

Today Sanju is able to get into the skin of the characters he plays. He is in so many of my films and he isn't Marathi. In "Pitaah" none of the main actors except Sachin Khedekar, is Marathi. As for actors like Sanjay Navlekar, he's too good. Which director wouldn't want to work with him or Shivaji Satam?

You have a flair for comedy. When are you making one?

I want to make one about three physically challenged guys called "Laloo Prasad Yadav". With that title I immediately have my audience. It's about three mutually dependent guys who are blind, deaf and mute.

Are you willing to ruin your films by putting unwanted songs into them?

No longer so. That is why I want to produce all my films myself. People in the trade can be really irrational.

They said "Gadar" worked because of the action. I disagree. I think it worked because of the emotions. If people liked Sunny for his action in "Gadar" why didn't "Indian" do just as well?

There are two other films with the two Bachchans coming up...

I know. I want to make "Kutumb" on my own terms. Even if I get the dates of the stars six months from now I am willing to wait. The film is difficult to make.

Every prop, every make-up detail from the 1960s onwards has to be worked in advance. Otherwise Feroz Nadiadwala and I can make a fun-filled, frothy film. I have made it clear to him that there should be no interference. If I make a film for another producer he has to have full faith in me.

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