He is an insider, yet he says he feels like an outsider. Rarely seen at Bollywood galas and parties, we talk to Sajid Khan, who completes 10 years of directing films in Bollywood. It has been 10 years since ‘Heyy Baby’ released and 4 years since his last ‘Humshakals’ which was unfortunately panned badly. He talks straight and is utmost forthcoming. He makes several revelations and opens up like never before
What is the difference between Sajid Khan today and the one 10 years ago, who directed ‘Heyy Baby’?
A – Around 15 kilos, lots calmer, lots more patience. I wouldn’t say I was rash back then, but when you are 35 you are far stupider than when you are 45. It’s 10 years of wisdom, of ups and downs and experience, of knowing what went right and what when wrong, how to rectify it and not reminiscence about the past. The truth remains that I think, I have grown up, I was incredibly full of myself, also because as a director it has taken me 10 years and 5 films, but before that, I have been on television since 1993. I was enfant terrible on television having done numerous amount of shows mocking Bollywood songs, actors, actors, production houses, roasting celebs in interviews. There was this angst within the film industry towards me, even though I was born in it. But I always felt like an outsider.
I suffer from a ‘Poor Boy Rich Boy’ complex. We were very rich when I was born and then we became very poor. But even when we became very poor, my mother wanted to ensure that went to the best school possible. It was very expensive. So I was a Shivaji Nagar boy going to an ICSE school with all kids of the creme de la creme of the society, back in the 70s. Everyone used to come to school in their private cars, and not the public buses. From 8 am till 3 am, I used to be with all the rich kids, but I was a poor boy. And when I used to go back to my humble background, I pretended to be a rich boy, because the boy who came outside was still with his rich friends. I grew up with massive complexities. A lot of people think I am very extroverted, but I am not. I am very introverted and I am very reclusive. I suffer from this complex where I feel that if I enter a 5-star hotel, I will be stopped at the gate and asked to leave. I also that if I enter an area or a function of people with humble backgrounds, I will be asked to leave again, as they will think of me as the rich guy. That is why although I have done so many public shows, public events, public appearances, stage shows, hosted award functions, but I have to do it because that is my job.If I have to ever enter a party or a movie theatre or a mall on my own, I keep my head down, because of the fear in me. I have slowly uninstalled the fear, so I avoided socializing and that got misconstrued as arrogance. He sees through people yaar, apne aap ko kya samajhta hai? I was proud, ghamandi, extremely cocky and full of myself. I thought the attack was the best form of defence. I used to make jokes out of even compliments. That became my style. I purposely used to say and make eye-catching headlines such as ‘I cannot go wrong’, ‘I cannot make a flop because I knew these are the headlines that work. Clearly, I am not a very shrewd person, or else I would have been more politically correct. People who are never politically correct are never shrewd. I did not crave for attention, but I felt like sharing everything that I knew would entertain the public. I don’t know how the next 10 years are going to be, whether I do tv shows or movies, my attitude may or may not, I may or may not be alive. At the rate I am smoking, I have to give it up. But I have become a more real person. Earlier it was all about me, me and me. And I have realised that people don’t want to listen to you, they want to talk about themselves.That I think is your ground reality for realism.
One difference you want to keep or change in yourself
My honesty. My honesty has never changed. I am an extremely honest person and I get that from my mother and my sister. If I mess up, I will say I have messed up. If I haven’t I will fight to my death, trying to prove that I haven’t. My honesty has, if not often gotten me 10 percent appreciation, if not trouble. You are my friend, you call me for a film trial and ask me, ‘ So what did you think about the film and I tell you it was bad, you are not going to be happy. So either I stop getting calls to trials or I stop going to trials.I made a change in my life in the 5-6 years. I became more politically correct and gave out answers like ‘ wish you all the best’ which is pretty ambiguous. My honesty is something is I don’t want to change, but I want to curb my enthusiasm.I am evolving into an aspect of my life, which I haven’t understood earlier and that is motivational talking. I talk to students, troubled teens, especially with drug troubles and people don’t know this, neither do I wish to publicise it. I do counselling for a lot of teenagers because I was a troubled teen myself. So that makes me understand myself better when I interact with them. And today people like to believe what they read, but deep down they would like to believe which they feel is real and not what they know is real. Feeling and knowing are two different things. I have had so many people talking up to me and spending half an hour with me in a conversation and if I had a penny for every time I heard this line, I would have been a billionaire by now. But people always tell me that I am not what they thought me I was. They thought of me as an arrogant prick, without even knowing me. And I say, I used to be, not anymore. I am not here to win brownie points, I am just here to be just understood.
What do you regard as your career’s biggest mistake?
Personally, in life, I have made 2-3 mistakes which I regret.One being, the time when Ashutosh Gowariker and I fought. I should have kept quiet. Today I would’ve. Perhaps today I wouldn’t have done jokes like that which would have instigated anybody. Second, my fallout with Sajid Nadiadwala. We have been friends since 18-19 years since we were kids. Now it’s 21 years. We had a little squirmish going on, where we weren’t talking to each other and get into ego zones. I think all best friends are allowed to have their black patches and we had our black patches too. We are back together since the last 2 year and we have realised life is too precious to be fighting. We are very close and like brothers now. In fact, there are only two people who I bow my head down to. Not just bow down, but they are allowed to whiplash me in public. Those two are Farah my sister and Sajid Nadiadwala. I genuinely treat them like parents. I listen to them and I will do anything for them.I will jump blindly if they ask me to and even take a bullet for them if that is what it takes. That’s how much regard I have for them. Even Farah wasn’t talking to him, but when Nadiadwala and I got back, I made sure on Raksha Bandhan she spoke to him. They have worked together as well and have been like brother and sister. I am glad today we are back together as a family and that is my biggest triumph. I consider it as a mistake because he was the one who made me a director. Sajid Nadiadwala went all out for me and saw this potential in me as a budding director. He was this guiding light for me for ‘Heyy Baby’ to ‘Housefull’ and ‘Housefull 2’, which clearly I missed in ‘Himmatwala’ and ‘Humshakals’. We are hoping to work together soon and even if we don’t, I am glad we are friends again. I wouldn’t call that a mistake, but as a very, very dark chapter in the last 10 years.
From ‘Heyy Baby’ to today, do you think there has been a paradigm shift in the way films are being made?
Not really. The audiences never change, they evolve. An evolution is always good and it doesn’t mean complete change. Of course, today you can skype and WhatsApp and send messages from one end of the world to the other.But it doesn’t change the art of letter writing. So entertainment has to shift focus and still be entertainment. Earlier we used to watch movies on Doordarshan on a small 14-inch television, black and white. Today we enjoy movies on 84-inch wide television with a lot of accessories.The medium we see it is the same, but the way we see it has changed. Movies, of course, will evolve, but at the end, it is all about entertainment. Along with entertainment, if you can you can make them feel good by being sensible as well. Unless and until you are preparing your audience for that genre. A lot of people think I can only make mad-cap, senseless comedies.Because ‘Heyy Baby’ wasn’t a mad-cap senseless comedy. It had to deal with certain issues such as single parenthood and the bond between fathers and their daughters. Fathers naturally feel more protective towards their daughters and they consciously make an effort to even change themselves, if they think there is something wrong with their behaviour. I have seen that happen with my friends, with so many people around me. I tried to this exact sentiment in ‘Heyy Baby’. ‘Heyy Baby’ had got 15 percent good reviews, 85 percent very bad reviews.
It has been 10 years since your association with Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh and Sajid Nadiadwala. How have they evolved?
It has been 10 years since professional association with Sajid Nadiadwala, but we know each other before that. Akshay Kumar and Riteish Deshmukh, I have seen tremendous growth in them professionally and personally as well. Akshay became a father for the second time, Riteish became a father twice. The beauty of our friendship is that all of us are teetotallers. And we all love our mothers. This is the common ground we all walk on. We have a blast every time we meet. They told me that they missed this kind of a bonding in ‘Housefull 3’and I was like how can you do this without me! But it was my fault too because I and Nadiadwala were fighting and by the time we got together, the movie was already made. Somewhere it is my fault that I lost out on ‘Housefull 3’. Hopefully, I wouldn’t lose out on ‘Housefull 4’.
You think there is a movie on which you could have done a better job
I could have made the climax of ‘Housefull’ a lot more slap-stickier. Although I am very proud of it now, I feel it could have gone more into the slap-sticky zone. For ‘Himmatwala’ I could have changed bringing out the perception of the movie to the people. The film got lost in communication.It got lost in translation, where it was not a scoop. The movie was a homage to every cliche of the 70s and 80s. I wanted to show what the 70s and 80s cinema was all about and I have packaged it and presented it in one film. If you see ‘Himmatwala’ the 1983 version and my film, you will see these are two different films. My story is not exactly like the original film. Vashu Bhagnani even said, why is he paying 50 lacs for the rights, when you have changed the story. We had the essence of ‘Himmatwala, by having a couple of songs, the background music etc. But I wanted to involve every possible cliche of the 70s and 80s cinema. I wanted to pay an ode to the films made by Manmohan Desai, K Raghavendra Rao, Manoj Kumar and Prakash Mehra. I wanted to bring back the touch and feel of a ‘Mandir Masjid’, ‘Lost And Found’, the damsel in distress, the villain, the fight with the tiger, saving his sister from a group of goons, raksha bandhan, jai mata di, allah hu akbar and few more cliches. In my head, I was doing a Quentin Tarantino of what he does with a ‘Jackie Brown’ and a ‘Foxy Brown’. Where he takes a character similar to Pam Grier and blaxploitation cinema and makes it in 1988, with the technology available in 1988. The theme is very similar. Or what he does to a Kill Bill or a Pulp Fiction. So you know, that got lost in translation and relativity. So the audience was left frustrated. It was neither action nor funny. People told me I should have stuck my guns and made a comedy.People were laughing at scenes which were not even funny, so that is where we went wrong. ‘Humshakals’, I could have done a funnier job. ‘Himmatwala’ got such a heavy backlash, that I decided to go all out and make an out and out comedy. Make people laugh. Give them laughter galore like a ‘Naked Gun’ or a ‘Pink Panther’. Over the top loud, Jim Carrey comedy. Leave your brains in the neighbour’s garage kind of a comedy. So we were selling illogicality since the beginning, so just go there and laugh. But people went to see the film and took it seriously.
You know so much about foreign cinema, filmmaking and you are also one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to films. What stops you from sharing it with everyone else?
All my life I have been an entertainer. Not an educationist. I don’t think I have any right to tell people what is right and what is wrong. I love entertaining cinema. I love action films, comedy films, thrillers, sci-fi. I love ‘Avengers’ almost as I love Costa-Gavras’s ‘Z or a Woody Allen. Somewhere, I feel I will only make the cinema, I want to sit and watch. Popular cinema always needs to be larger than life. When you go larger than life, you always tread on the line of how to make it entertaining. When you tread on the lines of how to make it entertaining, you think of the movie in parts and segments. We need highlights, whether it is a song or a dance, whether it is a chase or a fight, you break down your popular cinema into that zone. It is like 20 key episodes of 10 minutes each or 15 key episodes of 10 minutes each and then you try for special highlights and you disperse it into a story. That is how popular cinema is made. For eg, ‘Fast And Furious’, the story could be illogical, but you enjoy watching it for the spectacle, the thrill and absurdity. But you are not judging the movie because of you already a part of the franchise. I am sure, I will make a very serious film one day, but my point is would I like to watch it? A movie should have repeat value, you can read a comic book three-four times a month, but you can’t read a heavy book more than twice in your lifetime. To reach the pan-India audience, you need to make popular cinema. Now the attempt is to make popular cinema with as much sensibility as there is. At least the scripts which we have are about the story and not the 10-minute breakdowns.
Do you think Bollywood needs to revive the larger than life ‘villain’ persona?
Hundred percent! I was discussing the other day with someone, that where have all the villains gone? The villains were a brand like the comedians. But then ever since the mainstream actors started doing comedy, the comedians got sidelined. Then in the 80s comedians’ track came back again with Shakti Kapoor, Kader Khan and Asrani. In the 70s the onscreen villains were the smugglers, in 80s the villains were the politicians, terrorists, rapists, people who wanted world dominance, murderers. In 90s villains were the street side gang, but then the advent of romance came in and villains died a natural death. There was no room for villainy in Hum Aapke Hai Kaun or Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Then again with ‘Gadar’ the trend of villainy started again, where there were proper villains, but justified. Why do people enjoy ‘Singham’ so much? Or a ‘Dabangg’ so much? It is also because of the presence of the key element of a villain. Be it Sonu Sood or Prakash Raj. When I say ‘Mr India’ people relate it to ‘Mogambo’, ‘Gabbar Singh’ for Sholay. These villains become larger than life and these become a reason for the audience to go and enjoy the movie. I made Ranjeet do a cameo in ‘Housefull’ as people still remember him as the lecherous guy in the 70s films. Today who is the villain? Is it the terrorist? Or the politician?So you need to create villains. You make villains such as a psycho-killer or a roadside killer or a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world. But these have been done to death. I love villains with punchlines and suave clothes. In the 60s, the villains even had manners. They had lines such as ‘Mohtarma hum aapko baandh rahe hai’, ‘time bomb 10 minutes ke baad phat jayega’, ‘yeh rassi jalti rahega aur kuch hi der mein tumhari maut ho jayegi’.
Why do you think the audiences are shying away from theatres?
There are many reasons for that. People talk about the film industry, people want to be a part of the film industry. The people who are outsiders are not inside. And when people can’t be a part of it, they want to take it apart through media, social media, WhatsApp. Every person today is a film critic. People come out of the theatres and rate the film and comment on the filmmaking aspects as well.Everybody has a voice and that is a good thing. Today theatres have become expensive. It is an expensive affair to go and watch a film in the theatres today. 218 films released last year, out of which 208 flopped. Almost 120 films three-four star reviews. But people didn’t go and see them. People will go for movies with a strong word-of-mouth. Or a film which they feel they have to see it. The most important part of making a film today is to make a film which connects with the audiences at a trailer level. A trailer makes you realise if you want to see the movie or not. It is that simple. If your trailer hits the jackpot, you don’t need to worry if the film will do well. The film better live up to the expectations. There are so many avenues for people today indulge themselves in right from a Netflix to an Amazon Prime, malls, sports, events, music, that movies are finding it little hard to get more people indulge. Right from the advent of the video in the 80s, the film industry was almost shut down for a period of two-three months. Then again in the 90s piracy was rampant, in 2000 it was the taxes by the government. So the film industry always goes through these kinds of pitfalls, but they bounce back very strongly. Thirdly, you have to give the audience, film which they don’t diss off completely and which they will come to watch again. Your single screen audiences have moved to the lower end multiplexes, the lower end multiplexes have moved to the higher end multiplexes and your higher end multiple audiences now have home theatres. There are more theatres than content. Even a big Hollywood film gets 3000 screens. The content has to be correct and it can only reach a wider audience when the songs are popular. And songs are popular when people sing it and not hear it in the background. Heroes have to do what heroes do and not what common people do. A hero must be larger than life. Salman Khan has proved it to the world time and again. So his movies end up doing 300 crores. Even when his film ‘Tubelight’ flopped very badly, it still clocked in 115 crores. Aamir Khan on the other hand, has always done stuff which was completely different.And that is what you expect from the Aamir Khan brand of movies. But when he does a larger than life film’ Ghajini’, then it becomes the first film to cross 100 crores. Heroes have to be projected larger than life, that is how they become heroes. You don’t expect Thor and Hulk to not fight or not show their superpowers. Do you expect them to sit down and brood? That is what the current lot must realise, they have to be larger than life.
What do you think about the current music scenario in Bollywood?
It is non-existent. Melody is something which will never go out of style. ‘Sur to sur hota hai.’ Today it has become very instant. Music started fading away in the mid-2000s. It started becoming more itemised. The melodies are missing.
Do you think shows like ‘Ikke Pe Ikka’ or a ‘Kehne Mein Kya Harz Hai’ would work today?
I don’t think so. The content which I had was played on every other show. ‘Sajid No 1’ was a comedy show, there were other comedy shows on other shows. ‘Kehne Mein Kya Harz Hai’ was again a unique show, and until today a show like that has not been done. I can pull it off because I know ham-scenes, Bollywood and Hollywood scenes by heart!Ikke Pe Ikka was a regular countdown show, but it became popular because a young 22-year-old boy was mocking the film-industry, nitpicking on music directors and also how I presented myself in every episode. Comedy has become roasting today. Which is not wrong or bad, but people have become more sensitive. Earlier people did not have avenues to rant. I used to get calls and notices from various production houses. I have been through getting almost banned on television. Today people feel if they run down or insult someone, it would grab more eyeballs and watch their show. I can’t complain because I also did that, but in my defence, I was incredibly funny. I mocked myself too. when I reviewed ‘Jhooth Bole Kauvva Kaate’, I showed a crow shit on my head.
Which medium brings out the best in you?
Films. There is a lot more hard-work and planning that comes with it. Television and stage shows come to me naturally. You can pick me up right now and ask me to just host an award function. But you can’t do that with films. It requires a lot of hard work. There is a lot of writing and re-writing and I feel if it is not on the page, you can’t execute it well on stage. If it is a comedy it is even more difficult. what you write on the page, may not transcend into what you see enact when you had written it. So then what you have written goes to waste along with your efforts, because comedy is all about timing. Punchlines are important of course, but if the punchlines lack timing, then what’s the use?
How has your relationship with your sister Farah Khan evolved with time?
It has certainly. I have seen her become such a responsible mother, who wants nothing but the best for her kids. She wants to give all the opportunities to her children, which we as kids couldn’t have, due to our financial troubles. She travels with them all over the world but is also keeping them grounded.
What are your future projects?
I am doing two films- One will be announced early next year and the other one will start early next year.
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