From law to fashion to moviemaking, Elahe Hiptoola looks back at her journey and says she finds true happiness in being a people's person.
The last few days have been a blur. Elahe has been living out of suitcases, visiting different cities to promote her latest production. A one-day stopover in Hyderabad comes as a breather. She savours the few hours at home before setting out for promotions. She settles down to chat, not before going over the dinner menu with her staff at home. Rannvijay Singh, Ayesha Takia and Nagesh Kukunoor will be home for dinner and she wants to ensure they are treated to a memorable Hyderabadi khana.
Brush strokes with Husain
One of the best things about filmmaking, she says, is the opportunity to bond with new people. Thirteen years in the industry making 12 films has opened up her world. “If not for films, I wouldn't have known Husain saab so well, who taught me so much about Urdu poetry, or someone like Rannvijay Singh who I now consider like my son,” she exclaims. Husain's famed series, an ode to Nagesh Kukunoor and Elahe's Iqbal, adorns her study.
The talk of Iqbal and Dor takes her back to the time when she and Nagesh made movies for the love of making movies and didn't have to deal with corporatisation of movies, read 8X10 Tasveer or Yeh Hosla, which is still waiting to be released. With Mod, she is glad that the two have gone back to their own way of filmmaking. “For a short while, we went by what the corporates said. It was all about how to position yourself, packaging and so on. Not that we complained when John Abraham and Akshay Kumar were given to us by corporates. But somewhere, we wanted to get back to what we believed in — make movies for the love of it than creating noise,” she explains.
Noise or marketing, which has become mandatory, she explains, has of late involved creating controversies. “How do we do that with a film like Mod? Say that Rannvijay and Ayesha are in love? Not possible. Talk about me and Nagesh? That's done to death. Say that Nagesh and Rannvijay are seeing each other? They are not gay. Or say that Elahe and Rannvijay have a thing going? Impossible, he is like my son,” she laughs.
Of the 12 films, 8X10 Tasveer was the only one she didn't produce because she was busy with Aashayein. “I am a hands-on producer and also double as Nagesh's AD (assistant director). I can't handle two films at a time,” she points out. If Nagesh is the creative head, Elahe takes charge of people management. “It's the most underrated and thankless job,” she says. “It's easy for someone to ask me why I can't ensure that John (Abraham) arrives on time. It's not that simple. I have to put my ego aside not just while dealing with stars. As a producer, you are in constant negotiation with people. At times, it brings out the harsher side of me. In this industry, people respect you only if you throw your weight around,” she shrugs.
That said, she credits her core team that has stayed with her throughout the last decade. “If I come out smelling of roses it's because I have a disciplined director like Nagesh above me and a great team. It is easy when the director is a stickler to discipline; the others have to fall in line,” she says. On the sets, she is called ‘hypertoola' and she accepts it with pride. “With time, I have become calmer. A camera not arriving or an actor falling ill doesn't make me panic. There is always a plan B.”
Law, fashion and movies
Hear Elahe talk about filmmaking and you wonder how she just ‘stumbled' upon filmmaking. “I had no connection with movies. As a child, only once I visited a set and was delighted to spot director Raj Sippy. Padmini Kolhapure and Poonam Dhillon never stepped out of their makeup rooms and I was disappointed,” she recounts.
She grew up in Hyderabad, moved to Mumbai to study law and returned to Hyderabad to do something unrelated — open the city's first boutique, ‘Elahe'. “My parents told me that I have to be on my own from college. Coming from a khatey peetey ghar, I didn't realise they were serious. Soon, I had to start working to meet my expenses. I worked with Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla at a boutique in Mumbai.”
Her boutique was more a fun place than a business venture. “I made a life out of it, not business,” she says in hindsight. “It was a hangout place for youngsters; many love stories blossomed there. There was a chaatwaala, a huge tamarind tree… I made new friends. There was no competition for years, until I sold my boutique,” she says.
In her chequered career, there was a testing phase too. She recalls, “I got married, divorced and moved on. I can't hold grudges. Vidyut (Jaisimha) and I knew each other for 10 years before we got married. Our common friends were equally distraught when we decided to move apart. We were two good people caught in a wrong place. I must thank Vidyut for letting me go. Or, I wouldn't have been where I am today.”
“I've been lucky,” she says. “Hyderabad Blues fell into my lap and I got a great guru in Nagesh. I am a fun person who always looks to be entertained. If I have to die tomorrow, I'd die with pride that I have lived my life,” she signs off, the smile still in place.