As “Kaanchi” releases this week, Subhash Ghai tells us why his films continue to be relevant

Once upon a time when Salim Javed were moulding their angry young man, Subhash Ghai was chiselling his own version in the form of “Kaalicharan” and “Vishwanath”. In these films female characters used to be the calming influence on the hero and worked as a balm for the audience. Times have changed, and so has Subhash Ghai. This week he is telling the story of an angry young woman at a theatre near you. The film is called “Kaanchi”. Ghai says the name says it all.

“She is fragile but if you hurt her she is bloody sharp.” The idea took shape three years ago when during a protest at the Gateway of India, Ghai saw a girl in the young crowd who was different from her peers. “She looked like a girl from a rural background, who was not used to a candlelight vigil, the urban way to protest. Her angry face and expressions of hurt stayed with me and I started weaving a story.”

Ghai says while the urban youth have discovered ways to show dissent, things haven’t changed much in rural India. “There the boys are still asked to keep their eyes down while speaking to a government official and girls are asked to hide in a corner. I thought what will happen when a girl rebels against this conspiracy of silence.”

Ghai says his could have been the first film in this wave of films woven around female characters. “Somehow the film got delayed but I feel it is the right time because the contemporary socio-political situation is an important part of the film. Kaanchi grows up thinking that this world is a fair place. Coming from the hills, this feeling comes naturally to her. However, when she realises that people in power are with you as long as you don’t hurt their interests, she gets a rude shock. When the politician comes asking for their land, everybody surrenders but she stands up.”

Here, Ghai says, she becomes different from Mansi, his heroine from “Taal”, who was also from the hills. “She was always ready to compromise and make peace for the larger good. Kaanchi is not like that. She takes her fight to the city and manipulates the system for the larger good. She doesn’t take on the system with a sword or a revolver, she uses her rural intelligence to take on the corrupt,” says Ghai in an obvious reference to the other release of the week, “Revolver Rani”.

Isn’t it the role assigned to our heroes? “Not any more,” says Ghai adding there is a line in the film where the mother says that girls don’t get angry like this and Kanchi replies that only girls get angry like this. If you look around, Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Sushma Swaraj are running important states or playing crucial roles in the running of government and parties and all of them have not made peace with the status quo.”

It is a fairly big budget film and Ghai is once again relying on newcomers. Ghai picked Mishti from Bengal after auditioning 300 girls. “I am primarily a storyteller and that’s why I never felt the need to rope in the stars.” After unsuccessfully trying to reach out to new frontiers with “Kisna” and “Yuvraaj”, Ghai says he is back to his strength, entertainment with a social message.

He agrees that his generation of filmmakers did indulge in templates of morality, but he says now he is concerned about the disappearance of places of worship from our films. “When I look back at the ‘Ram Lakhan’ scene where the mother gets into a dialogue with God, I find it over the top but at that time it was not considered out of place. However, today scoffing at the value systems has become some kind of genre.”

Ghai says he saw it coming when in “Taal” people clapped when Vikrant posted a corrupt man’s version of the Bhagavad Gita’s message. “Audience didn’t care to clap as much when Vikrant redeemed himself. Today’s Vikrants don’t need to because they have become the protagonists.”

He is not too amused by the doubletalk of the young generation and the media. “At one level many of them consider my style of filmmaking as a school, but then with every film that doesn’t do well at the box office they go berserk to declare that the school is about to shut shop. Should critics judge a film by its box office collection? Do they judge the veterans of Hollywood like Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese with such frivolity?” he asks.

Ghai goes on to add that you can’t expect Pandit Ravi Shankar to play the guitar just because you like the guitar. “My cinema will have theatrics and according to me theatrics are crucial to cinema. Cinema is a combination of 22 art forms, and until each of them comes out in sync the impact is not worth it,” says Ghai adding there is a difference between a movie and a piece of cinema, a director and a filmmaker.

“Not many in Hollywood write ‘a film by…’ because they know only those who conceive, write and execute the story can make such a claim.”

He says there is a role for small budget conversational cinema. “But can we say that they have been able to fulfil the entertainment needs of small towns and villages? They are doing well because the mass component in the audience has come down while the college student and family components have gone up. The day the smaller centres get multiplexes they will demand their own content.”

Ghai emphasises that he is alive to contemporary realities. “Had that [not] been the case I would have been remaking my films which by the way are in great demand. I would not have opted for Auro 11.1 3D sound for ‘Kaanchi’ and would not have written substantial characters for actors like Chandan Roy Sanyal and Adil Hussain.”

Ghai maintains that the generalisation that this generation of filmmakers is more imaginative than the previous one is not fair. “See, the kind of technical tools they have at their disposal has made research very easy. We had to go to government offices and libraries for every detail. They have everything available on their mobile. I often say we had the clouds, they have iCloud.”

Between the lines

On BJP calling Whistling Woods a toffee from the Congress

If it were a toffee it proved to be a very bitter one. It almost brought my three decades of reputation and hard work to nought. Politicians do dole out largesse but in this case the government told me that everything is being done according to procedure and later told the court that they bungled. I am waiting for the outcome of the review petition in the Supreme Court.

On casting Mithun Chakraborty and Rishi Kapoor

I needed two villainous brothers who are opposite to each other. I told Rishi after ‘Karz’ I could see him as an ‘Agneepath’ kind of villain. So I made him a guitar playing megalomaniac. Mithun and I are neighbours and I have been looking for an opportunity to work with him.

Future perfect

In Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Raj Kumar Hirani he can see his successors. “They bring a mass appeal without giving up on social message.”

Keywords: KaanchiSubhash Ghai