An actor’s director, Rajkumar Santoshi is back in business to prove that there is no expiry date for a filmmaker who is keen to play the game on his own terms.

“Phata Poster Nikhla Hero”. It is not just for Shahid Kapur who is looking for a breakthrough after a lull, the title also suggests the return of Rajkumar Santoshi to the turnstiles after a long gap. Usually filmmakers don’t go into hiding after a hit but Santoshi, one of the most gifted filmmakers in the industry, took a rather long break after “Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani”. The film turned Ranbir Kapoor into a star material but Santoshi got lost in a “Power” struggle.

“After ‘Ajab…’ I took Feroz Nadiadwala’s ‘Power’ but unfortunately the shooting stopped after 10 days. It was supposed to be a big-budget multi-starrer but the producer could not take the dates from the stars.” But Firoz’s version is different. He is holding Santoshi responsible for the delay. “The matter is in the court. It is strange that I am being held responsible for the delay because arranging the dates and payments of the actors is the responsibility of the producer. Because of the delay I lost two years, which is a long time in a creative field but the silver lining is that it gave me a chance to write many stories,” says Santoshi

A rare filmmaker in Bollywood who writes his own stories, Santoshi says, “My idea always has been to make films on subjects that come from the heart. I don’t go by the trend, nor do I repeat myself. I have been constantly asked about the sequel of ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ but I am resisting it because I have no story to justify the sequel. I want success but not just for the sake of money. I want a hit to give me the power to choose the subjects I want to see on screen. If a film doesn’t do well then I will be dictated by the producer to make the film that he wants. I want my films to be successful so that I can do my own thing.”

Having full faith in his audience, Santoshi says it is not necessary that every film should touch 100 crores. “If the cost of the film is recovered and it earns 15 to 20 per cent profit, then I think it is enough. In the race to 100 crores the entire focus of the film changes. What I do is, I make the film my way and then leave its marketing to the producer, as I feel once the film is made they have the right to exploit it the way they want to recover the money.”

However, “Phata Poster…” seems to be in the same zone as “Ajab…” Considering the producer is the same, was he pushed to make another young comedy? Santoshi denies the charge. “The initial trailer did give an impression that it is similar to ‘Ajab…’ because of the comic flavour and the element of innocence but it is an action comedy which has a very strong emotional base. ‘Phata Poster…’ is about the boy who wants to become an actor but ends up becoming a police officer but it is also about the mother-son relationship and as such a lot of dramatic moments are there, which were not there in ‘Ajab…’ It is a strange mixture of comedy and emotions with unexpected twists and turns. Like ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ you have to believe in the crazy universe of the film to enjoy it. It is like a Peter Sellers comedy. You might see serious things happening but the treatment is totally comic,” says Santoshi and goes on to add that Padmini Kolhapure is returning as the mother and the family audience will like her track with Shahid.

It is the first time that Shahid is doing a full-on comedy and Santoshi says he has done a good job. “I write according to the personality of the actor. If an actor loves to shout, you have to give him credible reasons to shout. When Sunny Deol did award winning performances with me people said they didn’t know Sunny had this side as well. I hope people will react in a similar fashion after watching Shahid. There is no actor who doesn’t have a negative point. My job is to hide them. Under my direction three actors have won the National Award for acting. Be it Akshay Kumar in ‘Khaaki’ or Ranbir Kapoor in ‘Ajab…’ you saw a different side of the actor in my film. Even Tusshar Kapoor gave a good performance with me!” he says it as a matter of fact. “If you notice, it was not the usual Amitabh Bachchan that you saw in ‘Khaaki’. There was no pretension and the urge to bring the superstar persona to the character. We brought his respiratory problem to the character and he even agreed to remove the beard for the film. And perhaps that’s why critics called it his best performance after his comeback.”

Few know that Santoshi is a competent actor and narrates the whole story by enacting all the parts. Yes, the female ones as well. Shahid Kapur and Illeana D’ Souza corroborated this recently when they told us they only had to copy what Santoshi did during the narration. In fact, Shahid goes on to say that now he knows why Aamir Khan and Salman Khan sound so effortless in “Andaz Apna Apna”.

Ask Santoshi and he takes it in a light way. “They are out to make me change my profession!” But he does add that he doesn’t show his seniority to his young actors. “I keep the atmosphere light. I have worked with both Rishi Kapoor and Pankaj Kapur in the past and I found their sons are equally disciplined and obedient.”

However, it is a fact that many of his contemporaries have already been dubbed old-school. Does he feel the pressures of the young wave? “Even today if you make ‘Gunga Jumna’ or ‘Mother India’ they will run to full houses. These films had soul. I don’t know that there is even a single film from this so-called new wave which will be remembered for the next 20 years. They work in short bursts. Nowadays, people start working on the sequel without a story. A sequel has to take the story forward. It should not be used to cash in on the goodwill for the film. It is cheating,” asserts Santoshi, adding there are a few genuine sparks. “Like Anurag Basu. I liked his ‘Barfii’, then there is Imtiaz Ali, whose ‘Jab We Met’ is timeless. Tigmanshu Dhulia also has good control over drama and social reality.”

But he is looking for consistency and range. He can, for after learning the craft from Govind Nihalani, he has delivered films as diverse as “Ghayal” “Damini”, “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” and interspersed them with a crackling comedy like “Andaz Apna Apna”. “They are talking about social concern about rape now. I made ‘Damini’ in 1991 and said that it all starts from home and you have to first take a stand between the four walls before blaming or changing the society. We get worried about incidents in Mumbai. Are we even aware about how much women are going through in small towns? When the industry was welcoming Miss Worlds I made ‘Lajja’ telling the society that it is not an hour of celebration. The film is one of my most popular films on satellite television.”

He alleges that some filmmakers have turned social comment into a formula. “Our job is not reminding the audience about the headlines of yesterday’s newspaper. If you have to make the audience think, do it in an entertaining manner. ‘Damini’ made a strong comment but it had humour and dialogue baazi as well.”

One reminds him that dialogues are back in vogue with films like “Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai” and “The Dirty Picture”. “It is more of jumlebaazi. I find them juvenile. In such films even if the actor asks for tea, the waiter comes up with some rhyming lines. After a point everybody starts sounding the same, as if I have come to attend a mushaira. It shows lack of integrity in characterisation.”

Son of director-lyricist P.L. Santoshi, he has got versatility in his blood. He recalls “Barsaat Ki Raat” and “Hum Pancchi Ke Daal Ke”, the films that made his father famous. And after “Phata Poster…” Santoshi is eager to return to serious drama with an adaptation of Asghar Wajahat’s “Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya, O Jamyai Nai”.

“I have this in my mind for a long time. I hope ‘Phata Poster…’ does well so that I can channelise my energies towards something that I really care for. I want to come out of the whirlpool. When I watch Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Vijay Anand and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s work, I feel what all these greats said through healthy entertainment decades back! We are more like one-eyed kings in the land of the blind,” Santoshi trails off.

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