“I'm always in a hurry to finish my movie… and start the next.” Filmmaker Farah Khan on taking inspiration from the 1970s Bollywood films and her reactions to hits and flops.
It was expected to end the year with a bang. Well, it did and it didn't. Farah Khan's “Tees Maar Khan” took in Rs. 12.75 crores on its first day, giving it the third highest opening-day collections ever, after “Dabangg” and “3 Idiots”. However, it also got some scathing reviews and ticket sales dipped considerably after its opening weekend.
But its director, a child of the film industry, has grown up on the edgy mix of success and failure that is B-town's and it takes more than bad reviews to faze her or her sense of humour.
Talking to Farah Khan about why and how she makes the kind of movies she does.
Everyone thinks of your films, with their sense of madness and total suspension of disbelief, as being very close to Manmohan Desai's. Is he one of your favourites?
Well, of course. I love his movies, but the two film-makers I really admire are Vijay Anand and Nasir Hussain. I think there's no one to beat Vijay Anand's technique, shot-taking and above all, his song picturisation; he was just the best. Nasir Hussain kept making the same movies over and over again, but I love them all. They had such a lovely breezy feel about them; when we went to see them as children, it was like going on a picnic.
Where do you get your inspiration from? Does it strike you in a Eureka moment, or is it 99 per cent perspiration?
Not 99, I would say it is 50-50 for me. Because it takes some work to get the right subject and the right amount of madness. See, my brother Sajid (also a film-maker) and I had a crazy childhood and it all goes back to that… and the movies of the 1970s. Those were the movies we grew up with and they were a magical world for us. Now, I can understand why some critics don't get my movies — they've gone to film appreciation courses and studied Fellini, while I've studied the Hindi films of the 1970s.
Many Bollywood directors claim to be unaffected by bad reviews. Are you one of them?
Those who claim to be unaffected are lying. Everyone cares about what other people think about their movies. But I'm happy enough if the audience likes my movies. So far, they have, thank God.
Set aside the commercials and collections, do you ever feel envious when you see a particularly good film?
Yes, once in a while. There are some films where you say, ‘I will never make this kind of movie but I like this one.' Then there are those where you say, ‘Hell, I wish I had made this movie!' And there are a few really good ones where you say, ‘Thank God I never made this movie because I couldn't have done it that well.'
Which was the last film that made you say that?
“Slumdog Millionaire”. You know, Shah Rukh (Khan) and I had actually wanted to buy the movie rights to (Vikas Swarup's book) Q&A. But when I saw what Danny Boyle had done with it, I was glad we didn't.
Danny adapted, shot and edited the movie so brilliantly; I have to say I would never have been able to come up with something like that. And I'm honest enough to admit it.
Though your films are such capers, we hear a lot about you being a tyrant and losing your cool on the sets; does film-making stress you out?
On the contrary, I'm happiest when I'm shooting and I want everyone else to be happy too. I feed my unit well (I love planning the menu for the day), I joke with them, I want them to laugh a lot. Yes, I say outrageous things, but it's not abusive and there is absolutely no malice. Those who work with me know that. When I shout at my dancers: ‘Why are you all dancing as if you're at a funeral?' they just laugh.
So you're saying it's one big picnic for you?
Yes! I really want to dispel this myth about me. See, once my movie is out, it goes out of my hands; some may love it, some may abuse it. But when I'm shooting for those 60-70 days, those are my days. It's just my film and me during that time. And when I watch my movies, I only remember all the fun we had. Unlike some directors, I can't tell you what the Bihar collections were for a film of mine, but I can tell you exactly which incident happened with which scene.
So tell us one from “Tees Maar Khan”.
Okay, here's one of my favourite memories. Akshay, who plays a con man, was shooting with Aarya Babbar, who plays a police inspector. It was a mid-shot — just up to the waist — and as the camera was rolling, Akshay quietly fished out Aarya's gun from his holster. (For those not in the know, Akshay Kumar is famed for his nimble fingers and often plays such pranks on the sets.) No one noticed till the scene was over and Akshay held the gun up, laughing: “Bandook maar di saale ki! (I flicked the poor guy's gun!)” That was the moment I knew Akshay had really ‘got' his character. I kept that bit in the movie; you can see it on the screen for yourself.
So you're clearly okay with impromptu changes on the sets; are you open to suggestions from your actors too?
Totally. In fact, I prefer actors who offer suggestions and interpretations. I have a very clear idea of what I want, but if actors can show me another way, I'm ready to listen. If I think it's rubbish, I'll tell them just that: “Rubbish! Now let's get on with the shooting.” But if I think they've added something to the lines or character, I have the objectivity to say, “Lovely; let's use it.” In “Tees Maar Khan”, I'd say I used roughly half the suggestions.
So, no question of 30 and 40 takes with you?
If an actor has got a good shot, why torture him and myself asking for more takes? If the actor asks for them, I will oblige. But honestly, I feel even the greatest actor in the world will deliver crap after 30 takes. Because it shouldn't ‘look' like acting; it has to be spontaneous to some degree.
But I also have to admit that sometimes, I see a scene and kick myself, thinking, I should have got a better take. The problem is that I'm always in such a hurry to get on with the job. I'm not one of those who will think about my scenes all day and shoot two or three a day. Let me tell you, I shot the whole of “Tees Maar Khan” in 250 cans. It's unheard of because that's what some directors use up in just their first schedule. But me, I'm always in a hurry to finish my movie… and start the next.