Bollywood's favourite filmmaker

Ajay Devgan bagged the national award for his performance in Santoshi's "Legend of Bhagat Singh."  

THE BOY from lower middle class Thane (a Mumbai suburb) hasn't changed much. His clothes are baggy and the glasses unfashionably thick.

He is ready to travel by autorickshaw if the driver is not available. The burning ambition to excel in the world of films, a childhood passion, however, still drives him.

"Ghayal," an action film.

"Ghayal," an action film.  

After the critical and box office success of "Khakhee", 45-year old Rajkumar Santoshi is the hottest directorial property in Bollywood. The film still runs to packed houses in Mumbai and other venues.

Solidly booked till 2006 with five films on hand, Santoshi has stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Sunny Deol, Hrithik Roshan and Aamir Khan waiting in the wings, for the call. They are ready to work without even having a look at the script!

Amitabh Bachchan has entrusted the direction of his ABCL production, "Ranveer", to Santoshi who is currently busy with a historical extravaganza, "Prithviraj Sanyukta", with Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai.

Devgan, who bagged the national award for best actor in Santoshi's "Legend of Bhagat Singh," is currently the director's favourite hero.

The admiration is mutual. For Devgan, Santoshi is ``not just a director, but also a wonderful dialogue and screenplay writer, with a great sense of drama. I will do any role for him, even without reading the script.'' Association with Santoshi brought action hero Sunny Deol ("Damini") and Anil Kapoor ("Pukar") the national best actor awards. "Pukar" suffered a Rs. 20 crore loss, but no one complained. Producer Boney Kapoor who confessed to overspending on the film, is ready to work with Santoshi any time!

Santoshi was Sunny Deol's favourite till he chose to direct Devgan in "Legend... " rather then Bobby Deol in another version of the same theme. But today, the actor and director are friends again and ready to work together.

After "China Gate", a big budget flop, Santoshi acquired the reputation of a slow worker and big spender. He does not mind the label. ``I made `Damini' for Rs. one crore and today, I can get Rs. 100 crores to direct my dream film on the `Mahabharat'.''

Mentor Govind Nihalani under whom Santoshi worked for five years, agrees. ``He has control over his craft, he is passionate about his work. I admire his control over dramatic sequences.''

Another positive factor is Santoshi's versatility. Among his nine films are "Barsaat" (romance), "Andaz Apna Apna" (comedy), "Ghayal" (action), "Damini" (social issues) and "Legend of Bhagat Singh" (History).

"Andaz Apne Apne," a comedy.

"Andaz Apne Apne," a comedy.  

Santoshi will do films on topics, which move him. He admires the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara but is not certain if he would do a film on him.

Was the zeal with which he tackled "Khakhee" inspired by his concern for growing corruption in society (particularly in the police force) as exposed by the ongoing Telgi stamp paper scam? Santoshi hesitates before replying, ``Not so much.'' He says, ``The sheer energy of the film, carried it.''

He is quick to give total credit to Amitabh Bachchan who rediscovered himself in a memorable role after nearly 20 years as an honest police officer goaded beyond control by the corruption he comes across in the force.

Bachchan emerges as a bursting volcano, which had been dormant for years. The credit goes to Santoshi for drawing the fire out of Bachchan. ``This film is my tribute to Amitji,'' he explains. ``He readily agreed to look his age with wrinkles and an emerging paunch.''

The director has also been watching with dismay, the tendency among some of his colleagues to portray Indian Muslims in a bad light and as agents of Pakistan.

Rajkumar Santoshi ... booked till 2006.

Rajkumar Santoshi ... booked till 2006.  

"Khakhee" revolves round a Muslim doctor accused of being an ISI agent, but who is finally proved innocent.

``I thought I should bring some sanity to the prevailing situation,'' he explains. Once again, the middle class morality and commitment to good causes show.

The director did not visit the theatres incognito to study the audiences applauding his film. He will not do it because such applause and adulation may tempt him to do similar films.

Amitabh Bachchan in "Khakhee" ... a memorable role.

Amitabh Bachchan in "Khakhee" ... a memorable role.  

Santoshi has never been one to bask in past glory. ``A film is released, I get it out of my system and concentrate on the next.''

So, film lovers, watch out for "Prithviraj Sanyukta".