A look at Subhash Ghai’s journey as a filmmaker

Subhash Ghai is considered a significant filmmaker. But apart from 'Hero' and 'Pardes', I can’t recall anything exceptional in his films, writes Subhash K Jha on the filmmaker's birthday

A look at Subhash Ghai’s journey as a filmmaker
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Subhash K Jha

Subhash Ghai is considered a significant filmmaker of the post-Raj Kapoor era. But apart from Hero and maybe Pardes I can’t recall anything exceptional in his films.

In an interview in 2013 with me Ghai had said. “I have had the most amazingly eventful journey. I’ve enjoyed every bit of my life so far. I’ve seen the worst fall and the best rise. I am now writing a book with utmost truth about me and the others who had been and have been part of the agony and ecstasy of my life... I feel the book would be hilarious, enlightening and full of surprises and inspiring. Every event was a landmark in my life. So I can't choose one event as special. My films themselves speak of my growth as a person and as an artist in me. I’ve evolved as an individual during these 35 years of my professional life. The best part in me is that I am a great student of life and I learn something new every day, be it be on technology, content, people, youth, nation and cinema, I am clued in. As a filmmaker, I am always ahead of times, whether it was Karz, Taal or Kisna. I know I have to march ahead as best as I can with the same confidence and spirit as before, to keep me up there where I belong. The failure of my films at the box office do not shake me in my quest to make quality-conscious blockbusters with a message.”

A look at Ghai’s oeuvre, the cut-off point being

1. Kalicharan (1976); Starring Shatrughan Sinha, Reena Roy, Premnath.The film that is remembered for starting off Shatrughan Sinha’s career as a leading man, and his long relationship with the film’s leading leady Reena Roy . All else is nothing worth recalling .A badly-written script with bombastic confrontations between Sinha and Premnath, and yes. Lata Mangeshkar’s hit number Ja re ja o harjaaee

2. Karz (1980); Starring Rishi Kapoor, Tina Munim, Simi Garewal, Raj Kiran, Premnath; Films about reincarnation have seldom clicked: Bimal Roy’s Madhumati, A. Subba Rao’s Milan and Subhash Ghai’s Karz are the exceptions. Ghai adapted an awful novel The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud into India’s first rock –music on celluloid with Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s chartbuster songs Om shanti om, Ek haseena tthi and Paisa yeh paisa, this trendsetter also boasted of the theme of reincarnation where the reborn protagonist and his predecessor(played by Kapoor and Raj Kiron) were not dead-ringers; Simi Garewal’s wanton-woman’s act was a hell-raiser .

3. Vidhaata (1982); Starring Dilip Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Padmini Kolhapure, Sareeka; the clash of the titanic trio Dilip, Sanjeev and Shammi raised this potboiler to the status of a riveting conflict-ridden tale. Again the sterling cast was let down by a anarchic script.Notoriety was thrust on the product(particularly in the pelvic region) with the raunchy number Saat saheliyan khadi khadi.


4. Hero (1983); Starring Jackie Shroff, Meenakshi Sheshadri, Sanjeev Kumar, Shammi Kapoor; USPs: launched Jackie Shroff(who had earlier appeared as a junior artiste in Dev Anand’s Swami Dada) as a major star; gave Laxmikant-Pyarelal a chance to score one of their most vibrant music scores, topped by the chartbusting folk song Lambi judai by Pakistani singer Reshma and the delectable Lata Mangeshkar raga-romp Neendiya se jagi bahaar.

5. Karma (1986); Starring Dilip Kumar, Nutan, Sridevi, Naseeruddin Shah , Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Poonam Dhillon, Anupam Kher; USPs: a star-cast that reads like the who’s who of Bollywood topped by the stalwart Dilip K-Nutan pair who had never appeared together before except in the unfinished Shikast; Dilip Kumar’s confrontation scenes with the villain Dr Dang(Kher) brough the house down.

6.Ram Lakhan (1989); Starring Raakhee, Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff, Dimple Kapadia: USPs: the blockbuster was the weakest link in Ghai’s oeuvre but was saved by the belle. Madhuri Dixit in her re-launch role was a dream enacting Lata Mangeshkar’s Bada dukh deena to Saroj Khan’s kitschy choreography. Other highligh of the film… Anil Kapoor’s tomfoolery topped by the chartbusting song One two ka four.

7. Saudagar (1991); Starring Dilip Kumar, Raj Kumar, Manisha Koirala, Vivek Mushran, Jackie Shroff, Deepti Naval; USPs—Again, a titanic clash, this time between the two mighty thespians Dilip Kumar and Raj Kumar who were last seen together 32 years earlier in Paigham; A richly tapestried tale of valour and rivalry the huge narrative canvas was controlled by performances that screamed drama. Manisha Koirala made a very promising debut. One of Ghai’s best.

8. Khalnayak(1993); Starring Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff, Ramya; USPs: the coming of age of the anti-hero… Sanjay Dutt shone as the bad guy just when he was put into jail for anti-terrorist activities thereby giving the film that cutting edge. Then there was the infamous song Choli ke peeche kya hai, superbly choreographed by Saroj Khan and performed by Madhuri and Neena Gupta.

9. Pardes(1997); Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Mahima Chowdhary, Apoorva Agnihotri Amrish Puri; USPs: Designed to appeal to NRIs, Pardes is perhaps Ghai’s best work to date with a truly commendable performance by Shah Rukh as Amrish Puri’s adoptive all-purpose son . The film’s crackling narrative and some emotional songs by Nadem-Shravan added to its ethnic allure. Mahima Chowdhary proved far less successful than Ghai’s other two star discoveries Madhuri and Manisha.

10. Taal(1999); Starring Aishwarya Rai, Akshaye Khanna, Anil Kapoor; USP: though lacking a soul the film’s stunning cinematography and A . R Rahman’s exceptional music score carried Taal beyond its pedestrian plot and an utterly ludicrous climax. Ghai favourite Anil Kapoor played a dude with an attitude. Some people never grow up. Fortunately, Subhash Ghai did.

11. Yaadein(2001); Starring Jackie Shroff, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor; USPs: though booed out of the theatres this one is arguably Ghai’s most sensitive film ever; great chemistry between Shroff and Kareena as father and daughter and more specially between Shroff and Hrithik sharing a buddy-buddy camaraderie eventhough Shroff is Hrithik’s father’s friend in the film. Fabulously written scenes and great moments of lovers’ anguish between Roshan and Kapoor. If only it worked!

12. Kisna(2005): A period film set during the British Raj about forbidden love among a British woman(Antonia Bernath), an Indian villager(Vivek Oberoi) and the Indian lass who can contort her physique into shapes that are humanly impossible(Isha Sharvani). Oh yes, Sushmita Sen performed a special Mujra. The music by A R Rahman and Ismail Durbar was as special as the film(sarcasm intended).


13. Yuvraaj(2008): Remembered only for the grand reconciliation between Ghai and Salman Khan after the latter had openly insulted the former. The story of the patch-up, far more interesting than the film goes like this in Ghai’s own words : “I worked with Salman Khan for the first time in Yuvraj.Whatever I had heard about him was wrong. He loved my script. Then he started loving me. Trust me not once did question me about the scenes and dialogues. He obeyed my instructions. He's a delight to work with. I like stars who've full faith in me.Yes, we once fought and made up. Today, we're friends. Not many people offered me a helping hand after KISNA flopped. I approached a lot of actors, but all I got were unfulfilled assurances and promises. When I approached Salman, he didn't ask questions, he said he was keen to work with me. How can I ever forget that?It's like this. I've a sister who spent her childhood with me. Then she broke away from me and left for her husband's home. Then she had children and they left her home. Situations and relationships change. And when people are close to each other they fight. If you love someone deeply he's bound to come back in your life. Salman and share a deep bond. Somewhere he always wanted to work with me. I always treated him like a child. He's my friend Salim Saab's friend. When Salman fought with me, Salim Saab ordered him to come to my home and apologize. He came home early the next day and apologized.He's a good soul. And I realize he's truly a gem of a person."

14. Black & White(2008): Subhash Ghai’s unofficial remake of Joseph Costelo's The War Within, where a closet terrorist arrives in New York, befriends a benign Muslim family and plans to blow up the Grand Central. Ghai claimed he had not heard of The War Within. But he had heard of another Hollywood film akin to his. “In Devil's Own, the terrorist succeeds in his mission. In Black & White, the point is we need to kill terrorism, not terrorists. That really touched me," The film, about a terrorist, who comes to Chandni Chowk to blow up the Red Fort on Aug 15, was a well-made thriller. One of the unique aspects of Black & White was the casting of veteran stage actor Habib Tanvir. Said Ghai,"Casting for the part of the young terrorist (played by debutant Anuraag Sinha) and for this wise old man of Chandni Chowk was very tough. I got Habib saab to play a man who sheltered Hindus in his home during Partition. Eventually, he sold all his property for a pittance. Finding the right actor with a specific heritage, culture, personality and face was really tough. I didn't want to cast anybody stereotypical. Even Dilip Kumar wouldn't have worked. My casting agent suggested Habib Tanvir. He was reluctant to begin with me. He wondered what he'd do in a Subhash Ghai film! I told Habib saab, 'Subhash Ghai has gone crazy. He wants to make an unusual film.' When he heard me out, he loved my subject and my command over Urdu."

The reviews, however, were unflattering. Ghai told me, "They aren't angry with my film. They're angry with Subhash Ghai because I have not made a typical 'masala' movie. When I was doing that, I was told, 'You've opened an acting school, so now make a sensible film. Now that I've made a sensible film, they're wondering what has happened to Subhash Ghai. They're judging Subhash Ghai, not the film. I had a story that I needed to tell at this point of my career. I'm not demoralised by reviews. The world has torn Jesus and Gandhi to shreds. Who am I? Today, even artist M.F. Husain isn't in our country. These brickbats don't matter to me.Accordin g to critics, I came down with a thud in 1982 when Krodhi didn't work after two hits, Kalicharan and Vishwanath. Then I made three hits Vidhaata, Karz and Hero. Then when Trimurti didn't work in 1993, the critics wrote that Ghai had lost his magic. I bounced back with Khalnayak, Pardes and Taal. Then the moment, Yaadein opened badly they decided to write me off on Friday itself."

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