On that note, let me go into your own shifts in storytelling. From a Mr India to a Bandit Queen to Elizabeth, you have practically jumped from one genre to another. How did that happen?
The best way of telling a story is to allow its form to develop. In Bandit Queen, the soundtrack itself made the audience reel: it rises and falls. Thus, the audience could feel the dominant note of oppression in the movie and that is because the sound track had oppressive notes. I sat with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan when that was being made. When he played those notes, I knew that I had the right soundtrack for the movie. So, at any time, whenever you shift from one story to another, you ought to play with the form to produce the desired effect on the audience.
You have been associated with the industry for years and now that you have a session here where you are planning to discuss the idea of virtual reality with aspiring filmmakers, how do you see their struggle in comparison to the demands of this industry?
Producers have often advised me to make a sequel to Mr India, saying that I could make big money in the first weekend. But would it be remembered for 30 years? I’m afraid not. Probably, it would be remembered for two years. I want to stick to making movies that would last around for three decades.
Cinema has always been on the cusp of business and art. But now, it has changed and become all business. It is all about raking money in the first weekend. Take Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (PRDP). It premiered across 5,000 screens. Can you believe that? And then, if you go back to the same man’s film, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, a film that changed Indian cinema, you will be surprised to know it only premiered at Liberty Cinema, in Southern Mumbai. Despite that, HAHK went onto become an all-time blockbuster.
So from a total of 8,000 screens, 5,000 showed PRDP, leaving the rest for the other movies. How will new filmmakers combat that? And all the more so, when the number of screens are only dwindling.
A recent report on a Rs 100-crore movie stated that the ticket sales did not correspond to the money that it minted. The report also suggested that the whole movie-watching experience has become largely multiplexoriented. Do you think Indian cinema is losing out on its ‘mass appeal’?
Of course it is. The average cost of a ticket in Mumbai is about Rs 150 and upwards. For a middle-class family of say, five, the total cost of watching a movie would then come about to Rs 725. And then wouldn’t the kids want popcorn? So roughly, the whole experience of watching a movie would cost the family Rs 1,000 out of their monthly income of say, Rs 20,000. Why would the family want to risk that when they could watch the movie later on TV?
So now, you have an audience that isn’t so keen — like the masses, the lower class and the lower middle class — about movies. To them, if they miss out on a movie now, they could always catch another.
So then, what do you think is the way forward for new filmmakers?
Today, you can be every aspect of the film. You can be a script writer, an editor and a director because there is that kind of software available to everyone. When young filmmakers come to me, I ask them to make short films and explore the various media out there. For example, you can release your movie online and make sure that there are viewers out there to watch your movie. The present technology allows you to do that. Make movies and show it to as many as possible. This would not be possible earlier when we had to wait for the producer and distributor. You see, the rise of the individual, is happening now and with that, this film business is doomed. It is going to die out.
Completely off the topic, you were referred to as the blue-eyed boy of Indian cinema in almost all the well-known general knowledge textbooks. Were you aware of that?
Really? What is this book? (laughs) Then I think my blue eyes are turning brown these days.