In a career spanning over four decades, Subhash Ghai has introduced many newcomers and resurrected many careers. From Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar to Anil Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor to Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan, he’s worked with the best of actors. If there’s any regret, it’s that he is yet to collaborate with Big B.
“I regret that I haven’t been able to work with Amitabh Bachchan yet. I had gone to him with Devaa, it’s my fault that the film didn’t happen. I never got another opportunity. I’ve thought of making a film with him many times, but when it is ‘The Amitabh Bachchan’, you need a project that will justify his status and a role worthy of him,” the filmmaker reasons, pointing out that whether it’s Karz or Taal, Meri Jung or Khal Nayak, he has always gone to an actor with a challenge. “But in the case of Amitabh Bachchan, it’s difficult because he has given so many wonderful performances in a variety of roles. So, I keep thinking and looking,” he sighs.
Among the actresses on his wish list is fellow FTII graduate Shabana Azmi. “Again, I need a script I can take to her. I’ve been waiting to work with Amitabh Bachchan and Shabana Azmi,” says the showman.
Ghai’s equally impressed with the new generation of actors who, he asserts, are evolving into fine performers. “I see a lot of versatility and real acting, be it Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan or Vicky Kaushal,” he asserts.
Prod him on the actor he was most satisfied working with as a director and the reply is immediate, “Dilip Kumar, he could take any scene to another level with the sheer power of his histrionics. He was the only actor who could surprise me, inspire me. We did three films together—Vidhaata, Karma and Saudagar—and I learnt so much from him. He changed my perspective. I understood that it’s important to make films that live on long after their release and not just keep churning out project after project to make money. That’s not cinema.”
Ghai reveals that he had confided in Dilip Kumar, telling him that because he made one film in two years, he felt bad that he couldn’t help more youngsters who wanted him to launch them. Aspirants who had no film background or a godfather in the industry, who had no film schools to go to besides the FTII and few platforms to showcase their talent. “Should I build a studio for them or start a school, I asked him, and Dilip sahab urged me to open a film school. He saw a teacher in me and believed that I could be a good mentor to these kids,” he reminisces.
He acknowledges in retrospect that a film school was the better choice because be it Filmalaya or Mehboob, except for Yash Raj Studio which has a talented producer-director, Aditya Chopra, at the helm after Yash Chopra, most studios have only been bringing in rentals for the next generation. “My daughter Meghna was never into performing arts, but she’s always been interested in management. Today, she helps me run my school,” Ghai informs proudly.
Whistling Woods International which started in 2006 against all odds after Ghai was caught in a political crossfire, recently completed a successful 15-year run. Along with a talented technical pool of directors, cinematographers, sound recordists, editors and production managers, it has also given the industry many promising actors. The filmmaker himself is a graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India and shares that he was the blue-eyed boy of the writer, director and playwright Ritwik Ghatak, who taught at the institute during his tenure.
“I attended his shoots and recordings, learnt filmmaking from the great Ritwik Ghatak. While at the FTII, I made 2-3 diploma films with him and thanks to him, I got a grounding in Bengali cinema. I saw all his Bengali films from Ajantrik to Meghe Dhaka Tara, as also the films of Satyajit Ray,” the filmmaker reminisces.
Along with Rajesh Khanna and Dheeraj Kumar, Subhash Ghai was one of the winners of the United Producers Filmfare Talent Hunt Contest. He started his career as an actor, a leading man, and worked in several films, including Taqdeer, Umang, Aradhana, Natak and Gumrah. Even after he turned writer, producer and director, he would continue to make Hitchcockian appearances in his films. Does he see himself returning as an actor someday? “Why not? I always leave the door open. But right now, directing actors gives me the greatest pleasure, after writing and music,” he signs off.