It was sad reading a report in a film trade journal that shows of “Mukta Art’s Cycle Kick were cancelled at many cinemas due to lack of audience.” There was a time not too long ago when any artiste was willing to give his right arm to work in a Mukta Art’s film. One success followed another. The film maker, who had proclaimed himself as ‘Showman’-a title reserved for Raj Kapoor until then—felt he was infallible. Dame luck had placed him on her wings, and he had begun to bulldoze his way through the film industry as the foremost colossal. The name Subhash Ghai spelt magic at the box office.
Subhash Ghai graduated from the Film & Television Institute, Pune as an actor, and was in the coveted winners’ list, together with Rajesh Khanna, in the United Producers’ Filmfare Talent Contest. But Dame Luck had been with him then. While Rajesh Khanna went on to become a phenomenon, Ghai was reduced to doing bit roles in films like Taqdeer (1967), Aradhana (1969) before getting a break as a hero in Umang (1970) and Gumraah opposite Reena Roy (1976). Realising early that he was not cut out to be an actor he shifted to writing and directing courtesy former class fellow Shatrughan Sinha who had begun to make waves as an actor. The film was Kalicharan (1976), followed in quick succession by Vishwanath (1978) and Gautam Govinda (1979) that were moderate successes. This was also the end of friendship and association with Shatrughan Sinha.
But the real breakthrough came with the iconic Rishi Kapoor-Tina Munim starrer, Karz (1980) and now Subhash Ghai was on a roll. Vidhaata (1982), starring Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Sanjeev Kumar, Sanjay Dutt, Tina Munim, Amrish Puri for producer Gulshan Rai straightaway put him into the big league. He forgot the film industry dictum: “No one’s ego should be bigger than his balls”. Subhash Ghai’s ego started to bloat like his circumference. The success of a new hero (Jackie Shroff) new heroine Meenakshi Sheshadri called Hero (1983) was the next milestone. He returned three years later to again rule the box office with his own version of Karma pitted the old warhorse Dilip Kumar opposite three younger heroes—Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, Naseerudin Shah and a new villain, Anupam Kher in a revenge saga that threatened to rewrite Bollywood box office history.
Subhash Ghai’s ego had started to touch the roof top when he launched Devaa with a multi-star cast headed by Amitabh Bachchan on a grand scale. But everything came to an abrupt halt when the two titans clashed. The director called for a retake after retake to prove to all and sundry who was the boss, but the tall hero refused to bend, and questioned the director and his motives. What could have turned out to be a milestone in Bollywood history had to be abandoned with the two walking in opposite direction. To prove a point to whomever, perhaps to himself, he started working on a tough project—putting two actors face-to-face-Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar—dubbed rivals by the industry in a film called Saudagar (1991). And in the interregnum launched a breezy crime-romance-comedy that has really been Ghai’s forte—Ram Lakhan (1986). Both films were a huge box office success. He should have gone further up from thereon, but a sense of invincibility led to a not unexpected downfall. A descend that has now hit the bottomless ditch, though a raging controversy about Khalnayak (93) saw him sailing through the box office barometer.
The next four ventures Pardes (97) with Shah Rukh Khan, Taal (99) with Anil Kapoor and Aishwariya Rai, Yaadein (2001) with Jackie Shroff, Kareena Kapoor and others, and Kisna (05) with Vivek Oberoi turned out to be a case of betting on a wrong horse. An earlier production Trimurti directed by Mukul Anand with Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Shah Rukh Khan had also turned turtle. After the disastrous, Ghai went on a sabbatical from direction, launched an Institute called Whisling Woods International, and decided to be a producer—Aitraaz (04), Iqbal (05), 36 China Town and Apna Sapna Money Money (06). But for Iqbal, others merely did the average business, though he had himself collaborated on the scripts, just as he did with his next two disastrous directorial ventures in the same year, Black & White and Yuvvraaj (08) with Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. Both were box office disasters.
The self-styled showman had not only lost his midas touch but also forgotten the rhythm of masses’ pulse, not unlike many of his illustrious predecessors or even future colleagues who begin to take things for granted. Ghai’s films were also famous for beautiful songs and their elegant picturisation. The later films show that he had lost his grasp even on that area.
Every era needs a change in outlook and approach. In a technologically fast changing world new ideas need to be evolved into seducing the audience. The new lot lacks both insight and depth, and the older one feels insecure in treading the untrodden path forgetting that they had themselves succeeded by stamping out the stale and the hackneyed. Replying to a question whether he finds himself out of place in the current scenario, he said matter-of-factly: “The rules of the game have changed. Week after week, we have films which use an obscene language but when the box office results come after three days you get to know that the film has done a great business.” On returning to direction and what next: “Hopefully, this October! We will announce two films, one of which I will direct but I won’t share the details. All I can say I won’t go by what market dictates. I won’t spend more than half the budget to pay a star’s fee. I would rather make a film with relative newcomers.”
Let’s see what the future holds for Ghai, but one thing is certain, he won’t let ‘The Showman’ title slip out of his hand so easily.
By Suresh Kohli