From being a brat to a seasoned businesswoman, she has definitely walked a long mile. In this month’s Court Martial, we present this lady extraordinaire, who talks about her alter ego, controversies, anger issues, future projects and why she won’t marry Karan Johar…
From being the czarina of television to a film producer, you switched gears. Why are you concentrating more on films? Are you bored with the small screen?
I don’t think I can ever get bored with television because television is my identity. I created Balaji Alt just to explore the alternatives, the alter ego. I wanted to do something that questions various beliefs of Balaji. So Balaji Motion Picture does films like Balaji Telefilms, which are family and mass-oriented and Alt will have an alternative point of view film. And another major reason was the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) issue. In television, the IP belongs to the channel, and as a company, we needed our own IP, which would strengthen us. If you don’t have the IP with you then you will be only subjected to make money on the profitability of the show. It’s almost like vendor’s business. The valuation of a company or the growth of a company depends on the assets owned by the company, and as creative company, content is our asset.
Why do producers have to create an alternative platform to make alternative cinema? Yash Raj Films came up with Y-Films, UTV came up with UTV Spotboy, PNC came up with Guerrilla Flicks, Dharma is planning an alternate wing for films like Wake Up Sid. Why can’t producers just make films under the mother banner?
It’s a valid question. The mother brand is always there, but the reason to have an alternate production house is purely to cater to a certain section of the audience. I divide my country into two, ‘Bharat’ - the traditional audience and ‘India’ - which comprises youth and intellectuals. I remember that I was having lunch at a small Gujarati restaurant when a lady came up to me and asked, “Aap ne The Dirty Picture (TDP) kyun banayi?” She was thoroughly upset. She thought that it was very regressive to make a film on an item girl after making such family-based serials like KyunKi Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (KSBKBT)… I argued with her saying that, the story was not in bad taste and it can happen with any woman. But she was not willing to listen and thought that I made a grave mistake by making that film. And in the evening, while I was having dinner with my friends, another lady walked up to me and said, “How can you make serials like Kyunki Saas… when you make such intelligent cinema like Love Sex Aur Dhoka, The Dirty Picture, Shor In The City?” I was thoroughly amused because there is a huge audience that condemns me for TDP and there is a huge audience who condemns me for Kyunki… They feel that one is highly progressive and other is highly regressive. I am being questioned for being regressive and progressive at the same time. So I realized that you cannot please everyone, so TDP will stand for what Alt means. But the masses would like Kyunki... because they want to see their woman in those avatars. I am not saying that they are anti-women or regressive. They are also feminist in their own way. It’s very covered, but it’s there.
Of late, you seem to be fascinated with stories of the underworld. Did you always want to make movies on real-life stories or incidents? After Ragini MMS, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai and The Dirty Picture, you are making OUATIM 2 and Shootout At Wadala. Are you off fiction?
No, actually I am ‘on’ fiction (laughs). Personally speaking, I love fiction. I feel biopics are very exciting when you dramatize them, so I thought of exploring them. Now we are doing Lootera which is a ’50s romance. I think I do a lot of retro stuff. I am totally living in the ’80s! (Laughs) Lootere is based on O Henry’s short story which can be considered as my leap of faith. Shootout At Wadala is your quintessential action-drama period film. So is Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai 2. Ek Thi Dayan is again very Alt kind of cinema with Emraan Hashmi and Konkona (Sen Sharma). In this bouquet, Lootera seems like a slightly risqué film. And that’s the reason why I like it more, because it doesn’t fit into the Balaji coterie. But I know that Lootera is going to do wonders for me, because there is no sex and it’s a sob-fest! And I have not done a sob-fest film. India is a country with emotional people and we like to cry while watching a movie. Lootera will be my first puritan film!
You mentioned that you like biopics. Who, according to you, has made the best biopic till date in Bollywood?
I don’t think that any director has been able to make a biopic which has been commercially successful, like Milan Luthria did with The Dirty Picture. I think Sanjay Gupta did crime sagas brilliantly, almost like a biopic. I don’t think that there have been that many biopics in Bollywood. By far, the best biopic was Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti. Films like Jodha Akbar, Mughal-e-Azam and Razia Sultan were epics. I don’t count them as biopics. I am eagerly looking forward to see Anurag Basu’s Kishore, that would be interesting to see.
How experimental can you be with your production company Alt? Can you make a ‘Slash’ horror movie or a hardcore gay love story?
I think with Ragini MMS, we tried to bring in a different genre in horror, with lots of sexuality. I don’t want to be socially irrelevant while experimenting with my subject. While Balaji as a brand cannot take a stand, it has to obey the tradition. But Alt will question a lot of beliefs. I have just green-lit a cute project called Romesh And Juggal. It’s a love story based on Romeo And Juliet, but the difference is that they are a gay couple. And I can’t even tell you how funny it is. It’s about two good-looking boys, who’ve decided to be with each other. So they are not martyrs or caricatures in the movie. And it’s the funniest film I have read, I had green-lit it instantly.
Well, whenever Bollywood made a film on gays and lesbians, their take has always been funny or effeminate. Will Alt try and break that perception and make ‘real’ stories rather than superficial film on this subject?
I hope with Romesh And Juggal, we will be able to change that stand. I am making another film on puberty issue and it’s called Kuku Mathur Ki Jhand Ho Gayi. And it’s such a cute film. These are films with no huge star cast or names to back up with, but they boast of really good content. And frankly speaking, I don’t even know how I will market it. But I can’t let go of a great script because I don’t know how to work out the commercials, right? The whole idea of making a film like Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai is to package these small films with the big ones. So that we can say that we are giving you an Akshay Kumar film, in return, you buy this small film which we have made with a lot of love and sincerity.
So don’t you make directors and scriptwriters sit with your accounts or production head to figure out the logistics?
No! Let me explain how we work here. We have our creative heads who read the scripts and decide if the subject is worth or not. And then they decide if Alt should support the film or not. Then we come to a conclusion and finally take the leap of faith. Some films might never work, but then you can make films thinking that will it work or not. Creativity will always be judged by the audience, and one should never ever hamper creative expressions.
Coming to that, Bengali actress-turned-producer Shatabdi Roy was trying to make The Dirty Picture in Bengali with Rakhi Sawant. But I guess you didn’t want her to make the film and instead slammed her with a legal notice…
Let me correct you, that’s not creative expression, that’s imitation! I think we are having a legal case going on against them. So for me, to make an official statement on this won’t be proper.
But I know for a fact that there were various producers who wanted to cash in on the subject. The whole idea of making The Dirty Picture was not to encash on sex. It was not a financial proposition again. We started shooting with Vidya Balan when she was not a big star as she is now. We had Emraan Hashmi, Naseer Sir (Naseeruddin Shah) and Tusshar. It was Milan Luthria who wanted to make a biopic after Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai with Vidya Balan who was not a star! Now of course, she is a very big star. We did the film because we believed in it. I remember that initially, we didn’t get any big names for the film. But we were sure that we would make the film because we were creatively driven by the script. I remember Tanuj Garg showing me on paper that we were at a loss, but we still made the film, and even went over budget by three crores. I am not saying that as a company, I take such bizarre decisions. But it depends on the product and the situation. Even when I am making a film, I make my team understand that creative expression comes at a cost. We almost had eight actors saying no to The Dirty Picture. You will have to understand that from making serials like KyunKi... to tell a story of a woman who had three men in her life was not that easy for me. And now other producers want to cash in on it, which I would never allow them. For me, brand Balaji is much more sacred than just a film. They can’t piggyback on my success. And the cases are on in the court of law and they don’t stand a chance!
But Rakhi Sawant feels that if you wished, you could have made an exception for her…
I don’t want to talk much about it. Rakhi is a sweet girl and she did SMS me a couple of times requesting me to allow her to act in that Bengali film. I didn’t want to talk at length about the subject even when Stardust was doing a story on this. Even now, I would like to refrain from commenting on the issue. All I can say is that I am not being partial to anyone. I know for a fact that most regional filmmakers are trying to tweak the subject and make a film on an item girl. That’s where I am getting irritated. TDP is very special for all of us; even we have not made a sequel of TDP. Till there is another story which I would like to tell, there won’t be another TDP. And it’s easy to capitalize on the brand and commercialize it.
So will you never allow any regional filmmakers to remake any film from Balaji Production?
Not really. We want them to do it organically. It’s our brand and we won’t allow anyone to mess around. We need to discuss the commerce and creativity attached to it, and also be a part of the process.
There is a bit of confusion. You have Balaji, then you created Alt and now you are doing a couple of movies with Anurag Kashyap under the banner Phantom. You are also planning to join hands with Dharma Productions. Where does the mother brand Balaji stand amongst so many tie-ups?
The coming together of brands doesn’t bring down any of the brands. It actually adds to the brand, because there is certain strength that I bring on to the table and there are certain strengths that Anurag and Karan bring on to the table. When we both are coming together, we can give newer talent a chance. Since the time we have announced that I will be making a film with Karan’s production house, every other brand has called us because they also want to be associated with the project. I can’t tell you the names, but it’s the only film that I am asked about all the time.
As far as Phantom is concerned, we are working like a studio. They trusted us with their first film, which is great. As far as I am concerned, it is my responsibility to see that Phantom’s movie reaches where it deserves to. They are concerned with the creative content, I am concerned with the promotion, marketing and distribution. Some places, I do the creative and they do the rest. That way, we get to explore each other’s strength also. I think we do enough films of our own, so one of these tie-ups won’t really create any massive loss to the mother brand.
What are the other tie-ups that you are planning?
There is a really big tie-up which will happen soon. I won’t be able to tell you officially, but I am really excited about this tie-up.
Are you planning any international tie-ups?
Hmmm… Not immediately. But maybe after a year and a half! We have already got a couple of offers.
Looking at the kind of involvement you have in all your products – be it cinema or serial, from script selection to casting, why don’t you direct a film?
I don’t want to direct a film. And if I ever do think of directing a film then I would like to take gruelling training under a very senior director, learn my job first and then wield the megaphone. But I must tell you that I am planning to go off for studies this year.
Are you serious?
Yes, I am going off for a month long course in Business Management. This is second generation business course at Harvard University, which I am planning to do because they discuss almost 200 case studies. They teach you how to expand your home business, create better avenues for your employees and explore newer aspects related to your business. So, when you lose your temper and you tend to become a control freak, you need to know your do’s and don’ts. I have never studied management, so I learnt from my own experience. But now I want to do this course, which will eventually help me in bettering Balaji as a brand. Maybe take a step back and let other people grow in the company. I need to take it to another level from being just a family business.
Do you regret that you didn’t get a chance to study before you actually started your own production company?
No, I never regret anything that I do.
Not even those temper moments? People say that you have anger issues…
At the age of 17, if you start your career and when you are 18 years old, you give India’s number one television show, you are bound to lose it. And you have to lose it to realize that you have lost it! And then come back on track. It’s a process and I don’t think I have made any offence.
Barring Vidya Balan and Prachi Desai, you have not launched any of your talents from your other serials. Any particular reason?
I was launching myself and amidst all that, you want me to launch others! You are interviewing Ekta Kapoor and not Krrish (laughs). I started my film company in 2010. I don’t like to mix two businesses. You will have to understand that I didn’t launch Prachi, she was launched by Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor of Rock On fame) and neither did I launch Vidya because she was launched by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. So actually, when I worked with them, they were all established films stars. I am using Ronit (Roy) now in one of my movies, but what I was trying to tell you was that now, I am planning to launch new boys and girls under Balaji.
So you won’t launch your TV talents?
Not really because my TV talents are doing well for themselves. Sushant Singh (Rajput) is doing Gattu’s film Kai Po Che and apparently, he is doing well for himself. Last year, I worked with four boys and all four have been pitched for movies. I launched this new boy called Rwitik in my TV show, even he is getting offers for films (laughs).
What happened to the project where you were supposed to launch Sakshi Tanwar?
I always have this chat with Sakshi that I will cast her in a movie where I have a great role for her. I can’t launch her as this quintessential heroine, but I will definitely launch her in a film. I have heard that she did a film for Pritish Nandy Communications called Salun, but I don’t know what’s happening to that film.
Will you ever make a film on Kyunki..? After all, we have Sex And The City: The Movie and even Khichdi was made into a movie…
No ya! We have already exhausted the content so much on television that we won’t have anything new to cater to the movie audience. They have been watching this show for so many years now. I need couple of decades before I revisit that script.
You think the content will not appeal to the youth considering they are your target audience when it comes to films?
You have to understand that Kyunki… is not a subject which everyone will be able to relate to. It’s a feminist idea; the germ is created from the family disputes that happen in India. It’s not as legal or organic procedure like passing on the legacy of a father to a son, or mother to her daughter, that’s a natural process. But when a mother-in-law tries to share everything with her daughter-in-law, it’s a social act. Something which happens in a country like India! Think about it, how do you trust somebody who has just walked into your house, and how do you trust someone with whom you have not lived your whole life? How can you call someone your mother when she is not? Women are expected to do that in our country, year by year and day after day. If I can take a point and create a constructive story around it, which can be understood and accepted by whole of India, then why not? But not now!
From saas-bahu saga Kyunki… to signing a porn star like Sunny Leone for Ragini MMS 2, you seem to have taken a massive ‘heap’ of faith.
Ha ha ha! Personally, it’s very lame to look down upon anyone for their profession. Whatever she does is her right, really I have no rights to say anything. I mean, the company will work on commercial reasons also. She got a huge draw on Jism 2. If you want to make creatively inclining films, you also need to make commercially uccessful ones.
But Jism 2 didn’t make that much money…
Get your facts right. The movie was made in ` 7 crores and it made ` 30 odd crores, which I think is brilliant. Now every film cannot be a ` 100 crore film.
It’s believed that when an actor ditches Ekta Kapoor, whether for her TV show or movie, he also leaves his fortune behind. What do you have to say to that?
Oh, really! I love you for saying this. But unfortunately, it’s not true (laughs). When you become too big for your boots or you start thinking that you are bigger than the show, then it starts reflecting in your nature. If you are not professional and greedy and want to leave a show midway not thinking about those 200 people who are working on the project, then I am going to be strict. That’s my job as a producer. No one is stopping you from venturing into something better. But you have signed for a show, maybe for a year or two years. So you are responsible for the show. So see that you leave it at a good point. Being opportunist is good, but being insensitive towards others is wrong. I always feel that every actor has his fortune linked with mine. So, I would expect these actors to be a little more responsible.
Apparently, you call other producers and channel heads to make sure that their career is over and no one casts them in their production.
No, I would never do that. I am a firm believer of karma. If I do wrong to someone, then the same will happen to me. Intentionally, I see to it that my karma is always right. Contrary to popular beliefs, I am not that religious. But I fear karma, so I make sure that I don’t do any harm to people. I cannot make or ruin anyone’s career. They come with their own fortune and whatever they become, it’s simply on their own merit. I will never ever go out of my way to harm or ruin anybody. And I say this with a very clear conscience. Sushant left my show because Gattu was signing him. Gattu had called me and asked how Sushant is as an actor. I told him, ‘I am very upset that he left my show, but honestly, he is a very talented actor.’ So I would not make a wrong statement to get back at somebody. That’s not me!
But this is a rare case where Sushant is doing well for himself. However, the likes of Smriti Irani, Amar Upadhyay, etc. have all vanished. What do you have to say about them?
If I am not working with someone, I am not getting back to them. After quitting Balaji’s show, Smriti became a producer and did three shows. She did very well for herself, then went ahead and joined politics. In fact, I went to Goa for International Film Festival for Smriti. She requested me to come and I told her that I would do anything for her. Amar Upadhyay left the show midway. After that, I have not worked with him, neither did he call me. But at the same time, I didn’t call other producers and directors to tell them not to work with Amar. And to be honest, if an actor is saying that his or her career didn’t take off because of me, then that’s unfair. You need to stand for your own victory and defeat.
It’s also rumoured that not many people get along with you and as a result, leave your company. What’s your reaction to such accusations?
I would like to correct you on this one. Most of the people who are working in Balaji have been working with me for more than 10 years. Just to give you an example, the ex-editor of Stardust Sonali Jaffar has been working with me since almost a decade. People don’t leave Balaji because of my temper, it’s a misconception. People leave only when they get better opportunities. When you get a platform like Balaji and your work is appreciated, then a lot of other people approach you. If you see the volume of work done in the past 18 years, very less number of people left Balaji. Because I am the face, so the media ends up writing about me. Even if an actor or technicians are having a fight with the director or creative head, the media blames me for that.
What happened to your ‘controversial queen’ image? What we see now is a much milder version of Ekta Kapoor.
Oh lord! (laughs) I guess I have really grown up. I am a very private person and that’s sacrosanct to me. People who know me will vouch for the fact that I would not make a statement for the sake of fun or publicity. But at the same time, it would be wrong to say that I never lose my temper. Because if I say so, then it would make me look like a vegetable! (laughs loud)
You’re known to lose your temper very often. Why so? Are you a control freak or do you simply get perturbed by the deadlines?
When you are working in a feature film, you don’t have such insane deadlines. You have a director who takes the call. In television, it’s just the opposite. You are not only producing the show, but you are also the creator, so you will have to take the call. And you don’t have the luxury of having another day to solve the issue. So you’ll have to work out an easier and sensible solution to save time. And the pressure of deadline is insane; any person would lose their marbles.
Things soured between you and director Navdeep Singh during the making of Rock The Shaadi. What exactly happened there?
Nothing happened. I really wanted to clear this misconception, which people have regarding the film. I am pretty okay with Navdeep. I had commissioned the film to a company called iRock on a certain budget and we all know that a certain kind of cinema cannot exceed a certain kind of budget. When a film goes completely off-budget and only 30 per cent of the film has been shot, and even after that, if someone continues the film, that would be professional hara-kiri for me. I am trying to sort out issues with iRock. We are trying to finish the film by going slightly over budget and not let the film go. But the film, at any point of time, will lose money because it’s so high on cost.
Buzz was that Abhay Deol had almost doubled his price and that’s the reason why the film was stalled. True?
Not at all. He is very professional and in fact, he tried his best to make things happen. But it was sheer mismanagement of funds that led to such a situation. I mean iRock will be better at answering this, but I have been told that they were not planned at all. I asked them what went wrong, they had no answer. But you will have to understand that it’s my company’s money, so they will have to sort this issue out or else I will be forced to take the legal route. I don’t know the current status on the movie, because we had a ‘first copy’ deal on the film. Tanuj Garg will be able to give you a much better view on the development.
In an interview to Stardust, Tusshar had mentioned that you had shown the edited version of Kyaa Super Kool Hai Hum to your parents Jeetendra and Shobha. Apparently, they didn’t find the jokes funny and your mom even said that if you are making a sex comedy then it better be one. True?
My mother is a cat! (laughs) Jokes apart, my mother is a progressive woman. She was an air hostess before she got married. She would not want me to make a film where the whole world would see a sex comedy and I would show my parents a seedha sadha film. That’s double standard. If I am making a sex-comedy, then it should be enjoyed by all including my parents. But at the same time, my mother would never encourage me to make sex comedies. For her, The Dirty Picture was the best film. In fact, she complimented me that after Prem Rog and Ram Teri Ganga Maili, this film would be a perfect fit as a trilogy on various shades of women in India. I almost started crying after she said this because I am a huge Raj Kapoor fan. We’ve never seen you make a film with your father. He has been one of the most underrated actors of Bollywood. After working with several stalwarts in the industry, he bid adieu to the silver screen. Why so?
Once in an interview to a magazine, my dad mentioned that he wants to die with his boots on. But somehow, he changed his mind. He did a couple of episodes for Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi once but he was not too happy putting greasepaint on and shooting. Later, he did a reality show for Colors, which was not done by us. He was happy, but after that he didn’t even want to do reality shows. He would always tell me that if you need me, then I will do it. But I would always tell him that when you feel like doing, then only get back into acting. He is enjoying his break, he loves his four hours of workout, doing his puja, etc. He started early in life, so he is enjoying those lazy moments which he couldn’t afford back then because he was shooting three to four shifts a day. He started acting when he was 20 years old, so when he reached 60, he had already done so much work. He was telling me that now he wants to sit back and watch the remake of Himmatwala and not act in one (laughs).
Finally, what was this rumour about you getting married to Karan Johar?
It was a joke ya! Karan and I are great friends. We are karmic cousins and we love each other. And I don’t like to talk about my personal life.
But you didn’t tell us anything about your much talked-about project with Karan Johar.
It’s an edgy love story. It’s a ‘love story’ because of the kind of films Karan makes and ‘edgy’ being the kind of films I make. We will roll in 2013 and will release it in 2014. It will be all established actors and a huge project. It will take at least three months to finalize the dates of the actors and then we will be in a position to announce the film. We will have a grand launch and you will be invited for sure (smiles).
Ram Kamal Mukherjee