IFFI 2016: Our hero, heroines have changed, but they reflect society: Subhash Ghai

The filmmaker shared his experiences and spoke about the changing trends in Indian cinema at IFFI in Goa.

Subhash Ghai with other panelists.

Suparna Thombare

Filmmaker Subhash Ghai, who directed his first film Kalicharan in 1976, has seen the film industry evolve through the years as he has gone through his own journey of 40 years - from being a director and producer, to exhibitor and now running a film school. The director thus was all wisdom during a session on changing trends in Indian cinema at the IFFI, Goa.

He spoke about how the story-telling, exhibition and star-system has changed over the years. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

On story-telling
All our stories originally came from Ramayan and Mahabharat. What is Deewar? A mother casts our one son for going over to the dark side and favours the other. That is the story of Karn. The story of Devdas that he was in love with a girl who was from a different caste. He speaks to mother who disapproves. He can’t speak to his father. He goes into depression, he goes into drinking. What Sarat Chandra wanted to say was that a father and son can’t even talk about something because it is against the values and traditions of the family. Devdas happened in 1940s. Then heroes came who could talk to fathers. Then came the hero who could have a girlfriend, but he doesn’t touch her. He sings and dances for a few years before walking off in the sunset. Then the heroine starts becoming more sensual and hero became more romantic. Then the trend came when they could hold hands, the flowers and leaves moved and love happened. And it meant that 100% shaadi hogi. Then came a time when a hero and heroine could be friends. Earlier that girls could not have male friend. Male friend meant they were going to get married at some point. Story-telling changed. Then girls and boys had choice to select their partner. We are friends, but I don’t like you, I like your friend. And they could test and try if he or she is it for marriage. Now it doesn’t matter if they have sex. My relationship is nothing until I accept you as a partner for my whole life. 

So the hero and heroines are different now, but they reflect our society. It is very tough for me to write today because I belong to a different time. When we wrote stories, they were based on Ram, Sit or Radha and Krishna. Initially all my characters were based on Krishna because during the era of 70s films were violent and anti-establishment... when Amitabh Bachchan came in. It was as if all rich men were bad. So whenever our social fabric changes our social issues change and our stories change. Story is always about human conflict, whether it is the Mahabharat or today’s films like Sultan or Pink.

Yesterday, I watched Dear Zindagi. The characters are so real and soul searching. There is no conflict or dramatic dynamics in the film. The heroine has no problems. The she is a problem for herself. Then finally she goes to a psychiatrist. But I can relate to that girl. I have daughters who are around 14-15 years old. 

So for 25 years stories revolved around traditions and values. Now the child is exposed to everything beyond Indian epics and stories – they everything about the Chinese, Americans or Italians. It’s all just a click away.

On film exhibition

We had 14000 theatres including during the 50s. Then it reduced to 2000. When we were making films in 80s and 90s we would make only about 300 prints. Now we have 3000 multiplexes and 300 single screens. Today we have only a total of about 3.5 crore people who go into theatres to watch a film. We need to grow our audience. Right now it’s very low because of not enough theatres being available and stories not going to the interiors. We only have around 10 films that become a hit in a year. 

On stars

Stars tell you a story. Who creates stars? Story creates a star and stars take credit for the story. It’s the irony. Stars begin with characters. Mickey Mouse is also a star. It is the star power of the character in the story. And any actor who plays these becomes a star. After playing 5-6 such characters with star power and then they becomes stars themselves and take to another level. Originally being a good actor. People who make stars are the writers. Before partition actors were dedicated employees of the company. Post independence they became independent but they were dedicated and related to the role and story. There is line by Lawrence Oliver - You want to be a good actor, you have to be a good human being. If you are a good human being you’ll have compassion and empathy for the characters. Now the stars have learned the technique of being good human – whether they are really good human beings or not. Now, they what it requirements. Today  they are also businessmen. I should get an item number so I can have 100 shows all over the world for 5 years. Then I can also endorse shoes, glasses, oil, car etc. It’s become a business. Now stars born out of stories started selecting stories, songs and costumes and looking into many other areas apart from just playing a character in a film.