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    'Shikhar' not based on 'Wall Street': Matthan

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Saturday, January 07, 2006
    Filmmaker John Mathew Matthan is baffled at comparisons between his second film "Shikhar", which has been panned by critics, and the Hollywood flick "Wall Street".

    "I never connected ''Shikhar'' with ''Wall Street''. I went back to ''Wall Street'' after the similarities were pointed out to me. But I don''t agree," Matthan told IANS in an interview.

    Undeterred by the criticism of his film, the director has moved on to his next project. "I already have my next film lined up. It''s a thriller-adventure. I should be ready to go on the floor in the next four months instead of four years (the time it took to do "Shikhar" after "Sarfarosh")."

    Excerpts:

    Some critics think "Shikhar" is inspired by Oliver Stone's "Wall Street"?

    I can't understand why! When I narrated the script someone pointed out the similarities in the relationship between Michael Douglas-Charlie Sheen and Ajay Devgan-Shahid Kapur. But I never connected "Shikhar" with "Wall Street". I went back to "Wall Street" after the similarities were pointed out to me. But I don't agree.

    Film plots are like geometrical shapes. There are only so many lines that can be drawn. My film is actually a green-peace plea. It was made in support of all those who believe in preserving nature.

    Does the theme of the erosion of idealism fascinate you?

    "Sarfarosh" wasn't so much about the erosion of idealism. In "Sarfarosh", the theme was...what happens when you choose religion over country? In "Shikhar", my theme is... excessive greed leads to self-destruction.

    But the film's lofty idealism is a bit intimidating.

    Why do you say that? This theme of ecological despoliation was something that needed to be addressed. India has changed so much, but it's only for the upper middle class. The rich have become filthy rich. Other exploited sections of society, like the tribals in the forests of my film, have nothing. And no one is willing to stand up for these guys.

    I took my conscience to a micro-level through Shahid's character. That age between 18 and 25 is crucial for any human being. It shapes one's thought processes for all times to come. I thought that was an age group that would interest everybody. I packaged the entire plot and other characters into Shahid's character and his youth.

    Do you really think the rich should share their money with the less privileged?

    I had heard about the Rockefellers who were advised to put their earnings back into society if they didn't want the money to be squandered by their successive generations. Even the Tatas have done it. That's why they command the goodwill that other business families don't. What about Bill Gates? Once you reach that threshold of income you have to use your money to benefit society to keep going.

    But to make a film about such idealism seems unrealistic.

    In any case making a film is a big risk. This is an issue that needed to be addressed. I thought I might as well take the risk on a route that I wanted to take. Even with "Sarfarosh", I thought it was a big risk. But I didn't make "Sarfarosh" or "Shikhar" to compete with "Sholay".

    My distributors wanted to know if I had another rocket in hand in "Shikhar". I said I hadn't designed either film as a rocket. Shahid's antagonists are both his idealistic father and the unscrupulous builder. Usually our cinema never tells us why a character is good or bad. Ajay Devgan isn't a bad guy. He's an ambitious man.

    Do you think cinema can change society?

    No...If the Buddha, Christ and Gandhi couldn't change society, how can any filmmaker do so? "Shikhar" is just a story. From the time of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata all our stories are value-based.

    Every time the viewer visits a film he weighs his values against those in the film. The Ajay-Shahid bonding harks back to Krishna and Karna in the Mahabharata.

    Why a four-year hiatus between "Sarfarosh" and "Shikhar"?

    I designed another film with Aamir Khan in the lead. I worked on it for two years. It was about a chief minister's son who migrates to America. It showed that America was powerful because of its technical knowledge. It appreciated what was worth appreciating in the West without bringing down our own culture.

    But then 9/11 happened. And the subject became nullified. I sat in front of the TV for nearly two months wondering if the world politics will change. Finally I scrapped the project and started on "Shikhar".

    Did the nullification of the earlier project bother you?

    I wrote it off as fate. Everything has its own time. Na waqt se kam na waqt se zyada. I ran away to Delhi, determined I won't think about any other idea for a film. A hundred ideas came to me then. Of these I chose "Shikhar". Maybe I'll go back to the other film soon. I like the basic idea.

    Weren't you tempted to cast Aamir Khan in Ajay Devgan's place in "Shikhar"?

    No. Aamir had started growing his hair for "Mangal Pandey". But I had to have stars in "Shikhar". Whatever I had earned from "Sarfarosh" had gone into "Shikhar". And I needed to get an audience for my next film.

    I'm sure "Shikhar" will do well. And I'll get back whatever I put in. Even with stars in the cast, I couldn't get the price I wanted. The production costs were high...Rs.140 million. I had to take the cast to Thailand. Everything you see in the film is shot on sets built on real locations. I had made the film on an IDBI loan, which I've returned. There're a few people I owe money to.

    What will you do next?

    I already have my next film lined up. I'm hoping to do a secret treasure-hunt adventure story. It's a thriller-adventure. I should be ready to go on the floor in the next four months instead of four years (the time it took to do "Shikhar" after "Sarfarosh"). The casting depends on how well "Shikhar" does.

    I do need stars because it's an expensive film. But they should want to work with me. "Shikhar" didn't take that long. We shot all the greenery in October 2005. Tsunami set us back by about two months. In all it took eight months.

    Are you disappointed by the lukewarm opening of "Shikhar"?

    I've finished my job. There's nothing more I can do about it. I only have a certain amount of money for the promotion.


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