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    I can't afford to falter: Raj Kumar Santoshi

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Monday, January 30, 2006
    Raj Kumar Santoshi, whose latest release "Family" has met with a lukewarm response at the box office, says he is planning a comedy as his next offering.

    Santoshi, known for making hard-hitting films, has shelved "Saamna", a political film that he was working on, to concentrate on the comedy - "Ladies & Gentlemen".

    "I am no longer doing ''Saamna'' now. That was a very controversial subject on the marriage of religion and politics," Santoshi told IANS in an interview.

    He also has plans to later make a musical set in London, called "London Dreams", with Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan.

    "Ladies & Gentlemen", says the director of the hit comedy "Andaz Apna Apna", will be "modern and glamorous and almost futuristic in terms of content and mood."

    But he promises that "Saamna" will eventually be made. "It will be made at some point. But I''ll first have to wait and watch the situation. I don''t want it to become a victim of any controversy...I make expensive films. I can''t afford to falter. I''d never do anything that would jeopardise a project."

    Santoshi is upset by the storm created by a scene in "Family" that shows superstar Amitabh Bachchan smoking a cigar. "I strongly feel such censorship is harmful to cinema and our right to expression," he says.

    Excerpts from the interview:

    Your new film "Family" has opened to an unenthusiastic response.

    Normally, once I finish post-production work I move on to my next. In fact, I have been out of the country hunting locations for my next film - a comedy.

    "Family" is very original on the idea level.

    I don't see it as an action film. I see it as an emotional family film. When Shaktiman, who wrote "Gadar", came to me with the idea, I really liked it. My co-writer Sridhar Raghavan and I re-worked more than 80 percent of the original story. We didn't want it to be a normal vendetta film.

    At the core the theme is almost mythological. Mr. (Amitabh) Bachchan's downfall is like that of Karna in the Mahabharat who died of his own karma. That's what we tried to show in "Family". If you don't have a family to fall back on, you have nothing.

    How was it directing Amitabh Bachchan for the second time after "Khakee"?

    I have been a big fan of Mr. Bachchan right from my college days. I wrote both "Khakee" and "Family" with Sridhar only to showcase his talents. After "Khakee" I wanted to bring out another dimension in Mr. Bachchan's acting. The first thing we did was to place him on the opposite side of the law.

    When I arrived at the script of "Family" I knew this would give me a chance to present him in a totally different light. Mr. Bachchan plays a man that the audience simply hates. Look at how he gets Akshay Kumar's character killed with such arrogance, ruthlessness and indifference. But finally we cry for the gangster. That graph from loathsome to sympathetic could have only been carried off by Amitji.

    Do you think audiences want to see Bachchan in a negative role especially after his illness?

    Why not? I never thought of this when casting him. He is an actor and an outstanding one at that. I don't think we filmmakers should mix up his personal life with what he does on screen. If we do we will end up like waiters at a hotel, taking orders from the box office on which section of the audience likes what. In any case, Mr. Bachchan isn't all black in "Family". We see his human side at the same time.

    How did his illness affect your film?

    Only to the extent that we were supposed to release the film on Dec 23. We had to postpone it by a couple of weeks. That apart, "Family" showcases his calibre to the optimum. I mean, look at his range and energy. The plot rests completely on his shoulder right from the start to end.

    Do you think you have evolved as a director?

    Nowadays I get very angry when I pick up the newspaper and see what is happening around us. I'd say my cinema has become more aware of our surroundings. The battles are more socio-politically widened now than in my earlier films.

    Your next is a politically charged parable "Saamna".

    I am no longer doing "Saamna" now. That was a very controversial subject on the marriage of religion and politics. Now I am doing a comedy called "Ladies & Gentlemen". After that I am doing a musical set in London called "London Dreams" with Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan.

    Who will star in "Ladies & Gentleman"?

    We haven't decided. The comedy is an intimate one, with not too many characters, and my first comedy after "Andaz Apna Apna". It was on the anvil for some time. I was wondering when would be the right time for it. The film is very modern, glamorous and almost futuristic in terms of content and mood. It is almost like a 2009 film.

    So why now?

    When "Saamna" was put aside, I needed another project to replace it immediately.

    Will "Saamna" be made?

    It will be made at some point. But I'll first have to wait and watch the situation. I don't want it to become a victim of any controversy. Look at what's happened to Rakeysh Mehra's "Rang De Basanti". And my own film "Family" was pulled up because Amitji smokes a cigar in the film. I strongly feel such censorship is harmful to cinema and our right to expression.

    Are you in favor of smoking?

    Not at all! I don't smoke. I don't want my children or anyone's children to smoke. But the cigar gave a certain attitude of style and arrogance to Amitji's character. If cigarettes can be sold in the market with a statutory warning, then I don't mind putting a similar warning on my hoardings. Unfortunately, they put that photograph of Amitji with a cigar on the hoardings. I wasn't aware of the repercussions. The marketing people should have been more cautious.

    But people have objections to Bachchan smoking.

    That is really disturbing. He is an actor! Should he only play characters like Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi? The moralists must change their attitude. Otherwise we'll take our cinema back by so many years. If he is playing a gangster he'll have to carry a pistol. That doesn't mean Amitabh Bachchan is carrying a weapon.

    Does this moral censorship daunt you?

    Absolutely. Every filmmaker feels suffocated. We are heading towards a cinema of prudery. Let the audience decide what it wants to do. You can't do this. Don't underestimate the audience. I'll continue to make the films I believe in.

    But you did postpone "Saamna"?

    Well, tomorrow anyone from any small town can get up and file a case stopping my film. I have gone through this during "Lajja". It is very dangerous. I make expensive films. I can't afford to falter. I'd never do anything that would jeopardise a project.

    Do you think the impact of your earlier films is missing in your recent works?

    It is just the choice of subjects. I made "The Legend Of Bhagat Singh" and "Khakee", which were according to me very topical subjects. In "Khakee" I tried to show the isolation of the Muslim community and how the police have to be non-partisan. In every film I try to make a social comment.

    In "Family" I feel you were burdened by the task of projecting the producer's son.

    Not to a large extent. But yes, the songs were forced in for Aryeman. But I gave him no romantic angle.

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