Vidhu Vinod Chopra's fall as director has coincided with his rise as an unconventional, daring producer
Vidhu Vinod Chopra producing Munna Bhai MBBS was a challenge in that era. Comedy films were not in vogue and the film gave gangster drama a complete twist.
The invitation to have a sneak peek of the first song of Parineeta was extended to select broadcast reporters. The venue for the song screening was producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s office at Santacruz, unlike a multiplex screen which has become the norm these days. It was a good old white screen at Vidhu’s office. Any producer would have allowed the first screening of the song uninterrupted to the reporters gathered but not Chopra. Barely a few seconds had passed, Vidhu ordered his team to pause the song. The pause was ordered in order to inform reporters to pay close attention to the waves in Hooghly when Saif Ali Khan is busy serenading Vidya Balan. The song was played encore and paused again at the same moment. The moments that followed next were more like a five-minute monologue explaining the techniques that were employed in creating the desired waves which added to the ‘mood’ of the song. That is Vidhu Vinod Chopra for you – part genius, part eccentric, part raw and part megalomaniac – all rolled into one.
The man, who owes his name to the great Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak when at the film institute, has since covered a journey, the stuff of which dreams are made of. It was the love of the craft that despite bad reviews from distributors before the release of Munna Bhai MBBS, he went ahead and distributed the film on his own. And it is this passion that has kept him relevant for almost four decades after having made his debut way back in the early '80s. More than greatness, the mad genius believes in excellence which was taught to him by his teacher Ritwik Ghatak. A burning desire to make films make him took the long journey from Srinagar to the confines of FTII. The year was 1978 when Vidhu was declared the winner of the National Award for the best short experimental film. The prize that Vidhu had won was a princely sum of Rs 5,000 but the catch attached to the prize money was that it was cashable only after seven years. When the time came to receive the cheque from the then Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister LK Advani, he protested the relevance of the cheque. It was a spectacle when Vidhu brought out his stubborn behavior and refused to budge from the stage. Four days later, Advani gave him Rs 5,000 from his own pocket and assured him he will change the rules.
Chopra made his directorial debut with the Naseeruddin Shah-starrer Sazaye Maut which was made on a paltry budget of Rs 3 lakh provided by the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). For his next film Khamosh, he was awarded Rs 8 lakhs and the deal was that his next film would be financed by NFDC only if were to return the initial Rs 8 lakh amount. The back story of Khamosh remains as interesting as what happened to the film post-release. While sitting at a hotel in Kashmir, on spur of the moment, he suggested to the owner that he would like to shoot a film at his property. The owner agreed on the condition that he will be required to narrate the story first. The next seven days were spent writing the script of Khamosh in the very hotel. Khamosh turned out well and based on the pre-release screenings, the film managed to generate a good buzz. The news even reached Gulshan Rai who was a maverick in the field of film distribution those days. Next day, to his utter surprise, he received a large bouquet from Gulshan Rai. The only assumption Vidhu could make from the gesture was that his film had finally managed a distributor. When it finally dawned upon him that Gulshan Rai has no intention of distributing the film, Chopra satiated his anger by giving choicest of expletives to the man at his office. The simmering anger forced him to release the film all by himself.
With Parinda, the whole equation changed and Vidhu entered into a different league. The story of two brothers with Mumbai mafia as the backdrop was in true sense a precursor to the mafia films that Ram Gopal Verma experimented with in most of his films. His cinematic journey has also helped provide some fine talent to the industry. While Raj Kumar Santoshi assisted him for Khamosh, Sudhir Mishra took the same position when Khamosh was being made. Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Farah Khan made their debut as assistants with Parinda and 1942: A Love Story respectively. In fact, Vidhu had assigned both SLB and Farah to direct all song of 1942. His latest crown jewel ought to be Raju Hirani who became an integral part of his camp after he edited Mission Kashmir.
Producing and releasing Munna Bhai MBBS was a challenge in the era it was made. Comedy films were not in vogue those days and the film gave gangster drama a complete twist. Apprehensions came to the fore when distributors started backing out. Once again, Vidhu had to take the initiative himself to release the film and needless to say, he laughed last and laughed best. Vidhu’s last four films which were made in a span of 17 years had not exactly set the box office on fire. While Kareeb was a colossal dud and an expensive love letter to his then-girlfriend Anupama Chopra (now his wife), Mission Kashmir had a divided opinion among critics and was beaten black and blue by Mohabbatein at the box office. Eklavya was trounced and panned further when Vidhu cited the two-minute black scene in the film as cinematic art. His last release Broken Horses, which was a rehashed version of Parinda, had virtually no takers.
The fall of Vidhu the director has luckily coincided with the rise of Vidhu the producer. It is safe to assume now that mentoring is what he does best these days. The man who had once bitten actress Neha (wife of Manoj Bajpayee) on the sets of Kareeb and did not do a film again with Naseeruddin Shah after Khamosh despite being best of friends, believes in living life by his terms. His success is reflective in the fact that rather being consumed by cinema,Vi he believes cinema is just a part of his life.
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