When things fall apart...
To what extent should an actor interfere in the creative process of the filmmaker? Khalid Mohamed has some insights
Quite loosely, they're termed 'creative differences'. Like it or not, that's a euphemism for excessive intervention from a leading star who seeks to dictate changes in the script and the way in which a project should be handled by the director.
This conflict can happen right in the middle of filming or at the inception stage itself. The widely buzzed-about conflict of this year concerns a fallout between Salman Khan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who're both known to have unbendable views.
Fortuitously, the parting of ways between the actor and the filmmaker occurred before the film, Inshallah, commenced shooting. An elaborate state had already been constructed at a Mumbai studio. Alia Bhatt had been pencilled in as the leading lady. Salman is 53 years old, while Alia is 26. Presumably, the age gap was at the heart of the story-screenplay, a la the casting of Shah Rukh Khan and Alia in Dear Zindagi (2016). Any which way, Inshallah was targeted as the Eid release of 2020, and the trade buzz was intense.
A couple of weeks later, it was conjectured that Hrithik Roshan would take over the part originally conceived for Salman Khan. In the ensuing debate within film circles, Bhansali is being commended for taking a tough stand at a juncture when artistes with market equity have sought to play the captain of the ship, a classic status which should be exclusively associated with the director. After all, it is his or her vision that will be translated to the screen.
Indeed, the news that the director and the actor were collaborating after a hiatus was upbeat. Bhansali's debut feature Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), followed by Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Saawariyaa (2007) are remarkable for their superior quality in Salman's filmography. Indeed, at the outset, Salman was also said to be the prime choice for the director's Bajirao Mastani (2015), which fell through the cracks. When the period pageant was eventually made, it cemented the star power of his substitute, Ranveer Singh.
The point is how many directors, today, would rather drop a top star than succumb to the ignominy of making compromises? Not many. About the only film producers-cum-directors who don't have to kowtow to the stars are Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and Sooraj Barjatya.
Come to think of it, Johar didn't have to depend forever on his regular lucky mascot Shah Rukh Khan, proving a point with the first edition of Student of the Year (2012), which turned Alia, Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan into overnight stars. Sure, subsequently, Khan did feature in a cameo in the director's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), but the focus was on Ranbir Kapoor rather than Khan, still described as the badshah of Bollywood by his undiminished constituency of fans.
Aditya Chopra, who shot to fame with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) on the shoulders of Shah Rukh Khan, has shifted to other actors. The Yashraj banner carries sufficient heft to move on to other marketable stars. As for Sooraj Barjatya, who continues to consider Salman as his prime charm factor, did take a break to cast Hrithik and Abhishek Bachchan in Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003) and Shahid Kapur in Vivaah (2006).
The scene is no longer what it used to be: in the late 1970s and '80s, be it Yash Chopra for a phase, Manmohan Desai, Ramesh Sippy or Prakash Mehra, they were dependent upon Amitabh Bachchan giving his nod to their next opus.
The crowdpulling power of B-town's male superstars is undeniable, but it's not indispensable either. With the influx of web series, feature films commissioned by streaming channels like Netflix and Amazon Prime, there are way more entertainment-viewing options. Plus, a new phalanx of heroes has emerged of late: Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal and Kartik Aaryan have gained the clout to draw footfalls to the multiplexes.
Moreover, at this point at least, they do not demand an astronomical fee or a chunky share in the profits as Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir Khan do. Incidentally, all the three Khans have their own film companies, hence prioritising their own home productions.
Aamir Khan, known for his obsession with being perfect, took charge of his banner's production Taare Zameen Par (2007). 'Creative differences' had cropped up with writer-director Amol Gupte, though the film had been wrapped up. Rather than accept the actor's intervention, Gupte withdrew from the project.
But then all's fair in love and cinema, you guess. Similarly, decades ago, Rahul Rawail had quit from Love Story (1981), the launch project for Kumar Gaurav, after disagreements with its producer, the veteran actor Rajendra Kumar. More recently, there was the case of director Krish, who disowned Manikarnika (2019) when Kangana Ranaut started ghost-directing the period drama.
To date, it is remembered that Gulzar gave Rekha the marching orders from the sets of Namkeen (1982) when she was guilty of misbehaviour with a journalist who had been formally invited to cover the shoot. The scenes featuring her were reshot with Sharmila. Taking a leaf from Gulzar's book, Rekha was dropped by Abhishek Kapoor from Fitoor (2016) and sequences were reshot with Tabu. These are known instances. However, why Nasir Hussain parted company around 1979 with Dilip Kumar after a day's shoot with the latter for Zabardast remains a mystery. Ditto the case of Subhash Ghai, who, after a few days, didn't carry forward the shoot of Devaa (1987) with Amitabh Bachchan, despite the latter's reputation of being a thorough professional.
The sole solution to such wasteful skirmishes is that once the script is firmed to mutual satisfaction, the star should perform his job, which is to act. And to respect the fact that the director is the ultimate boss. Or else, there will be more face-offs like the one between Salman Khan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali in the future.
And that's not entertainment, is it?