Akbar Khan, actor and moviemaker, tells Ali Peter John that Taj Mahal, his historical flick, bagged success in Pakistan, but dunked in India owing to shoddy publicity and fewer prints being released. Khan, however, asserts that three cinematic aces up his sleeve…
I don’t know what people say, think, write or gossip about Akbar Khan, the younger brother of Feroz Khan and Sanjay Khan and the younger uncle of both Fardeen Khan and Zayed Khan. I don’t even want to know. I don’t because in all this years I have always known him as a dashing young man, always playing the game of life like a gentleman and not trying to play any of its nasty games.
Akbar doesn’t age, it shows. "I am a baby", he says and laughs and find that his laughter too has not aged. He is still so full of that zest for life, that love for some of the good things of life and the one thing I know and am sure about him is that his passion for that peep from behind the camera has only grown more passionate and I know that this passion too will not age even when he grows as old as that other Akbar, the emperor (I mean) who had a son called Salim who caused him endless trouble, even made him go to war against him, all because of the "Hindustan ka honewala Shahenshah’s" affair with the most gorgeous looking woman in the world,a naachnewali laundi.
Akbar Khan is not like that other Shaheshah-E-Alam Akbar. He isnot hot tempered. He has a voice which is soft, but very deep. He doesn’t hate love, but loves loves. He doesn’t like fighting war in real life but would go to any extend to create realistic war scenes in the historical he has mastered and has grown into a specialist in now.
He doesn’t hate naach gaana like that other Akbar, he loves them and makes it his jaan ki baazi to bring them alive in reel life. Akbar loves his Hindustan and will do anything to add chaar chand to it through the films he has been making with his own touch of class.
Akbar started his career as an actor at a very young age, nineteen. He had all the quality to win the hearts of girls and inspire men to acts of bravery and courage. But Akbar had given his dil-o-jaan to the lifeless camera standing in a corner and working magic and creating images that could win the hearts of the world.
Akbar was a diler lover. He took trying making films at a very young age. And he let nothing or no one come in the way of his meeting to demands of his beloved, the camera.
Akbar followed in the footsteps of his brothers, Feroz and Sanjay but made it a point from the very beginning to see that he was not a blind follower. He created his own school of filmmaking, a school which believed in something after giving it a great deal of thought and then went to any extent to make that belief or dreams a reality created with courage, conviction and concentration.
Akbar’s career has taken all kinds of anjaan raahen‘s (unknown ways, which incidentally was also the name of his first film) as an actor he took up acting, like I said, but his love for making films took him through all kinds of ways. He has now reached a place where he can sit on a throne created for him. But he has still not found the reasons to.
He still believes he has a long way to go, many more ambitions to embark on, give them shape and reach a state when he can find satisfaction but complete satisfaction is not a luxury for the most talented, the most creative, the most sensitive and the most ambitious dreamer. That eternal quest for compete satisfaction will not stop because if it does there will be no growth and no growth means death for a man like Akbar.
Akbar lives in his own mahal (Sona Mahal) in one of the quiet places in Juhu (suburban Mumbai) left alone by the land sharks. It is a place he has lived in all his years and will not exchange for any other. His brother Feroz has his own mahal in the same colony and his other brother, Sanjay lives in his own mahal a few kilometers away.
Their lives are the stuff great stories are made of. Their love for cinema made in the most spectacular and extravagant ways are stories that will one day become a part of history. They are the Khans who came up from nowhere and became the Khan sahabs of the industry, they are now.
Akbar who speaks very little about himself finds time to talk about things that were and things that will be. In the process he lets me know something I have never known about him. He is a school drop-out, he says and not one word of what Akabr says and how he behaves proves it. Excerpts from the conversation…
Tell me how young or old are you in films?
You look as dashing and as debonair as a young man of today. Nothing about your personality seems to have changed. And yes, your being involved in the making of some of the most lavish, magnum opus historical gives one the image of a veteran versatile movie moghul.
All these words sound very flattering, but very frankly, I am a baby, I feel just like a baby learning to walk in the world of films. I have always realised that you have to be a born learner, you have to keep on learning all the times. Filmmaking is life trying to swim the unfathomable and mysterious ocean. You have to keep on swimming, keep on beating your wings in the ocean without thinking of the destination, the alternate end. The day you feel you know everything about filmmaking you should stop making film because once you feel you know every thing, where is the excitement of learning and trying to know more and more? I am learner, seeking more and more knowledge from life, the various experiences of life which have no end. Let me tell you that some people have this feeling that I have a very good educational background and that I am very learned. But the truth of the matter is that I, Akbar Khan, do solemnly affirm that I am a hard-core school drop-out. And all that I have learnt is from the school of life which is the best school in the world. You may have all the degrees and doctorates of the world, but if you are not trained in the school of life, you know nothing and you will do nothing.
So, you came into films without any formal education or training in any field of filmmaking…
Yes, I came to films as an absolute novice. I was very lucky to have got my first break as a leading man in a film called Anjaan Raahen directed by a very kind gentleman called Mohan Bijlani. He gave me the freedom to learn all that I was keen and wanted to know about filmmaking. I must say that I learned all the lessons in acting, writing, directing, cinematography, action, music and everything else there was to know about filmmaking from my first film. It was like going to a very good school of filmmaking which prepared me to fly out and take my first flight into filmmaking.
And you decided to make your first film. You were Akbar Khan, the director of ‘Haadsaa’ which was taking a very big risk…
I don’t know why, but I have always had this ambition to take risks. I decided to become a filmmaker, that means a producer and director rolled into one. I think I was only second youngest director after Raj Kapoor. I think his started his career than he was twenty three and I too started at around the same age. It was a big risk, but also a great feeling of adventure, excitement, a very great feeling and challenging all the time.
You also took up a very difficult subject, something which was called a film way ahead of its time?
Yes, you are right. Many people who first heard the story of my film though I was playing with fire. Some of my own loved ones asked me to wait or try something else. But I had made up my mind. I decided I would start with this film which I called Haadsaa (accident). Imagine starting your career with an accident! Two years later the same subject was made in Hollywood as Fatal Attraction and later Ram Gopal Varma‘s company made a film called Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya which was almost a copy of my first film which I took as a tribute to my youth and the ideas I had them.
You did some other "crazy" thing during the planning of the film as people called them
The first crazy thing I did was selecting a daring subject which had not been treated by any other filmmaker before me. Then came the casting. It was a time when there was a very clear division between what was called commercial cinema and what was called art cinema. And there were actors who were called art film actors and commercial film actors. Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah were two of the front-ranking art film actors. Smita was generally branded as the gaonwali or the slum dweller or a human from the helpless lower-middle class woman struggling again all kinds of atrocities. I decided to change her entire image. I turned her into a sexy seductress who was also a millionaire with sophisticated clothes, a rich home and posh cars. No one could imagine Smita Patil like this and when they saw her they said she was unbelievable! It was the first strictly commercial break for an actress like Smita. I also changed Naseer and made him play a character which was entirely different from the image he had till then. I had some of the best special effects men in the world to work on the effects and action of my film. The whole feel of the film first something people had rarely seen in Hindi films till then. I remember how the line Bambai haadson ka shahar (Bombay, a city of accidents) became a line which was commonly used and is still being used to describe the city, thanks to my late and low profile writer, M.G. Hashmat. The making of the film was a very exciting experience for a young director with modern ideas. One who was eager to go all out to make the best of his first film and that is how it turned out to be, thank God! I had no regrets at all about making the film. On the contrary, I would not have been what I am had I not made that film.
But you took a sudden turn and took to acting in some films, which was a strange decision to take.
I had to take to acting because I was flooded with offers to do some good leading roles in the right type of films made by the right directors. It was another major experience for me because I could learn so much more about filmmaking of different times and different schools.
When did you get another chance to look behind the camera?
It was another haadsaa, another action. My brother, Sanjay Khan who was making The Sword of Tipu Sultan had a major fire on the sets of this serial. Many lives were lost. My brother too was very seriously injured, but there was too much at stake. The project had to continue and to make a serial with passion of my brother I had to take up the serial and directed the first twenty episodes. It was a Herculean effort for a new director like me, but I took up the challenge of managing men, material and moods for the first time on such a large scale. I realized that it was not so very easy. I specially realised that it was easier to deal with the hundreds of animals that I had to, rather than dealing with men. I grew into an expert at handling both, which very important for any filmmaker.
You then made your own magnum opus called ‘Akbar the Great’.
It is another major chapter in my life. It was my own attempt at making a massive historical. I realised that I would have to take all the major decisions myself. I played the title role, besides looking after every minor department of the making and I think I managed quite successfully. I can now say that I was gifted with a mind, heart and a body that could match the challenge I had taken up. The serial will be remembered for all the hard work put in by my team. There were times when I felt like I was a general leading a major war.
The historical genre caught your fancy and you made ‘Taj Mahal – The Eternal Love Story,’ as a feature film again.
I took all the precautions to see that nothing went wrong with the making of the film which has been tried before. The money that went into the making, the massive sets and the entire making were all gigantic. It was another massive effort, but the efforts did not meet with the kind of results they should have, all thanks to my friends, Mr. Subhash Ghai and his distribution company. I had prepared four hundred and ten prints to be released all over the country. His company released the film in only hundred and ten theatres only! His company selected theatres that had gone out dated hundred years ago to release my film. I spent a crore on my posters, which were allowed to rot. I could see all my efforts being destroyed every day. I had never seen a distribution company almost taking revenge on a film, but that was just what Mr. Ghai’s distribution company did. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I recalled all the prints. I can never forget the day I took that decision. But I have not given up. I am planning to re-release Taj Mahal as a new film at the right time. I have the classic example of Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker in India and Brave Heart and Cindrella City in Hollywood which were declared very big flops during their first release, but when released again after a gap went on to become some of the biggest hits of all time. I hope see my film faces the same kind of treatment. I am living no stone unturned. Even the music of my film by the greatest maestro, Naushad sahab was not allowed to sink in. I will also revive that music as my tribute to the great master. I will build my own "
Taj Mahal again. Just you wait and see.
But the film received a royal reception in Pakistan…
It is difficult for me to describe the reaction the film received in Pakistan. Our entire team went to Pakistan like state guests. Ms. Ambica Soni, Minister for INB and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi sent special letters talking about our film to President Pervez Musharraf. We were hosted by governors and chief ministers. We were given a red-carpet welcome wherever we went, whatever parties and premieres we attended. We were given the kind of security given only to heads of state. It was, after all, the first Indian film to be released in Pakistan in forty years. The people all over went crazy. They had stopped going to theatres. Some of the theatres had already closed down because of the rank bad films made in Pakistan. Taj Mahal brought people back to the theatres in a big way. I hope the beginning we made will lead to what the people of Pakistan want. They want to see more and more Indian films…
What led you to re-release ‘Taj Mahal’?
I have many points to prove and I will talk about them only when I have proved them.
What is the plan of action for Akbar Khan now?
I am not someone who will keep lying low for a long time. I have two films in the planning. The first is a modern day story which I will be making after a very long time. And the second is what I feel will be my most ambitious film, Chenghiz Khan and there is the film on Saddam Hussain, in which I am supposed to play the title role. I am working on both the films simultaneously, but the modern story will go on the floors first. I am acutely aware of all the new changes that are cropping up, the coming in of the power of the corporate houses that are raising the prices of stars and the making of films. I am a very good planner, I think. I know how to cut my cloth according to my needs without compromising in any way. A Khan doesn’t compromise. It is not in his blood or his nature.