The name Sajid Khan brings to mind a silver screen and award show host who has tickled the funny bone of thousands for the last two decades. The last six years saw him venture into the field of film direction, debuting as a director on Ram Gopal Varma’s Darna Zaroori Hai. Subsequently he made Heyy Babyy (2007), Housefull (2010) and the recently released Housefull 2. The higher the revenues of his three full-length films, the sharper has been the criticisms from film critics. But that, he says, does not bother him in the least. An interaction with the actor-director-presenter about his latest multi-starrer Housefull 2 with a cast of 18 actors shows that he is riding an all-time high.
The movie Housefull 2 is a runaway hit in India. Given the criticism your films usually receive, did you ever wonder about the success of the film? How have you celebrated?
No. I have made three films to date, Heyy Babyy in 2007, Housefull in 2010 and Housefull 2 in 2012. Not once, for a second, in these last five years have I worried about my films not doing well. I have always been extremely confident, so much so that I used to speak of my movies as hits even before their release. A large section of the media used to call me “pompous” and “over-smart” and I have proved my words not once, but thrice over.
As for celebrations, I don’t believe in success parties. For me, the day I start working on the film, that is the success of the film. That’s why I confidently write letters to all my actors on the first day of shooting, saying, “Welcome to your career’s biggest film.” I have done it over the years and have been proven right! Except in the case of Boman Irani, who already has 3 Idiots (among the highest Bollywood grosser till date), so I don’t send him the letter! (laughs) I am extremely happy that my film is one of the few Indian films which has opened in the U.S. Top 10 at No. 9 in the very first three days.
Does this mean the response from off-shore collections has been up to your expectations, with a collection of U.S. $2.64 million in the first three days?
Yes, I was expecting as much. But this alone does not mean audience acceptance. True success is when the audience leaves the hall with a smile on their faces or with the feeling that their money was well spent. Box office is just an indication, like a thermometer. You put it in your mouth or under your arm to find out what the temperature is. But the box office is just the means to knowing that the audience liked the film. This is the third time I have proved that critics or reviews do not make any difference to a film.
Do you believe that reviewers do not set out to simply criticize you?
I am 41 years old, and ever since I saw my first film—when I was 2 years old, films have become my life. For most reviewers, it is a job. For me, it is my life. They do not know anything about Hindi cinema.
If you are asked to compare Housefull and Housefull 2, what are the similarities in terms of storyline, sets, actors, etc?
It’s very simple. When Housefull was released, it did extremely well at the box office, and became a huge blockbuster. But I heeded the feedback I received from audiences. I found, the climax did not go down well with the audience—the climax in Housefull involved using laughter gas. So when I commenced working on Housefull 2, I worked in reverse. I needed to put together a superb, out of this world, funny climax. I removed all those bits that the audience did not like in Housefull and made sure I did not repeat the mistakes I’d made.
In terms of sets, there is no similarity. The scale of the film doubled in terms of storytelling, in terms of my role as a director, and in terms of the reputation and budget of the project.
Housefull was made at a cost of around U.S. $10 million. Housefull 2 cost me U.S. $17 million, almost double.
What was the best day out of the 70 days of shooting the film?
I think it was the first day of shooting with Mithun Chakravarty. He joined the set on day 17 or 18. That was the best day as I got to shoot with my childhood icon. I have grown up on his films, I have imitated him, mimicked him, danced like him. He signed my film without even hearing the script!
And what was the most challenging part of this film?
Honest to God, the most challenging part was getting them all (the multi-starrer cast) out of their vanity vans and on to the set. It was a big challenge to get them all—especially the girls, who take a lot of time with their costume, make-up, hair—to the shoot on time.
You have said in interviews that you get inspiration from old Hindi movies. For this sequel, what was your inspiration?
Manmohan Desai’s cinemas inspired me for Housefull 2. Whatever I know about filmmaking is through the thousands of Hindi films I have watched and studied. When I was making Housefull, I imagined Jim Carrey in my head. For Heyy Babyy it was Hrishikesh Mukherjee. For Housefull 2, the moment I heard about the large star cast, I remembered Manmohan Desai. He worked with lots of big actors together and nevered strayed away from the storyline. That’s what I did. I have not favored any particular actor in the film.
They favored the film.
The scene where four actors—John Abraham, Akshay Kumar, Asin and Jacqueline Fernandez—fall into a life boat and get stranded on a deserted island, is it inspired from Kaho Na Pyar Hai (KNPH)?
No. But I was told about this scene from KNPH. When I brought a tiger on to the Housefull set, everybody thought it was straight from Hangover. Few realized that it was inspired from Nishana made in 1980. I don’t copy scenes. But, yes, I like putting into my films what I have enjoyed in other films.
Randhir Kapoor has done two films with you—both Housefulls. Any special reason behind this?
He is my friend. I like spending time with him. I think he has a terrific sense of humor He makes me laugh. I have always told him “You should write a book.” And he is a superb person to work with. Acting is in the blood of Kapoors!
Is it a high point for you to be casting veterans like Mithun Chakraborty, Randhir and Rishi Kapoor so early in your career?
Of course. Why just them? Working with Johnny Lever is a high. I realized I have the knack for extracting comedic performances from actors. With Johnny Lever, we both knew we had to make it funny. I think Johnny Lever gave an outstanding performance. From being a fan, I’ve become a director. For example, I have Mithun Chakraborty in the film and he is such a consummate actor that within ten minutes into the film, you stop believing it is Mithun the star as he becomes his character. But at the very end of the movie, I made Mithun Da do his famous dance steps. How can I, his biggest fan, do a film with him and not make him dance?
Do you keep audiences outside India in your mind when you make films?
No. I don’t. I think Hindi films are yet to find a white audience. But it’s happening slowly. It will take another 10-15 years. But since our films are opening successfully abroad, those audiences cannot be ignored, especially when done at a Hollywood studio.
What should audiences look forward to in your next—Himmatwala, the 1983 film which you are remaking?
It’s a Sajid Khan film. So the audience knows they will not be disappointed in terms of entertainment. There is action, drama, super-hit songs and humor.
Any particular song from the original Himmatwala that you will remix for this film?
I have bought two songs officially: “Taaki O Taaki Re,” and “Naino Mein Sapna,” the penultimate song for matka dancing! They will not be remixed, but re-recorded. Again, I would like to say Ajay Devgn will not be wearing tight pants, white shoes or dancing like Jeetendra, as mine is a different film. Wait and watch for more!
Suchi Sargam is a journalist in India