Vikram – Memories
I was born in Gadag, a place about 30 kms away from Hubli, which is where I completed my education. I come from a very large family, we brothers and sisters numbering 11. We were a typical middle-class family though by Hubli standards, we were well to do. My father had a business, we owned a couple of trucks and also a confectionery shop, which was well known. I studied up to the second year B.Sc. But right from the age of about six or seven, I was attracted to films. I had seen Nagin and then felt that I had to get into cinema.
In a place like ours, acting was not very popular and there was no scope for stage acting either. Once in a blue moon stage shows would come up and I’d do some good roles in them. That was about it.
Bombay was the place I had to get to, to be an actor. But I did not know how to go about it. So whenever film stars came to Hubli for shooting, I’d hang around them and try to get to know a little about them. When my family discovered my inclination, they weren’t very happy. More so, because I was the eldest son. But my father gave in when he saw that I was bent upon doing this. I wasn’t very good at studies but I was very active at extra-curricular activities and was the General Secretary in my college.
After my B.Sc. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to Bangalore and trained for business management. The papers carried advertisements asking for recruits to join small and large scale industries. I dabbled in catering and whatever else took my fancy. At the back of my mind though, I knew that I had to go somewhere else. One day, while going through Screen, I saw an FTII ad, so I applied for it and got a reply as well. I chose Madras as my centre and was very serious. But in Madras, I found that there were so many boys and girls present for an audition. I was really bad, since I had never faced a camera in my life. Only my confidence helped and I somehow managed to scrape through the dialogues I was given. Actually, they were tough and meant for NSD students. But they understood that I was an amateur. After a month I received a telegram saying that I was selected.
I met Roshan Taneja who said, ‘We don’t want trained actors because we are going to train you. We only want to check a person’s potential, if he is photogenic, etc., so that we can groom him’. I asked them if I could complete my catering exam, after which I joined FTII.
Two years at FTII taught us a little about acting, directing and scripting and by the end of it, you knew a lot about cinema. After that, I did the usual round of producers’ offices with my portfolio. They were very encouraging, saying, ‘Aap ka kaam ho jayega’. People like F.C. Mehra and B.R. Chopra thought I was good hero material.
My first film and probably her last, was with Vani Ganapati, titled Pyaasi Nadi. Then I did a few B-grade films. Big producers weren’t signing me because I didn’t have solid backing at that lime. I also did a few action films. That’s when Devendra Goel, a big producer, signed me for Aadmi Sadak Ka. Other big producers like Anil Ganguly and Basu Chatterjee then followed suit.
The film I was offered after this— Julie — was the biggest blunder of my life. Sure, it was a super hit, but for a hit like that, you must have a super role. Mine was the wrong role. Before this film, I had action films on one side and romantic ones on the other. I was just establishing an image. At that time, the Julie role shouldn’t have happened because it was bad.
The hero was suppressed in the entire film and it was totally heroine- oriented. My mistake entirely. If I hadn’t done this film, I would have slowly come into my own position. After Julie was released, I had a lot of problems. I was dropped from many films. At that time, a lot of heroes had refused the film. I went by the name of Nagi Reddy, Madras banner, etc. But even one wrong move for an actor is enough. Even today, I repent doing that film.
Only benefit was that before Julie, the kind of signing amounts I received were mind-boggling. And whatever money I got, I invested in shares or factories. Even today, I am secure because of those investments. I can make 10 films if I want to. Imagine, I had signed 20 films before the release of Julie and not one after it. Even Amitabh wouldn’t have survived by doing that role. Because even if it’s a small role, you must look like a hero. I wasn’t even in the climax. (Laughs) Utpal Dutt was the hero of the film!
Disaster over with, I started my own production. I launched Situm with Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and myself; Aruna Vikas directing; Jagjit Singh for the music and Gulzar as the lyricist. It was a low budget art film which did fairly okay. Feeling more confident after this, I ventured further into production.
When Situm released in 1980, I also got married. My wife Faryal has adjusted well to my profession, the ups and downs and the insecurities. She has stood by me. Now that my investments are secure, I will make films but only with my financier’s money. I won’t mortgage my house or sell my car. I may have been crazy initially, but not anymore.
I already have Vikram Productions and have been making films with smaller artistes. Now, I want to work with bigger artistes and make good films like my colleague Raakesh Roshan. After 20 years in the industry, I feel I have enough experience as a producer, actor and distributor. I may also venture into telefilms. I would also like to direct a film. My other projects I will give out to people like Sachin. I would like to form a company of directors called Trinity Forts. With a lot of good directors and producers coming in now, I feel that’s just what the industry needs.
I want to make a commercially successful film, following makers like Raj Kapoor and Yash Chopra, who satisfy audiences from six to 60. They never made vulgar or stupid films. For instance, Mohra was a hit only because of one song. You have a film with a good script, good dialogues and a song like ‘Tu cheez…’ and you have a hit. The money put in has to be doubled or don’t make a film. I think I am the only actor in India who has seen every film from Raja Harishchandra to Vijay Path. I used to watch them from an actor’s point of view and later, from a business point of view.
W hat makes a film click? I have found that in India, we only use one formula — Ram, Laxman, Sita and Ravan. Ravan is killed in the end and everybody is very happy. Even Sholay had this. For personal satisfaction, you can make a film like Situm. I was happy with it, so were Smita and Aruna Vikas. But the distributors were unhappy. My financiers have told me that if I start thinking along the Situm lines, they will take their money back. One film like that was enough for me. Big makers like Subhash Ghai and Gulshan Rai should make one Situm; but they won’t do it because they can’t afford to. I did it as a new producer with no backing. But no one helped me with my finances after that, so I decided to turn commercial too.
Subhash Ghai can say ‘Choli ke peechey kya hai’, because it means money. There are so many fantastic art filmmakers who nobody even knows about. In this industry, only a successful man is recognized. I have seen non-success and now I want to be successful. I want to receive the bouquets and attend a lot of parties and mahurats. I received 150 bouquets when Julie released and it was also my birthday. But there were other birthdays when I didn’t receive a single one.
My experience in the industry has by and large been good. Except for some unpleasantness with Rekha. But that problem was natural, because I was new and she was already an established heroine, I think this happens with everybody. Maybe she wanted a bigger star opposite her. Probably when she was new, somebody refused her. Among the good people I have met, are Smita, Jagjit Singh and Gulzar. Especially Smita, she was a very sweet person. She was responsible for my turning producer, when I started Situm. She is a great loss to her friends and also to me. She could have made a few more directors and producers.
She was very encouraging to people and so full of life. I don’t think I have ever met anyone like her. Truly, in this industry, you don’t find anybody like Smita Patil… (As told to Jyoti Suvarna in 1994).