In the mid-90s when MTV launched in India, a watershed moment in Indian music television, one of the brains behind it was Shashanka Ghosh. Soon afterwards, as the channel broke from the Star network, leading to the birth of the rival channel Channel V, Ghosh had the choice to stay on or to jump ship. Ghosh joined Channel V with his boss. “I had too much respect for him and I simply followed him,” he says about his stint with the channel that helped in the coming-of-age of youth television in India. “MTV was more like America looking at us, while V was contemporary India looking at the world,” he says.
We are at Anil Kapoor’s office in Mumbai, for an interview before the release of Khoobsurat, a film so far removed from Ghosh’s past work that the conversation starts with how he landed up doing it. It’s the same kind of leap of faith, he says, that he took to sign the film. Producer Rhea Kapoor’s conviction drove him. “At first, I had no clue why a 50-something someone like me has been chosen to direct a chick flick. But Rhea’s conviction intrigued me. It’s her vision, she wanted to do a Khoobsurat remake, and I wanted to work with her,”
For Ghosh what matters more than the project are the people he is working with. He rejected a number of offers — including a sequel to his last film Quick Gun Murugan (QGM) called The Good, the Bad and the Idly — and even those “on the same page” didn’t materialise. This coupled with some personal issues led to a long gap since his last film in 2009.
While QGM, and his first film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part 2 were smartly crafted, tongue-in-cheek films laced with black humour, Khoobsurat, being touted as “India’s first Disney movie”, in that respect seems distant from his world. Ghosh is unabashed about the fact that it’s his most commercial film yet; and also the biggest. “I would love to make a Chennai Express or Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, but I don’t think I’ll be able to. All that matters is if you have a story that you are passionate about, tell it correctly, and take it to its audience,” says the ex-adman who hails from Delhi.
Khoobsurat, he says, was an “interesting collaboration” that yielded exciting results. For a Sonam Kapoor in the lead, there is a Sneha Khanwalkar doing the music. Not a big fan of the original, Ghosh says his film is closer to The Sound of Music than the 1980 Hrishikesh Mukherjee film. “The old one is about the clash of family values. While the premise remains the same, mine is more about the romance between the lead pair,” says Ghosh. Modestly self-critical about his own work, Ghosh says he doesn’t like any of his own films, including Khoobsurat. He wasn’t happy with the final product that QGM turned out to be. “When you see your films a thousand times, all you see are flaws,” he explains, “Although when I see it now, I think Waisa Bhi.. wasn’t so bad,” he adds.
Has he been able to make the film he would have ideally wanted to? “Not yet”, he says, although he has a number of interesting ideas he plans to pursue after Khoobsurat. There is a fictional story about a filmmaker who returns to films after 15 years, shot in documentary style. And a gangster flick meets Alice in Wonderland with Sonam Kapoor. “When I brought it up with Rhea, she said, I’ll have to do one more film for her production house before we get on to it,” he says.