On the eve of the release of his film Paathshaala, Milind Ukey tells this correspondent over a cup of tea in the office of producer Ahmed Khan that he would rather make a comedy with a message and meaning like Raju Hirani, than set out to make mindless potboilers like David Dhawan.
What is Paathshaala about?
Paathshaala is basically about the various intrinsic problems which are being faced by not only the students and the teachers but also the parents and guardians at various levels. It is an emotional drama which sets out to tackle social issues. The premise of the film is set on the exorbitant fees that the schools extract from the poor gullible parents in the name of extra curricular activities for their wards. By putting pressure on the parents, most of the schools only end up in extorting money from the parents but the tragedy is that no one is ready to complain. My film Paathshaala will offer a platform for all parents, teachers and students to voice their grievances.
How did the idea for the film germinate?
To be frank with you, though I too am a writer on my own right, it was Ahmed Khan who has produced Paathshaala, who gave me the idea and asked me to work on it to make Paathshaala. In fact, it was challenging for me to take up the task of directing the film because not only is Ahmed a director besides being a choreographer but he has also written the subject. To add to it, he is a very good friend of Shahid Kapoor too. When I suggested to him that he should himself direct the film, he categorically told me that he wanted me to direct the film since it had a genre with which he was not comfortable.
What message does Paathshaala set out to convey to the audience?
Paathshaala is not a blockbuster though it is honest in an entertaining way and depicts the day to day problems faced by parents as well as students in schools. The message that I have set out to drive home through my film is that we should never treat our children as our property and take them for granted and emphasized on the fact that the government should wake up to the fundamental rights of the children. I have underlined the fact that we should be more considerate to our children instead of still thrusting as parents our own egos and ambitions on our children.
Did Ahmed Khan interfere with you on the sets?
Right from the day we went on the floors with the film, Ahmed and I created a synergy instead of conflict, as a producer-director team. We knew our respective spaces and also our roles were very clear.
Nana Patekar has the reputation of slapping his directors. How did you find the chore of directing him?
It was not a chore but a pleasant task directing Nana. Nana did not slap me. Nana has seen three generations of directors in a career span of forty years in which he has been acting right from the time he had started off in theatre. If you set out to work with him as a director, you should see to it that you know your job well and work at his level. It is only when you are not prepared that Nana will throw his tantrums. It helped me that Nana knew how capable I was since I had worked with him on the sets of Khamoshi: The Musical earlier.
Did you assist Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Khamoshi?
I was the associate director with Sanjay Leela Bhansali in not only Khamoshi: The Musical but also Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and had worked at close quarters with all actors right from Nana and Manisha Koirala to Ajay Devgn, Salman Khan and Aishwarya Bachchan.
What did you learn from Sanjay Leela Bhansali as far as direction is concerned?
In the five years that I was associated with Sanjay Leela Bhansali I learnt a lot of things about cinema including how to visualize a scene and make a film grand and also work in an organized manner in the commercial film industry. Though I had graduated from the Pune Film and Television Institute way back in 1995, it was from Sanjay that I learnt by practice that cinema is a technical art form.
Besides the Marathi film Devki and the Hindi film Humne Jeena Seekh Liya which also had dealt with kids, you have also made an animation film like Hanuman. How was the experience?
Making an animation film like Hanuman was a big challenge to me, because there was absolutely no reference point to me since it was the first animation film which was made in our country and also the only successful one. I had to do a lot of ground work to make Hanuman and concentrate on the right story telling, because kids need to be approached in a different way as far as story telling is concerned unlike Road Side Romeo, which did not click because the story telling was adult oriented.
In what way have you evolved as a director from the time you had made your debut with the Marathi film Devki to Paathshaala?
I think I have evolved a lot in terms of my technique as well as the ability to handle emotions with finesse. Now I look at my characterizations more deeply as a director and my scenes are less loud and melodramatic, especially since over the years, Cinema itself per se is more on the face than getting round and about.
How open are you to criticism as a filmmaker?
As a filmmaker, I know that I will never be able to grow without criticism but at the same time I would also tell the critics to care about the economics of any film when they set out to review the films. They can tear us apart after giving a film a chance to survive on its own merit at least for a week so that the producer can at least recover his investment instead of scaring the prospective cine-geors by panning a film the very day it is released.
What are your future plans?
I am working on two to three scripts of my own and waiting for the right time and the right set up. To tell you the truth, I am right now quite nervous because the results of this film both critically as well as box office wise will change the course of my career. I have always been inspired by great Indian filmmakers like Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak and Woody Allen abroad. I"d rather make the Raju Hirani kind of comedies with meaning than the mindless potboilers which David Dhawan, who is also incidentally from the FTII, is known to make.