‘The young generation doesn’t want to work with old hats like me.’
‘They don’t understand that we are brighter and wiser because of our experience.’
‘We can take them on the right path, but they should keep their ears open.’
A graduate of the National School of Drama as well as the Film and Television Institute of India, Satish Kaushik came to Mumbai to become an actor more than 40 years ago.
He started his journey by writing and acting in Kundan Shah’s cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron in 1983.
Ever since, he has acted in many significant films: Mr India, Mandi, Ram Lakhan, Saajan Chale Sasural, Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, Brick Lane…
He made his directorial debut with Roop ki Rani Choron Ka Raja in 1993, which was a big flop, but went on to score hits like Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain, Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai, Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai, Tere Naam, to his latest film, Kaagaz.
Satish Kaushik marks 75 years of India’s Independence by discussing the big changes in Hindi cinema with Patcy N/Rediff.com. The first in a new series:
How has Indian cinema changed over the years, right from your childhood when you would watch movies to now when you act in and direct them?
Movie viewing has changed altogether.
Earlier, there was no other form of entertainment, so going to the theatre was a big event.
People would dress up to go to the theatre.
I remember standing in queues to buy the advance booking of film tickets.
People then were very innocent. Whatever you showed, they would like.
The magic of moving images attracted people. On top of that, they would get to see songs, dance and locations — they would get to see the snow-clad mountains in Kashmir, Bombay ka samundar… it was an innocent time.
Stories were very simple.
Today, stories are very complex.
Plus, there are so many other means of entertainment.
The magic and charm of cinema is still there, but the equation has changed.
People have a lot of other things to fall back on to entertain themselves.
What, according to you, are the historic changes in Indian cinema?
The biggest changes I have seen is the shift from Black and White to Java Color to Eastman Color.
When the screen was made in 70 mm, it was written in big and bold letters.
Today, you can watch am entire movie on your phone.
The technology has improved a lot, whether it’s the sound, cinematography or even in theatres.
We have the multiplex culture now, which has made the viewing experience exciting because of the quality of the picture and sound.
The biggest historical thing today is that Indian cinema is seen all over the world.
How has direction evolved over the years?
Earlier, the director had too many responsibilities.
Today, there is so much professionalism — every department is divided.
There is production, direction, costume… there are so many specialists.
I will give you a funny example. Earlier, if your AD (assistant director) gave the call, ‘Start, Sound, Roll, Camera, Action,’ people would think, this director doesn’t know to direct.
Today, everything is divided.
Somebody will give the call on your behalf.
Somebody sets up the shot.
Someone explains the scenes to the junior artists.
The casting department has come into play.
Apart from directing, we had to cast the whole film earlier.
Today, these specialists know which actor will fit in which role, according to their talent.
Earlier, we had choreographers and action directors.
Today, there are special directors who will direct only the intimate scenes.
Earlier, you had just one make-up man, who did everything.
Today, there is a make-up man, a hairstylist, a costume stylist… there are so many people to help out.
The director has to pull the strings of all the specialist because he is still the captain of the ship, but the work has been divided and there are a lot of people to support him now.
The director does workshops and rehearsals, has discussions with the stars… he has a lot of work in the pre-production stage.
When I directed Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, it was a mammoth film as compared to my last film, Kaagaz.
Roop Ki Rani was a fairy tale while Kaagaz was realistic.
Today, the director has to narrate his story in a very subtle manner because the audience has changed now.
How has acting evolved?
The actors of this generation are more subtle. They give internalised performances.
Their acting is true to their characters; they depend on body language and expressions more than dialogues.
Earlier, it was loud. But the subjects were also like that.
Also, earlier, the sound system in theatres was not very good, so you had to speak louder.
There are a lot of method actors today. They lose and gain weight for the roles. They change their looks for certain characters.
This is the time for the actors, they have so much work now.
No actor today wants to repeat what he has done before.
Actors today read the script, make notes of the character, get the feel, be true to the script… they take part in the planning of their look. They do one project at a time.
Films are made quicker now.
Earlier, it would take 18 months to two years for a film. The contract was made like that, with 10 to 12 extra days for patchwork.
Today, the films are shot in three months.
Earlier, actors would sign 20 to 25 films together. He would shoot for two hours on each film set and move on to a different set.
The actors were so insecure that they would make a list of producers they haven’t worked with, so that they can work with them in their next film.
Today, the star dictates how the film should be made.
Producers and directors are in the hands of the stars nowadays.
Some of the projects are going wrong because it is not actor’s job to construct or direct the film, but their say is more than the producers and directors.
Actors think only about themselves, but the producer and director think about the whole film.
Yet, you can’t do without actors because people love and adore them.
I am an actor too, so I believe in actors.
How is comedy different now?
Today, the comedian’s role is gone. I am happy with this change.
Even earlier, I would wonder why they call me comedian.
They can say I am a good actor, who does comedy, and my comic timing is perfect. Why call me a comedian?
Today, I get to do a Udta Punjab, Scam 1992, Bloody Brothers… I am playing different roles because I am an actor.
Earlier, comedy was loud and over-the-top. Now, it is subtle.
Some people miss that era where Govinda and I made films with David Dhawan like Sajaan Chale Sasural, Chote Miyan Bade Miyan, Haseena Maan Jayegi…
Because I was from the theatre background, I was also loud in comic scenes.
People don’t make too many comedy films now.
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is such an iconic film, the humour in that was of an international level. You are saying a very serious thing in a very funny way.
The same was in Kaagaz also.
Today, we say ‘content is king’. But what was it earlier?
Earlier, we had an idea of a film. We would start making the film and as we were shooting, we would write the script.
Today, the director needs a bound script so that actors have confidence in them.
Now, you don’t have to fall into trap of putting song and dance, and comedy… those elements have gone.
Films are shorter and more engrossing now.
It moves you, enthralls you and captivates you.
Even a big star can’t make a film work if there is no good content.
How have the stories evolved in the last 75 years?
Earlier, we had very few stories. There were four-five permutations and combinations, and we had to work only on those story lines.
Today, the film-maker has so much freedom. He can say whatever he wants through the medium of cinema.
He can make films on social messages.
He can make commercial films.
Because of the OTT and digital mediums, this kind of freedom has come in the forefront.
Audiences have changed.
Earlier, there were not that many news channels and entertainment shows, so nobody knew much about filming.
Now, every child knows about cinema.
They know how they are shot, how they are made, they know about special effects.
As an actor and director, what would you say is your contribution to these changes?
I am a passionate person.
I have the ability to change and adapt myself.
I have been part of the ’80s, ’90s and even today’s cinema.
As an actor, I have adapted a lot from Udta Punjab, Blood Brothers, Chhalaang, Soorma, Thar and Scam 1992… I have got such great reviews.
My roles may be small, but people have loved me in each one.
I have the ability to change with time.
If you see the films that I have directed before in the ’80s and ’90s to Kaagaz, which is very subtle, it shows that as a director, I have changed.
I have started working with younger talent.
Today’s generation has put me in some kind of an age bracket. They think our minds are not working, but they are wrong.
People, who are passionate, will work till they are 80. Like Amitabh Bachchan, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood.
The young generation doesn’t want to work with old hats like me.
They don’t understand that we are brighter and wiser because of our experience.
We can actually direct them and take them on the right path, but they should keep their ears open.
At the age of 66, I have my next two years packed. It is because of my passion.
Which of your films, according to you, will go down in history?
You do hundreds of films, but you are remembered for two or three.
Mr India is one of them.
I was the associate director as well as the actor in it.
I will be known for Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron for its comic world. I not only acted in it, I wrote it too.
I will be remembered from my international film Brick Lane and my OTT show, Scam 1992.
My most awarded film is Kaagaz.
I will also be remembered for my biggest failure, Roop Ki Rani Aur Choron Ka Raja.
I am proud of it. There are people who loved it too.
It’s my ode to the kind of cinema I grew up on.
I am lucky that I became an actor.
I am here to stay.
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