35 Years Of Mr India EXCLUSIVE: “Those days, associate directors would be paid Rs. 10,000-15,000 a month at the maximum. Boney Kapoor, however, offered me Rs. 1 lakh per month!” – Satish Kaushik
On Mr India’s 35th anniversary, Bollywood Hungama spoke to Satish Kaushik in an exclusive interview and revealed some unknown trivia about the film.
Did you join Mr India first as an actor and then become an associate director or was it vice versa?
I was an associate director first. Shekhar Kapur and I were into ad filmmaking then. I felt that I won’t get a chance to assist in Mr India. Shekhar had told me to take care of the ad company while he directs the film. We were at that time also planning to produce a film. Boney Kapoor, the producer of the film and Javed Akhtar saab, the writer, however, were keen that I should join the unit as an associate director. I remember both of them coming to my tiny house in Santacruz East and narrating to me the whole script of the film and persuading me to come on board. Something of this sort must have happened for the first time! Boney offered me very good money as an associate director. They were keen to have me as they loved me. They knew that I and Shekhar have a great camaraderie and also because I was a pass out from the National School of Drama (NSD).
How much were you offered to become the associate director?
When I read the script, I realized that I need to be a part of this great film which is about to be made. Boney asked me ‘Kitna paisa chahiye tujhe per month’. At that time, I was offered Rs. 1 lakh per month to be an associate director (smiles)! This was a time when one would get Rs. 10,000-Rs. 15000 a month at the maximum for the post of associate director!
However, more than the money, it was the script that drew me to the film. The idea of an invisible man in a patriotic film of sorts, the comic book structure, entertainment quotient etc made me say ‘yes’ to the project.
I was also a part of the script writing with Javed saab. The script was written in different places like Khandala, Hotel Windsor Bangalore etc. If you see, my name appears first in the credits after the title of the film. Boney had promised that he’ll give me an individual billing on screen and he kept his word.
How did you got cast in the role of Calendar?
I was also a frustrated actor back then. I was not getting roles. I had formed a great rapport with Javed saab. When the role of Calendar was being developed, do-teen actors ke naam in logon ke dimaag mein aaye the. Maine woh naam uda hi diye! I then asked Javed saab, ‘Why don’t you cast me?’ (laughs). The idea of the character being named Calendar also came about at this point. We decided to make him a bit feminine and gave him suspenders and a cap to wear.
The name Calendar was coined thanks to an anecdote that my father used to tell me, that Rajasthan mein kisi dealer ka takiya kalam ‘Calendar’ tha. He had the habit of mentioning ‘Calendar’ in every sentence. Javed saab suggested that we should name the character ‘Calendar’. He also came up with the suggestion that Calendar’s parents named him so as they wanted an English name.
My first shot was when I and Anil Kapoor go to Harish Patel’s ration shop. The moment I said ‘Khaana pakane se pehle kankar mein se chawal chunne hai’, the whole unit burst out laughing. So this is how I became an actor on the film. I didn’t know Calendar would become an iconic character, just like most of the characters in Mr India.
How was the experience overall of working on the film?
I am glad I was a part of Mr India as it gave me a lot of know how about filmmaking. I learned so much from the way Shekhar directed the film. He was like a school to me. While writing the script, I learnt from Javed Akhtar and while handling the production, I learnt from Boney Kapoor.
The credit goes to the whole team. It’s been 35 years and still, it’s being talked about and remains as iconic as before. People who are now grown up fondly remember the film. Those born later, when they see the film now on satellite or digital, they are amazed.
When my 10-year-old daughter Vanshika saw Mr India, she loved it and told me, ‘Papa, what a beautiful film’! It’s like a comic book which you can open from anywhere and read it and still it’ll entertain you. It also had an emotional angle and Mr India advocated the idea of feeling proud about your country.
Ahmed Khan was one of the child actors in the film and he mentioned that while Shekhar Kapur and Boney Kapoor were chilled out, you were a taskmaster on the sets!
Yes, because yeh bachchon ko handle karna mushkil hota tha na yaar. I used to run behind them all the time. They used to tease me as sometimes, I used to be in my costume. They’d scream ‘Calendar, khaana do’ to take out the frustration about my strictness (laughs)!
We had erected children’s rooms, classrooms, playing rooms etc behind the sets. Teachers were hired by Boney to teach them so that they don’t waste their time when they are not required on sets. So, it was very well planned.
The whole team – Boney Kapoor, Shekhar Kapur, Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Javed Akhtar, DOP Baba Azmi, production designer Bijon Das Gupta etc – contributed very well. Veeru Devgan had a great hand in all the special effects created in the film. Our special effects cameraman Peter Pererira…woh camera mein effect karte the. We didn’t have the technical abilities to do those shots. Today, it’s easy to get a person invisible through VFX. Then, it was a challenge. Still, people remember the film with a lot of fondness and that’s heartening.
Is it true that Anupam Kher was also offered the role of Mogambo?
Yes, he was offered the part but everyone felt that Amrish Puri would be a better choice. Though Anupam did his screen test very well, the makers felt that Amrish Puri would suit the part of a menacing person who’s a threat to the nation.
Mr India took 320 days to be shot. Why was that?
Yes, because it was difficult to shoot. Unn dino hum film aaram aaram se banate the. We couldn’t hurry it up. Boney had structured it in a certain way as he wanted it to be the best film of Anil Kapoor’s career, and that happened. Anil will also be remembered for Mr India forever.
'Kaate Nahin Kat Te' is one of the most sensuous songs ever. It’s unbelievable to imagine that Sridevi at that time had a high fever…
Yes, she did. Look at her professionalism and dedication that despite her condition, she shot for the song in rain. We had put up a set in Filmistan Studios and the song had to be shot during that time. Also, this was the first film which Sridevi dubbed on her own in Hindi. Before Mr India, somebody else used to dub for her.
We miss her on this special day as she was an integral part of the film. She was so spontaneous and so good at heart.
I read that due to an insane demand, several exhibitors were compelled to release Mr India 2 days before the release, on Wednesday, May 23…
I don’t remember exactly. But yeh un dinon mein hota tha. When the buzz of the film is very high, some centers would be compelled to release the film on Wednesday or Thursday. In centres like Raipur, there used to be shows at 6:00 am. These were the places where workers used to work night shifts. Toh kaam se nikal ke woh log theatre mein ghus jaate the (smiles). Toh jis picture ka subah 6 baje ka show full ho gaya, woh picture hit ho jaati thi!
That was a different time. Then, reviews used to be out on Monday. Aaj ke jaisa nahi tha ki pehla show hote hi katai-chatai shuru ho jaati hai film ki! It was a close-knit family then, of producers, directors, exhibitors, critics, journalists etc. Everyone cared for each other. Today, the business has become quite cut-throat. It's fine actually, we have to adapt as per the changing times.
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