Farah Khan is the darling of the industry as well as the masses. She completed 30 years in the industry, on May 22. 30 years ago, on this very day, her first film as a choreographer, Jo Jeeta Wosi Sikandar, was released in cinemas. She later also dabbled as a director, TV host as well as an actor. Her bindaas style, sense of humour and of course, oodles of talent have made her relevant and one of the most significant celebrities of Bollywood even today.EXCLUSIVE: Farah Khan completes 30 years in Bollywood; speaks about choreographing Salman Khan for Lakhani’s ad, how she gave Shah Rukh Khan his first PAN-INDIA success
On this significant occasion, Bollywood Hungama spoke to Farah Khan exclusively about her journey and a lot more.
Congratulations on completing 30 years! What’s the first thought that comes to your mind on completing 3 decades in the industry?
The first thought is gratitude. When I started, the only thought was ‘Teen mahine tik jaao’. Then it was ‘teen saal tik jaao’. Aise karte karte tees saal nikaal diye. And I don’t think I am stopping. Yeh toh bas interval hai. Picture abhi baaki hai (smiles). I am grateful that my job doesn’t have a shelf life. As long as you keep up with the times and you are intelligent and hardworking, you can work for the next 30 years.
Before becoming a choreographer, you were seen as a background dancer in some films. One of the best songs is that in Jagdeep-starrer Saamri (1985). It was difficult to spot you in that song though!
In that song, we were like ‘Someday, we’ll become famous. Toh munh pe mitti laga dete hai. No one should recognize us. I was skinny. We had done a version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ with Jagdeep. I was also in Jalwa (1987), dancing behind Archana Puran Singh.
You mentioned in an interview that you were also a part of the ad for a shoe brand featuring Salman Khan and Sangeeta Bijlani…
That was one of the few ads I choreographed, for Lakhani chappals. I was a dancer, but Kailash Surendranath used to make me choreograph the ads.
Was that the first time you choreographed?
Yes. However, I used to choreograph dance shows. We had our dance group and all of us used to choreograph. That’s why Mansoor Khan kept me in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. He wanted me to help him in finding youngsters. He said that his film is about young people and so he wanted even young dancers in the songs. I made it clear that I’ll help him only if he hires me as an assistant! So that’s how I came on board. I used to do casting as well.
What was the journey like after Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar?
Before Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was released, I bagged Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994) followed by 1942: A Love Story (1994). Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who was Vinod’s assistant, came to Mansoor’s bungalow. We showed them the songs of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, and that’s how I was signed on to work with Sanjay. He was Vinod’s main assistant, and he was in charge of the songs. So, Sanjay and I used to work together.
I worked on Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and I learned the maximum from Kundan Shah. I understood how to make a shot breakdown and how to make a script of a song. I think till now, I am the only choreographer who makes the script of a song. My paper is very famous. I handwrite the song and break it up into shots, like what will be happening, where the trolley will move, etc. So, it’s like a proper script. I am lost without it. All that I learned from Kundan.
As for 1942: A Love Story, they had great technicians. Renu Saluja was the editor and I used to sit on the edits. She was also editing Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. I learnt the process of editing, how and where to cut etc. I am lucky that I got to work with great technicians of that time like Binod Pradhan, Kundan, Vinod, Renu, Mansoor etc. Hence, I got a solid foundation.
There was a perception that you can only do westernized songs. ‘Dhol Bajne Laga’ from Virasat (1997) became your first ‘desi naach’ song. How did you manage to bag the famous track?
For a very long time, everyone believed that I do only romantic and western songs and that I am not cut for hardcore, Bollywood numbers. Priyan (Priyadarshan) was from the South, and he had no clue about my reputation (laughs). Javed uncle (Javed Akhtar) wrote the songs and he told Priyan that ‘Yeh ladki bahut fresh hai. Isko aap try karo’. I met Priyan and we hit it off immediately. That’s how I got a chance to choreograph ‘Dhol Bajne Laga’. Luckily, he did not want a typical Bollywood number.
I learnt a lot from him as well as DOP Ravi K Chandran and production designer Sabu Cyril, both of whom I also hired for my directorial ventures. I learnt how to use zoom lenses, how to shoot in backlight etc. It was better than going to a film school, where I desperately wanted to go. However, we didn’t have the money to secure admission to FTII.
When are you returning to direction? It’s been nearly 7 years and the industry is in need of your film as you are one of the few ones who can make masala fares…
This year, for sure I’ll take my film to the floors. In these 7 years, see the kind of movies that were running. The period of ‘intellectual cinema’ is over and people again want to see entertaining, paisa-vasool and larger-than-life cinema. I have always believed that the biggest sin is to bore the audience.
However, often cinema that bores audiences is hailed, and the industry starts believing that they need to make such films to remain relevant. Industry people are very scared of critics. Karan Johar in his book mentioned that we tend to over-intellectualize now…
But why should we? See the kind of movies that are running (successfully).
Moreover, everyone's a critic now, unfortunately. Some of these people and even the critics are giving reviews from the theatre. Someone should be sued for doing that. Aap tweet kyon kar rahe ho? Aap picture enjoy karo na. And I have also seen these big critics coming to see a film with notepads. Cinema is a very immersive experience. If you find it terrible, I can understand. However, if you have to come to rip it apart and note down all the faults in your notepad, then you are not enjoying the experience.
I want to tell some critics ‘Tu phone pe ek short film bana de. Ya ek din set pe aa ke assistant ka kaam kar le. Fir tereko malum padega’. It’s very easy to sit and deride a film. Now, I have become older and wiser. I won’t really care now (what they’d write about my film). However, during Main Hoon Na (2004) which was my first film, I got very sensitive about it.
Were you mentally prepared for reviews during your second film, Om Shanti Om (2007)?
During Om Shanti Om, I was prepared for the fact that the critics would rip it apart as it was crazier than Main Hoon Na. We showed Shah Rukh fighting with a stuffed tiger and what not! The humour was on another level. But I was in shock that it got such glowing reviews. It was universally loved. The movie had gone ballistic at the box office. For the first time, 8:00 am and 9:00 am shows were held, and they were running full.
Nevertheless, Om Shanti Om got commercial success as well as critical acclaim. Main Hoon Na though is my personal favourite. Also, it was my first baby. It started a rage of qawwalis. For Shah Rukh Khan, it was a different kind of film. I was told by some distributors later that it was his first pan-India success. Till then, he was an A centre star. So different posters were made for B and C centres in which Shah Rukh was holding a gun in his hand, and Suniel Shetty was also featured! In Mumbai, the posters gave the idea that it was a fun, musical entertainer.
How is your production house Three’s Company doing?
It’s running well. I don’t produce. Shirish handles it. We last made Mrs Serial Killer (2020). We also do ads. As a choreographer and director, I am very efficient and save the producer’s money. However, the minute I become a producer, I want to save more money, which happened in Tees Maar Khan (2010). I don’t want to take the stress of that ‘Oh God, so much money is being spent’. I am that person. I have that insecurity about money, coming from a background where we didn’t have money. Hence, I am much happier to take my fee and then yell at the producer (laughs)!
Moreover, Red Chillies Entertainment has spoiled me. If I want a jimmy jib, Shah Rukh Khan would give me a helicopter. He’d be like ‘Cancel this set. It’s too small. Make it bigger’. However, I can’t spoil myself like this.
Your kids started ‘The Mad Party Planners’ and helped organize parties on Zoom. How is it going?
It was started for organizing parties in the lockdown. Now, people are partying left, right and centre, just like in the old times. My three kids are now studying and only studying. Yes, I took a 7-year-gap from direction. But I got to be with my kids during the most important time of their lives. During the lockdown, we spent so much quality time together. We used to play games. They all shifted into my room. We put gaddas down for them. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Now I am itching back to direct. They are older. They’ll be in Class 9 now and they are only studying. I can happily leave them and go because even when I am home, they are busy studying. Pata nahi kahaan se yeh Einstein ke bacche paida hue hai!
You recently were in the news after you told Chunky Panday, ‘Pehle apni beti ko sambhal’…
I just sent a message to Chunky that ‘Hire me as your PR’! Recently, some news reports stated that I had a crush on him. I was telling him that I am keeping him relevant. We talk like that only. Chunky said ‘You are overacting’ and so I was like, ‘Pehle apne beti ko sambhal’. Ananya (Panday; Chunky Panday’s daughter) was, in fact, sitting next to me. I even asked her before posting the message, “Should I say this to your father?” She told me, “Now you have said so many things to me. So, just say it!” She’s very sporting and that’s a very cool quality about her. I think people need to have self-deprecating humour. You can’t take yourself so seriously.
3 songs you are proud of as a choreographer?
I am very proud of ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’, my qawwali from Main Hoon Na and every song from Jaan-E-Mann (2006). I have done beautiful songs in that movie. Those are of international level. I am even proud of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) songs.
Best dancers from Bollywood?
Govinda, as his dance brings joy. I have never choreographed him though. He’s my childhood friend. Then, Hrithik is of course fantastic. Shahid is also very good.
Best directors that you have worked with?
I’ve learnt a lot from many directors. Mani Ratnam has a great sense of doing something different. Karan has taught me how to put scale in a movie. Then Priyadarshan, Kundan Shah, Mansoor etc were great. In recent times, however, the directors are in awe of me. I insist that they can tell me (if I am going wrong or if they have a different idea in their mind).
The trick is to treat every work like it’s your first. So I’ll still work hard. I am going to Croatia for a song shoot. Though I am not being paid for the recce, still I’ll do it and prepare a shot breakdown. I can’t be like I can come on the set and do the choreography.
Final thoughts before we sign off?
In 30 years, I have made great relationships. It’ll be fair to say that most people love me and respect my work, for which I am very grateful. Very few people hate me. And once they meet me, they love me!
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