When Kunal Kohli’s dream debut — the big-budget romance “Mujhse dosti karoge” (Would You Be My Friend) — crashed at the box office in 2002, he decided that in the movie business, playing safe is dangerous.
His next fil was a hip, urbane romantic comedy that covers many years and locations in the lives of the protagonists and even has interludes with cartoon characters. “Hum tum” (Me, You) was one of last year’s biggest hits and won Kohli several major awards for direction.
It also facilitated the orchestration of a casting coup: Kohli’s next film stars two of Bollywood’s top actors — Aamir Khan and Kajol. The still untitled project, being produced by Yashraj Films, will begin shooting in August.
Kohli has raised the bar by locating his film in strife-torn Kashmir. This time, the romance is mature.
“If I can pull this off, it will be a real growth for me as a director,” he says.
Ken Ghosh has seen both sides of the Bollywood coin. His first film, 2003’s breezy romance “Ishq vishq” (Love Schlove), launched his career and made a star out of Ghosh’s debutant hero, Shahid Kapur.
His second, 2004’s “Fida” (Crazy), was a more ambitious venture. “Fida” had all the necessary mainstream ingredients — stars, songs in exotic locales and a super-glam look — but it was far from a typical Bollywood product. “Fida’s” lead players were unapologetically bad, including its heroine, who dies in the climax with a bullet to the forehead. The film flopped and Ghosh spent the next two months depressed.
But now the director is applying what he’s learned to his next project. “I’ve figured out Bollywood’s commercial rules,” he says. “Basically films must be light and have repeat viewing value; you can’t jump genres too much; and the hero must win in the end.”
Ghosh is developing five scripts, each one dramatically different from the other. He plans to be behind the camera in the next six to eight months.
The trouble with making a blockbuster debut is the follow-up act. So Nikhil Advani, 33, has spent the past year and a half grappling with a script that can match the commercial and critical success of his first film, 2003’s “Kal ho na ho” (Tomorrow May Not Come).
“Kal” was the kind of debut most directors only fantasize about. It was produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Prods., one of the top five production houses in the country. Written by Johar, the film had an all-star cast including Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan.
Advani is working on a script with another director, Anurag Kashyap. Loosely inspired by Yash Chopra’s “Trishul” (Trident) and Hindu epic poem “Mahabharat,” the film is about a father, his real son and his foster son.
Kashyap, creator of grim and gritty movies such as “Satya” (Truth), is the polar opposite of Johar, a master of glossy melodramas. Advani says the choice is deliberate. “For me to be able to grow, this script has to be totally different from the first.”
Farhan Akhtar, the son of successful writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar and writer-director Honey Irani, refuses to be pigeonholed by success. So while his first film, 2001’s “Dil chahta hai” (The Heart Desires), was a paean to friendship and male bonding, his second, 2004’s “Lakshya” (Aim), was a grim coming-of-age story set against the India-Pakistan conflict in Kargil.
For the third act, Akhtar is remaking “Don,” a 1978 classic that starred Amitabh Bachchan in a double role as a village bumpkin who looks exactly like a much-feared godfather. Shah Rukh Khan is slated to play the new don.
“I want it to be as involving as the first,” Akhtar says. “It will be a contemporary film but the essential dilemma will stay the same.”
Akhtar also will be acting in an English film and producing his sister Zoya’s directorial debut, which is tentatively called “Love Story.”
“I have age and energy on my side so I must experiment while I can,” he says.
Vishal Bhardwaj is a Bollywood multihyphenate. He started his career as a music composer, and then in 2002 switched to direction with a children’s film called “Makdee” (Insect).
But it was his second film, “Maqbool” (2003), which made Bollywood sit up and take notice. In “Maqbool,” Vishal transposed “Macbeth” to the Mumbai mafia. Shakespeare was cloaked in guns, gangsters and street lingo. “Maqbool” got rave reviews in India and traveled to several leading film festivals, including Toronto and Berlin.
Bharadwaj has since moved on to sunnier subjects. His latest film, based on a story by writer Ruskin Bond, is called “The Blue Umbrella.”
“It is a very beautiful story of wrong desires and how to overcome them,” he says.
As a director, Bhardwaj occupies a unique space somewhere between arthouse and mainstream cinema.
“I want to make good films,” he says, “but I also want to be seen by all.”