Who Calls the Shots, the Director or Actor? Ask Kangana Ranaut
Kangana Ranaut on the sets of <i>Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. </i>
Kangana Ranaut on the sets of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi.

Who Calls the Shots, the Director or Actor? Ask Kangana Ranaut

Eyes staring into space, she wasn’t lending her ears to the narrator at a script-story session. After a harrowing two hours, the writer-cum-director of a – let’s call it ‘ladies’ picture’ – was in a pool of sweat. Would the heroine pronounce the magic words, “I’m in.”?

Granted, the script may have been hogwash. It didn’t get going, since a star’s consent is infinitely more valuable than content. “What exactly is the motivation behind this character? If it flops, I’ll have to take the blame, ” the heroine had drawled unilaterally.

The case in point was Kangana Ranaut, then essentially associated with portraying edgy women in Gangster, Woh Lamhe, Life in a Metro etc etc. The story hawker was myself. Piquantly, her parting shot was, “Tell the reporters in the paper you edit to stop writing horrible things about me.” Was this meant to be a trade-off? Mercifully, I’ll never know.

Actress Kangana Ranaut during shooting of her upcoming film <i>Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi</i> at Amber Fort in Jaipur.&nbsp;
Actress Kangana Ranaut during shooting of her upcoming film Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi at Amber Fort in Jaipur. 
(Photo: Ravi Shankar Vyas/IANS)
Today, on the upside the three-time National Award-winning actress speaks her mind enticing blazing controversies. On the downside, she assumed charge as a co-scriptwriter for Simran and in an unprecedented move, is currently directing the reshoot of Manikarnika: Queen Of Jhansi. A first of its kind in B-town.

Plus, consider writer-director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s statement to PTI vehemently denying that the actress has signed a “non-interfence clause” for the in-the-works Panga. Right, all’s well with the Bollywood world.

Sorry, it isn’t right, never has been and never will be. Reason: Directors who don’t amass collections of Rs 100 crore to Rs 300 crore are figureheads, if not expendable. In fact more than ever before, the proverbial ‘captains of the ship’ are barely at the helm. Take this buzz: the husband of the heroine of an upcoming dramedy, is editing its final print. Meanwhile, the film’s senior director is presumably handling the take-over in his stride.

Of course, control freaks aren’t a new phenomenon. There was a time when the unparalleled actor Dilip Kumar involved himself so deeply in his films that he was said to have called the shots for Ganga Jamuna, Leader and Dil Diya Dard Liya. Yet, he could backtrack when he had issues over his role in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s debut film Musafir.

On being asked about his intervention, the thespian had told me in an interview, “Yes, I concede that. If I may add it was often to minimise my own role and enhance my co-star’s. Just because I was the hero and directors wanted more footage with me, there were differences.”

Among the female stars, Rekha can be difficult, explaining why Gulzar showed her the door from Namkeen. The story was repeated by Abhishek Kapoor when the diva became much too argumentative to handle during the last lap of the filming of Fitoor.

Kareena Kapoor was to make her debut in <i>Kaho Na Pyaar Hai </i>with Hrithik Roshan.
Kareena Kapoor was to make her debut in Kaho Na Pyaar Hai with Hrithik Roshan.

Kareena Kapoor could have made her debut opposite Hritihik Roshan in Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. Cheesed off by the vigilance by the debutante’s mother Babita, producer-director Rakesh Roshan, opted for a replacement.

These are but a fistful of instances of transgressing professional lines. More to the point, today’s A-list stars have persistently gone by the credo that more the footage, the merrier.

Once he attained stardom with Khiladi, Akshay Kumar developed a fetish about the final cut, leading his co-star Saif Ali Khan of Main Khilari Tu Anari to faze off their on-screen team.

To a degree, the Khiladi-turned-PadMan has sorted out this edit obsession, by featuring largely in films co-produced by himself. Talk was rife about the actor and director Reema Kagti coming to loggerheads over the final cut of Gold. But then it scored a goal at the cash counters. So all is well.

Which brings us to Aamir Khan aka Mr Perfectionist. Taare Zameen Par is the only film which features his name as the director. The rift between the star and the original director Amol Gupte rested there.

Clearly, Aamir Khan immerses him in every aspect of a film, ranging from Lagaan, Rang De Basanti and 3 Idiots to Dangal. Surprisingly, his touch was missing in the ultra-violent Ghajini, ostensibly because it was a remake of a Tamil blockbuster, sure to make waves at the box office. Hands off!

Aamir Khan and Darsheel Safary in a scene from <i>Taare Zameen Par. </i>
Aamir Khan and Darsheel Safary in a scene from Taare Zameen Par.
To counter the rumours that Aamir Khan had ghost-directed Rang De Basanti, its director Rakeysh Ompraksah Mehra in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, had fetched up on-camera in a cameo to crack the in-joke, “I’m the director!” The other directors have let the rumours tide.

Expectedly, Salman Khan does his own shtick, be it dialogue, dubbing, choreography, playback singing and, heavens, in the case of Race 3 even lyric writing. A force unto himself, when the Khan sticks to the rules it’s exclusively for Sooraj Barjatya who gave the actor a double win with Maine Pyaar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain..Koun! This Khan remembers.

An overwhelming majority of Bollywood’s frontline stars don’t. Instead, they suffer from amnesia about their newbie days, when they would somersault to achieve that one certified hit. Once they wield clout in the market, they are the founts of wisdom.

In the name of ‘creative inputs’, the know-alls become meddlers. If ignored, allocated dates are withdrawn and the project, staggered till the director returns to his ‘senses.’
Shahid Kapoor on <i>Jhalak Dikhla Jaa</i>.
Shahid Kapoor on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa.

The nightmare stars to work with are bitched about behind their backs right from the spot boys and technicians to co-stars. When matters go beyond endurance point, the secret is out. Example: Shahid Kapoor who had reportedly nixed Madhuri Dixit as the chief jury person on the TV reality show, Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, circa 2015. Reports trickled in from the show’s set in Film City that he was bossing the creative team, which refused to take it any more. The show’s TRP ratings plummeted drastically.

Viveik Oberoi is known to have given his two penny’s worth of advice even to the eminent director Mani Ratnam while working on Yuva. If his career is in the doldrums today, it’s not surprising.

The relatively professional actors – Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, and Anil Kapoor are prime examples -- may brainstorm from dusk to dawn for days and weeks about the scripts and their roles. Once the script is locked, though, there is no last-minute bickering and splitting hair over the edit. If a co-star, tends to butt in during a shot-taking, Bachchan can register his protest with a cold, “Would somebody tell me who’s directing me here?”

To wrap, Kangana Ranaut has asked that if heroes can be interfering, why can’t the heroines? The question answers itself. The intervention, beyond the call of duty, is an ego-trip, not a gender bias. Agree or disagree, a film is still finally the director’s baby, even if the stars make its delivery a living hell.

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter)

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