"I am glad I had an early failure. It kept me on my toes. The situations, circumstances and impulses you mirror teach you about yourself. Failures teach you about your strengths and weaknesses but success doesn’t do the same. It just means that you are doing well,"
quips Vikas Bahl, director of Bollywood movie Queen, which garnered the highest IMDB (Internet Movie Database) by any Indian cinema.
Speaking at a tribute event to yesteryear’s director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bahl opened the film festival for the public. The man, who was once an MBA student, business head of a leading TV channel, and an advertiser, took a leap and turned into a director and producer to whiz through every role with utmost perfection.
He spoke exclusively to YourStory on the sidelines of the event.
Hailing from a middle-class setup, Bahl spent his early childhood at Lajpat Nagar, Delhi, where his father worked at Indian Oil Corporation. After he finished his graduation from Ramjas College, Delhi, he moved to Mumbai to pursue MBA, where he was a gold medalist, from the Narsee Moonjee Institute of Management studies.
Bahl’s first stint of his career was at Ogilvy & Mather in client servicing for over five years. He was one of the most respected media executives in the country, working in senior posts in Radio Mirchi and Sab TV. During his tenure, the channel rose from the ninth slot to one among the top 3 channels, based on viewership. He later joined UTV to head Spotboy Motion Pictures and penned his first story.
"No one was ready to direct my movie and hence I took up the job and Chillar Party happened."
Of his leaning towards making movies that had a message, Bahl says,
I just make movies that I feel like spending two years of my time on. There is no conscious effort to pick movies that are socially relevant but fortunately today we can stand tall and applaud the audience who believed in the kind of cinema we made and that has made the difference.
Bahl, who made his directorial debut with Chillar Party in 2011, went up to creating a viral video featuring Alia Bhatt. The video, 'Going home' candidly spoke about women’s safety while on the road and turned the spotlight on the issue. He later went on to direct the Kangana Ranaut in Queen, which not only broke box-office records for 2013 but also garnered the stars and the director six Filmfare awards and two national awards.
On the lead actress, Bahl says,
I wrote the story only for Kangana. If she had said no to working with us, we would have dropped the plan of making this movie.
Queen was shot over only 45 days and was termed a blockbuster for the actors' pathbreaking performances as well as direction, and given a 8.4-IMDb rank, the highest any Indian film has received. Made with a budget of only Rs 12.5 crore, the film went on to become a huge commercial success, earning Rs 109 crore at the box office.
Apart from being a director, Bahl has also produced Dev D (2009) Udaan (2010), Thank You (2011), Ugly (2013), Lootera (2013), Masaan (2015), Bombay Velvet (2015), Hunterr (2015), NH10 (2015), Hasee Toh Phase (2014), Wrong Side Raju (2016), Udta Punjab (2016) and Raman Raghav (2016).
In 2011, Bahl, along with three other prolific Indian cinema personalities—Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, and Madhu Mantena—started Phantom Films, a film production and distribution company. Reliance Entertainment picked up a 50-percent stake in the company in 2015.
All four of us got together to make each of our films better or worse. After some point, we really wanted to try everything and stopped giving other producers the chance to decide the movies we want, and with that thought we started our own venture, Bahl says.
On the lack of substantive plot in today’s cinema, he says,
Stories were the hero when ace directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee were in the industry. But, today’s cinema has taken a backseat when it comes to good storyline. The dearth is quite evident and that is when a movie like Queen, which was shot with a minimal star cast and budget, turned into a blockbuster. We are coming back to realise that stories and screenplays are the essence of any movie.
As successful as one could imagine Bahl’s journey to be, he has had his share of failures as well. Movies like Bombay Velvet and Shaandaar bombed at the box office, leading the production house to incur a huge financial loss. Talking about his tough times, he notes,
It is always good to have a wake-up call because sometimes you don’t realise when the success is following you and you go to sleep basking in the glory, only to wake up to feel otherwise. We are now much more confident and thoughtful of our actions.
The director is now prepping for his next release that revolves around a mathematician from Bihar who is known for his 'super-30 programme'. Anand Kumar, the protagonist, coaches economically-backward students for IIT-JEE. Under his mentorship, 366 of the 420 students have made it to India’s most prestigious institutions, the IITs.
I am quite excited to be a part of this movie. Anand’s inspiring journey needs to reach people and we are gearing up for it,
says Bahl, as we wind up our conversation about a small-town boy’s dream to make cinema an integral part of this generation.