I don’t want to be the captain of the ship: Shabinaa Khan

MumbaiThere aren’t too many female producers in B-Town. Maybe because it’s not an easy job. Although Shabinaa Khan, has had it easy. She didn’t know fashion designing, but got into it because her school friend Salman Khan pushed her to do it. She did that for 17 years. Then she got into TV production. She knew nothing about that. But she knew Ekta Kapoor, who did everything for her. Next stop: Film production. All her productions — Rowdy Rathore, Gabbar Is Back (and her soon-to-release Marathi film Laal Ishq) — have been co-productions with her mentor Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Although I have seen Shabinaa run the show single-handedly, she says she needs SLB. Here, the fiery producer talks for the first time about her journey, her passion and her plans ahead. Read on…

Why did you make a Marathi movie?
Because both the movies I made (Gabbar Is Back or Rowdy Rathore) were big-budget films. I always wanted to make a small film. In fact, I wanted to go and study in New York after GIB for five weeks to do a filmmaking and editing course as I wanted to learn something. I was going to be doing Rowdy 2 anyway after that, but I thought, ‘Why not make a small film and learn the same thing here?’
Do you speak Marathi?
Not many people know that I am from Kolhapur and I speak fluent Marathi. We have a house in Kolhapur. We are Marathi Muslims and that is the reason I wanted to make a Marathi film.
How did you greenlight this project?
It’s a very strange story. I bumped into the director who made the pilot for my first TV serial back in 2002 at a temple and asked her what she was doing next. I thought we could do TV again. So, we met over coffee later and she told me, ‘Why you don’t make a Marathi film? Let’s do a film with Swwapnil Joshi.’ He came to my office. We didn’t have a script at the time, but for nine months, we brainstormed. That’s how we came up with Laal Ishq.
Are you familiar with Marathi cinema?
Very. I see a lot of regional cinema. I watch all Tamil, Telugu and Marathi films. I would never do a film without knowing everything about it. I am a Libran, so I would never do something that I cannot control and if you don’t know something, you cannot control it. Every Sunday, I watch a movie with my mom. She comes to my house and after lunch, we take a nap and then I put on a movie. So, of late, because I am making a Marathi film, I’m watching a lot of Marathi cinema. I recently watched this film Katyar Kaljat Ghusli. I was so impressed with it. It has one of the finest storytelling and screenwriting I have seen. It’s an amazing history-based film about a Muslim singer and a Hindu Pandit singer.
If making a small-budget film was the driving factor, why didn’t you make a small Hindi film?
My only thing is, that I make a commercially entertaining movie, and I feel the small Hindi movies are all in a different genre completely, which is not my cup of tea.
In Marathi cinema, you can even make a small budget film on the scale of a Rowdy Rathore. In three or four crores! So I’d rather do a Marathi film with a genre I am comfortable with, than a Hindi small film with a genre I am unsure of. An offbeat film is not my sensibility. I like to make and watch the same kind of films. I love making films that are entertaining. I do not like depressing films. I like films that make me laugh, make me cry, make me dance and by the end of it there is a culmination of the entire story. I don’t like question mark ends. When I enter a theatre, I want to forget all my problems. After the film ends, of course, I have to return to my problems. But for those two-three hours, I need to shut down.
Why have you only done co-productions with SLB?
Because I am really happy and comfortable making films with Sanjay. He is a hands-on producer. I am like a crybaby. Anytime I am stuck, I call him. I consider him my guru. Whatever I know about filmmaking, I have learnt from him. I am even doing mixing and background score… He has taught me so much. I was an assistant on Black. I will never leave Sanjay. I will always make films with him unless he decides to leave me.
What has making a non-Hindi film taught you?
I learnt the commercials of a small-budget film. I also learnt that there are friends in the industry. My entire team of Rowdy and Gabbar did this film at the Marathi industry pay scale. Everybody has come down to not half but to 10 per cent of their fee and I am really impressed by that.
Tell me about it
My film is an intense love story which has a backdrop of murder so you can call it an intensely romantic thriller and the story is told through the hero and the heroine who are the prime suspects.
Sounds like The Affair.
It’s like that but I didn’t have The Affair in mind. There is a very, very old foreign film Rashomon, which I love which has the same concept, but the story is original.
Did you at any point think of making it a bi-lingual?
No. When I am going in one direction, I don’t go idhar udhar. I have my two Hindi films which are there and this I always wanted to make in Marathi. But, yes it is releasing with subtitles in quite a few screens everywhere.
How did you get into production?
I stopped designing for a while and I was going through a phase of no work. I was always creatively inclined. I used to sit with Ekta (Kapoor) for script sittings, etc when that phase was happening and I would crib to her. They say everyone has three or four angels that come in their life. Ekta is one of them in my life, who made me make a serial and she launched my company. So I made two serials in 2002.
What did you know about production at the time?
Very little. She did everything. She helped me. She would sit with me for editing and say take this out, do that, put this background and I made 45 episodes that made money. Today, whatever I am in production, is because of these three people — Ekta Kapoor, Shobha Kapoor and Sanjay Bhansali.
Please continue…
Then I tried from 2002 till 2010 to make serials, but nothing worked. I think because TV was booming at the time, so everybody was getting into it. In 2009, I told Sanjay, ‘Let’s make movies together.’ I knew Sanjay because I had designed clothes for Khamoshi and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Then, for Devdas, he worked with Abu-Sandeep. Then in Black, I was the AD and didn’t do the clothes.\
Why did you become an AD?
Because I wanted to learn filmmaking. I never wanted to do clothes. I was only doing clothes because I was getting to go to London to shop, and I was enjoying all that. I had no inclination, though I had the flair for it. So when I told Sanjay, ‘Let’s make movies together.” He said, ‘Yes, get a script. So for four years, we looked around, but nothing interested me and nothing interested him.’ In the meantime, I was doing Akshay’s and Ajay’s clothes. I was doing a lot of films…
Then one fine day, I thought that Akshay needed a change after seven-eight years of the same Hera Pheris and Housefulls, I thought: Let’s get him back with action. Without meeting Akshay, I went to meet Prabhudheva. I said, ‘Prabhu Sir, I want you to direct a film for me and I want Akshay. I want you to him bring back to action.’ This was soon after Wanted. He said, ‘I am on.’ I came back and I told Sanjay about Prabhu sir and he said also said he was on. He said, ’I see the spark in you and you’ll do it. I asked him, ‘So can I tell Akshay, you and I are doing this film and ask him if he wants to do it?” Sanjay gave me the go-ahead. Then I met Akshay. When I spoke to Akshay, he was doing Khatta Meetha. I was doing his clothes for that film, and one day, I said to him ‘Akshay, I want to do a film’. He asked, ‘Kaun direct kar raha hai?’ I told him. ‘Who is the partner?’, he asked. I said Bhansali. ‘Chalo I am on,’ said Akshay. Then I went looking for a script and then I got Rajamouli’s second film to be remade in Hindi.
That’s a crazy beginning.
(Smiles) It’s a long journey and it’s my 26th year in the industry. My designing career also began like that, haphazardly. I was in college with Salman. He used to sit behind me. We knew each other since school. I don’t even remember how it began, but he’d finished Maine Pyar Kiya and was looking for a new designer. I went to become an air hostess in Saudi. I resigned in one day and came back. In those days, it paid like three lakh a month. It was most prestigious, as there was no Emirates and all that then. I came back and I was in depression, wondering what to do. My parents were like ‘We asked you not to do it’. So Salman said ‘Listen, just do my clothes’. I told him I don’t know anything about designing. He said, ‘I also don’t know acting, we’ll do it together’. And then I worked with Salman for 17 years!
Do you want to direct someday?
I don’t want to direct. I don’t want to be the captain of the ship. (Laughs) I like to fire the gun from someone else’s shoulder. I like to be a creative producer because, as a director I would have to take certain calls which could be right, could be wrong. I want someone else to take those calls so that I can tell that person ‘Arre yeh mat karo, yeh karo’.
You have the reputation of being a devil of a boss. Comment.
(Smiles) I just feel that other people always find people who are super-efficient, to be monsters.
Not true.
With filmmaking, it’s different.
How so?
Because there are certain things that you need to do at a certain time. There are time limits, there are deliveries, there are date hassles, there are too many irritants.
Not everyone is a monster.
Farah (Khan) is also a monster. I think people who are that highly talented, they all have some quirks. Everybody has them and I am a Libran. When I lose it, I really lose it.