ANJUM RIZVI: FROM BEHIND THE SCENES!by Aparajita Krishna February 18 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 4 secs
Aparajita Krishna goes back to the past and fast forwards the producer Anjum Rizvi’s life in an interesting conversation with him.
Anjum Rizvi is a film-producer of a select choice of Hindi films, television content, web-series and documentaries. Compiling the questions also gave one the opportunity to revisit his work. It is qualitatively noticeable. His uncles, Yakub Hasan Rizvi and Sibte Hasan Rizvi, were film producers of repute. Times changed, but this nephew inherited the passion and carried on in his own distinct way with filmmaking. Being an individual film producer (not a corporate studio) is a tuff call and he has been a brave creative mind. We get talking about his works - those that worked, those that did not, the in-between, and about other aspects.
How is the Indian film scene in the present of 2023? Pathaan has roared at the box-office! South Indian cinema is being experimental and daring in both artistic and mainstream ways. Internationally too, it is being feted. What is your overview?
Yes, unfortunately Hindi film industry did go through a low period and South Indian films fared better. Our films in the South have always been daring and experimental and now even other regional films are doing well. So, overall, it’s good for Indian films. Coming back to Hindi films, Yash Raj Films and SRK are back with a bang and creating history with Pathaan. That’s the best beginning to 2023.
You have worked in the hospitality industry. Right?
Yes, it’s a family business of restaurants.
In this new year of 2023 what are the works lined up as a producer, co-producer? Your earlier communication to me had said, “At the moment I am working on a biopic of Chempakaraman Pillai's, one who coined ‘Jai Hind.” So, tell us how you ideated on making a film on our political activist-revolutionary (1891-1934)?
As of today, JAI HIND is on hold due to various issues.
What happened to the re-make of Katha? You had said, “Naseer Bhai even chided me for doing a remake of Katha, which remains unreleased.” Who has directed it, acted in it? When did you make it? The original is a cult-classic.
Let’s pass this please.
How do you assess the Hindi entertainment TV channels in 2023? Are you still an active TV Producer?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been active on the TV front, but yes looking forward to doing it soon.
Web-series are the flavour of the season. Some of the Indian ones are average, some good. I liked Trial By Fire. Are you going to be making them?
I loved Trial By Fire. Abhay Deol and Rajshree Deshpande are just amazing. I have recently completed a series for Attrangi channel.
Let’s revert back to the beginning and follow your works. Which are the chosen films and TV works that shaped your own growing-up years as an audience? You come from a familial film-background.
Films by Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherji, Manmohan Desai, Nasir Husain among others and TV shows like Bharat Ek Khoj, Ye Jo Hai Zindagi, Buniyaad etc shaped me.
Although it's clichéd, but the film bug had bitten me since my childhood. I completed my graduation from National College, Bandra, and since my uncles were from the film industry, I too was inclined. My uncles Yakub Hasan Rizvi and Sibte Hasan Rizvi were filmmakers with Baharon Ki Manzil, Naach Uthe Sansar, Khandaan, Joshilay, Khamoshi-The Musical, to their credit. My first experience and fascination for films was the visit to studios and labs where films were processed. The smell of films itself was a big attraction.
Most of the edit rooms used to be in the labs and I would love to spend the time watching films being edited, earlier on the cutting splice machines, then Steinbeck. The entire process itself was enjoyable. Somehow watching film-shootings never bored me. I could spend the entire day watching shoots. Right from music sittings to recordings to script sessions, I would request my uncles to let me be a part of it.
The roller-coaster ride begins with some highs and some very lows. After completing my Film and TV Diploma from XIC, Mumbai, I was lucky to be associated with the late Riyad Vinci Wadia and co-produced my first Docu-Drama, A Mermaid Called Aida (1996). Aida was a bold, beautiful and sassy transsexual. Soon after I produced a television serial followed by television films.
Which was your first television work as a producer?
It was Daayare (1999 - 2001) for Zee, starring Navni Parihar, Anju Mahendroo, Kenneth Desai, Tom Alter and others.
And other serials followed.
Yes. Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se for Channel 9 Gold, starring Bhagyashree and Samir Soni. Then serials like Sethu (2002), Paowan (2004), Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (2005), India Metro 2010 (2010).
Why is the Hindi television content in soaps so bad and the music shows good? And why are reality-shows, as a borrowed format, the flavour of the season? Why did we lose the creative plot on TV? Back in the mid-1980s, 1990s our TV content was so rich.
The main reason for bad content in soaps is bad or lazy writing. There is no fresh thoughts or ideas, only copy-paste of the success of earlier shows. Also, the concept of daily soaps means stretching a story beyond the interest level, which wasn’t the case earlier. Audience back then was hooked and waited for a week for the next episode. The recall value is still strong for shows like Subah, Malgudi Days, Fauji, Buniyaad etc. The plot used to have relevant themes of the times. Today it’s no more the same. It’s only about the TRPs.
Music shows are doing well I guess because as a nation we have immense talent from every part of the country. And, most of that talent sees itself as being there, performing.
How did film production walk in? I suppose it would be a natural progression.
The turning point was when I approached Tigmanshu Dhulia, as I was a big fan of his, for doing a television series. But he was instrumental in motivating me to move to films. In fact he wanted me to produce his first film, Haasil, but as we both were new to films I was not very confident and told him so. As was destined, Haasil got delayed and I decided to take the plunge and that's how Charas (2004), my first film, happened. It was directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia. I was the co-producer. It starred Irrfan Khan, Jimmy Shergill, Uday Chopra, Namrata Shirodkar and others.
It was a good learning experience and later on I realised all films teach you something new with a new experience, good or bad. It's never a ‘you know it all scenario’.
Ahista Ahista (2006) starred Abhay Deol, Soha Ali Khan and was directed by Shivam Nair. It is based on Dostoevsky’s White Nights? It was solely produced by you?
I am the sole producer of Ahista Ahista. Shivam Nair introduced me to Imtiaz Ali and we were in the process of doing a film, which later was made as Jab We Met, but it somehow didn't work out. In fact Imtiaz wanted to make Highway before Jab We Met, but I insisted otherwise. Destiny had other plans and unfortunately these films didn’t happen with me. But then he offered me the script of Ahista Ahista which Abhay Deol had agreed to do.
As a producer you would be best known by the film, A Wednesday (2008) starring Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill.
Cut to Neeraj Pandey, who I had known through Jimmy Shergill. He sent me a script one evening. Like the film the script was a quick read and the next morning I called Neeraj and said let's do the film. And that was the fastest production. We started shooting in April and by August 2007 the first copy was out. It was a great experience working with Neeraj and the results are all there to see. Neeraj Pandey is very clear in his thought process and knows exactly what he wants. It was a pleasure working on A Wednesday and a dream come true working with Naseer Sahab and Kher Sahab.
The film got us many awards, but the most special was the one from writer Salim Khan Sahab. He gave his Filmfare award that they had got for Zanjeer.
Then came subsequent films.
The subsequent films, Fast Forward (2009), starring Vinod Khanna, Rehan Khan, Akshay Kapoor, and A Flat (2010) starring Jimmy Shergill and Sanjay Suri, didn't work, and I take full responsibility for it. The conviction was missing where I was concerned, but I still went ahead.
It is a very fine and honest appraisal of self.
Yeah, guess sometimes everything goes wrong from the beginning.
Admirably you went ahead to co-produce the film, John Day. It released in 2013. Writer-Director was Ahishor Solomon and it starred Naseeruddin Shah, Randeep Hooda, Shernaz Patel.
I had the good opportunity of working with Naseeruddin Shah (my love and respect for him is unparalleled) once again in John Day, along with Randeep Hooda. The film was directed by debutant director Ahishor Soloman. It was a very well written film, but somehow didn't work. I was very disappointed because I had liked the script.
What makes Naseeruddin Shah such a special actor?
Naseer Sahab doesn’t believe in sitting on the fence. He calls a spade a spade and has an opinion, and he doesn’t hesitate to express. Just one call from me was made and he readily agreed to do the ‘voice over’ for our documentary on Shyam Benegal. He is always there for me. He will always be special for me.
You have to be complemented for co-producing the documentary on Shyam Benegal, The Master, which was directed and co-produced by Khalid Mohamed. Give us your take.
Shyam Benegal is one of my favourite directors. He is a film-school by himself. I am a big fan. So, when Khalid Mohamed with whom I co-produced The Master mentioned it, I readily jumped. It was made in 2014.
Hindi film, Maatr, came in 2017. It was directed by Ashtar Sayed and co-produced by you. It starred Raveena Tandon, Alisha Khan. It is said to be a gritty thriller about a woman who sets out to avenge the gang rape of her daughter and herself. How did it do at the box-office?
Maatr fared averagely.
You co-produced Karma Café (2018), a short film starring Amol Gupte, Nakul Sahdev. It was directed by Kabeer Khurana, written by Rohan Parikh and co-written by Saeed Mirza. Tell us about it.
Kabeer Khurana is a very talented young man brimming with ideas. It was his first short film and I was more than happy to be a part of it.
A press report in Bollywood Hungama (May 11, 2019) said that you were sentenced to jail for four months for non-payment of dues. Charges were filed by a company. Hope the issue got resolved.
The issue was resolved then itself and by the grace of God no more issues.
From your tweets, social media writing, one gathers that you are a politically conscious citizen, So, tell us how do you assess the political climate and the social one in India 2023? As an Indian and an Indian-Muslim.
As an Indian and a Muslim, I would like my Country to be at peace always and believe in the mantra of ‘live and let live’. I just can’t stand communal behavior and bigotry from any community.
As a producer what is your wish list for 2023 and beyond?
I have a couple of good scripts, which am trying to put together. Welcome to Bajrangpur is under-production. It stars Shreyas Talpade, Giorgia Andrea, Sanjay Mishra and others. An upcoming web-series is titled Black Brain. I would like to continue working till I can, whether films, or, series.