Our country is sexist and so is our industry: Farah Khan

Farah Khan on being a woman in a male-dominated industry and making it big on her own terms

Farah Khan is a success story alright. Coming from a humble background, where she had to struggle to keep her and her family from starving, today she is the first woman director to have entered the Rs 100-crore club within the first five days of her film’s release. Excerpts from an interview:

How does it feel to be part of the Rs 100-crore club?
A. I can’t tell you how good this feels. I have never said this before, but I need to now — our country is sexist and so is our industry. A male director gets away with anything. Why is there so much pressure on me to do a certain kind of film just because I am a woman? In fact, just the fact that my film is not what they expect a woman to make, and that it is successful, is empowering.

Farah Khan
Farah Khan

Q. What kind of movies were you expected to make?
A. Sweet, small movies. I like watching them, but I don’t want to make them. Pleasing a billion people with your movie is an art in itself. When I made my debut movie, Main Hoon Na, some people criticised it. After that people made it a hit, so there is no bigger thing than the audience. Now they are saying Main Hoon Na was much better than Happy New Year. I can understand if they run down my Tees Maar Khan because it was a bad film and people unanimously rejected it. But not this one. Just the fact that it is making so much money simply means people are accepting it.

Q. You have seen times when you struggled to survive, and now you are here. Does money spell happiness for you now?
A. We come from a very poor background. When my dad died, he had just R30 in his pocket and there was a mountain of debt to be repaid. I was a little over 18 and Sajid was 14. I had to run around to collect money for his funeral. Sajid and I worked hard to clear those debts. I am still insecure about money and my family. That insecurity will never leave me. I do TV shows for money. The only film that I made for money was Tees Maar Khan. Even when we were struggling, and I worked as a choreographer, I never worked looking at money. In fact, I keep telling SRK let’s not waste money as my middle-class conditioning won’t leave me.

Q. Have people’s attitudes toward you changed over the years?
A. When I started out, I wasn’t treated badly at all. I got a lot of support from SRK, Javed (Akhtar) uncle and others. Many people gave me chances. It’s only when you become big and successful that people look at you as a threat. They get their claws out and start pulling you down. Those guys don’t care if you live or die so their praise or criticism doesn’t matter. I have learnt a way to deal with this. I just disconnect and go home and play with my kids, no matter what. Just yesterday I played dark-room with them. It took care of most things on my mind.

Q. Talking about kids, with three of them and a full-fledged filmmaking career, how do you make the most of your time?
A. I am very good at time management. I am very punctual and I think it is due to my Parsi genes. I genuinely believe that even if you are not immensely talented, but are professional, you can last longer in this industry. I know of people who have lasted only because of their good behaviour while those who were more talented fizzled out because of their attitude.
Also, you just have to be happy with what you are doing. You know, we women are superb at time management, and I try being there for my children after work. Yet, there have been days when I came home and they would have already gone to sleep. That would fill me with a lot of guilt. But that’s that. I move on.

Q. Happy New Year was panned by critics. How do you feel about that?
A. Honestly, at this point, I’d rather look at the euphoria of people dancing in the aisles of Gaiety-Galaxy when the climax song was played than at a critic who is telling me what to make. My movie is not for critics — it is for people who pay for it, watch it and make it a success. Anyway, most critics know only the world between Lokhandwala and Bandra and they have a clear disconnect from the country we live in. Now they tell me Main Hoon Na was a much better movie than Happy New Year. One critic had given me half a star for Main Hoon Na. I had spent the whole day crying. But now I don’t take these things so seriously. If the movie does well, people forget. They had not spared Sholay. I received congratulatory calls for three days after Happy New Year released (laughs). I was so happy, because after Tees Maar Khan nobody had called. When Tees Maar Khan failed, people were only too happy to bring it down. I know it was a bad film but I could see some people actually looking at it as a celebration.

Q. How did you deal with Tees Maar Khan’s failure?
A. At some level failure helps you more than success. If you can come out of failure, there is no better teacher for you. I have seen my dad fail and just go down. He began drinking and was unable to come out of it. Our family knows how to survive because we have seen him. I learnt a lot looking at that, and I think every woman can. Never think you are less capable than anyone. I am lucky to have some supportive men around me, but not many do. There will be an insecure husband, boss or a colleague around. Well, we have a boys’ club in the industry too, who are not too happy with a
woman’s success.

Q. Talking about supportive men, a lot of your success is attributed to SRK’s presence in your films.
A. But isn’t that true? The fact that he doesn’t do too many movies and chooses to do films with me is part of my success. I look at that as my success. More than anything, we have a great partnership. We have the same irreverent sense of humour, our synergy is good. According to astrologers, our kundalis match, too (laughs).

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